Italian Prosecco is one of the world’s favourite sparkling wines. Wine lovers all over the world love its refreshing acidity, light fruity flavour and, perhaps above all, its accessible price. While Prosecco generally lacks the prestige of Champagne or the complexity of Cava, it still represents great value for money.
The major difference between Prosecco and these other sparkling wines is the way that they’re made. Cava and Champagne are produced using the traditional method (sometimes called the Champagne method), a time-consuming and labour-intensive process involving secondary fermentation inside the bottle. Above all else, this process is expensive, and the wines it produces tend to be the most expensive sparkling wines. Prosecco, on the other hand, is made using a different method entirely: the tank method.
Making Prosecco 101: The tank method
First things first: A little geographical disclaimer. Like “Champagne”, the term “Prosecco” is legally protected and so for a sparkling wine to be labelled “Prosecco” it must come from the designated regions within Friuli and Veneto that form the Prosecco DOC or Prosecco DOCG production zones.
With that out of the way, let’s now look at the tank method itself. Also known as the Charmat method or cuve close method, this is how Prosecco and most of the world’s inexpensive sparkling wines are produced. This is a more cost efficient method that eschews secondary bottle fermentation altogether: The wine is already sparkling by the time it is bottled. The process goes a little something like this:
- Grapes are harvested, pressed and fermented to produce a still, dry base wine.
- This base wine is put into a large, stainless steel tank, along with a mixture of sugar, yeast nutrients and clarifying agent. The tank is sealed and the secondary fermentation takes place under carefully controlled conditions.
- With the secondary fermentation completed, the wine is now sparkling. The dead yeast cells, or lees, are removed through filtration.
- Under a pressurised environment, the sparkling Prosecco is placed into bottles.
Those familiar with the traditional method will appreciate that the tank method process is a lot simpler. It requires less time and less physical labour to produce sparkling wine. As a result, wines produced using this method tend to be a lot more affordable.
The main benefit of the tank method is that it is so cost effective. Prosecco can be produced for considerably less than Cava, Champagne and other traditional method wines, and so are very competitively priced. Critics of the tank method would say that the resulting wine is considerably less nuanced than traditional method bubbly, that it lacks nuance and isn’t capable of ageing in the way that great Cavas and Champagnes are.
Taste test: Traditional method vs. tank method
The beauty of wine is that most rules and conventional wisdom can be easily tested by simply grabbing a couple of bottles and tasting. Why not grab a bottle of tank method Prosecco and taste it alongside the more complex wines of Cava or Champagne?
The tank method does not usually involve the wine having extended contact with the lees. It is the lees that contribute a lot of yeast flavours in Champagne. This can give these traditional method wines interesting flavours of biscuit, brioche and toast that are said to be lacking in Prosecco. Grab an aged Champagne or Cava and compare it alongside an everyday Prosecco, and see of yourself. Try something like Louis Roederer Brut Premier from Champagne or a vintage Cava like Naveran Brut Nature Millésime 2013.
Well, what do you think? Can Prosecco stand up to the complexity and depth of a good Cava or Champagne?