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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Prosecco - Italy's Quintessential Aperitivo


Pro-SEC-co… Pro-SECCO… Prosecco… I never know exactly how to pronounce it, how to quite do that double ‘c’ sound, but no matter, I love saying it anyway. I’d go as far as saying that Prosecco is one of the reasons I go to Italy. Yes, I can buy some decent Proseccos in the U.S. now, but it isn’t that. It’s being able to order it in any bar as an aperitivo for 4 or 5 euro and enjoying it with the free meats and cheese the bars offer at aperitivo time, watching the bubbles in the crystalline straw-colored wine, and the fresh fruity taste that tastes like summer no matter what time of year it is that appeals to me. Continuing my short series on Italy’s three main sparkling wines, Moscato d’Asti, Prosecco, and Franciacorta, today I’ll focus on the Veneto’s contribution, Italy’s best known sparkling wine, Prosecco.

It’s possible that Prosecco’s signature fizziness was discovered accidentally. Since the Veneto lies in the far northeast corner of Italy, against the Adriatic Sea, and with the Dolomite Mountains to the north, winters are cold and come early. The Prosecco grape, however, is a grape that ripens late in the season. By the time growers harvested the white Prosecco grapes and crushed them, beginning fermentation, the temperatures would drop, halting that fermentation. No temperature control in those days… At that point the wine would be bottled to rest for the winter. With the warmer temperatures of spring it was found that carbon dioxide bubbles had formed in the bottles, and the incomplete fermentation had created a wine that was sweet, low in alcohol, and slightly fizzy.

Today the best Proseccos are thought to be those from the area called Conegliano-Valdobbiadene in the Veneto, and they are now produced using the same Charmat method as the Moscato d’Asti. For a wine to be called Prosecco it must contain at least 85% Prosecco grapes, the remainder being made up of Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, and/or Chardonnay.

Coincidentally, the New York Times ran an interesting article today on the current state of the Italian Prosecco industry. Since Prosecco is the name of the grape, and not the region, it may be used for sparkling wines made from it, no matter where they are grown or the wine produced. There’s concern among the Italian growers of Prosecco in the Veneto that this will diminish the value of their product. But we know that while they can copy the name, they’ll never copy the unique terroir, the climate, the temperature, and the conditions that make Prosecco from the Veneto the one, the only, the original and true Prosecco.

Like Italy’s other sparkling wines, Prosecco should be bought fresh and drank promptly. It’s the quintessential Italian aperitivo drink. Mix it with peach juice and you have the cocktail Venice made famous, the Bellini. 

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