Christmas just has to include some sparkling wine don’t you think? The classic Italian sparkling wines of Prosecco, Moscato or Franciacorta are very much at home at the Christmas table.
In Franciacorta, we love Bellavista, particularly their Cuvee Brut, recently re-christened ‘Alma’ and re-packaged in Hermes burnt orange. Franciacorta is to Italy what Champagne is to France. The wine is made primarily from the same grape varieties – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – and is produced using the same production process of in the bottle secondary fermentation. Where Franciacorta differs from Champagne is that the production regulations are stricter with significantly longer times of lees ageing. In Bellavista’s case, this is for 48 months, which promotes a silky creaminess in the wine, meaning that it is not only great as an aperitif, but that it also accompanies food very well. We’re serving it this year with a retro prawn cocktail, but it would also make a great gift for the lover of quality sparkling wine.
Prosecco also comes in to its own at Christmas. Great as a daily sparkling, it doubles as the perfect base for some interesting ‘Chrissy Cocktails’. Add some Aperol or Campari and a splash of soda or sparkling water and you have the classic Spritz. Replace those with Limoncello, substitute a slice of lemon for the orange and you’ve got an Amalfi Aperitivo. Build on Cocchi’s delicious Vermouth Americano and you’ve got something else, that is delicious and dangerous (very easy to drink!) at the same time.
As a glass of Prosecco that is classier than most, try Canella. The Canella family’s winery is just outside Venice and the current generation of four siblings, lead by Lorenzo Jr. and his sister Nicoletta are raising the bar in terms of Prosecco quality.
Currently in Italy, people are enjoying Prosecco Col Fondo. In a ‘back to the future’ kind of way, there is a band of producers producing Prosecco where the production process involves finishing the fermentation with yeast that is left in the bottle as a cloudy deposit (‘Col Fondo’ = ‘with the base’). Prosecco was made a lot like this in days gone by, before the Charmat, or carbonation process became popular and before consumers wanted a consistently uniform product.
In Col Fondo wines, our favourite is Ca’ dei Zago, right in the middle of Valdobbiadene, Prosecco’s spiritual home. Ca’ dei Zago is the estate of the Zago family, established in 1924 and now run by Christian Zago. Christian is besotted with naturalness and manages the property as if a self-contained biosphere. All processes, whether it be composting, manure application (from their own cows), pruning, leaf-plucking or application of biodynamic preparations, are by hand, with the intention of producing the most natural end product. Grapes are fermented plot by plot, using natural yeasts without temperature control, remaining on their lees until Spring. To finish the wine, Christian bottles it with a little remaining sugar and some fine lees - col fondo - a process practised by the family since 1956, which gives this completely dry Prosecco its fine and long-lasting sparkle.
The finished product is as natural as can be. The 2012 vintage has 10.5% alc/vol, 0 g/l residual sugar (this is so rare in any wine, let alone sparkling), a total SO2 level of 28ppm (naturally occurring and negligible) and is bottled under crown seal. It is the crown seal that actually goes against the appellation regulations, hence the wine is labelled ‘Prosecco DOC’, as opposed to DOCG.
Last year, we visited Christian and spent a week in the Prosecco region. So beautiful and, in May, with healthy green growth, the Prosecco vines - some more than 10 feet high - provided a leafy arbour under which to enjoy quite a few glasses of Ca’ dei Zago Prosecco Col Fondo. The low alcohol means that you can enjoy that extra glass and the naturalness - well, it must be good for you too!
The other thing that is gaining in popularity in Italy is Rose sparkling wine, particularly around the northern lakes where it seems to be ‘de rigeur’ on the hospitality terraces. Costaripa make a beautiful, beautiful, just pink, ever so golden Rose Brut. This Lombardian winery, located at Moniga on the lower south-western shore of Lake Garda is owned and operated by Mattia Vezzola, a former Italian Oenologist of the Year. Mattia’s winemaking bent is for all things Rose - his Rosamara still dry pink wine is delicious and out ‘provences’ the Provencal roses so popular in this part of Europe. He even has a curious (but fantastic) rose dessert wine. But the Costaripa Brut Rose is what you have to try and you can have fun with it the whole meal through, from canapes to dessert.
From down south comes A.Mano’s Rosa Spumante, a cheerful, lively and boisterous sparkling wine that fills the glass full of pink foam and life. Made from mainly Primitivo from the sunny hills behind Taranto, this wine comes from the Italo-American team of Elvezia Sbalchiero and Mark Shannon, the duo that are re-inventing what Puglia has to offer wine-wise. It’s made by the Charmat method, is delightfully dry and so much better than many that are a lot more expensive. Keep a few on hand in the spare fridge and you will be surprised how they continue to disappear!
Moscato is slightly sweet and sparkling and low in alcohol (generally around 5.5 – 6%). For ages, we used to joke that it was the perfect breakfast wine, but in fact, it may actually be the best brunch wine ever, particularly if you like to start that brunch with fruit salad. Good Moscato should foam when poured and stay petillant; it should also be grapey and fresh. The production process, whereby the fermentation is halted by a combination of chilling and reverse pressure on the ferment, is designed to lock in the grapey goodness. This is Piedmont’s ‘pick me up’ after the region’s monster red wines have hammered you down!
Our pick in Moscato is from Marcarini, which hails from the pretty little Piedmontese town of La Morra. Not too sweet, not too bubbly but just right.
I’m sure you’ll find an Italian sparkling wine - Bollicine - that’s just right for you this Christmas, too!
This post is sponsored by Vino Italiano