Prosecco: the other bubbly wine

Prosecco wines are light and dry.

With the holidays behind us, it may seem a little late to be
discussing sparkling wine. But I’ve always been a guy who swims
upstream, and I don’t believe that just because a wine has bubbles
in it, it has to be reserved exclusively for festive occasions.
With the holidays behind us, it may seem a little late to be discussing sparkling wine. But I’ve always been a guy who swims upstream, and I don’t believe that just because a wine has bubbles in it, it has to be reserved exclusively for festive occasions.

Sure, some are way too expensive for everyday consumption, but there are lots of respectable sparkling wines that can be enjoyed with a weekday meal without taking out a second on the house.

About the name “Champagne:” In the minds of most Americans, the word is one of those that have become identified with a product type, to the point where it describes the category rather than the brand. Other examples are “Band-Aid,” “Jell-O,” “Q-Tip,” “Kleenex” and “Frito.” In the United States, Champagne is a generic term for any wine that has bubbles in it.

And boy, are the French hopping mad about that. Because, being French, they have verrrry strict rules about what can and what cannot be called “Champagne,” and they just hate it when people don’t abide by those rules.

Actually, while there are many, many wonderful sparkling wines produced throughout the world, very few of them are true Champagnes. And very few of them are Prosecco.

The word “Prosecco” is, as may be guessed, Italian. “Pro” means “for” and “secco” translates as “dry.” It is the name of a grape varietal grown around Treviso in the eastern part of the Veneto region of Italy, about 40 miles north of Venice.

A white grape, it is used in the production of frizzante (lightly sparkling), spumante (fully sparkling) and still (not at all sparkling) wines.

The wines are light and dry, with a marked acidity, light straw coloring and low alcohol content. They pair well with a variety of everyday foods and are a great aperitif wine.

These wines weren’t mass-marketed in the United States until fairly recently. Some brands have been available at Trader Joe’s for some time now, and BevMo stocks a couple as well.

Now, a heavy hitter in the beverage world, Martini & Rossi, is introducing a version to the market and as a result, it would be my guess that “Prosecco” is a name that will be on the lips of wine lovers in the coming months.

The alert reader will have noticed the word “spumante” a couple of paragraphs ago, and immediately thought of “Asti Spumante,” the semi-sweet to sweet fizzy wine that Martini & Rossi has produced for many years.

That type is made from the Muscato grape, grown near the town of Asti, roughly in the center of a triangle formed by Turin, Milan and Genoa.

Because I am a big-deal wine columnist, Martini & Rossi was kind enough to send me a bottle each of their Prosecco and Asti Spumante wines.

With apologies to M & R, I am going to concentrate on Prosecco, because I think more consumers are familiar with Asti, and besides, I like Prosecco a lot more.

Prosecco comes in a bottle that is shaped somewhat like a Champagne bottle – it’s designed to contain the pressure of pressurized wine – the difference is in the closure.

While the French use a mushroom-shaped cork and imprison it in a wire cage, the Italians opt for a slightly tapered cork with a rounded end, and hold it in with a hand-tied string arrangement. In my experience, this means that you need to open it with a corkscrew.

Some friends and I collected three Proseccos (including the Martini & Rossi) and had ourselves a tasting. The M & R was very well received, and was probably my favorite. Now, these wines are not extremely complicated.

While some true Champagnes have, to my palate, a nutty, almost Parmigiano-Reggiano note (sounds weird, but it’s good) these are very bright, citrusy tasting, with an abrupt finish.

They’re not overly carbonated, but more like fizzy, with tiny little bubbles that form streams on the way up (if you want to impress your friends next time you share some bubbly, tell them that the bubble stream is called “perlage”)

On a historical note, Prosecco is the main ingredient in the Bellini Cocktail, a confection invented at Harry’s Bar in Venice by one Guiseppe Cipriani.

Named for Jacopo Bellini, a Venetian artist famed for images of religious figures depicted in a golden glow, the cocktail contains Prosecco and pureed white peaches. I’m not sure if the golden glow comes from observing the drink or having a few of them.

I have yet to see Martini & Rossi’s Prosecco in local stores, but with the merchandising clout that M & R brings to the table – they’ve been in business for more than 140 years – it’s only a matter of time.

And it is to be affordable, at around $12.99, a price point that puts it in the range of many California sparkling wines.

So don’t be intimidated into thinking that bubbly is just for weddings and holidays.

As a badly translated, but somehow poetic Web site for the Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze, a trade group, says: This is truly the inimitable embodiment of life’s beautiful moments.

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