The joys of prosecco
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.