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November 1, 2009

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Prosecco's beautiful Italian bubbles more affordable than Champagne

NO one loves Champagne more than me; I adore the stuff but not the price tag. The cost of Champagne makes it a wine almost exclusively for special occasions, not everyday drinking. What are lovers of bubbles to do?

The answer is Prosecco, Italy's charming and affordable sparkling wine. The word Prosecco refers to the white wine grape that's grown in the eastern part of Veneto. It can be used to make still white wines but is most famous for making lively, crisp and fruity sparkling wines.

Sometimes a little pinot blanco or pinot grigio is added to the Prosecco wines. These sparklers can be sweet or dry and only slightly sparkling, referred to as "Frizzante," or fully sparkling, that are called "Spumante."

Unlike Champagne that undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle, Prosecco sparkling wines are made using the Charmat method where the second fermentation is in pressurized stainless steel tanks. This process is quicker and less costly than the Champagne method and in Veneto results in wines that are delightfully fresh and best enjoyed young. In general, the best Prosecco wines come from the DOC named Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene. If you see the words Canegliano or Valdobbiadene on the label of a bottle of Prosecco you are probably in good shape. Here are three excellent reasons why you should make Prosecco part of your wine life.


Old wine guys like myself can remember a time more than two decades ago when there were numerous sweet and semi-sweet Proseccos that were pretty awful. Times have certainly changed and today there are more dry style Proseccos and over the past few decades the improvement in quality has been astounding. Never before have I tasted so many delicious Proseccos that range from easy-drinking and charmingly light to more serious, weighty and complex wines.


The lightly colored Prosecco sparkling wines offer generous apple and citrus flavors and have lively small bubbles. Their crisp and clean character makes them perfect as an aperitif and also very nice with a variety of foods. While Proseccos undoubtedly match well with many Italian dishes, my particular passion is pairing these bubbling beauties with Chinese cuisine.

Their unpretentious and open character makes them lovely companions to popular Cantonese dim sum treats like Deep-fried Shrimp in Beancurd Skin as well as Shanghai appetizer Stewed Baby Carp with Scallions. We've only just started to discover how beautifully suited Prosecco wines are with Chinese cuisine. I invite you to savor a bottle of Prosecco with your next Chinese meal. I prefer my Prosecco in its glorious purity, but I do have many friends who enjoy mixing it with fruit juices for a refined summer refresher. One example is the famous Venetian cocktail Bellini that's a combination of Prosecco and peach juice.


In Shanghai, a good bottle of Prosecco is still a fraction of the cost of a bottle of Champagne. The price/quality ratio also compares favorably with most good-quality European and New World still white wines. Some of the Prosecco sparkling wines available in Shanghai that I recommend are Tenuta S. Anna Prosecco Spumante Sparkling, Tenuta S. Anna Cuvee Rose Sparkling, Villa Pasini Prosecco Spumante and Zonin Prosecco Special Cuvee.

All are sure to deliver delicious bubbly happiness at reasonable prices.

How to enjoy Prosecco:

A generous Champagne flute is perfect for Prosecco but if that's not available a tall sauvignon blanc style white wine glass is also fine; Prosecco should always be served chilled, ideally about 8 degrees Celsius and if you enjoy the bottle slowly, put some kind of stopper or cork in to preserve the bubbles.


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