Guide to Prosecco Wine for Beginners

Italy's spritzy superstar is sure to become one of your favorite sparkling wines.

Updated January 5, 2023
Family celebration with prosecco

Loved around the world, prosecco's spritzy nature is full of bursts of green apple, pear, and honeysuckle with lip-smacking acidity and a sweet nudge. These happy-go-lucky bubbles are a popular choice for a party vibe, single pour, or cocktail base. Pour yourself a glass and get to know Italy's sparkling child from every angle.

What Is Prosecco?

Made primarily from the glera grape grown in the northeastern corner of Italy in the regions of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, prosecco is a sparkling white wine that's most typically made in a dry or brut style using the charmat method.

Prosecco Flavor Profile & Characteristics

Leaning into a glass of prosecco, you'll be hit with sweet and crisp fruit aromas along with intoxicating florals. The palate will be showy, with notes of green apple, pear, white peach, a hint of citrus, and floral honeysuckle. Even though prosecco can have a hint of sweetness, it generally has a clean and crisp vibe carried by the spritzy bubbles. Prosecco is brightly aromatic and refreshing on the palate. It has lazy mid-weight bubbles that carry aromas to your nose and a spritz factor to your mouth.

Prosecco Wine Varietal Infographic

How Prosecco Is Made

Prosecco is made using what's known as the tank method or the charmat method. In this process, the grapes undergo fermentation in stainless steel tanks. Using an inert vessel like this helps to retain the floral aromas and fruity characteristics of the grape. While prosecco is made with a minimum of 85% glera grapes, the other 15% can be from more commonly known grapes such as chardonnay, pinot grigio, pinot bianco, and pinot noir.

Once the juice is converted to wine, it's moved to a sealed, pressurized tank in order to undergo secondary fermentation and become carbonated. The wine is then filtered to remove any yeast lees, a dosage is added, and it is bottled under pressure.

How Prosecco Is Made Infographic

Styles of Prosecco

Within the world of prosecco, the wine can be made with varying levels of sweetness and bubbles. Looking for an extra sweet sparkler for your cocktail mixer or a dry number to sip on as your pre-dinner drink? Here's how to distinguish.

The Sweet Factor

Most commonly found in a brut style with very little residual sugar, prosecco is also made on the sweeter side in extra dry or dry. While this can be a little confusing, these styles actually have more lingering sugar, making for a sweeter bottle of bubbles than you think. Here's the breakdown:

  • Brut has up 0-12 grams per liter of residual sugar.
  • Extra dry has 12 to 17 grams per liter of residual sugar.
  • Dry has 17 to 32 grams per liter of residual sugar.

For reference, amounts less than 10g/L (slightly less than 2 teaspoons of sugar in a 750 mL bottle or less than ¼ teaspoon in a 5-ounce glass) are not detected by most palates. Because the glera grape is so fruit-driven, it comes sometimes lead you to think a brut is sweeter than it actually is, but really it might just be the fruity notes you're tasting.

Let's Talk About Those Bubbles

Stylistically, prosecco is defined by the carbonation level. There are two distinct styles you'll come across.

  1. Spumante is the primary style and has more aggressive bubbles with over 3 bars of atmospheric pressure.
  2. Frizzante has less persistent bubbles with atmospheric pressure that falls between 1-2.5 bars. Think of this one as more of a semi-sparkling prosecco.

Both are less than Champagne, which falls around 5 or 6 bars of pressure.

What About Col Fondo?

If you've ever been in a tiny natural wine bottle shop, you may have come across a bottle or two of col fondo prosecco. This is the OG prosecco that takes a little more nuanced approach in the winery. Skipping the pressurized tanks, col fondo translates to "with bottom". It's a bottle-fermented prosecco that sits on its lees, developing a bit more wild and complex characteristics like spring flowers and herbs, a rocky minerality, citrus peel, toasted hazelnut, and fresh baked bread. This sediment will collect on the bottom or side of the bottle depending on how it's stored, and it'll appear cloudy when you pour yourself a glass. This bottle-fermented version will be bone dry compared to its more commercial counterpart. Col fondo prosecco also has less aggressive bubbles than those made with the tank method and therefore is considered frizzante.

Quality Indication

Prosecco also has different quality designations on the label. There are both DOC and DOCG proseccos. DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) are good quality, contain the specified grapes, follow the particular winemaking style, and are produced within the broader region. DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) is one tier higher in terms of quality and is also referred to as prosecco superiore DOCG. This will come from a smaller, more specific designation, such as Conegliano, Valdobbiadene, or Asolo. Both must adhere to the outlined rules and regulations for prosecco production dictated by law, and the indication is clearly listed in standardized tape on the neck of the bottle. If you're looking to track down the good stuff, here's the hierarchy:

  • Prosecco DOC: Baseline prosecco playing by the rules from one of nine provinces in either Veneto or Friuli-Venezia Giulia. It's decent, but nothing to write home about.
  • Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG: The grapes for these wines come from a micro area between the towns of Valdobbiadene and Conegliano. Vineyards sprawl across the rolling green hills here and produce high-quality fruit.
  • Asolo Prosecco DOCG: The new kid on the block in terms of regional designation, Asolo prosecco comes from a small, hilly region producing excellent wines.
  • Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore Rive DOCG: These wines come from even smaller, more specific areas than the above DOCG's. The wines are designated and labelled such if they come from specific communes or vineyards within the broader area of Conegliano-Valdobbiadene.
  • Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG: These proseccos are few and far between. The subzone of Cartizze is essentially a hillside in Valdobbiadene. A small amount of exceptional prosecco comes from this micro site and translates the terroir beautifully.

How Is Prosecco Different From Champagne?

Often thought of as the Italian equivalent to Champagne, Prosecco may be sparkling, but between the varietal, terroir, and technique, it is its own personality and wine altogether. Starting with the country of origin, Prosecco and Champagne are set apart by the geographical terroir and grape varietals used. When it comes to the winemaking, prosecco is made using the charmat method while Champagne is made using the méthode Champenoise or traditional method. The latter is more involved and a big reason why the price difference exists between the two sparkling wines. In terms of taste, prosecco has a noticeable sweetness compared to an extra brut Champagne. Prosecco vibes more fresh orchard fruit, while Champagne leans into those yeasts characteristics of brioche, butter, and sourdough.

Storing & Serving Tips

For the most part, prosecco is intended to be enjoyed young. Unlike Champange, it doesn't linger with the lees in bottle, so picking up tertiary characteristics as it ages isn't what this wine is about. When enjoyed young, you'll experience more of those fresh and crisp fruit and floral aromas and flavors. So, you've got your young vintage and plan to drink it within the year. In the meantime, store it on its side in contact with the cork in a cool, dark place away from temperature fluctuations.

When ready to drink, you can get fancy and go for a tulip shaped bubbles glass or just pour into whatever you have. Do keep in mind that the larger the opening of the glass, the faster the bubbles will fade and eventually dissipate.

Prosecco should be served cold! Around 38-45 °F (3-7 °C). Carefully open that bottle and splash a happy amount into each glass.

How Long Will an Open Bottle of Prosecco Last?

While the wine itself won't go bad for a number of days when kept in your fridge, it will go flat. Because prosecco has slightly less carbonation compared to other sparkling wines, the sooner it's consumed after opening, the better. If you are opening a lot of bottles of bubbles of any kind, it's a good idea to invest in a special stopper that will make an air-tight seal and help to keep the bubbles lively. In general, you'll notice a difference in carbonation within 24 hours of opening a bottle. To get the most out of your bubbles, plan to open your prosecco when you have enough people around to finish it the same evening.

Pairing Prosecco With Food

Prosecco has two food-friendly characteristics going for it that make it a perfect match for everything from picnic fare to pizza. The high acidity is great to cut into richer and fattier foods, retaining a freshness on your palate, while the bubbles are almost like a palate cleanser. Both characteristics will make you want to keep reaching for the next sip.

So, when it comes to food pairings, you can really trust in the wine and follow your tastebuds. A few classic pairings that are not to be missed are prosciutto and melon or a charcuterie board full of of a medley of salted cured meats and fruit. Its subtle hint of sweetness paired with the lazy bubbles is a great match for spicy foods like marinated tofu, pork, and Thai noodles and curries. Prosecco is also a classic pre-dinner drink with something simple, like a bag of potato chips, olives, or all on its own.

The Cocktail Queen

If you get into mixing drinks, you'll quickly find that A LOT of cocktails call for these lovely bubbles. Prosecco cocktails can be some of the most fun drinks around, but if you are jonesing to mix that Friday evening drink and you only have other bottles of bubbles on hand, don't fret. You can substitute with a few options. Spanish cava is a great substitute for your go-to prosecco cocktail when you can't seem to find a bottle. Cava carries similar fruit flavors but with a bit more lushness. Other domestic sparkling wines that don't have particular indications can work as well. Just be sure to look up some tasting notes to make sure the description vibes with your cocktail. Champagne or crémant can work as a fill in for prosecco as well, though keep in mind that you'll get more brioche, biscuit, yeast aromas and notes that could change the direction of your cocktail.

Spritzy Bubbles for the Win

Prosecco is so versatile and approachable that it makes sense to keep a few bottles around that you can throw on ice at a moment's notice. It's like your chill roommate who's always down for a good time. Sip these crisp and fruity bubbles on their own, pair with pizza, or splash some into your cocktail glass for the foundation of a creative drink.

Guide to Prosecco Wine for Beginners