A few years ago, I went on a Prosecco-focused trip that took me from the Venetian lagoon all the way up into the foothills of the Dolomites. So I knew that the growing area for the wine’s main grape, Glera, was enormous —basically all of northeastern Italy. Not only that, but Glera is a prolific vine, yielding 18 tons of fruit per hectare. With nearly 25,000 hectares (about 62,000 acres) planted in the Prosecco DOC., that’s a lot of grapes.
No wonder Prosecco is the best-selling sparkling wine on the planet. There’s just so darned much of it. In 2020, about 483.5 million bottles were produced. Champagne vinifies less than two-thirds that amount. To throw one more statistic at you, the United States, which is the largest importer of Prosecco, guzzled 82,936,113 bottles of the stuff in 2019.
Suffice to say, when the Consorzio di Tutela della Denominazione di Origine Controllata Prosecco — the consortium of Prosecco producers — does something, they do it big. This year’s splash is painted pink.
In spring 2020, the Consorzio unveiled a new category, Prosecco DOC Rosé. Bottles have recently hit U.S. shores, and by next year at this time, they’ll be crowding the shelves, as the Consorzio ramps up production to 50 million bottles. As Master of Wine Christy Canterbury says, “The category is set to soar.” There’s good reason for her prediction because Prosecco DOC Rosé is all about quality.
Prosecco rosé itself is not new, but its designation means that producers must follow specific rules around production and sales, as well as pass quality control tests. “There’s a long history of rosé production in the area,” says Consorzio president Stefano Zanette, “but it wasn’t regulated under the DOC.” Since 2017, the Consorzio has been working on production standards for its best rosés, Zanette says, “determining the practices to follow in the vineyard and in the cellar that will increase the organoleptic sensorial quality.” In other words, the new restrictions will result in elevated flavors and aromas.
Producers that abide by the new rules can label their wines as DOC Rosé. The designation is a guarantee of excellence from the 111 producers that released them this year. “What I have tasted so far is fantastic,” says Canterbury. “There’s a seriousness and dimension to them that is less ethereal and just more hearty and exciting.” At around $15 a bottle, Prosecco DOC Rosé is, indeed, thrilling.
What makes a Prosecco a DOC Rosé?
Firstly, there are the grapes. For Prosecco to be designated DOC it must be made with at least 85 percent Glera. Though all sorts of red grapes have been used in the past to make rosé Prosecco, the new designation stipulates only one red grape in the blend. Prosecco DOC Rosé’s structure and the wild red-berry aromas come strictly from Pinot Noir, pruned to yields of 13.5 tons per hectare. That’s much more discerning viticulture than was applied to the Pinot in Prosecco historically. Producers that bother with such field work are showing off premium vineyards. The Pinot for Valdo’s DOC Rosé, for instance, comes from estate vineyards whose alluvial, chalky, and mineral-rich soils “define the aromas of the wine, bringing elegance, lightness, and roundness,” says winemaker Gianfranco Zanon. The well-tended Pinot adds depth to the Prosecco’s airy Glera.
Secondly, there are the bubbles. Nearly all Prosecco is made via the Charmat method, going through secondary fermentation in a stainless-steel tank. Normally, that process takes 30 days. Prosecco DOC Rosé, however, spends a minimum of 60 days in tank. Many producers leave it there longer. Valdo allows a full three months “to give more complexity of aromas and taste to the wine and to increase the stability of the hue over time,” Zanon says. “It also achieves a very fine and persistent perlage.” Longer fermentation, in other words, brings layered flavor, vibrant color, and silky bubbles to the wine.
Finally, Prosecco DOC rosés are not too sweet — at least not for Prosecco. You will find them labeled “brut nature,” “extra brut,” “brut,” or “extra dry,” signaling residual sugar levels ranging from zero to no more than 17 grams per liter. But you will not see them in most cloying categories, “dry” or “demi-sec.” As for other indicators on the label, “DOC” will be prominently noted, and so will the vintage. Finally, you’ll find a paper ribbon across the foil. It’s a government label certifying DOC status.
All of those indicators should tell you that, in the bottle, there’s balance between citrusy, floral, and vivacious red-berry flavors; between roundness and snap; between lusciousness and mineral refreshment. At 11 percent alcohol generally, these are easy-drinking yet elevated pink wines, made for picnics, beachy afternoons, and sipping alongside charcuterie and other hors d’oeuvres at cocktail parties. They’re perfect for just now, when, after a long, collective pause, we’re finally getting back to life’s pleasures.
Five Prosecco Rosé Wines to Try
Stop and smell the roses in this blossomy Prosecco, with a nose that yields to fresh strawberry flavor, with hints of blood orange, and an herbaceousness on the finish. There’s a lot going on here for the price. Price: $16/750 ml
Wildly aromatic, full of grapefruit peel, and some randy flower scents, this Prosecco almost smells like Sauvignon Blanc. Its zesty citrus notes meet a raspberry-flavored roundness for a delicious brunch-time bottle. Price: $19/750 ml
This powerful Prosecco spends three months in tank for secondary fermentation and then three months resting in the bottle. That’s a lengthy process for Prosecco, and it achieves the wine’s big, lush mouthfeel and balance of booming red fruit and savory balsamic notes. It’s a charming brute of a brut. Price: $15/750 ml
This estate-grown sparkling might be organic, vegan, and made using renewable energy, but there’s nothing precious about it. It’s a bright, red-berry salad of a Prosecco, exuding ripe, brash raspberry aromas and a cherry soda-pop appeal, but with a refreshingly dry and snappy finish. Enjoy it with prosciutto. Price: $13/750 ml
From an American négociant, this pale pink bubbly is only 10 percent pinot noir, so it shows its Glera grape. It’s a palate-cleansing pleasure offering delicate, lemon-lime briskness and a bittersweet citrus-peel finish with just a touch of strawberry jam. Price: $12.50/750 ml