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Grape expectations - A fine fizz without the fancy price

Prosecco has been one of the successes of the past 18 months, offering much of the exuberance of Champagne at a lower cost. This success has forced the locals to draft new legislation to protect the name.

Prosecco is the name of a white grape, largely indigenous to Treviso, the Italian province north of Venice. Locally, the grape is sometimes called glera. From this grape emerges an easygoing, sparkling white with a quality profile, ranging from wines that would draw grudging compliments from a connoisseur of good Champagne to the sort of kit Shane MacGowan's mates would not bother lifting from your fridge at the end of a night on the p*ss. When it comes to prosecco, a reliable producer is a must.

Travelling in the region, you might come across a still prosecco. To avoid disappointment, search the label for the words Calmo or Tranquilo, and order something else.

Unlike its French competitor Champagne, prosecco undergoes its secondary fermentation in the tank, not in the bottle, therefore it fades earlier and is best drunk young.

At its best, the wine presents a clean, bright nose, with apples, pears and sometimes a Granny Smith or a grapefruit note that will develop on the palate, keeping you refreshed to the last drop. Up front, the fine bead of lively bubbles should still be there when you are relishing the crisp, almond-dark, sometimes even slightly sea-salty finish.

Prosecco, of course, is the kicker in that gorgeous cocktail the Bellini, invented in Harry's Bar -- the Venice hangout favoured by Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles -- by Giuseppe Cipriani sometime between 1924 and 1950, depending on which of the many accounts you believe. For guidance, the bar only opened in 1931.

Here's my own less-than-authentic version, but which suits me down to the ground as a festive cocktail: chill the Champagne glasses; blend the flesh of two ripe peaches (white ones, if possible) and half a dozen raspberries to get that slight pink glow; add a measure of good vodka (I do like my cocktails with oomph); fill the glasses a third of the way up, then top up with chilled prosecco.

One of the best producers of prosecco is Bisol, which has a number of wines at a variety of price points. All are solidly dependable and some positively exciting. Searsons of Monkstown bring in the range.

The scintillating Jeio extra dry (inset, €18.75 at McHugh's, Jus de Vine, Redmonds, Red Island and Bin No 9) knocks spots off many Champagnes for the same money.

Lastly, a reminder that Ranelagh Uncorked! Wine Festival runs from Monday to December 19. Many restaurants will have special wine/ food offerings to mark the event. These include a wine quiz at The Wild Goose Grill, a pairing of wine and Thai cuisine at Diep Noodle Bar; wine and pasta-dish pairings at Pinocchio's; a foie gras and Champagne night at Eatery 120; and a drop-in wine-tasting at Redmonds.

For full details, visit any of the above.


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