Prosecco – The Italian “Champagne”

In the world of sparkling wines, Prosecco is a rather under-rated wine. Thinking of popping a bottle of some expensive fizzy thing on a hot date or your dad’s silver jubilee but your budget is restricted, not to mention rather limited, try a Prosecco and you won’t regret it. Made from Glera grapes (earlier known as Prosecco) grown on the hills running between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, two small villages in Veneto region of Italy. They both are blessed with a refreshing cool climate and lush green vegetation. As a result the grapes ripen a bit late. This slow ripening quality is responsible for the long intense flavor of the wine.  The river Piave cuts through these areas and help regulate such a wonderful climate. Prosecco can be a still wine also but its more renowned version is its sparkling cousin, which has less complexity and alcohol as compared to many other sparkling wine styles. Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio (local white grape varieties of Italy which provide the wine characteristic dry and crisp finish) are also blended in some sparkling versions.

Today Prosecco is the name of a DOC or DOCG wine, produced only in North Eastern part of Italy. Best quality is still today produced in Conegliano Valdobbiadene, a hilly area 50 km from Venice.  Here Prosecco is produced since at least 300 years and here the success of Prosecco started. From 1969 this area obtained DOC and from 2009 DOCG, the highest quality level in Italian law and the new name of our wine is from 2009 Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG. The area where it was produced was called Prosecco IGT , bigger than Conegliano Valdobbiadene, has now become, from 2009, Prosecco DOC. It has 9 provinces in Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia. With new law in place, it isn’t possible to produce Prosecco outside north eastern part of Italy and it isn’t possible to produce Prosecco in a can. In fact, Prosecco from 2009 passed from meaning of grape variety (as Merlot) to the name of a wine DOC and DOCG, protected by Italian law (as Soave or Chianti).

Until the middle of the 19th century, Prosecco was generally sweet and was scarcely distinguishable from Asti Spumante (a popular sparkling wine from Piedmont region of Italy). Since then, due to technological advancements, wine producers have been able to successfully produce a more improved dry version of Prosecco. According to the 2008 report of The New York Times, Prosecco consumption have grown and with global sales growing by double-digit percentages since 1998. Prosecco also, later on, went on to become a status symbol. It created so much hype that a recent UK study of ‘poshness’ (conducted by Opinium Research) shows that people were considered up-class if they knew what Prosecco was. Prosecco also managed to find its way into the US market and this initiative was taken by Mionetto, now the world’s largest Prosecco importer

The wine is crafted by Metodo Italiano or Charmat Method which is a less expensive method as compared to the classic method used to produce Champagnes. The method is not only used because of its low-cost aspect but also because it helps Glera retain its naturally aromatic character as well as fruity and floral aromas. Dual advantage is that it lowers labour-costs and gives a fairly fruity easy-drinking wine without much complexity. Back to this method, the hand picked grapes are crushed and the juice is extracted. The must (combination of juice, pulp, and skin) then undergoes first fermentation in stainless steel tanks. As a result a base wine is formed. This base wine, in turn, is transferred to an autoclave (a vessel with controlled temperature and pressure) where second fermentation is encouraged with further addition of  yeast and sugar. After the inhibition of second fermentation the lees (dead yeast) settles at the bottom of the tank which is later on removed after the bottling of the sparkling wine which is done under pressure. Corking and labeling follows thereafter.

Maumèné was the first person to give the idea of fermenting sparkling wines in huge tanks rather than individual glass bottles. He built up a machine called Afroforo in the 18th century in which fermentation could successfully take place. Later on Martinotti, an Italian, tried to commercialise this concept but failed to do so. It was Eugene Charmat who took ideas of Martinotti and was able to expedited the concept fruitfully.
Prosecco, a sparkling wine with wonderful peachy aromas, a lemony and nutty character and crisp refreshing finish could easily surpass the criteria of being served as an aperitif. Since it is a food friendly sparkler, it could marry well with almost every food item. Stuffed mushroom in creamy butter sauce, spicy Asian appetizers and even Meen Moilly(seafood from South India with fish cooked in tangy coconut gravy) are some of the preparations you will really enjoy with a glass of Prosecco. It is also a significant ingredient of the famous Bellini cocktail (a cocktail made of sparkling wine and peach purée).  Proseccois served chilled, at a temperature of 3-4°c in a Tulip-shaped glass. Some Venetians even add fruit juice and spices for a more interesting concoction.
As discussed earlier, there has been a substantial rise in Prosecco consumption not only in Italy but also in the US of A. These sparkling marvels have only managed to create an image of a commemorative drink but they still need to go a long way before we see a typical Indian family having a glass of Prosecco with their daily meal. They come in various forms namely Spumante (fully sparkling), Frizzante (slightly sparkling) and Cartizze. Spumante undergoes a full secondary fermentation and is, thus, more expensive than Frizzante. Cartizze Prosecco is considered the best and of the highest quality. It comes from the grapes grown on Cartizze, a thousand foot high hill of 260 acres and owned by just about 190 producers. A hectare of Cartizze land is worth a million US dollars.
Some of the famous producers of Prosecco are Adriano AdamiBisolBortolinCarpenè MalvoltiNino FrancoRuggeriVilla Sandi and Zardetto.

So next time your guests arrive and eagerly wait with their tulip shaped glasses, you now know of a new style of bubbly to pour. Cin Cin!

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