Saturday, 8 March 2014

“Where flavour and beauty meet ...”

What a name for a wine tasting event! Only the Italians are romantic enough to come up with such a name for a sparkling wine tasting session ... and it was not a disappointment. What’s more, the tasting was led by Hong Kong based JC Viens, a French Canadian who recently became an Italian citizen because of his passions for all things Italian, especially his lovely wife Maria. His enthusiasm was contagious.

If you think Prosecco is only a quaffing wine for making Bellini (a Prosecco based cocktail) or as an aperitif, read on and think again … perhaps you haven’t tried the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG denomination yet!

When sparkling wine is made using the ‘traditional’ method where the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle and the wine spends some time on lees to produce the toasty and nutty characters (through a process called yeast autolysis). A lot of people dismiss Prosecco as a ‘simple' wine because its second fermentation is carried out in pressurised tanks and it only spends a short time on lees. How wrong this view can be!

Prosecco is all about fruitiness, freshness and floral aromas. And the majority of the Prosecco in the DOC denomination may indeed be fairly simple, but those from the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG are certainly not. This DOCG region, framed between the town of Conegliano in the east and Valdobbiadene in the west, is only 40km wide but has its own distinctive soils and climate. Conegliano is warmer with richer soil producing more structured and fuller-bodied wine, while Valdobbiadene, at the foothills of the Alps with more ancient soils, is renowned for more delicate wines with finesse.

To further highlight the quality, the authority has established a 'Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze’ category, equivalent to the ‘Cru’ of the region. It lies in the Valdobbiadene commune comprising a 107 ha rectangle on steep hills. Moreover, a new quality category, ‘Rive’, meaning steep hills, was introduced in 2009 to highlight the stylistic variations between villages.

So, Prosecco is not always as simple as it might seem. We tried eight wines from different regions with various sweetness levels (Brut, Extra dry and Dry) and it was a fascinating experience. Each had its distinctive characters reflecting the terroir. Those from the Conegliano area were clearly rounder while the Valdobbiadene had more minerality.

The Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG denomination produces 68 million bottles annually, 23% of total Prosecco production of 300 million bottles (the rest is from the basic DOC denomination). By way of comparison, Champagne produces over 300 million bottles a year and Cava just under 250 million.

My favourite Proseccos are:
Bortolin Angelo Brut for its elegance and floral nose. Available from EnvItaly.
Valdellövo Extra-Dry ‘Annozero’ for its creamy mouthfeel. Apparently it is perfect with spicy Indian food according to both JC and Matthew Stubbs MW. Available from Soho Wines & Spirits.
Marsuret Extra Dry ‘Il Soler’: vibrant and concentrated. Available from Marco Polo Fine Wines.

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