Ten years ago Prosecco was a drink little known outside northern Italy. An awful lot has happened in that time and now the international popularity of this sparkling wine has impacted on sales of others, especially the previously impregnable Champagne.
The UK is the largest export market for France’s premier fizz where 2013 saw Champagne sales slip for two consecutive years while Prosecco sales multiply by 5 times in the past five years to overtake Champagne.
In the USA, Champagnes second largest export market, sales have stalled and Prosecco surged. It was in 2009 that the USA first imported more sparkling wine from Italy than France.
Ten years ago Prosecco was the name of the Italian white grape used to make the sparkling wine. Then others countries planted the prosecco grape and make sparkling wine from it. A few years ago I tasted excellent prosecco fizz in Australia.
The Italians swiftly played a breathtaking coup and decided that Prosecco was the name of the wine and that it could only be made in certain regions of Italy. The grape variety, they decided, was properly named Glera. Their logic is that while anyone could grow Glera only Italy could make and sell Prosecco.
They convinced European Union bureaucrats to protect the name and prohibit anyone else using it. As a result the TTB lists Prosecco as a ‘wine with protected designation’. I don’t think that any US winery has grown Glera or made Prosecco so far, but if and when they do, it cannot be called Prosecco.
So, that’s clear. The grape prosecco is now Glera and Prosecco is the name for a sparkling wine made in designated regions of Italy.
Well, not exactly. Jancis Robinson in her authoritative text book ‘Wine Grapes’ says the rename is ‘misleading’ because Glera is a generic name used for several different grape varieties, including Prosecco Lungo and Prosecco Tondo. The book therefore doesn’t list Glera but instead lists it as a synonym for these.
And with the increased exports come some rare Prosecco to specialised outlets. These are unlikely to be in the mass-market because the wine is cloudy when shaken.
Prosecco Col Fondo is a sparkling wine made in the ancient way. The wine is bottled during fermentation and continues fermenting in the bottle. The resulting sediment of dead yeast cells remain in the bottle, adding flavour. Col Fondo translates to ‘from the bottom’ and refers to the sediment. A similar term on French wines is Sur Lees, meaning ‘on the sediment’ but usually wines age in barrel or tank on the sediment which is left behind when bottled.
To serve Prosecco Col Fondo place the bottle upright for a day or so to let the sediment fall to the bottom of the bottle and then pour slowly into a decanter trying to leave the sediment behind. Or do what they do in its home and shake the bottle and drink it cloudy.
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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.