Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Italy's Prosecco

Prosecco has enjoyed a boom worldwide, notably in the US and Germany. This sparkling wine with its roots in a region north of Venice has become very popular on both sides of the Atlantic. But the expanding consumption of Prosecco has encouraged the production of Prosecco not only in its traditional home in northern Itlay, but also elsewhere in Italy and even outside of Italy, such as in Brazil. The reason for this expansion is that Prosecco is not only the name of a region, like Napa Valley, but also the name of a grape, like Merlot. As a consequence anyone can use the name of the Prosecco grape, as long as the Prosecco grape is in the bottle. Thus, other regions have tried to participate in the Prosecco boom and have started to produce a Prosecco with the Prosecco grape outside of its traditional home. The boom went so far that Prosecco started to be sold in cans at rock-bottom prices. All this will change in the future, hopefully. Back to the roots. At least in Italy and in the EU, which will probably follow Italy.

As of the 2009 vintage, the Prosecco grape has been renamed. Its new name is Glera. From now on, a wine producer in Sicily, for example, can no longer sell the Prosecco/Glera grape under the Prosecco name. Secondly, the heartland of the Prosecco has been upgraded to DOCG status and the larger Prosecco region to DOC status. Thus, Prosecco has become a regional application, just as Champagne in neighboring France. Only wine produced in the official Prosecco production zone can be labeled as Prosecco. The sale of Prosecco in cans has been banned.

Most likely the wine makers in Italy and in Europe in general will adhere to the severely tightened rules. For other countries, I would guess it will take some time until the EU Commission will also have negotiated deals with other countries that would prevent them from selling Prosecco. So, for the consumer, if you want authentic Prosecco you have to make sure that it is a DOC or even better a DOCG from Italy.

Prosecco will continue to come in three categories.

First, there has always been a still Prosecco wine, as there is a still Champagne, although not available on neither the American nor the German market.

Second, there is a fully sparkling Prosecco (spumante). It is produced using the Charmat method. The second fermentation does not take place in the bottle, as is the case with champagne. Champagne re-ferments in bottles, which is labor-intensive and expensive. Prosecco, like many other sparkling wines, re-ferments in large tanks, a process that keeps prices down.

Third, in between there is the lightly sparkling Prosecco frizzante. It is produced using a process of carbon injection (or carbonation). This does not involve initiating a secondary fermentation but rather injecting carbon dioxide gas directly into the wine. This method produces large bubbles that quickly dissipates and is generally only used in the cheapest sparkling wines.

Fully sparkling wines, such as Champagne, are generally sold with 5 to 6 atmospheres of pressure in the bottle. EU regulations define a sparkling wine as any wine with an excess of 3 atmospheres in pressure. These include German Sekt, Spanish Espumoso, Italian Spumante and French Cremant or Mousseux wines. Semi-sparkling wines are defined as those with between 1 and 2.5 atmospheres of pressures and include German spritzig, Italian frizzante and French petillant wines.

Finally, the Bellini, the long drink cocktail that originated in Harry’s Bar in Venice, is a mixture of Prosecco and peach puree. Today, it is popular also at the bar’s New York counterpart.

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