Saturday, May 17, 2008

What Grapes are in Prosecco?

Surely you've heard of Prosecco, if not drunk it, the fresh and lightly sparkling wine from Italy that seems to have been all the rage over the past few years. For me, it's a great summer sipper in the same vein as rosé and the recent warm patio weather has me thinking of it again.

The question, "What grapes are in Prosecco?" is a good one and one that came up during a server meeting a couple of weeks back. Do you know the answer? It's staring you in the face.

Prosecco is a grape that is planted in many areas in Italy and made most frequently into a sparkling wine (yes, rarely some is made into still wine). But, what we're really talking about here is wine that carries the Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOC label. Conegliano and Valdobbiadene are two rival towns in the Veneto north of Treviso (which itself is just north of Venice). Any wine carrying the DOC label must be made in this area from at least 85% Prosecco grapes. While a few wines may contain other grapes such as Pinot Blanc/Bianco, Pinot Gris/Grigio, or Chardonnay, a great many Prosecco wines are 100% Prosecco.

Both towns have been known for their sparkling Prosecco wines for a very long time. And because there is a friendly rivalry between the two, you'll almost never seen the full Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene appellation on a label. The bottle will proudly state Prosecco di Conegliano or Prosecco di Valdobbiadene. On the whole, I have a slight preference for wines from Valdobbiadene.

There are very fine Proseccos that are not allowed to use the DOC, for the simple reason that they are made outside the DOC boundaries or they contain less than 85% Prosecco (Yet, they must contain at least 75% Prosecco to be called Prosecco). The wines carrying the DOC are from hillside pre-Alpine vineyards and these vineyards tend to produce wines with more character. For maximum complexity, look for Prosecco Superiore di Cartizze, from the hill named Cartizze in Valdobbiadene.

But to look for significant complexity in Prosecco is to miss the point. Prosecco is a youthful, exuberant, and joyful wine whose mission is to refresh your spirits and help you celebrate the pleasures of daily living.

Prosecco is not Champagne and you should not compare it to Champagne. Champagne is treasured for its yeasty and toasty notes that result from long aging and secondary fermentation in the bottle. Bottle fermentation and the subsequent aging and riddling processes make for a wine that is very subtle and very expensive.

On the other hand, Prosecco is made by the inexpensive bulk tank Charmat process and bottled for sale to be drunk within the year. The bulk process and the speed with which the wine is made help preserve the delicate floral fruitiness backed by a lemony acidity that Prosecco is known for.

Many Italians like their Prosecco a little too sweet for my taste and I had to look around a bit to find a nice Prosecco that is also dry enough not to fight with my menu. Next time you're in, why not start your dinner with a glass of Prosecco? It is a great wine with the bulk of our appetizers.

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