Prosecco’s popularity continues to rise worldwide. In the U.S., sales grew 36% last year. In the U.K., a new label is creating buzz: “Skinny” Prosecco.
But what is that?
First of all, it’s a brand from British company Thomson & Scott. The legislated name on the label is still “Prosecco”—which designates a sparkling wine made from Glera grapes grown in Northeast Italy. Skinny claims that its fizz has less added sugar and fewer calories than other Proseccos. How might this be? Let’s take a look at how sparkling wine is made—and named.
Most sparkling wines start out as still wines. They are dry (they have no residual sugar), low alcohol, and very acidic (In other words: not wines you’d want to drink). They get their sparkle during a second fermentation. The process is triggered by adding yeast and sugar to the base wine.
Carbon dioxide—a natural by-product of fermentation—usually is allowed to escape from fermenting grape juice. But when you trap the gas, it dissolves in the wine—and re-emerges as bubbles after you pop the cork.
Bubbles can be trapped in two ways: via the traditional method or the tank method. With traditional method, the second fermentation takes place in a bottle (Champagne is made this way). With tank method, it takes place in a large, pressurized container, usually made of stainless steel (Prosecco is made mainly by tank method).
Here’s where it gets interesting, if you care about sugar in your sparkling wine. With traditional method, the yeast consumes all the sugar during the second fermentation. Just before bottling, the maker adds back some sugar (“dosage”) to balance the wine’s high acidity. Without dosage, most traditional-method sparkling wines would be too tart to enjoy.
With tank method, the secondary fermentation can be stopped—by chilling the juice. In that case, the yeast doesn’t convert all the sugar into alcohol. You are left with residual sugar in your bubbly wine.
So how can the consumer know how sweet a sparkling wine is? It is usually indicated on the label. Prosecco borrows its terms from Champagne, the original sparkler. The most commonly used names, from driest to sweetest, are: Brut, Extra Dry, Dry, and Demi-Sec. There are laws regulating which term to use, based on the grams per liter of residual sugar. Brut has under 12 g/l, for example, while Extra Dry falls between 12 and 20 g/l.
Skinny brand Prosecco contains 7 g/l of residual sugar, which the company claims is less than half that of others. Not exactly. “Skinny” falls in the Brut category. But twice their sugar—14g/l—would refer to an Extra Dry. A consumer wanting less sugar could choose any Brut Prosecco rather than an Extra Dry one. For that matter, some Proseccos are even drier.
Extra Brut has no more than 6 g/l, for instance. And in a bottle labeled “Dosaggio Zero”? You guessed it; no sugar at all remains in the wine.
When it comes to calories, alcohol also contributes to the bottom line. Prosecco, at 11% abv, is lower in alcohol (and therefore lower in calories) than many drinks.
Finally, portion size makes a difference! The calorie claims for “Skinny” Prosecco are based on a 100 ml serving—or 3.38 ounces. Sparkling wines, served in flutes, often are poured more modestly than still wines—another way their calorie count comes down. But most consumers would expect 4 or 5 oz in a flute.
So if a customer asks you for a Skinny Prosecco, point her to a “Brut” (or drier) selection, and suggest that she pour sparingly.
Jessica Green, DipWSET, WSET Certified Educator at the International Wine Center, was a book and magazine editor before she enrolled in her first WSET course, a decade ago. After one class, she decided to change careers. She completed her WSET Diploma in Mâcon, France and currently teaches WSET courses at the International Wine Center in New York. She has published wine writing in the Wall St. Journal and American Express publications. She also is pursuing the Master of Wine qualification.