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Good Bubbles For the Buck: Picking The Best Prosecco

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[Photo: Robyn Lee]

I've been noticing a lot of fatigue around me this time of year. Work fatigue: toiling like crazy until we make it to the actual holiday part of the holidays. Shopping fatigue: even if online shopping doesn't have as much of a toll on the body, it's clearly crushing my credit card. And particularly in New York, tourist fatigue—and I don't mean being a tourist, I mean dodging them. Because seriously, if your plan is to just stand around in groups and look confused, at least move to the side. Otherwise, I may have to accidentally push you.

But fortunately, there's one exhaustion my friends and I haven't quite fallen into yet, and that is bubble fatigue. Even my boyfriend, who was recently promoted to official Bubble Commissioner at all of our sparkling wine tastings (i.e., he keeps track of how bubbly each wine is), still has the vision and the drive to enlighten us all with his bubble commentary.

Could it be that we all just need a little fun, affordable bubbly? At a time when our eyelids and bank accounts are looking rather droopy, a few bottles of fizz are welcome, and Prosecco can often be a good option—for half the cost of Champagne. We just need to learn a little more about the options and what to look for.

As you may know, Prosecco is a sparkling white wine from Italy—as well as the grape it's made from (though the grape is also known as Glera.) Prosecco is typically a bit more fruity than Champagne or Cava (we'll get into why in a bit.) This week we'll get into the specifics of what to you'll see on the bottle, how Prosecco is made, how to enjoy it, and a few recommended bottles to pick up before the holidays take over.

Reading the Label

Prosecco is produced in the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions of Italy, and you might see a few specific locations on the label. For example, some bottles say "Treviso", which is a province (also the name of a city in the province) in the Veneto region. You may also find Prosecco from the Conegliano or Valdobbiadene areas within Treviso, and these names may also be indicated on the label to give more context on the specific area where the grapes were grown.

The labels of Prosecco bottles also will tell you how sweet the wine is. Sweetness in Prosecco is the result of residual sugar—sugar left over after fermentation that has not been turned into alcohol.

From driest to sweetest, the residual sugar indicators on a label are: Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry (or Extra Sec / Extra Seco—hey, we're learning other languages with our wine!), Dry (or Sec / Seco), Demi-sec (or Semi-seco), and lastly, Doux (or Dulce). Most of the Proseccos you'll find in the store are Brut or Extra Dry, though.

How It's Produced

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[Photograph: Sparkling wine from Shutterstock]

After the Prosecco grapes are pressed, the juice is separated from the skins and undergoes a primary fermentation to become wine. How does this wine go from still to sparkles? For this, a secondary fermentation is required to release carbon dioxide—the bubbly side product of turning sugar into alcohol. For Prosecco, this fermentation occurs in pressurized tanks, unlike Champagne or Cava, which are re-treated with yeast to allow for their secondary fermentation right in the very bottle the wine will be aged and eventually served. The process prosecco goes through is called the Charmat Method or Metodo Italiano. The same process is often used to make Lambrusco.

Once the secondary fermentation is over, the yeast is filtered out and the Prosecco is bottled under pressure. But since the wine isn't in close extended contact with the lees (that's the spent yeast cells) in the bottle, you end up with more pure fruit flavors, rather than the yeasty complexity that you might find with Champagne. Another difference between using the Charmat Method instead of the M├ęthode Champenoise is that you end up with larger bubbles that tend not to last as long.

The upside? The Charmat Method is more economical than the traditional method, meaning Prosecco is often a great option if your looking for bubbles that are light on the wallet.

How to Serve Prosecco

Proseccos are best enjoyed chilled to around 45 degrees Farenheit. And while sparkling wine flute look ever-so-fancy, don't be afraid to serve in regular wine glasses so that you can actually fit your nose in there and sniff like a wine pro (the Prosecco tastes better when you can smell it!)

Many Proseccos are totally fine on their own, served as an aperitif before the beginning of a meal. But if you'd like to enjoy bubbles with food, Prosecco pairs well with many light dishes like sushi or fish cooked with lemon, or a cheese plate (or mac and cheese.) It can even go with some fruity desserts, but be mindful of the sugar content—a very dry Prosecco and a super sugary dessert probably won't be a match made in heaven—the sweetness will make the wine taste bitter and thin.

Our Top Prosecco Picks

We've tried a whole slew of 13 Proseccos to come up with a list of wines we'd proudly recommend.The wines we tried were all produced using the Charmat method and were of similar sweetness level—mostly Brut or Extra Dry. Read on for a few great affordable ($18 or under) options for this holiday season.

With a luxurious light blue label that reminded us of Tiffany's, the La Marca Prosecco DOC Extra Dry was a clear winner for about $13. The savory-sweet aroma reminded us of the classic pairing of apples and cheese. This wine was very balanced, that one taster noted as being the "Goldilocks of Prosecco," with a crisp dryness to balance the sweeter notes of golden delicious apple. With a welcome richness and a pleasing hint of meyer lemons, this bottle definitely lived up to its Tiffany-like label.

The Nino Franco Rustico DOC Brut ($15) started with a scent of white flowers and lemon zest, but had a pleasant complexity of flavor. This dry bottle had tiny bubbles that lingered, which even in the dark, cold of New York in December, reminded us of summer. The gravelly mineral notes and hints of green apple were complemented by a gingery warmth on the finish.

The Bortolomiol Prosecco DOC Treviso Extra Dry ($18) quickly fills up the glass with bubbles on the first pour, which mirrors exactly what happens in your mouth—tiny bubbles that swell up in your mouth and linger for quite a while. The sweet smell of honey gives way for fruity notes of gala apples and ripe pears on the palate, which were enhanced by the slight boost of sweetness.

The Torresella Prosecco DOC Extra Dry ($16) actually started with a relatively flat aroma—just slight hints of lemon. But the flavor of this wine was compelling, with a sweetness of nectarine flesh balanced by vibrant acidity. Although this option is great on its own—one taster noted it made him feel like you could easily go overboard with this wine—consider sipping it with salty aged cheeses.

Great Values

The Avissi Prosecco DOC Extra Dry ($13) was barely pale yellow in color, but had a sweet, fruity scent, like apples and honey. This wine was very refreshing with hints of melon, and a savory undertone of white pepper on the finish. Serve it with prosciutto (and maybe even prosciutto and melon.)

At $10 a pop, the Mionetto Prosecco DOC Treviso Brut is a fun and affordable options. The scent reminded us of peaches and apricots, but it's dry and pear-flavored, with light hints of lemon and toast and tiny bubbles that flatten out over time. It's refreshing (which is good at a crowded New Year's party.)

The Caposaldo Prosecco DOC Brut ($13) offered light fruity scents of grapefruit and pear. Balancing sweet apple with a dry backbone, this easy-drinking wine had just a tinge of bitterness. It's awesome with a gooey triple cream cheese.

The Lunetta Prosecco DOC Brut ($12) had a surprising savory complexity. Hints of tropical fruit, like guava, gave way for a balanced ripe grapefruit flavor once you tasted it. With its crisp, clean finish, we were happy to pour a second glass.

The rest of our bottles were unremarkable; simple and fizzy, without much interesting going on. You could do worse at a party, but we'll be buying the bottles above. Have you tried any Prosecco recently? Do you have any bottles to recommend? Let us know in the comments section!

About the author: Seema Gunda is an avid wine traveler, collector, and student with a background in chemistry and a day job in consulting.

Disclosure: Wines were provided as samples for review consideration.

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