I have been a fan of prosecco since I finished the Venice Marathon a few years ago (three hours and 28 minutes, in case you were wondering) and tumbled into Harry’s Bar, a short trot from the finish in St Mark’s Square. I proceeded to drink Bellinis for the rest of the afternoon, administered by wonderful waiters (who didn’t bat an eyelid that this vision of lycra and Deep Heat had appeared in the midst of their elegant clientele) until all traces of fatigue had disappeared.
But it was only the other day that I realised prosecco has been steadily inveigling its way into the affections of the British middle-classes in the past few years and now seems to be a fixture of summer drinks parties. My scientific statistical analysis – a quick look along the shelves at Waitrose last Saturday – revealed that this arbiter of chattering class taste now stocks no fewer than five different types of prosecco to suit all pockets.
Small wonder really, since prosecco is a lot cheaper than champagne and less astringent than many Spanish cavas. It also has a rather Italian chic about it. More importantly, it doesn’t pretend to be champagne like so many New World sparkling wines, which deserves appreciation in and of itself.
First some technicals: prosecco comes from a wide area in the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions in north east Italy. Like many other Italian wine regions, this one has spread as fast as financial opportunity would carry it. “Proper” prosecco, however, comes from a much smaller area near the towns of Cornegliano and Valdobbiadene, watered by the Piave river as it winds from the Alps to the Venetian basin.
Unlike champagne, the second fermentation that gives it its fizz normally takes places in the winery, in large stainless steel vats, which is the main reason it is so much cheaper than champagne. A few upmarket proseccos, however, have adopted champagne methods.
Demand for prosecco has been growing strongly in recent years, particularly in the US, where it was really only introduced around a decade ago. The region now produces an estimated 150m bottles a year, which means there is more than enough to go around. It comes in three variants: brut, which is very dry; very dry, which is not so dry; and dry, which to my taste is quite fruity and really brings out the strengths of the wine, compared with its posher northern neighbour.
Like many Italian wines, however, it pays to know what you are drinking… and to pay for what you are drinking. Cheap prosecco can be horrid – a mass-produced imposter that would be put to better use scouring out the cat litter. Please avoid own-labels and anything on a two for the price of one offer. But the proper stuff from the right region can be a delight on a sunny day, with its soft bubbles, light elderflower and apricot aroma.
THREE TO FOLLOW
One for the weekend
Valdo Oro Prosecco Superiore; £12.99; Waitrose The pick of the bunch from my Waitrose sampling, and a DOCG (Denominazione di origine controllata garantita) – the higher national grade for Italian wines.
La Marca Cornegliano Valdobbiandene; £8.99; Majestic
A real bargain.
One to tuck away
I would like to suggest something to lay down but Prosecco doesn’t last more than a couple of years in bottle. Drink it in a Bellini instead.