Fun, fresh, and food-friendly, prosecco, a product of northeastern Italy’s Veneto region, gets grudging respect at best from many wine wonks. As recently as 1988, Sotheby’s World Wine Encyclopedia called these seductive sparklers, made in the pressurized bulk (Charmat) method from the prosecco grape, “fizzy white wines that have large bubbles and a coarse, dull flavor.”
Scuzzi, but we beg to differ — especially after Omniboire’s recent tasting, hosted by the congenial folks at Dough Pizzeria Napoletana and inspired by the desire to investigate budget-friendly bubbly for ringing in a new and hopefully more prosperous year. If big bubbles were once a sign of cheapness, they have been refined and toned. If flavors were once coarse, they have since been to finishing school. The bruts are hardly bone dry, and extra-dry bottles (as with Champagne, “extra-dry” is actually sweeter than brut) didn’t taste overly saccharine. Some of the wines Omniboire tasted might have erred in the direction of excessive politeness, in fact, but at the price (many well under $20) we’re willing to do as the Venetians do: Have a late-afternoon prosecco “ombrette,” or pick-me-up, daily. Spumante’s not just for celebrations, signori.
Most proseccos are properly termed spumante, or foamy, and on many labels you’ll find the abbreviation VSAQ. For the record, it stands for vino spumante aromatico di qualita. You may now forget it, as the entire classification system for prosecco is changing as of the 2009 harvest (see below).
This month, our tasting panel consisted of Kristene Bainbridge of Prestige Wine Cellars, John Griffin of Savor SA and the soon-to-debut San Antonio Taste magazine, and Omar Bejarano, Dough’s General Manager. As always, we tasted blind. As a reward at the end of our work, the panel also tasted, not for scoring, two other wines — a very pleasant but not especially distinctive Tíamo Extra Dry Prosecco “made from organic grapes,” and the altogether amazing and complex Rosenthal Wine Merchant’s Vino Frizzante dei Colli Trevigiani IGT. The “frizzante” designation is a grade less fizzy than the spumante, and the slightly lower pressure meant the wine was bottled with a conventional cork.
It’s not clear what will happen to specialty wines such as the already pricier Rosenthal (it’s around $26) under new regulations set to go into effect with this year’s harvest. Proseccos from the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene region, whose grapes typically come in at lower yield and higher quality, will now be able to add Garantita to their designation, and fans fear that while quality may even improve, prices are also likely to increase. The solution is to do as the Venetians do and drink up the current releases of these well-priced, non-vintage beauties now.
Carpené Malvolti Prosecco di Conegliano Extra Dry, $18
Appealing floral nose, lemon and tangerine on palate
“Herbaceous,” thought Bejarano; “lightly floral,” suggested Omniboire; “an all-around good nose,” declared Bainbridge of the number one wine. The Carpené Malvolti gained the top spot by being solid in everybody’s estimation — despite the extra-dry classification. “I don’t usually like extra dry,” said Bainbridge, “but I love this one.” Part of the appeal may have been a citrus quality. “Tangerine,” said Bejarano. “Lemon peel,” countered Griffin.
Flor Rosé Prosecco Veneto, $20
Candied fruit on nose, “playful” flavors of berry and cherry
Prosecco vintners often add small amounts of pinot grigio, pinot bianco, and even chardonnay for structure and body; the booster here is 10-percent pinot nero. The color was almost electric, and so were the flavors. “It’s not varietally correct, but it dances on the tongue … there’s Jolly Rancher watermelon, yet not sweet,” Griffin enthused. Bejarano got “cranberries on the nose, white pepper and stewed apricots” on the palate. “Cherry pie,” ventured Omniboire. Bainbridge, on the other hand (and this was a wine she represents), found it almost unbalanced in its richness — perhaps in part due to its higher alcohol content of 12 percent; most were around 11 percent. This wine is exclusive to Central Market.
Flor Prosecco Veneto, $18
Brioche and apple on nose, prickly, citrus-based acidity
Bainbridge found “a biscuity, brioche quality with a complex mouth … I wanted food with it.” Both Griffin and Bejareno noted “lots of acid” and thought that food might tame it. As there happened to be a generous selection of cheeses, olives, meats and breads on the table, courtesy of Dough’s Doug and Lori Horn, we made use of it then and there. Result? Yes. The wine and the olives amplified one another, whereas the cheese balanced the acid in the wine. Two different results, both good. Exclusive to Central Market.
Caposaldo Brut Prosecco, $14
Honeyed, floral nose; refreshing yet with good depth
This prosecco is labeled “brut” but came across to some as sweeter. “It’s honeyed, a sweet mouthful … great for beginners,” said Bainbridge. “Floral with vanilla notes,” said Bejarano. Griffin called the wine “clean, light, almost ephemeral ... not much there,” a great greet-you-at-the-door sparkler.
Bortolomiol Valdobbiadene Prosecco Prior Brut, $23
Light biscuit on nose; some citrus and lemongrass on palate
“A Scrooge wine, stingy on the nose and flavor,” harrumphed Griffin. Omniboire thought the nose “faint” and the palate “hollow.” Some of this may have to do with the “Prior Brut” designation, which indicates an especially low amount of sugar, at least for this producer. (It also followed the very big Flor rosé in the tasting lineup.) Yet Bainbridge and Bejareno detected “a biscuity nose” and citrus and even lemongrass on the palate. “Crack it open with friends,” said Bainbridge.
Adriano Adami Garbèl Brut Prosecco 13, $19
Yeast and butterscotch with slight citrus
This wine is from the outlying Colli Trevigiani region above Treviso, and the 13 on the label apparently refers to the sugar content of 13 grams per liter. Did it seem sweet at that level? Not really, though Bainbridge called it “butterscotchy.” Griffin liked it better the second time around, despite no “back palate” action. He and Bejareno noted yeasty qualities that suggested Champagne. Playing the Grinch, Omniboire found more bubblegum than brioche.
Conti Neri Prosecco di Prosecco Extra Dry, $17
Spicy, oily nose, creamy palate with pear and apple
Omniboire sussed out some sweetness in this contestant, but was more impressed with notes of pear and a creamy mouthfeel. Bainbridge suggested Fuji apple, but Griffin somehow managed to unearth olive, so once again we tried the wine with food — olives, of course. And once again the synergy was amazing.
Santomé Extra Dry, $15
Vibrant, slightly sweet nose, pear and baked apple on palate
The eighth-ranking contender struck most tasters as being both vibrant and slightly sweet. “There’s a balanced, bright acidity,” said Bainbridge. “Refreshing,” declared Bejareno. He and Griffin detected pear, a classic prosecco component. Baked apple with a little spice was Omniboire’s take.
Crisp and acidic, somewhat neutral
Barely making the 13/20 cut was a name made famous (or infamous, if you prefer) by pinot grigio: Santa Margherita’s Brut Prosecco di Valdobbiadene. Along with Conegliano, Valdobbiadene is one of the preferred villages for prosecco, but location wasn’t everything in this case. “A little flat,” “started nice but fell flat,” “nothing to it,” and “mostly acid, less body” were typical comments. It’s fair to note, however, that one taster rated it among his highest scorers. •
Most wines can be found at Central
Market, Saglimbeni Fine Wines and
other specialty wine shops