Bargain Bubbles: Prosecco Showdown

7 11 2015

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

Bring on the bubbles!

Bring on the bubbles!

Sparkling wine is instantly celebratory — unless you’re opening two bottles simultaneously, by yourself, at your kitchen table, on a weeknight, like I did.  Even then, the brisk pops of the corks out of the bottles lightened my mood and made my analytical tasting exercise a little more festive.  You almost can’t drink Prosecco and be in a bad mood.

Prosecco is very, very hot right now.  Global sales of this Italian sparkler have increased by double digit percentages every year since 1998 (!), and last year they were up an astonishing 32% (!!) over the year before, five times the sales growth of sparkling wine overall (!!!).  In 2013, global Prosecco sales actually overtook global Champagne sales at over 300 million bottles.  Suffice to say it is on trend, buoyed by its general approachability, fruit-centered flavours and highly attractive price tag.  And yet, before now, Prosecco had never featured on Pop & Pour:

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So since this is uncharted blog territory, allow me to toss out a bit of a primer before we get into the bubbles themselves.  Prosecco is made in the Veneto and Fruili regions of northeast Italy; the Prosecco DOC quality region actually spans and overlaps most of both.  The wine is named after the village of Prosecco (which may have been its birthplace) near Trieste on Italy’s eastern border at the top of the boot.  Its made primary from a grape that used to also be called Prosecco, but as of 2009 is now known as Glera, primarily to annoy you and make it harder for you to remember it.  Just like all quality sparkling wine, it is created by first making a low-alcohol still base wine and then starting a second fermentation of that wine (by adding extra yeast and unfermented juice to it) in an airtight container, such that the carbon dioxide created as a byproduct of the fermentation cannot escape and becomes trapped in the wine, making it bubbly.

Cork/Cage Ratings:  5.5/10 & 2/10 (Prosecco corks suck.)

Cork/Cage Ratings: 5.5/10 & 2/10 (Prosecco corks suck.)

However, the way that this secondary fermentation is induced in Prosecco differs from the traditional method employed in Champagne and elsewhere, where this follow-up ferment is started in each individual bottle in which the wine is ultimately sold, a time-consuming, tricky and costly procedure.  Prosecco instead employs the Tank or Charmat Method, in which the base wine is all poured into a giant pressurized steel tank and an industrial-sized secondary fermentation is induced therein.  This is easier to control and allows winemakers to simply filter out dead yeast cells, or lees, which give Champagne its toasty, biscuity secondary flavours, and add dosage, which determines the final sweetness of the sparkling wine, before bottling under pressure right from the tank.  It is the most economical way to achieve quality bubbles, which is why Prosecco shows up on your retail shelves for a fraction of the cost of Champagne or most other traditional method sparklers.  The trade-off is that the bubbles produced by Tank Method wines tend to be less fine (not as small) and less persistent (not as long-lasting) as Champagne-method wines…but when you can take home a perfectly quaffable bottle of bubbles for under $20, that can be a trade many people are willing to make.

Tank bubbles > Bottle bubbles.

Tank bubbles > Bottle bubbles.

Both of these bottles clock in around or just under that $20 threshold, and both pair relatively restrained levels of alcohol (11% abv, a common trait of Prosecco) with measured doses of residual sugar (somewhere under 12 g/L, since both are labelled “Brut”, a designation denoting between 0-12 g/L of leftover sugar).  The first one, La Gioiosa Treviso Brut, takes its name from the old motto of the province of Treviso, Veneto’s Prosecco mecca:  “Marco Gioiosa et Amorosa”, or “Joyous and Amorous March”…if my translation skills are right, the winery focuses most on the “Joyous” portion of that creed.  It also has a totally rock-star-looking bottle — sign me up for the defined broad-shouldered look in sparkling wine.  The “Treviso” designation means that this La Gioiosa Prosecco comes from the much smaller subregion of Prosecco DOC Treviso, the traditional heartland of the Glera (ugh) grape and the wine.  The second bottle, Sartori di Verona Brut, is new to Alberta but old generally; the winery was established in 1898 and has a lengthy history as a Prosecco house.

Word to the wise:  tasting Prosecco side-by-side for the first time is not easy.  At first, both just taste like bubbles and apples.  (In fact, both sets of tasting notes from the producers basically say as much.)  It takes some time for differences in approach and flavour to manifest themselves in the glass, and it’s easy to miss them even when they do show up, which made this one of the harder tasting exercises I’ve ever performed.  However, cracking and tasting two Proseccos at once is worth the time and effort, because it helps you realize that every offering is not homogenous and different winemaker approaches lead to different impressions in the glass.

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La Gioiosa was a touch more restrained on the nose, treading between citrus and tropical, with fruity pineapple, honey lemon and applesauce aromas overlaid by papery, flowery notes.  It was creamy yet prickly, the softness of the bubbles bisected by cleansing, restraining acidity that almost entirely hid the almost-Brut-exceeding sweetness, creating an overall textural impression that was impeccably clean and balanced.  Other than the ubiquitous red Delicious apple, it tasted almost salty and was laced with lemon-lime, rubber bands, icing sugar and an underlying nuttiness.  Between the bottle shape, the label and the actual wine inside, a thoroughly solid choice, and my Prosecco challenge winner.

87+ points

$15 to $20 CDN

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The Sartori Prosecco burst out of the gate with much more emphatic and exotic aromas of lychee, orange zest, Asian pear, roses and chalk, immediately capturing my attention.  It felt much frothier and foamier on the tongue than its compatriot bottle above, even after time in the glass, taking a softer textural approach that was notably gentler on acid, making the residual sweetness of the wine more noticeable.  The undeniable red apple flavours on the palate were matched with less of a supporting cast, primarily lemon meringue and new cardboard, offering a little less complexity than La Gioiosa and a less palate-scouring finish.  The Sartori came across as friendlier and more gulpable, but La Gioiosa was more interesting and went better with dinner.  As La Gioiosa will probably be a couple bucks cheaper on the shelf ($17-$18ish), I had to give it the crown, but the Sartori certainly didn’t disappoint.  Time to give Prosecco a longer look!

86+ points

$15 to $20 CDN

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One response

8 11 2015
fresh cuts of life

Good point about Prosecco. Didn’t know all that about the producing method. Tanks

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