Not all Proseccos are created equal. The best among these light and gently fruity sparkling wines, which hail from Italy's Veneto region, are made by farmers and smaller family run estates who grow and select the best grapes by hand. Unfortunately, those aren't the bottles that you see most often at your local wine store. Instead you'll likely find inferior bottles from bigger brands, many of which cut costs by buying wine in bulk, resulting in characterless fizz that is sometimes dosed with sugar to impart flavor. Here's the thing though: there's plenty of well-made Prosecco available for less than $20; it's usually just a matter of finding a shop that specializes in smaller producers or has a knowledgeable staff that can point you in the right direction.
Another way to identify the best Prosecco is to keep your eyes peeled for one of these two notes on the label: Conegliano-Valdobbiadene or Asolo. They're the names of the two Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (D.O.C.G.) zones in which Prosecco is produced, both of which mandate higher standards of production and quality control than their less assiduously monitored D.O.C. brethren.
If you like sour beers and earthy ciders, and you're seeking Prosecco that's powerfully dry, mineral-driven and almost saline, you'll score if you can find a bottle that says it's been made col fondo (literally, "with the bottom".) The term refers to Proseccos that were bottled unfiltered and unfined—meaning the yeast cells (called the lees) that induce fermentation and help produce CO2 are still in the bottle, adding tangy flavor and roundness in the mouth. While classic Prosecco is fully sparkling (called spumante), col fondo Proseccos are often frizzante: a bit softer and less intensely bubbly.
Here are six top-notch Proseccos—some from Valdobbiadene and some from Asolo, some filtered and some col fondo—to seek out this holiday season.
Sorelle Bronca Valdobbiadene Prosecco Extra Brut ($18)
The Bronca sisters in the Valdobbiadene D.O.C.G. craft this delicately effervescent sparkler from estate-grown fruit: primarily the lemony-floral glera grape (the base of most Proseccos) as well as small amounts of the indigenous perera, bianchetta, and verdiso grapes. The wine is packed with fuzzy white peach and tropical fruit flavors, balanced by hints of lemon oil, pear, and some savory fennel and white pepper notes on the finish. It's fresh and saline, with a puckery acidity that is wonderful with freshly shucked oysters.
Bele Casel Asolo Prosecco Superiore Extra Brut ($18)
This Asolo-made Prosecco has a classic peachy-apricot aroma, but it's more subtle than most, capturing the actual fresh fruits instead of a whiff of sweet gummy candies. More overtly juicy and fruit-driven than the minerally Sorelle Bronca, it has a frothy foam and bright—but not aggressive—green apple tartness. It makes a great welcome-to-the-party glass, especially when it's served with a platter of goat cheese crostini.
Silvano Follador Prosecco Brut ($19)
This biodynamic bottling from Valdobbiadene-based siblings Silvano and Alberta Follador has an exuberant fill-your-mouth-with-froth kind of effervescence. It's more mineral-driven than many Proseccos on the market, and has a bit more richness, with a citrus-peachy juiciness and Greek yogurt tang. Because it offers a little more weight, it can stand up to richer appetizers such a garlicky bacon-topped clams casino or deviled eggs crowned with smoked salmon.
2014 Bisson Vino Frizzante Trevigiana "Glera" ($20)
You won't find the word Prosecco on this lightly sparkling frizzante wine, since its beer-cap closure disqualifies it from D.O.C. status. Your only indication that you're in the right neighborhood is the bold-typed word "GLERA" at the top of the tiny label. This is a friendly sparkler that goes down easy, with inviting notes of fresh pear, white peach, and Meyer lemon oil, plus some herbal bitterness to counterbalance the fruit. Lean and fresh with soft bubbles, it's great with marinated olives and crispy roasted chickpeas.
Costadilà Bianco IGP Frizzante Prosecco ($20)
This delightful pale golden wine is bottled col fondo—it's cloudy from its contact with the lees, and has a texture that's more suede than silk. The intensity and brightness of the aroma hits you the second you stick your nose in the glass. Instead of Prosecco's classic peachy scent, this bottle unleashes a whirlwind of lemon verbena, sage, and chamomile. It's quite tart and salty, almost like a dry Spanish cider, balancing tangy citrus with pineapple and floral white peach. This energetic, nervy wine is a great companion to hard, salty cheeses and prosciutto.
Casa Coste Piane Valdobbiadene Prosecco ($23)
Find most Proseccos a bit too sweet? Here's a fantastic—and extremely dry—alternative, bottled col fondo liked the Costadilà Bianco above, and sealed with a regular wine cork instead of the normal cage-and-wire. It's vibrant in scent, with a distinctive piney, lemon verbena thing going on, and super-fine bubbles that feel like tiny pinpricks washing over your tongue. The potent grapefruity acidity goes out with citrus pith on the finish. It's exactly what you want to wash down gravlax with mustard sauce on toast.