Column: Champagne for Valentine’s Day

Two glasses of Prosecco on the table

Two glasses of Prosecco on the table - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

CHAMPAGNE has long been the present of choice on Valentine’s Day and for other special occasions with people trading up to buy this quality gift, especially a rosé Champagne, but will this be Prosecco’s year as this wine’s inherent style and value are becoming more recognised for what they are, rather than the poor relation to Champagne?

Retail sales figures across the board show that Prosecco sales grew in 2012 and especially at Christmas at a time when the fizz was going out of the Champagne market. Prosecco is one of Italy’s best kept secrets as until about five years ago it was little known except by locals, the wine trade and connoisseurs. However, since it’s launch it has grown rapidly and in a time of recession is bucking the trend because of its quality, value for money and broad stylish appeal to wine drinkers.

Italian sparkling wine production has seen huge growth in recent years and as it is light and refreshing it’s easy to see why this has become the party wine of choice. Prosecco is by far the most popular type of Italian sparkling wine and makes a fantastic aperitif. It takes its name from the glera or prosecco white grape variety which is grown mainly in the Conegliano and Valdobbiadene wine-growing regions in the hills of north-east Italy.

This area is the limit of the region allowed to produce Prosecco and has recently been upgraded to DOCG ensuring that the wine laws governing its production are no more specific including the wine can only be produced within this specific region, by regulated vinification practices, it has to pass strict taste/quality assessments each year and the wine must be identified by a numbered pink label on the cork.

Around this area is a DOC area incorporating Proseccos that were originally only IGT or equivalent to Vino de Tavola. Outside this region wines made using the Prosecco grape can only be Glera, an alternative regional name for the Prosecco grape. Like the Champagne producers’ decision to protect their name in law, the Italian authorities have shrewdly taken the same steps at a time when Prosecco is becoming the in vogue sparkling wine of choice around the world and one that other producers might have liked to attach to their wines. In fact, the Brown Brothers’ Australian wine that had been using the name Prosecco is no longer permitted to do so.

There are many different Proseccos available on the supermarket and wine retailers’ shelves including many own label wines and long established producers such as Jeio. The wines are usually non-vintage and made by the tank or Charmat method where secondary fermentation is in large steel tanks, not in bottle as in Champagne. The tank method captures the lovely fresh fruitiness of the Prosecco grape and it is usually off dry which is apparent in all the well made examples.

As a result the wine style is similar across the range of wines available, though a key differentiating factor is whether the wine is “frizzante” or “spumante”. The latter is fully sparkling at a minimum of 3.5 bars of pressure whilst friizzante is lightly sparking at 1-2.5 bars and is usually cheaper as it attracts less excise duty in the classifications and duty calculations.

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