Wine Notes – Feeling Peachy?
Prosecco Presents an Affordable Alternative to Champagne
When I attended college, the drinking age was 18. It was common for the student group I joined to sell cups of beer on campus for $1 each as a fundraiser. As you can imagine, this was a successful strategy.
One time, we had a special event at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium and decided we should sell glasses of Champagne in the lobby. Well, it wasn’t really Champagne from France. It was a sparkling wine from California. Later, I brought a couple of extra bottles to the after-party. I don’t remember ever feeling so ill, and I lost my taste for bubbly for a long time. But now, 40 years later, I have finally regained an appreciation for quality sparkling wine.
Everyone thinks of Champagne as the king of bubbles and rightfully so. While attending the annual Easterseals wine tasting in Manchester, N.H., we tried some Louis Roederer Cristal Brut. It was fantastic, but at $250 per bottle, none of it was coming home to my cellar. Entry-level good Champagne will cost at least $50, and closer to $100 for the “good stuff.” Looking for an affordable, quality sparkling wine, I turned to prosecco.
Prosecco is named after an Italian village, now a suburb of Trieste, that produces sparkling wine from white glera grapes. The official region that produces this wine spans nine provinces, but the best prosecco comes from a smaller area located north of Venice at the foothills of the Alps. Wine must be from this area to be given the status of Prosecco Superiore DOCG.
Purely for scientific research I visited several Merrimack Valley wine stores and purchased a sample of each Prosecco Superiore DOCG they had on the shelf and began sharing them with friends. Every time a bottle was opened I heard, “What are we celebrating?” Nobody asks me what we are celebrating when I open a $100 Barolo but pop a cork and it becomes a party.
Of the prosecco we tasted, one stood out as a truly superior example. It happened to sell at a great price in a wine store I discovered while walking along Pleasant Street in Newburyport. When I saw a cheese-shaped sign hanging above the front window, I could not resist going inside.
That store is called Grand Trunk Old World Market and, as soon as you enter, it is obvious that only quality wines are for sale. All the wine in the store is handpicked with the owners’ approval. Small stores like this are great places to shop because you’ll generally be hard-pressed to find a bad bottle. Plus, I got the attention of co-owner Jeremy Kirkpatrick. I asked him for recommendations, and he quickly suggested Nino Franco’s “Rustico Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore.” The description on his shelf read like poetry: “… fruity and flowery notes including pear on the nose. Creamy and smooth on the palate with delicate stone fruit and nice acidity.” What he did not tell me was that this wine won best Prosecco NV (nonvintage) Brut at the U.K.’s annual Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships in 2017. I don’t know what stone fruit is, and I guess I missed this championship on ESPN, but I can tell you this is a great choice for only $24.
When investigating the world of prosecco, you should consider Giuseppe Cipriani’s famous Bellini cocktail.
Named after Venetian Renaissance painter Giovanni Bellini, it was famously served at Harry’s Bar in Venice and at Harry’s New York Bar, its counterpart in Paris. The recipe is simple. Add a small amount of peach puree or nectar (about 1 ounce) to a glass of prosecco. The challenge is to find the right peach puree. My travels took me to Tuscan Market in Salem, N.H., where I found little bottles of Cipriani Bellini, a carbonated, peach-flavored beverage. With the name Cipriani on the bottle, I figured it was the right stuff for making Bellini cocktails.
Later, we hosted a dinner party for eight and began the evening with Bellini cocktails and antipasto. What a fabulous pairing. The Bellini cocktails are perfect with salty meats and marinated vegetables. We opened three bottles of prosecco before dinner to make these cocktails, so I guess they were a hit.
Celebrate everything with friends by popping a cork. If you can afford Cristal, go for it, but when celebrating on a budget, prosecco is the bargain that I predict will increase in price as it becomes even more popular. As with all wines, it’s important that you don’t buy the bottom of the line and expect to be impressed. In this case, when searching for prosecco, look for the DOCG stamp around the neck of the bottle as a minimum requirement. You can be certain that at least you’ll have something that was grown in the best region that produces prosecco. Salute!
[Please Note: At the time of publication, the stores noted in this article were offering special services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please call or visit their websites for updates.]
Grant Trunk Old World Market