Why Prosecco Is Rivalling Champagne This Winter
From left: La Jara Prosecco DOC Treviso Brut. Image courtesy of La Jara; Ca’ di Rajo Prosecco Doc Treviso Millesimato Dry. Image courtesy of Ca’ di Rajo; Bellenda Prosecco DOC Treviso Tranquilo. Image courtesy of Bellenda
Why the bubble won’t burst for this sparkling Italian wine anytime soon .
“Fun, extrovert, unfussy” is how Ms Jancis Robinson describes drinkers of prosecco in her book The 24-Hour Wine Expert, which seems appropriate as festive season approaches. (Champagne drinkers, meanwhile, are labelled “sybarite”, which sounds fun but a little hard to sustain, and certainly not as convivial.)
This history of prosecco is one of changing identities. It began life as a still wine in the 16th century, with a grape that dates back to antiquity, and was named after a town in northeastern Italy.
The Prosecco area (which now sweeps across from Trieste, includes Veneto, Friuli and Venezia Giulia) has Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) recognition, which means that it has met specific criteria regarding region, grape, and method of production. And, in 2009, two sub-regions were given Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita (DOCG) status, which denotes a higher quality of wine and usually a much smaller producing area (very few Italian wines qualify for DOGC).
What also sets the prosecco history apart is that most producers in the region have adopted the charmat method, a technique developed in the early part of the 20th century whereby second fermentation happens within stainless-steel pressure tanks. This allows for larger and quicker production, higher volumes and the means to undercut the price of other sparkling wines. But it is not simply the cost that makes prosecco more accessible for consumers – it is also the wine itself.
Prosecco must be at least 85 per cent glera grape, a variety that makes for a fresh, light and aromatic wine; it is ideally drunk within the first years after harvest. Perfect as an aperitif, it doesn’t overpower. And, as most prosecco has bubbles, the wine feels celebratory without too much fuss and pomp.
But to simplify the story of prosecco as one of cheap bubbles is to miss out on interesting heritage, great producers and number of unique styles of wine. In recent years, the push for organic vineyards has expanded and with it a more considered approach to producing the wine. One of the leaders in this is La Jara. As the producer’s export manager, Mr Francesco Galardi, explains, “20 years ago we saw the problems caused by chemicals in the vineyard, and that is when we decided to adopt the organic method”.
Extra dry spumante is the most popular style of prosecco, with 12 to 17 grams of residual sugar per litre and pronounced bubbles. But here are five other styles also worth exploring.
Frizzante has half the strength of bubbles as spumante and, as it leans into a still wine, it works well with food. It often has a string-tied flat cork, which is an old, traditional way of capping sparkling wine in the region. “Frizzante feels less demanding,” says Ms Renza Zanin of Ca’ di Rajo. “It is excellent with starters, or a vegetable risotto – and a must with radicchio trevigiano.” Ca’ di Rajo is committed to traditional production methods and, as well as using a string-tied flat cork for its frizzante, the producer utilises the Bellussera system, an ancient cultivation technique that creates a natural roof protecting the grapes.
This follows the méthode traditionnelle whereby second fermentation happens in the bottle. “These are my favourite, they have the most personality and complexity,” says Mr Bert Blaize, head of wine at Mr Jackson Boxer’s restaurants. “A good example, and a nice introduction, would be from the producer Malibran, which you can get at Passione Vino in Shoreditch.”
A brut has less than 12g/l of residual sugar. The drier it is, the more it allows you to enjoy the wine throughout a meal. La Jara’s brut is 6g/l and Mr Galardi suggests that, as well as pairing it with classic Italian-style aperitif snacks – such as olives, salami and Italian cheeses – it works well with sushi and sashimi. Mr Sonny Hodge, owner of London’s Diogenes the Dog wine bar, says “the best place to drink prosecco is on the counter bar at Margot, with snacks, enjoying a glass [of brut] by producers Adami.”
This is a great alternative to a dessert wine, with 17 to 32g residual sugar per litre. But it can still have a crisp and dry finish, making it a good match for both a cheese course and a rich, sweet dessert. Mr Blaize notes “the residual sugar in these wines works well with spicy food and the bubbles refresh your palate. Or, if you’re having a lazy night in, with Bombay mix or flamin’ hot Monster Munch. These styles are harder to track down but worth the effort as they’re incredibly quaffable.”
The least common of all, and nigh on impossible to get outside of Italy, is the still prosecco Tranquillo. This makes up less than five per cent of all prosecco production and is predominantly produced around the Treviso area. A delicate wine, like it’s sparkling siblings, it can be a refreshing aperitif, but it is also the perfect accompaniment to a leisurely lunch that starts with Veneto salami and moves on to veal or fish.