Above: Pinot Noir is grown across northern Italy for the production of sparkling wine, including Prosecco DOC and DOCG.
Many American wine professionals, including Italian-focused tradesfolk, will be surprised to learn that Pinot Noir is one of the “authorized” grapes in the production of Prosecco DOCG and Prosecco DOC (Pinot Noir is called “Pinot Nero” in Italian).
According to regulations for both appellations, the wines must be made with a minimum of 85 percent Glera — formerly known as Prosecco, the primary grape used in both appellations. But up to 15 percent of Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera, and Glera Lunga — traditional, local grape varieties — may be added. And the same holds for “international” varieties Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc), Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir), Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris), and Chardonnay.
In the case of Pinot Noir, the grapes must be vinified “off their skins,” in other words, without skin contact, so as to avoid color imparted by pigments in the skins.
In the light of this, it should come as no surprise that Pinot Noir, vinified on its skins as a red wine, will be allowed in the newly proposed “Prosecco DOC Rosé” that consumers could see on the shelves of their favorite wine shops as early as 2020.
The Prosecco DOC consortium is currently considering an already drafted amendment to appellation regulations that would call for Prosecco Rosé to be made with a minimum of 85 percent Glera grapes and 10-15 percent Pinot Noir, the only other grape variety to be included for the likely-to-be category.
But bottlers won’t be able to source the Pinot Noir from outside growers. According to the amendment under consideration, only “estate-grown” Pinot Noir, harvested from estate-owned and managed vineyards in the Prosecco DOC, will be allowed for the production of Prosecco Rosé.
The proposed regulations for the production of Prosecco Rosé have been met by skepticism and cynicism by trade observers who see it as a subversion of Prosecco’s authenticity. But many producers I’ve spoken to feel it’s a natural evolution for the region and the appellation, where growers and bottlers have been following market trends for decades now — with overwhelming success.
When I first lived in Italy in the late 1980s, Prosecco was a highly local phenomenon. It was still sold in demijohns and my Paduan schoolmates would drive up to hills in Valdobbiadene and Conegliano townships (Treviso province) where they would fill the trunks of their cars with wine purchased directly from growers. By the late 1990s, with large négociant bottlers focusing heavily on foreign markets, all of that had changed. Today, Prosecco producers will proudly tell you, an acre of Cartizze — Prosecco’s most highly prized subzone — costs more than an acre in Napa or Barolo.
Many Prosecco bottlers already sell sparkling rosé that’s made with Glera and Merlot, a commonly planted variety in the Piave River Valley. I’ve tasted a lot of them and they can be enjoyable. But the few examples of Pinot Noir-driven rosé sparklers from Prosecco I’ve tasted have more depth, especially when the dosage is restrained.
Tradition — with a capital “T” — is a fluid term in wine parlance. When I first tasted Prosecco 30 years ago, you could hardly find it outside of Italy’s Veneto region where it’s produced. Today, it’s the most popular sparkling wine in the English-speaking world. The appellation has changed radically since my first Prosecco kiss and the wines barely resemble the style that the previous generation enjoyed locally. They can be very good but they are only remotely linked (in my view and on my palate) to the wines of yesteryear.
However you feel about the new Prosecco rosé, it’s probably coming to a town near you.