To mark National Prosecco Day we take a closer look at this iconic Italian wine and what you need to be sure of before you reach for a bottle.
It’s the warm months of summer in Asia, and that means you’re probably celebrating outside. Nothing goes better with the season than chilled sparkling wine (or sparkling wine cocktails) but don’t think that all bottles of bubbles were born equal.
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We generally think of champagne, or wines produced in the champagne method, when we think of sparking wine. The big houses of champagne have done an effective job of connecting their French wines with celebration and there’s just something about the sound the cork makes when it leave the bottle that tells us it’s time to party. However, there are plenty of great wines produced far from champagne and in entirely different styles, including Spanish cava, Portugese espumante, and, you guessed it, Italian prosecco.
As friendly to the wallet as it can be to the palate, prosecco is an unsung hero from Italy’s north; a great topper for traditional Italian cocktails like the Spritz Veneziano and a great wine to have in the fridge, it captures all the elegance of champagne but with a decidedly down-to-earth persona. However, there are proseccos that will have you tapping along to La Traviata as you whip up a batch Spaghetti al pomodoro for your next dinner party and the kind of stuff served at cheap cocktail parties that leaves you cursing the gods of ethanol the next morning.
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Made with at least 85 percent Glera grapes that come from nine defined provinces in Italy’s North, proseccos come in four sweetness levels – brut (also most common in champagne), extra dry, dry, and the less common demi-sec, all of which are based on residual sugar levels. It may seem counterintuitive but brut is the least sweet, followed by extra dry, dry, and demi-sec. This is important, especially if you’re planning on drinking the wine without laying out a feast.
There are also regional designation differences between DOC, the much larger geographic footprint in which prosecco can be produced as ‘prosecco’ and the more focused DOCG region, which is centred around the towns of Conegliano, Valdobbiadene and Asolo, where the landscape and rules tend to yield a superior and pricier product.
When reaching for a prosecco, avoid mass-produced brands that are likely to be made with commercial yeast and laced with sulfur – a sure-fire way to end the party with a headache. These wines also feature added sugar and acidity, which gives a sense of ‘freshness’. Often these wines have bubbles produced using the Charmat method, which means carbonating a tank of wine the way soda beverages are made, rather than allowing for fermentation to take place in the bottle. This is a quick and effective method but one that doesn’t always produce the best final products. This is one of the reasons cheaper proseccos go flat quicker.
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What you should be looking for is sustainable viticulture, native yeast fermentation, and winemakers that are openly proud of their products. Do you get a sense of where the wine comes from, where the grapes are grown, and who is behind the process when you look at the bottle? Look for wines that are made by people, not by machines, and by families, not multinationals.
There are indications that can be found on prosecco wine labels that will help. Look out for the names Valdobbiadene and Conegliano, the traditional hometowns of prosecco. You also want to look out for the ‘controlled designation of origin’ DOCG (or at least DOC) markings to ensure it’s genuine prosecco you’re drinking as there’s many a fake on the market.
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Of course, price is also a factor. If you’re drinking wine that’s cheaper than a happy meal, you might be in trouble. Prosecco is naturally cheaper than champagne, for a variety of reasons, but it shouldn’t be ‘too cheap’, unless you really want a hangover. If you’re looking to sip your way into the prosecco scene, buy your first wines from a bottle shop rather than a supermarket, somewhere where you can ask for advise and recommendations.
If you’re looking for a ‘session wine’ that you can sip on all afternoon, perhaps aim for something like a Chiaro Prosecco Asolo DOCG Superiore NV or a Carpené Malvolti Prosecco Superiore Conegliano Valdobbiadene. If you’re looking for a wine to make spritzers with, it’s ok to let a little more sweetness in. Try a Foss Marai Native Prosecco DOCG Strada di Guia 109 Valdobbiadene Extra Dry or even a N.V. Villalta Prosecco Vino Spumante Extra Dry DOC.
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