The joys of prosecco

Taste - - Contents - STORY Bob Campbell mas­ter of wine PHO­TO­GRAPH Re­bekah Robin­son

Just touch­ing base about your next wine col­umn for Taste,” read the email from sub edi­tor Nick Rus­sell. “Is any­thing jump­ing out at you for a topic?” I was re­clin­ing by a pool some­where in the north of Italy. It was a swel­ter­ing 35°C, I had an ipad in one hand and a prosecco spritzer in the other. Right then it was the best thing I’d tasted in my life.

What is prosecco? Prosecco is a light, fruity Ital­ian sparkling wine made from glera grapes (once known as ‘prosecco’) grown in the Veneto and Fri­uli-venezia Gi­u­lia re­gions in north­ern Italy.

Prosecco comes in all shapes and sizes; it can be sparkling, semi-sparkling or still. Most are dry, but the wine can also be quite sweet, and can be white or pink in colour. The prosecco im­ported into New Zealand is all white, fully sparkling and dry, or at least dry-ish. The dri­est prosecco is la­belled ‘brut’ but there’s a slightly sweeter ver­sion, con­fus­ingly la­belled ‘ex­tra dry’ – ‘dry’ prosecco is in fact the least dry. The flavours of prosecco are sub­tle, which makes it a great base for sparkling cock­tails.

What’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween prosecco and Cham­pagne? Cham­pagne can only be pro­duced in the Cham­pagne re­gion of France and is made by fer­ment­ing chardon­nay, pinot noir and/or pinot me­u­nier to make a still wine that is then fermented for a sec­ond time in a bot­tle. Cham­pagne is more ex­pen­sive to pro­duce than prosecco and is typ­i­cally more com­plex, with more of an em­pha­sis on yeast flavours.

Prosecco is most of­ten fermented in large, stain­less-steel tanks to re­tain the nat­u­ral gas from fer­men­ta­tion. It is bot­tled rel­a­tively soon after­wards to max­imise fresh, fruity flavours. Top prosecco is fermented in the bot­tle but the ma­jor­ity is made in tanks.

Could prosecco be made in New Zealand? In the­ory, yes. The first glera grapevines are due to be planted this year in Gis­borne. I talked to wine­maker Steve Voy­sey, who is in­volved with the project. Steve be­lieves that they will be able to make and mar­ket sparkling wine from glera grapes, which can then be la­belled as prosecco, but the wine will not be ex­portable to EU coun­tries where the name is pro­tected.

Glera grapes have been grown in Aus­tralia since the early 1900s (where they are still known as prosecco); large fam­ily wine pro­ducer Brown Brothers makes an ex­cel­lent prosecco.

What’s the best or best value prosecco avail­able right now? Prosecco’s pop­u­lar­ity is cer­tainly helped by its af­ford­able pric­etag. There is plenty of choice be­low $20 while the most pres­ti­gious prosecco la­bels sel­dom creep above $30.

To find the best Ital­ian-made pros­ec­cos, I in­vited a num­ber of im­porters to sub­mit sam­ples for tast­ing. That re­sulted in 28 wines. I di­vided the bot­tles into two groups ac­cord­ing to their qual­ity: prosecco DOCG* is the high­est qual­ity level and prosecco DOC is be­low that. I then di­vided each group into sweet­ness lev­els from dri­est (brut) to sweet­est (dry) and tasted them in that or­der. For the win­ners see right…

* DOCG stands for Denom­i­nazione di Orig­ine Con­trol­lata e Garan­tita – a con­trolled and guar­an­teed des­ig­na­tion of ori­gin.

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