Italy's Signature Sparkler 

Prosecco is an affordable luxury.

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In last week's column, I extolled the virtues of the venerable French Champagne house Moët & Chandon. They make high-quality bubbly, and have done so for more than 270 years. However, the cost of Champagne makes it a luxury on a writer's budget. So, when I want to sip sparkling wine, I often turn to Italy.

Aside perhaps from Spanish cava, Italian prosecco is the world's most well-known sparkling wine after Champagne. It's a white wine (rosé is also produced) made primarily from glera grapes, and is classified as either spumante (sparkling wine), frizzante (fizzy, semi-sparkling wine) or tranquillo (tranquil or still wine). The latter only accounts for 5 percent of the prosecco that is produced, and is rarely found outside Italy. In addition to glera, up to 15 percent of the following grapes can be used in producing it: verdiso, bianchetta trevigiana, perera, glera lunga, chardonnay, pinot bianco, pinot grigio and pinot nero/pinot noir.

There are two sub-classifications in Italy: prosecco DOC (most of what is in the U.S. market) and prosecco superiore DOCG. It's a perfect way to get a dinner, party or picnic started, thanks in part to its low alcohol content—typically about 10 percent, compared to Champagne and most other sparkling wines, which run at least 2 percent higher. That might not seem like much, but the slightly lower alcohol content makes prosecco easier-drinking, less filling and surprisingly food-friendly. It's also a pleasing, light, simple wine to drink on the patio in warm weather.

Unlike what you might expect from other sparkling wines, prosecco is typically more fizzy than bubbly. Indeed, the sparse bubbles tend to die out somewhat quickly, so the mouthfeel can be a bit underwhelming; it feels a little like last week's Champagne on the tongue. But stick with it, because the subtle effervescence—as opposed to the in-your-face fireworks of Champagne—will grow on you, as will the price. Most non-vintage Champagne sells for $50 or higher. Prosecco, on the other hand, tends to top out at around $20, and you can find quality stuff for about $12. Also, vintage doesn't matter; most is non-vintage and made to be drank immediately. It's not something to get dusty in the wine cellar.

During a recent tasting of various proseccos, I found the usual suspects to be very satisfying: bubbly from Adami, Bisol, Larmarca, Mionetto, Nino Franco and Zardetto, for example. But I was also impressed by some newcomers that I hadn't tried before.

Chloe Prosecco DOC ($16.99) is made from 100 percent glera grapes sourced from a handful of small growers. Its fine bubbles burst with fruity peach, white flower and citrus flavors and aromas, with food-friendly crispness and minerality.

Italian winemakers since 1821, Zonin recently unveiled its "Dress Code" collection, sold in bottles ($16.99 each) the color of the three Dress Code wines: grey, white and black. Blending glera with 13 percent pinot grigio, Zonin Prosecco Grey Edition is smooth, soft and harmonic—a good partner for light seafood dishes.

Zonin Prosecco White Edition is 91 percent glera with 9 percent pinot bianco, a blend that produces a crisp, floral and fruity wine, and pairs nicely with shellfish. Zonin Prosecco Black Edition contains 10 percent pinot noir in tandem with glera, resulting in a silky, creamy, elegant sparkling wine that goes great with sushi. I also really like the intensely fruity Tommasi Prosecco Tenuta Filodora DOC ($18)—100 percent glera with beautiful pear and peach flavors. 


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