and Hospitality, August 2005
There's still time to put some fizz into summer wine sales, so
take a fresh look at Italy's sparkling wines. Prosecco from Veneto
is inexpensive, dry and wonderful with food, and is a superb addition
to any restaurant's by-the-glass selection. According to the LCBO,
sales of this stylish wine have more than doubled in Ontario in
the last three years to around $2.1 million as more brands find
their way to Canada. And prosecco has history: suave Venetians
and Milanese have been enjoying it as an aperitif for decades.
Most proseccos are low in alcohol - 11 percent - and dry to off-dry.
Mildly fruity, ranging from pear to peaches to citrus, prosecco's
crisp acidity levels make it refreshing. And it's bubbly, so it's
fun: "It's a great way to start a meal or a party. It's a happy
drink," said Angelo Rindone, owner of Bu, a cool trattoria on
St. Laurent in Montreal. In fact, at Bu's opening party in October
2003 prosecco was served all night.
Until recently there was only one prosecco available in Quebec,
but now there are five at the SAQ, plus several more brands through
agents. "There is now more choice and better quality [prosecco
on the market]. It's also fashionable. "Everybody says 'ah, prosecco',"
At Vancouver's Cioppino's Mediterranean Grill, owner Pino Posteraro
believes "prosecco is the perfect way of starting a meal; the
classic procedure is starting with more acidic wine, and champagne
or prosecco fit this description. Prosecco has an even greater
variety of food matches because it's not very bubbly." Prosecco's
less-than-exuberant bubbles sometimes causes patrons to wonder
if it's flat, but that's just the way it is - a lot of bubbles
at first, not a lot after five or ten minutes.
Prosecco is the name of the grape variety, but it is also a designation
in the Italian denomination system - Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene
- and most proseccos are produced in this sub-region within the
Veneto district, of which Venice is the main city.
In addition to numerous frizzantes, spumantes, moscatos and
sparkling Lambruscos, Italy also produces champagne-style sparklers
based on chardonnay and pinot noir. These are pricey and have
proved a hard sell in Canada. Danny Sanelli of Symposium Imports
is the Ontario distributor for Bellavista, a fine chardonnay-based
sparkling wine from Franciacorta. "In Italy, Bellavista sells
out, but they want to create a market internationally. They want
to say 'we are as good as champagne'. However, it's really difficult
to convince people that they should not drink champagne, but choose
this instead." Especially since Bellavista costs between $40 and
$60, depending on the style. The LCBO turned it down as too expensive,
but Sanelli is putting together a program to boost trade sales
of Bellavista and, he says, "there's definitely going to be some
tastings and dinners to promote it," but he knows he's got his
work cut out for him, even though the product is so good.
Italian still whites have been doing rather well lately, though
almost all of the 23% increase in Ontario sales since 2003 came
from the "north" districts, which include Piedmont, Veneto, Friuli
and Trentino Alto Adige. Pinot grigio remains Italy's numero uno
- and if anything it's growing in popularity. "Pinot grigio is
still going strong - it's about 80% of our Italian white sales,"
said Peter Waring of the Small Winemakers Collection, a Toronto
importer with an emphasis on Italian. Waring says that Italian
restaurants are the main buyers of lesser-known varieties: "it's
very rare for these to cross over to non-Italian places." Pinot
grigios range from about $10 to $30, with most at the lower end.
"You're never going to get an oak-aged pinot grigio because the
grape just can't stand up to it. And it'll never be full-bodied
- it's always light. A more expensive one will be a little more
complex, but still light- to medium-bodied." Waring added that
better-quality pinot grigio will have "a little more depth of
colour, and it might even be a bit coppery because the pinot grigio
grape gives off a grey colour [hence its name, grigio = grey].
In terms of the palate, you get some tropical fruit, which you
wouldn't in an ordinary one. Pinot grigio typically offers just
nice clean, light fruit flavours."
Pino Posteraro of Cioppino's Mediterranean Grill in Vancouver
likes it too, but then immediately suggested moving on. "Take
a look at some of the whites from Piedmont, like Gavi di Gavi.
It's high quality, but it's not well known here. The price is
around $35. And recently I introduced a white from the south,
Greco di Tufo. It's dry, with lots of minerality. It's very fresh,
unoaked and not too expensive." Postarero says the best way to
get customers interested in new wines is to do a "hand sell,"
which literally means to hand the wine to them for a taste. He
also likes to suggest wines with the food the customer orders.
Toronto consultant sommelier Zoltan Szabo, who runs savourflavour.com,
acknowledged that the leading Italian whites remain pinot grigio,
soave and verdicchio, but Szabo is excited about new vinos in
the cellar: "Oh my God, Campania! Fiano, Greco di Tufo, Lacryma
Christi. Incredible wines. Pure, minerally, clean wines, totally
unoaked. The soil is volcanic."
Like Posteraro, Szabo said these lesser-known wines require a
hand sell. At the highest end, Italian still whites can weigh
in above $50 retail, like the full-bodied Cervaro Della Sala by
Antinori, a blend of chardonnay and grechetto. It's a personal
pick of Salvatore Ferragamo, the nephew of the haute couture shoemaker,
who was recently in Canada promoting his fine reds from Il Borro
of Tuscany. Meanwhile, at a less painful price point, prosecco
can liven up lunch or add interest to the appetizers, and a crisp
pinot grigio or something racy and adventurous from the volcanic
south can carry diners through light summer meals. So if you're
looking for some fresh new whites to round out the summer, take
another look at Italy.
1. Villa Sandi Prosecco, Treviso, Italy. 11% alc. $14.40 (LCBO)
- Although the bubbles disappeared faster than appetizers at a
press launch, this one had a great nose of candied grapefruit
and pear. The small bubbles were delicate and creamy on the palate,
the acid level was crisp and the finish decent.
2. Bottega Prosecco Brut, Caetello Rogansuelo, Italy. 11% alc.
$12.25 (LCBO) - Bright and clear, the bubbles were small and the
nose had a fruity, candied quality. Peaches, pear, nougat and
acacia were discerned. Good finish. We thought this very typical,
and very drinkable.
3. Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Brut, Cantina Produittori di Valdobbiadene,
Valdobbiadene, Italy. 11% alc. $14.80 (LCBO) - More pear and candy
on the nose, but also fresh citrus. It was crisp, clean and pleasant
on the palate. Good finish, with the characteristic slightly bitter
The Bellini was invented at Harry's Bar in Venice in the 1940s.
The mixture of white peach juice and prosecco is named after the
Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini.