Wine column for the week of 24 August 2015

Prosecco, a dry sparkling wine from Italy, has taken the world by storm in recent years. Last year it became the biggest-selling sparkling wine globally, overtaking champagne. The UK has traditionally been the biggest single market for champagne, and Prosecco sales also overtook those of champagne in that country last year.

Prosecco is mostly made from the Glera grape, which was formerly known as Prosecco. Other varieties such as Bianchetta Trevigiana, Verdiso and Perera can be used in the blend. The wine’s name comes from the Italian village where it is believed to have been first grown. In 2010 the Italian government decreed that “Prosecco” could only refer to the wine style and not the grape variety, which henceforth would be classified as Glera.

Global sales have been growing by double-digit percentages since 1998, helped by Prosecco’s low price compared with champagne. That low price is the main reason for sales success, combined with a significant rise in quality and a continuing worldwide interest in sparkling wine. Perhaps the world recession that started about 2008 produced an unconscious need to prove we can find bargain wines? The best single-vineyard Prosecco DOCG – DOCG is the highest tier of quality – remains affordable and the wine offers some ageing potential.

The main reason for a lower production cost is the winemaking process, known as the Charmat method. Secondary fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks, unlike champagne where fermentation occurs in the bottle, which involves much more human or machine intervention in things like turning or “riddling” the bottles.

Until the 1960s Prosecco was a sweet wine. Now it typically offers mineral and savoury notes with a hint of sweetness, plus the attractive tight bubbles or “bead” found in good champagne. The Glera grape gives aromas of white flowers such as wisteria, lily of the valley and acacia plus green apple, pear and citrus.

The best DOCG Proseccos come from the steep slopes between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene in north-east Italy. Italy has about 6,500 hectares of vines devoted to Prosecco grapes.

One of the interesting Prosecco makers to emerge in recent years is Bottega SpA, a distillery and winery located in Bibano in Treviso, about 45km north of Venice in the north east of Italy. The company started in 1977 as a grappa producer, but has slowly evolved into a wine producer.

Bottega SpA is best known for Bottega Gold Prosecco in its iconic gilded bottle, distributed to more than 90 countries. The bottle is produced using a complex metallic finishing process. Beyond the aesthetic appeal, the bottle’s gold plating protects the wine by preventing contact with light, preserving aromas and freshness and improving longevity.

Sandro Bottega, owner of the winery and distillery, originated the idea of eye-catching packaging for his Prosecco in 2000. His idea was to project the notion of “accessible luxury”. Some people complained the shiny bottle was an attempt to divert attention from the content’s quality. Bottega Gold was recently awarded two prestigious international prizes, presumably disproving this accusation.

Bottega Gold received the title of “Prosecco Master” at the second annual Prosecco Masters Competition that the British magazine the drinks business organised earlier this year. (Not subs: the magazine’s title style is all lower case). Only two Proseccos received this recognition. The magazine concluded that Prosecco “now seems bulletproof, having carved a niche as a stylish sparkling wine rather than simply as a cheap alternative to champagne”.

About the same time the noted British magazine Decanter awarded Bottega Gold a silver medal at the latest edition of its World Wine Awards, one of the globe’s largest and most influential wine competitions. Both competitions were tasted blind.

Though labelled as DOC, Bottega Gold is actually a DOCG Prosecco. The Glera grapes from which it is made are hand-picked in Valdobbiadene, in the heart of Italy’s DOCG region. Italian regulations stipulate that Prosecco DOCG can only be put in glass bottles in colours that are transparent to yellow, or green and brown to black. Thus Bottega Gold must be labelled as Prosecco DOC.

The company makes a range of Proseccos. Of particular note is the beautifully-named Il Vino dei Poeti (wine of the poets). The company web site says the name celebrates the way poets, artists and art lovers raise their glasses to toast the joy of being alive. This extra dry wine comes from Glera grapes grown at organic vineyards that only use natural pesticides and ban chemical from the site. The vines grow on land covered by a layer of grape mulch that stops the growth of weeds.

Darkish straw yellow in colour, it is intensely fruity with pronounced aromas of ripe apple, typical of organically grown grapes that tend to oxidise. It would be wonderful as an aperitif or in cocktails but would also match well with fish and poultry.

One of my favourite Proseccos is sealed with a beer bottle cap known as a crown cap. The Fundum Il Vino dei Poeti DOC Prosecco is fermented in the bottle. This preserves the natural yeast deposits and the wine appears cloudy in the glass. It is dry with low levels of sugar.

The crown cap is a hallmark of the bottle, the company said. It is similar to the everyday Proseccos that Italian farm families consume throughout the meal and offers flavours of apple and dried fruits with a savoury finish.

It is probably best to decant this wine to let the sediments settle and allow oxygen into the glass, which improves the flavours. It is suitable for diabetics, because of the low level of sugars. Welcome to the new world of sparkling wines.

Words: 959

Categories: Not home, wine

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