What is Col Fondo?

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We’d never speak poorly of Prosecco, but it’s about time some of our favorite bubbly takes a seat as Col Fondo emerges from obscurity. Col Fondo is the OG Prosecco, what you would have been served at a bustling Italian taverna if you asked for a glass of Prosecco, but it doesn’t look like the clean, carefree sparkling you’re used to.

Its name translating to “with the bottom,” or “with sediment,” Col Fondo is unfiltered and cloudy with lees left in the bottle. With its second fermentation occurring in the bottle, similar to Champagne, the result is something drier and more savory, a terroir-driven wine a little funky and a little sour with a lot of history.

Based in Asolo, Valdobbiadene and Conegliano, Col Fondo was the drink of generations past and a consequence of the seasons. Cool winter temperatures would pause fermentation, which would resume come spring temperatures, and the released carbon dioxide would lend the wine light effervescence. In contrast, Prosecco is largely made via the charmat method, with the secondary fermentation occurring in pressurized stainless steel tanks. Though invented by Professor Federico Martinotti in 1895, the pressurized tanks weren’t built and patented until 1910 by Frenchman Eugène Charmat.

So how does Col Fondo differ from its more famous cousin? For one, it’s less fizzy and might have a bitter aftertaste following its sour flavor. It also has enough body and minerality that it can age, yielding something complex but quaffable. For those eagle-eyed or who love (or hate) to pop a bottle of champagne, you’ll notice that Col Fondo has a crown cap rather than a cork. This is due to the second fermentation taking place in the bottle, as well as being the traditional method of sealing it, which many aim to pay tribute to.

Col Fondo fell out of popularity when big firms and distributors saw the potential for Prosecco’s easy drinking and quick financial returns. In the 1980s as demand surged for crisper, cleaner bubbles fermented in tanks, Col Fondo was cast aside by growers who weren’t immune to the allure of a quick profit either.

However, while the rest of the world started to forget about Col Fondo – if they had even heard about it in the first place – there remained a loyal group who felt like that new Prosecco had cast aside their roots, both literally and by rejecting the older, authentic values that had defined their upbringing. It’s thanks to them that col fondo is re-emerging, the renaissance of a distinctly regional vino influenced by terroir made by generations of Italians.

It’s also found a receptive audience in the United States, where drinkers are starting to yearn for all things artisanal and heirloom. Looking to pick up a bottle? Don’t spend too much time searching for a label that reads “Col Fondo” – the official, and more frequently used, term is “Rifermentato in Bottiglia.”

Intrigued? It could be time for your mimosa to get an upgrade.

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