Champagne producers frequently lament that the bulk of sales to U.S. consumers comes around the holidays, between November and the end of December. Champagne should be consumed year-round, I am told. I agree completely — for those who can afford it.
The Prosecco gang has no such problem. The soft, fruity sparkling wine from northeast Italy is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the U.S. wine market precisely because wine lovers of all stripes can afford it. A decent Prosecco costs a fraction of the price you would pay for a decent nonvintage brut Champagne.
My local grocery has floor-stacked Prosecco at prices ranging from $10 to $15. No wonder Prosecco is flying off the shelf. Unfortunately, the low prices sometimes give the false impression that it is cheap and somehow lesser than. The Consorzio Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG hopes to change the perception with a campaign to educate U.S. restaurateurs and consumers about the notable qualities of Prosecco from this most important of all the Prosecco-producing regions.
Conegliano Valdobbiadene is situated between Venice and the Dolomite mountains, with steep hillsides and a long tradition of producers dedicated to distinctive Prosecco that truly represents the terroir of the DOCG (the appellation, in layman's terms). Prosecco from the area tends to show more minerality, is generally made in the drier brut style and exhibits more precise fruit characteristics.
It's also home to the Cartizze cru, considered the grand cru equivalent of Prosecco.
Some of the top producers include Adami, Bellenda, Bortolomiol, Astoria, La Marca and Mionetto, to name just a few. Many of these wines will cost a few dollars more than the least expensive Prosecco on the market, but the step up is well worth it and still far less expensive than non-vintage Champagne.
The consorzio has hired three highly regarded sommeliers — Amy Elizabeth Thurmond in New York, Jennifer Wagoner in Chicago and Iris Rowlee in San Francisco — to serve as ambassadors for the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG and alter the perception of Prosecco with outreach programs aimed at consumers.
It's a forward-thinking idea, especially for a sector of the wine market that already enjoys widespread popularity.
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
Made by James 2016 Merlot, San Lucas Estate Vineyard, Monterey County ($20) — Merlot thrives in the cooler areas of Monterey County. The Made by James Merlot from the San Lucas Estate vineyard is an excellent expression of Monterey merlot showing ripe aromas of plum and red currant and a touch of spice. Rating: 93.
Sutter Home Pinot Noir, California ($6) — Those in search of a tasty value pinot noir can train their sights on this $6 beauty from Sutter Home. This winery consistently overdelivers and has done it again with this delicious nonvintage offering that shows inviting cherry fruit, exceptional palate weight for a red in this price range and lovely balance. Rating: 90.
Castello Banfi, 2015 Belnero, Toscana IGT, Italy ($30) — Castello Banfi's Belnero blend is an upscale Super Tuscan everyone can afford. The 2015 shows bright acidity with firm tannins and layered aromas of black cherry and spice. Drink now, but it's better to hold for another year or so. Rating: 95.
Signaterra 2016 Etta's Blend, Sunny Slope Vineyard, Sonoma Valley ($47) — This Bordeaux-style blend from Signaterra relies heavily upon merlot (94 percent), and rightly so. Showing rich notes of plum, currant and cassis, the Etta's Blend is a beautiful expression of merlot from the Sonoma Valley. Beautifully structured and elegant with integrated tannins, it drinks well now but should really hit its stride at 10 years or older. Rating: 95.
Inniskillin 2016 Riesling Icewine, Niagara Peninsula VQA ($42.95) — This wine is rich and intense, showing notes of pineapple and candied fruits. It has impressive length and a clean finish. Rating: 94.
Merry Edwards 2016 Pinot Noir, Klopp Vineyard, Russian River Valley ($66) — The Klopp Vineyards shows the more feminine side of Merry Edwards pinot, exhibiting intense red-fruit aromas with a touch of wood spice and inviting notes of violets and spice. Rating: 94.
Trella Vineyards 2016 Malbec, Umpqua Valley, Oregon ($42) — Malbec appears to be catching on with domestic vintners, and the most recent results are promising for this Bordeaux grape variety that trails cabernet sauvignon and merlot in popularity. This vintage from Trella delivers a brilliant burst of blueberry and black currant, and shows a touch of wood spice and exquisite balance. The tannins are supple and round, making for early consumption, although this wine certainly has the structure to age nicely. Rating: 94.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com. Email Robert at [email protected]