The formula behind Prosecco's undeniable mass-appeal isn't difficult to grasp. As a general rule, bubbles + cheap price tag= happy crowd.
That said (and pending accusations of snobbery), I pretty much do my best to avoid the stuff whenever possible. It's not that I find Prosecco to be categorically offensive; most of it just strikes me as, well, sort of insipid . Like drinking Ryan Seacrest's smile. Or, to adopt a phrase from Gertrude Stein, which doubles as an apt description for wines that lack a sense of place: "There is no there there."
If so much Prosecco tastes generic, this is because it tends to be generically made, using machine-harvested grapes from high-yielding vines fermented in giant pressurized tanks called autoclaves (a cheaper way to impart fizz than the bottle-fermented "metodo classico"). Sure, quality-minded exceptions do exist, typically hailing from the protected original zone of Prosecco di Conegliano e Valdobbiadene, whose hilly soils are more likely to be worked by independent growers. But with over 150 million bottles churned out annually— most coming from the recently established, flatter growing areas into which production has spilled— chances are you'll find yourself drinking something akin to vinous soda pop. The following photograph speaks for itself:
Up until a few weeks ago, my condescending attitude toward Prosecco remained unchecked. But while browsing through the "Cool Room" at Astor Wines & Spirits (a large, temperature-controlled cave seemingly designed to segregate the shop's geeky "natural" wines from the more conventional selections), I spotted an unfamiliar bottle, whose fascinating back-story I highlighted in a recent Tasting Table piece.
Reviving a hyper-traditional, lees-aged, unfiltered style of Prosecco known as "col fondo" (meaning "with sediment"), the 2011 Miotto Prosecco "ProFondo" ($14 suggested retail price) hearkens back to the "pre-autoclave" days of the region's past, when the wines were fermented in bottle with the yeast deposit intact. Sealed under a crown cap, with a pale and cloudy hue in the glass, the category might strike contemporary drinkers as Prosecco's answer to the pétillant naturel tend. In the cafés of Venice, it was customary to decant the wine before serving to separate the un-disgorged debris. Other examples of "col fondo" seem quite rare and hard to find, but I'm committed to investigating further. As it turns out, one of my favorite importers of natural wines, Jenny & François Selections, now carries a biodynamic "col fondo" in their portfolio (also available at Astor), which sounds particularly promising.
Whether you drink the ProFondo cloudy (as I prefer) or clear, you'll want to drink a lot of it. Other than that, I don't have anything particularly momentous to say. Despite its name, profound statements seem antithetical to the ProFondo's spirit: let's just say this is exactly the sort of effortlessly gulpable libation that Prosecco aspires to be, yet so often falls short of becoming. A fresh, inexpensive, and— dare I say?— authentic alternative to the countless conventional versions crowding store shelves, with its yeasty fizz and pleasant hint of bitter apple, the ProFondo seemed like a natural fit for a simple lunch of shaved fennel with prosciutto and parmesan:
While this rather obvious pairing worked quite well, I'd gladly drink the wine with just about anything, or anyone, at any time, on any occasion. We're talking about Prosecco, after all.