One of my first experiences with Prosecco occurred about 30 years ago, when I walked into a winery in Italy; I believe it was in Tuscany. I was handed a glass of Prosecco by the proprietor. I later learned that it was an Italian custom for wineries and some restaurants to greet visitors in this pleasant manner. Prosecco was practically unheard of then outside of Italy at that time.
Today, Prosecco is the largest-selling sparkling wine in the United States, having surpassed Champagne about two years ago. Similar popularity of Prosecco has emerged in the UK and much of the rest of the wine-drinking world.
How did Prosecco become so popular throughout the world in a relatively short time--in about twenty to thirty years? The answer is fairly simple: Prosecco is a quality sparkling wine, at a very affordable price. It is now in practically every Italian restaurant in the U.S. Mionetto, one of the largest Prosecco producers, has its standard Prosecco available in retail shops for $12. Even the two great Prosecco producers whose sparkling wines I am highlighting in this column, Carpené Malvolti and Nino Franco, sell their standard Proseccos retail for $15 to $18. Compare that to French Champagne, which starts at $35 to $40 a bottle, retail.
Champagne’s grapes, of course, grow in expensive vineyards, and the wine is made mainly from two premium grape varieties, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Prosecco comes from a fairly large area in northeastern Italy, but the best Prosecco is made around the towns of Valdobbiadene and Conegliano in the hilly, northern Veneto region. It is made from the Glera grape, a variety which originated in Slovenia and is unknown outside of the Prosecco region. All Prosecco is made from the Glera grape variety, in many cases, 100 percent Glera, but up to 15 percent of eight other varieties is permitted. In 2009, the grape variety formerly called “Prosecco” was changed to its true name, “Glera,” and now the name “Prosecco” is used only as the official regional name. Glera is the grape, Prosecco is the wine.
Carpené Malvolti, founded in 1868 by Antonio Carpené, was the first winery in Italy to make sparkling wines; Antonio Carpené also founded Italy’s first oenological school in 1876. Today, the fifth generation Carpené, Rosanna Carpené, is taking over from her father, Etile Carpené, who ran the winery for over 32 years. Carpené Malvolti is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.
Prosecco wines with the D.O.C.G. appellation hail from the officially designated region of Prosecco in the townships of Valdobbiadene and Conegliano. Those Proseccos simply labeled D.O.C. can come from a much larger region, including plains areas. In short, the best Proseccos carry the D.O.C.G. appellation.
Most of the vineyards Carpené Malvolti uses are in the Conegliano area. The winery produces five D.O.C.G. Proseccos, and two other sparkling wines, a “Method Classico” Brut made in the Classic Method, from mainly Chardonnay with some Pinot Noir, and a Rosé Brut, mainly Pinot Noir. Most Proseccos, in contrast, are made using the Charmat (tank) method.
I tasted three Carpené Malvolti wines recently, and I was totally impressed with their quality:
Carpené Malvolti NV Rosé Brut ($17): Made from Pinot Noir and the Raboso grape, native to Veneto, the Rosé is a delightful, dry sparkling wine (not a Prosecco), with aromas and flavors reminiscent of strawberries. A good value. 90
Carpené Malvolti Extra Dry NV 1868 Prosecco D.O.C.G. ($15): Made from 100 percent Glera, the Extra Dry is the standard bearer of the winery. This is one of the best sparkling wines available anywhere selling for under $20. It has lots of flavor and vibrant acidity. Carpené Malvolti also produces a “Dry,” slightly sweeter Prosecco. The”Extra Dry” is recommended. 92
Carpené Malvolti Original 1924 Cartizze Prosecco D.O.C.G. ($50 in magnum): The year 1924 refers to the date that the Carpené family officially changed the name of their sparkling wine to Prosecco. Cartizze is the name of the best area in the region (just outside the town of Valdobbiadene) for the Glera grapes. This is a new Prosecco for the winery, 100 percent Glera, and it is stunning. It can be compared in quality to a prestige cuvée Champagne with its depth and concentration. A very great Prosecco! 96
When I first tasted Nino Franco’s Prosecco wines about ten years ago, I was amazed. I didn’t know that Prosecco could be that good! And then there is the man himself, a third generation Franco in the wine business. Nino Franco is a worldly, well-traveled gentleman, who admits to loving Champagne, even though he makes competitive sparkling wines.
The vineyards Franco uses are mainly in the Valdobbiadene area. I recently tasted five of his Proseccos, including his brand-new one, Nodi, from a single-vineyard:
Nino Franco NV “Rustico” Prosecco D.O.C.G. ($18): Made from 100 percent Glera, Rustico is Franco’s largest-production Prosecco. It is so much better than most other Proseccos; it is dry, clean, lively, with lots of flavors, especially pear. The grapes grow in hillside vineyards. Great acidity, with a long finish. 90
Nino Franco 2016 “Vigneto della Riva di San Floriano” Prosecco D.O.C.G. ($29): This is a single-vineyard Prosecco, 100 percent Glera. It is full and rich, with fresh fruit aromas, mainly peach. It shows a complexity and depth not found in standard Proseccos. Very long finish. 92
Nino Franco 2016 “Nodi” Brut Prosecco D.O.C.G. ($44): From a parcel of the Col del Vent vineyard, the Nodi is Nino Franco’s newest Prosecco. 100 percent Glera, the 2016 is its second vintage, and it is a true prestige cuvée. It is very concentrated, with the grapes from very old vines. It has aromas and flavors that linger on the palate. For me, Franco’s Nodi was the standout Prosecco of the tasting, just magnificent! 96
Nino Franco 2013 “Grave di Stecca” Sparkling Wine ($46): Although made from 100 percent Glera from an ancient vineyard in the heart of Valdobbiadene, this great wine cannot be called “Prosecco” for some bureaucratic reason. No matter, Grave di Stecca is truly a unique Prosecco, in fact, if not in name. The 2013, the current release (!), is still young, and will benefit from a few years of aging. It is super-intense, minerally, and very dry. It’s on another level from most Proseccos, a keeper. 95
Nino Franco 2016 “Primo Franco” Prosecco D.O.C.G. ($33): Made from 100 percent Glera, the Primo Franco was Nino Franco’s prestige cuvée before Nodi and Grave di Stecca appeared. Although dry, it is a bit sweeter than Franco’s single-vineyard Proseccos. It is easy to like, and drinkable now. The Primo Franco is rich, with ripe apple aromas. It’s a Prosecco that can be served with seafood as well as fruity desserts. 94
I love good sparkling wines, especially those with the quality of Carpené Malvolti and Nino Franco Proseccos. Whenever I find myself in an Italian restaurant (which is frequently), I invariably have a glass--or a bottle--of Prosecco. Now that Prosecco is so popular, you can find it in all kinds of good restaurants.