Wine Ink column: Prosecco puts the spark in sparkling wines
February 15, 2017
A SPARKLING WORLD
The world is full of bubbles. There are a number of wines classified as sparklers. Here are a few to know and where they come from:
• Cava, Spain
• Champagne, France
• Cremant, France
• Espumante, Portugal
• Traditional Method, United States
• Methode Cap Classique, South Africa
• Moscato, Italy
• Prosecco, Italy
• Sekt, Germany/Austria
• Sparkling Shiraz, Australia
• Sovetskoye Shampanskoye, Russia
UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Bisol Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze D.O.C.G. Spumante Dry, S. Stefano di Valdobbiadene / Treviso — Of all the Prosecco produced, the wines of the slopes of the Cartizze hold special prominence. This example, produced by Bisol, is made from 100 percent estate-grown Glera grapes from an area in which a particularly mild microclimate combines perfectly with an extremely ancient terrain. It is a gem and a premier example of the floral aromas and fruit flavors that merge to make Prosecco so beguiling.
One of the wine world's success stories in 2016 was the boom in Prosecco. The Northern Italian bubbles rose to reach all-time records on the back of a 2015 harvest, which produced in excess of 400 million bottles.
The United Kingdom has proven to be particularly passionate about Prosecco and is the world's largest export market for the wines. According to figures from the Italian Prosecco DOC, the body which keeps track of such things, 70 percent of what is made is exported beyond Italy, with about 35 percent going to the United Kingdom and 17 percent finding its way to America. Consumption in the U.S. market has gone up by close to 30 percent in the last year alone.
So popular is Prosecco that it is viewed with favor by makers of both American sparkling wines and imported Champagne producers, who see their sales rising despite the competition. Prosecco is seen by many as a "gateway bubbly," introducing consumers to the pleasures of "perlage," that dancing chain of bubbles that flows to the top of a glass of sparkling wine. The success of Prosecco has promoted a new interest in sparkling wine that floats all boats.
So why is there so much interest in Prosecco? Perhaps it's because no other wine on the planet combines the delight, the versatility and, yes, the affordability of the finest Prosecco.
Start with delight. It is almost impossible to have a bad day when a glass of Prosecco is in your hand. Spend an early evening on a Venetian Island and you will see residents and visitors alike sipping the low-alcohol, floral, fruity wines on their terraces from elegant, fluted glasses. It is a tradition for Northern Italians to mark the end of the workday with a glass of Prosecco. It is even said to be an elixir with properties that revive the spirit.
But Prosecco is more than just an afternoon repast. It is also great wine to pair with food. One solid international pairing is the natural affinity a dry Prosecco can share with the sushi dishes of Japan. The freshness and effervescence of the bubbles work well with raw, fresh fish, and the clean profile of the wines allows the flavors of the sea to emerge. And Prosecco is often found in modern and classic cocktails. The original Bellini, fashioned at Harry's Bar in Venice by Giuseppe Cipriani in the 1930s, blends Prosecco with fresh white peach puree to make a concoction that is amongst history's most widely consumed cocktails.
And buying a bottle of Prosecco can be done on a whim. No need to take out a second mortgage. For less than $15, you can find a perfectly good bottle. Even the finest Prosecco from the Cartizze Hill of the DOCG region of Conegliano Valdobbiadene are in the $30 range.
There are a couple of reasons why Prosecco is so affordable, especially when compared to more expensive sparkling wines such as Champagne. First, there has been a concerted marketing effort by the region to change the perception of the wine and to put it on a larger world stage. Second, the production of the wine, which for the large part is made to be consumed within 18 months of the harvest when it is still young and fresh, has exploded. More wines to market means lower prices.
Best Drunk Young
In 2009, the Prosecco DOC made a concerted effort to help define what Prosecco was by delineating a rather large region that included parts of Veneto and Friuili as being the home of Prosecco. This is much like how Champagne has created a "brand" from wines that are made in a specific geographic region according to rules that define which grapes are allowed.
They also identified glera as the backbone grape of the wine, decreeing that for a wine to be called Prosecco, at least 85 percent of the juice must come from that grape. Prosecco is also known for being produced using the Charmat Method of wine making, where the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in tanks called autoclaves. This produces a fresh wine that is best drunk young.
Perhaps the greatest misperception about Prosecco is that it is a cheaper alternative to Champagne. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the prevalent personalities of both wines are the bubbles, or perlage, that make them so visually attractive, the two wines provide completely unique and separate drinking experiences.
Different grapes, different terroir, different production methods mean different wines. Give a fresh, affordable Prosecco a chance. Delightful.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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