Prosecco for 2014!

New Year’s Eve is always a great occasion to enjoy some sparkling wine—of course any night is. And it’s a good time to try some things beyond Champagne, such as Cava, or perhaps Prosecco.

Prosecco, practically speaking, is Italian sparkling wine.  The name has traditionally referred to both the grape (now sometimes called “Glera”), and the sparkling wine itself, and it also refers to the “appellation” which as you know is a defined and protected area identifying where the grapes come from that go into specific wines.

But let’s talk about the wine itself!  Prosecco can be about as fizzy as Champagne, and therefore it’s “Spumante” in Italian lingo, or less fizzy, and therefore it’s called “Frizzante.”  Some Proseccos will be labeled with one or the other, and some won’t.  Either way, all Prosecco wines now carry the DOC or DOCG designation, which are supposed to mean that you’re getting the best wine available. What it really means is that the grapes have to be grown within a specific region of Italy—mostly, it’s the Veneto, way up north by Venice, and a little from Friuli-Venezia Giulia to the east.  It also means the wine has to be made to a certain standard. A lot of what you see on the shelves will be labelled Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene, which means the grapes come only from that district, known for its quality.

Now, Prosecco isn’t Champagne.  It’s a different grape, from a far different place.  And the second fermentation, the one responsible for the bubbles, almost always takes place in bulk in a stainless steel tank, the Charmat method, versus in the bottle for Champagne. So there’s no doubt that Prosecco lacks the complexity of Champagne and it never ages on the yeast as many good Champagnes do, which can give them that toasty quality. Prosecco can be labelled “Brut” like Champagne, which is dry to the taste, or it can be ”Dry” or “Extra Dry” which ironically mean that it will have some sweetness to it.  So if you’re looking for a Champagne-like experience, stick with Brut.  Most Prosecco bottles are finished with a traditional sparkling wine cork and wire cage, but a few now use a traditional cork held in place with string, so be extra careful of the pop when opening those.

Because it’s not aged, it, well, doesn’t really age well and therefore you want to drink it as soon as possible after it’s produced.  But unlike even soda these days, most producers don’t put a production date on their back label, and if they do it’s probably in code, so it’s good to know your wine retailer.

There are good reasons to drink Prosecco: It’s great, and has a very refreshing quality.  Second, it’s almost always less expensive than Champagne, with good bottles often hovering around $12-14. Third, because it’s a great value, it’s better for “Champagne” cocktails that take on the flavor of what you mix. And of course it’s the traditional base for the Bellini, a mix of Prosecco and peach nectar.

My favorites are Mionetto, LaMarca, and Lunetta. Drink and enjoy.