We’ve all had Prosecco before: as an aperitif, for a toast, or in mimosas at brunch. The vast majority of Prosecco is made with the charmat method, where secondary fermentation (the bubbly part) is made in huge pressurized stainless steel tanks. The method was invented by Professor Federico Martinotti in 1895 and the autoclave (the pressurized tanks) were designed, built, and patented by Frenchman Eugène Charmat in 1910.
But how was Prosecco made before 1895?
The answer is with secondary fermentation in the bottle. One of the first quotes about Prosecco with “second fermentation in the bottle” goes back to before the 9th Century. This esoteric style is colloquially known as Col Fondo – which literally translates in Italian to “with the bottom”, meaning that sediment or lees are present. Another term often used is Ancestrale or Metodo Ancestrale.
In contrast to the more familiar, filtered Prosecco, there is less sweetness in Ancestrale. And, unlike Champagne, there is no disgorgement. The resulting wine is cloudy and has a funky, even sour nose and flavor, with yeasty sediment settling on the bottom of the bottle. A few even have a pleasantly bitter, lingering aftertaste. Prosecco Ancestrale wines are frizzante rather than spumante, so slightly less fizzy as well.
Ancestrale on the rise
In the past few years, Prosecco Ancestrale have seen a resurgence. According to Prosecco DOC Consortium data, approximately 30 producers in the Prosecco DOC region are making Prosecco Ancestrale. In 2015, more than 252,000 bottles were produced and in 2016 the number rose 25 percent to more than 316,000 bottles. It’s still a drop in the bucket in terms of overall Prosecco production, which topped 355 million bottles in 2015, but it is also a new niche style worth seeking out in restaurants and wine shops, especially if you’re a fermented foods fanatic!
Image credits: Mads Eneqvis