A touch of Prosecco…

For those who enjoy wine and have the privilege of tasting Prosecco for the first time, the experience is nothing short of magical. I experienced this magic long ago during my Cordon Bleu days in London. I was working in the bar of a fine dining restaurant and was lucky to have a boss who believed that the only way to educate a bar apprentice was to give him a taste of all that was on the bar menu. “Only if you know how it tastes, will you be able to suggest it to customers — especially when they ask you to pair it with food!” He was quite stingy in the tasting portion and allowed me a mere tablespoonful, teaching me how to roll it around my mouth, breathe in the aroma and describe the flavour. Once back in India, I soon forgot the flavour and the wine.

Two years ago, when touring Italy, I came across Prosecco again and was delighted at the opportunity of visiting a vineyard and winery for the same in northern Italy. The picturesque location of a bountiful vineyard against the backdrop of mighty mountains just made the situation more dramatic. After taking a guided tour of the Bottega vineyards and distillery with Alessandro Bottega and Nives Italy. The area around the distillery is a magical world of hills mountains and fresh air and picking some Prosecco (now known as Glera) grapes off the vine, we finally sampled the real stuff at the source.

For those who have not had a chance to sample this wine, Prosecco is a sparkling wine made from Prosecco grapes — hence the name. It is light, crisp, dry and very fruity with a touch of sweetness. Alessandro described it just right as “sweet but not sweet at the same time”. The colour is light clear amber and the bouquet is a balance of apple, citrus and almond — at least that’s the general description our host gave us. The particular wine we enjoyed had a more lemony fragrance with very light undertones of pear. As we sampled the wine, our host demystified Prosecco for us and poured from gold-coloured bottles.

He explained that the wine was fondly called Champagne’s younger sibling owing to its similarity in body but the price difference — Prosecco is much less expensive. It is made using the Charmat process wherein, the wine is fermented twice before it is bottled — unlike Champagne which undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle itself. This process gives it a distinct flavour & tiny bubbles, however, there was one more reason to the mature feel of the wine. From where we were sitting, our host pointed out that Prosecco grapes were always grown on steep slopes of the mountains, which were difficult to reach. This led to the grapes being harvested a bit later resulting in an extended ripening period leading to a more concentrated mature flavour. Other than general wine history and knowledge, he gave us two very interesting pieces of information.

For one, I was taken completely by surprise when he busted the age-old adage of “wine gets better with age”. “Prosecco”, he said, “is a wine to be enjoyed young — within two years of it’s vintage.” The second and more amusing fact was that the society or group of Prosecco producers were planning to appoint an inspector to ensure that bars and restaurants were serving the wine properly. We first thought he was joking, but when he elaborated on the subject and expressed concern about keeping the reputation of the wine intact, we realised he was serious. He described how bartenders sometimes served the wine in custom-made “tanks or towers” rather than in the bottle. This led to the wine tasting different. Also, some places near the Italian border were misleading customers by serving Prosek (Croatian wine) which sounded similar to Prosecco but was cheaper. I wasn’t quite convinced that someone would go as far appointing an inspector to do surprise inspections of bars and restaurants. However, last year when I read an online report that an inspector had been appointed, I marvelled at the pride the Italians took in their produce.

And why not? Prosecco is not just a great tasting wine but very versatile too. It goes well with almost anything — appetisers, seafood, roast meats, desserts, cheese, pizzas, Asian food, spicy food, creamy salads, mashed potatoes — all of it. It pairs particularly well with seafood like scallops and lobsters and is a great accompaniment to fried finger foods and rich desserts (the crispness and dryness balance out the heaviness of creamy, greasy foods). It bonds surprisingly well with chocolate and is a great addition to risottos and butter sauces. It does not, however, go well with berries.

Available in numerous forms, Prosecco is fast becoming a favourite globally. Anyone who gets a chance to sample it, really should. It’ll become your favourite too!

Words: Michael Swamy



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