My off-again, on-again love af­fair with pros­ecco

Sup­ply and de­mand has spoiled this wine in the past decade. But the good stuff is still out there

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - FOOD DRINK -

VIC­TO­RIA MOORE

skeins of mist coil­ing through nar­row val­leys. The flavour is sub­tle but also dis­tinc­tive: there’s a gen­tle creami­ness; a scent of ‘Con­fer­ence’ pears, white peach and yeast.

We opened this wine on a cold, dark evening and sipped it with fatty, thin sheets of pro­sciutto and grainy lumps of parme­san and I en­joyed it in a way that I just haven’t en­joyed pros­ecco for years.

And al­leluia to that. I’ve lost in­ter­est in the bland pros­ecco that fills the su­per­mar­ket shelves, but there is an­other side to this wine, and it’s one worth get­ting to know.

Pros­ecco has been one of the most – if not the most – suc­cess­ful wines of the last decade. In the 10 years from 2008, pros­ecco sales in the UK rose by an ex­tra­or­di­nary 6,000 per cent. It has done so well that it stopped be­ing a drink and be­came a leisure ac­tiv­ity (“Come over for a glass of pros­ecco”), its name em­bla­zoned on sweaters and greet­ings cards, and co-opted as the pun­ning ti­tle of an OPI nail var­nish, Be There in a Pros­ecco.

Such high de­mand has caused a few prob­lems. For in­stance, a cou­ple of years ago there was a pros­ecco short­age so acute that one su­per­mar­ket re­duced the amount of glera (the key pros­ecco grape) in its own-la­bel pros­ecco from 100 per cent to 85 per cent

(this is legally al­lowed) just so that they could make more of it. From my per­spec­tive, though, the big­gest is­sue has been the drop in qual­ity, or, at least, the drop in the qual­ity you can ex­pect for the money you pay. The sim­ple rules of sup­ply and de­mand ap­ply here. De­mand has been strato­spheric

– and so much of the pros­ecco now of­fered up for our con­sump­tion has the sour tang of old boiled sweets and headaches. I think it says a lot that, even when it no longer needed

CAMPANEO OLD VINES GARNACHA 2017

to, Sains­bury’s con­tin­ued to add pinot bianco and chardon­nay to its Taste the Dif­fer­ence pros­ecco – be­cause the wine tasted bet­ter than it did when it was 100 per cent glera.

Run­away pop­u­lar­ity rarely lasts.

It’s a short and rather quick step from there to pariah sta­tus. It hap­pened to chardon­nay, and it also hap­pened to pinot gri­gio. This year, sales of pros­ecco in the UK fell by 7 per cent – the first drop since the sparkling wine be­gan its me­te­oric rise. I hear friends talk­ing about this drink they once loved in dis­parag­ing terms. But the Ital­ians are one step ahead. They know that we know the mass-mar­ket side to the sparkling wine – now they want to show us its more bou­tique in­car­na­tion.

Over the sum­mer, I re­ceived a cou­ple of boxes of wine: 14 bot­tles of pros­ecco se­lected to show­case its more ar­ti­san qual­i­ties and change my per­spec­tive on the wine. It worked.

Rather than putting all the bot­tles on my work­bench and swill­ing through them, as I usu­ally do, I opened two or three at once, to give my­self time to get to know them.

I par­tic­u­larly en­joyed those made in the tra­di­tional col fondo style – a pros­ecco ver­sion of the “pét nat” that has be­come so pop­u­lar. Most pros­ecco un­der­goes its sec­ondary fer­men­ta­tion in stain­less steel tanks – it’s a rel­a­tively cheap way to make wine sparkle. Like cham­pagne, col fondo wines have their sec­ondary fer­men­ta­tion in the bot­tle. Un­like cham­pagne, they are sold still on the lees (dead yeast cells), which, as well as adding a sub­tly bready flavour, make the wine slightly cloudy. “You can choose to drink it limpid, or veiled,” ex­plained the la­bel of one such wine, “by pour­ing, with­out shak­ing, into a carafe, or straight into the glass so that it starts clear and be­comes richer as you work your way down the bot­tle.”

There were also some very del­i­cate, but very pre­cise, wines from the Car­tizze re­gion, some­times re­ferred to as “pros­ecco’s grand cru” which lies at the foot of Mount Ce­sen. Per­haps the big­gest sur­prise for me was that I found (with a few ex­cep­tions) that I liked my pros­ecco on the sweeter side. It’s be­come very fash­ion­able to de­cry sugar in wines, and talk about pre­fer­ring a drier style. In fact, the ex­tra quan­tity of sugar you drink in a pros­ecco that is ex­tra dry (con­fus­ingly, this is a sweeter style than a brut) is minute com­pared with the amount in a glass of brut, but it of­ten lifts the wine im­mea­sur­ably, bring­ing out the light pear tastes.

These are not hen night or let­ter-sweater wines. They are wines to sip with a chopped win­ter salad (spinach, en­dive, toma­toes); with a la­goon of fishy risotto; with home­made an­tipasti.

I’m afraid they are not easy to get hold of – you can’t find them in the su­per­mar­ket, and the Mar­chiori I loved so much doesn’t even have a UK im­porter. But there are two good pros­ec­cos (plus a great deal on an au­tum­nal red) in my wines of the week.

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