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Elizabeth writes regularly about discovering the world through food and travel over at Compass and Fork.
Italy is a huge wine producer. They are second in the world in wine production, using both volumes and dollars as measurements. (If you are into trivia, Spain is number one.) Chianti is perhaps one of the best known Italian wines, and is the second largest export varietal. But do you know the largest export varietal? It is Prosecco. Prosecco, the perfect Italian sparkling wine, is great for every day drinking or a special occasion. This is one of the reasons it is rapidly growing in popularity.
5% of all Italian wine production is exported and the United States is the largest export market for Italian wine.
If you are buying Italian wine, how do you know what you are buying?
Europe uses a system known as DOP or Designated Product of Origin, to classify and protect, the production of many artisan products. The DOP system governs both the geographical location and the method of production, and tests the final product for authenticity. For drinks, including wine, the designations used are IGT, DOC, or DOCG. The strictness (and price) increases, with DOCG being the most strict or difficult classification for a producer to obtain. Italians are very proud of the terroir, the climate and the soil where the vines grow, and these designations recognize the terroir as well as the production method.
- Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT)- indicates a typical product from a region.
- Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC)- governs geographic region, grape varietals and production but the standards are a bit more lenient than DOCG, i.e the geographical region might be larger.
- Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG)- These are the strictest guidelines, and the most expensive end product. The geographic authenticity and quality of the wine is tested and certified by a committee (much like the rules governing parmagiano reggiano or traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena production.) DOCG status is difficult to obtain and few producers achieve this standard.
A personal favorite, prosecco is a light, effervescent (bubbly) white wine. Made in a similar, but not the same manner as Champagne. It is not called champagne as it not from the Champagne region in France (DOP).
How Prosecco differs from Champagne:
- It is a less expensive option, a good bottle of prosecco will be under $20 USD. Most good champagnes will be over $40 a bottle. So prosecco is a chance to have a bubbly when you would have any other wine, not just special occasions.
- Sparkling wines are fermented twice to achieve the bubbles, for champagne the second fermentation process takes place in the bottle. Prosecco’s second fermentation is completed in a large steel vat, then the wine is bottled.
- Prosecco is made from giera grapes, also commonly just called prosecco. Champagne can be made from any of three grapes pinot noir, pinot meunier, or chardonnay.
Prosecco with lots of bubbles is spumante (brut and extra dry varieties), and lightly sparkling is frizzante. Valdobbiadene and Conegliano are two very well known towns for prosecco production (check the labels on the bottle). Over 70 million bottles of prosecco were produced in this region in 2013. Mionetto is the largest exporter of prosecco from Italy to the US. A wine designated as Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze, is a top quality Prosecco comparable to a champagne quality and often served on special occasions.
Prosecco is great on its own, in an aperitivo, or paired with food including prosciutto, stuffed mushrooms, stuffed zucchini flowers or squash blossoms, creamy sauces, seafood and spicy asian food.
Now that you know what to look for, try finding a bottle at any good wine shop.