Christine Austin looks at the most sparkling buys to tempt Britain's small army of Prosecco drinkers

Easy to say and supremely easy to drink, Prosecco has swept through the supermarkets and across our palates with astonishing speed.  Just a few years ago we drank hardly any Prosecco but now we manage to glug our way through over 100 million bottles of this frothy, fruity wine each year.  That is around a third of the total production made.

While this is great news for drinkers and producers alike, the fact that you can now buy Prosecco flavoured crisps and even Prosecco scented candles does take some of the charm away from the wine.

Undoubtedly it is the simplicity of the name that has helped it gain such a strong foothold in our market.  The style helps too.  Most Prosecco is ‘extra dry’, which sounds like it might be quite a dry wine, but in the somewhat confusing scale of sweetness, is actually sweeter than Brut. There is nothing wrong with it being sweeter.  It means it is a good wine to pour on a Friday night after work, or for a garden full of neighbours on a Sunday lunchtime.

Price has helped too.  Most supermarkets have a selection of Prosecco wines that easily squeeze under the £10 mark and occasional offers bring prices down even further.

But there is a lot more to this fresh-tasting fruity fizz than just cheap bubbles.  I set off to the region where this wine is produced and was delighted to discover a whole range of individual, quality wines with exceptional flavours.  If you are interested in seeking out better quality Prosecco, then this is what you need to look out for.

First of all the name refers to a place.  Despite there being an actual village of Prosecco in the region, over the years the name had become a byword for the wine.  New legislation around 9 years ago has changed all that and Prosecco refers to the region and the grape now rejoices in the fabulous name of Glera.  This means that if it is made into a wine outside the protected zone then it cannot be called Prosecco.  So grape growers in Australia, South Africa or California may still grow the grapes and even make sparkling wine, but if they want to sell it in the EU, then they can’t call it Prosecco.

The Prosecco production area is in North East Italy, spread across the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Guilia regions, and while the Prosecco zone is fairly large, it is actually smaller than Champagne. At the heart of the region is the small DOCG region of Conegliano Valdobbiadene.  While the DOC designation protects the overall quality of Prosecco, DOCG indicates that it comes from the best area and is made to much tighter controls. There is even another step up in geographic precision with Superiore di Cartizze identifying a particular, outstanding hill that produces exceptional wines.  Traditionally these wines are sweeter than others.

The way that Prosecco usually gets its bubbles is by the Charmat method, which is a quality way of getting fizz into a wine.  After the grapes are made into a still wine, the second fermentation, which actually makes it fizzy is done in stainless steel tanks where the wine can then rest and acquire lots of complex flavours.  The fermentation is stopped by chilling or by filtration and some natural sugar remains.  This means that the sweetness in the wine is natural sugars from the grapes, not a spoonful of Tate and Lyle.  This sparkling wine is then bottled and generally allowed to rest before being shipped.

As another step up in quality there are some producers who are moving to the traditional method of fermentation, which is a long, complicated and therefore much more expensive in-bottle fermentation.

The whole region is beautiful, but the area around Valdobbiadene is just breathtaking. There are dramatic hills, pretty villages and a sense of remoteness within the countryside.  It is hardly surprising that it is being considered for UNESCO world heritage status.  In wine terms this region has only recently hit the big time, so there are still great value agriturismo bed and breakfast to be found.  If you find yourself there I have some tips on where to eat.

Meanwhile here are some quality Prosecco wines to try.  Always look for the key words for quality – Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG

Taste the Difference Conegliano Prosecco Brut, Sainsbury £10

One of the best-value Prosecco wines around, this is a Brut style of Prosecco, and so it is less sweet than most.  It has plenty of fresh-tasting apple, ripe pear and gentle apricot fruit with a fresh-tasting crisp finish.  Enjoy this on its own or pair it with a seafood salad.

Valdo Oro Puro Prosecco Superiore NV Valdobbiadene, Waitrose £13.49

From the hills of Valdobbiadene, this has clear, floral notes with touches of honey and acacia blossom.  A fresh citrus finish balances the light edge of sweetness.

Villa Sandi Valdobbiadene Prosecco Millesimato DOCG 2015, Brut, House of Townend £13.49

Based in a magnificent 17thcentury Palladian villa, Villa Sandi make exceptional wines.  This is a vintage wine, aged in bottle and it has depth and chalky complexity layered over the fresh, crunchy fruit.

Adriano Adami Bosco di Gica Brut Prosecco Superiore DOCG, Bon Coeur Fine Wines £15.38

Top drawer Prosecco with crisp green apple fruit backed by hints of nashi pears, a sprinkle of herbs and a distinct minerally crunch.  The Brut style gives this wine a perfect balance to enjoy as an aperitif or with starters.

Zucchetto Puro-Fol Prosecco Superiore Valdobbiadene, Harrogate Wines, £19.99

A bone-dry style of Prosecco that has class and a lean, clean freshness to it. Bright, zesty and definitely aperitif style, to be enjoyed with canapés.

Ruggeri  ‘Quartese’ Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, NV Roberts and Speight, Beverley £15.99

From a top quality producer this wine still has all the right floral and light fruit character but also has a light toasty, brioche note that carries through the palate. Extra Dry so it has just a touch more sweetness than Brut but still food friendly, particularly with shellfish or spice.

 

 

 

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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