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Wine Wednesdays With William: Brushing Up On Prosecco

'saratoga living' wine expert William Roach on the famed, bubbly Italian export.

(Ed Schipul/Flickr)

For this week’s column, let’s focus on Prosecco. As you may know, it’s a popular sparkling wine from northeastern Italy. There’s also a village called Prosecco. The village is 100 miles from the classic Prosecco vineyards, on the other side of the Adriatic and close to Trieste. Ten years ago, Prosecco was also the name of the grape variety in the wine, but that’s no longer the case.

Exactly when the winemakers of northern Italy realized that anyone in the world could make a sparkling wine and call it “prosecco” is debatable, but in the late 1990s, Australian and Brazilian versions emerged. Determined to impose a monopoly over the wine, the Italians gave the grape variety a new name, Glera, and in 2009 secured a European Union-protected denomination of origin (DOC) for an expanded area that included Prosecco the village. Thus, Prosecco DOC is by far the largest DOC in Italy, comprising 34,580 acres, and only northern Italians may ride the Prosecco gravy train.

All sparkling wine involves trapping carbon dioxide in the finished wine, but the techniques for achieving this vary considerably. Champagne and other ambitious sparkling wines are made fizzy in the bottle it will be served from. Prosecco is made sparkling in a large pressure tank and subsequently bottled under pressure. Whereas it will take four years to make a bottle of Pol Roger NV champagne, prosecco can be on the shelf within months of the harvest. The tank method is cheaper, faster and less labor-intensive than traditional sparkling winemaking, and the finished wine is cheaper, too.
Glera is an unexceptional grape variety, so the newly regulated DOC permits the addition of up to 15 percent of varieties like Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. Most Prosecco are extra dry, which means they are a little sweet, or dry, which are sweeter still.

The extreme expansion of the area of production has not been without consequence. Enola Ceola is CEO of market leader MionettoUSA: “There is, sadly, a lot of poor prosecco in the market,” he said. “They suffer from too high a yield and overproduction. That’s why many of them have a bitter aftertaste.” But they make a decent bellini.

Wine Challenge No.5:
Buy three bottles: a bottle of the cheapest prosecco you can find, a bottle of prosecco that costs $12 or more and a bottle of orange juice. Open the wine before Sunday brunch and taste side by side. Add the orange juice to the one you like less.

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William Roach

William was born in London, England, where he wrote and produced TV programs. He's married to Catharine Hamilton who, with her sister, owns Putnam Market on Broadway. William runs The Wine Room at Putnam Market where he teaches wine classes for The Wine & Spirits Education Trust.

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