Here's a one-word wine prescription to cure what ails you if you've been feeling snobbish lately: Prosecco.
This modestly priced if rarely exalted sparkling wine from Northeastern Italy's Veneto region between Venice and Trieste is rapidly gaining popularity for two very good reasons: It's affordable, and it's good.
That's reason enough to go get some, uncork it, and take the rest of the day off. But before we do, let's stop for a moment for a quick but important lesson in challenging the conventional wine wisdom.
But then there's Prosecco. Low-cost, mass-produced, made not in the bottle but by the often-maligned Charmat process, which may mockingly be defined as "individually fermented in this great honkin' vat." No wonder it generally sells for $10 or so and rarely crosses the $20 line, while that hand-made Champagne starts in the upper $20s and rapidly heads upward from there.
The key to Prosecco's popularity may lie in a consistently fresh, clean character that belies its humble production method. While I wouldn't make the foolish claim that Prosecco could stand side-by-side comparison with a great Champagne on the basis of subtlety or finesse, I do find that I'm turning more and more to the Italian option when I want something fun and fizzy. Compared with Spanish Cavas, American low-end bubbly or any other sparkling wine in its price niche, Prosecco scores for me with a wine that's consistently crisp, fresh and clean.
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Vincenzo Toffoli Conigliano-Valddobbiadene Prosecco ($14.99)
This is a clear, straw-color wine with a lasting stream of pinpoint bubbles. Citric and delicately floral aromas of lemon-lime and citrus blossoms lead into a rich mouthfeel with good body and creamy carbonation; clean citrus flavors follow the nose. It's not overly long, but the finish remains clean and crisp, a rare and admirable thing in a modest sparkler. U.S. importer: Martin Scott Wines Ltd., Lake Success, N.Y. (March 13, 2006)
FOOD MATCH: Good bubbly goes with just about everything, and this one was fine with a moderately hot-and-spicy asparagus and tofu stir-fry scented with toasted Sichuan pepper.
VALUE: While there's a lot of $10 Prosecco around, you can expect those from Conigliano and Valddobbiadene to command a few dollars more; no complaints at this mid-teens price, particularly when you comparison shop with Champagne.
WHEN TO DRINK: Freshness is a virtue in Prosecco: Drink it young. Note also that non-vintage product can be a fooler, so shop at merchants you trust, and don't be shy about asking how long a bottle has been on the shelf.
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Wednesday, March 15, 2006