Bellini
Made with Prosecco

Show up with a bottle of Prosecco at a party or order it in a restaurant, and chances are, your companions might ask "What's that?" But if you've ever heard of a Bellini, then Prosecco should be familiar -- it is the Italian sparkling wine originally used for this classic cocktail, said to hail from Harry's Bar in Venice. Easy to drink and well-priced, Prosecco deserves a place of recognition on your table.

Even though you may not be familiar with it, Prosecco has been enjoyed as far back as ancient Roman times. It was quite popular in Italy in the 1980s before finally making the leap into the mainstream U.S. market in the early 2000s. Mionetto, the largest importer of Prosecco in the States, first brought the wine here in 1998 and has since witnessed an incredible growth trend.

Mark Tucker, marketing manager for Mionetto, said that the company, especially in the last three years, has seen an exponential rise in domestic demand for Prosecco. The increased awareness has been due not only to expansive media coverage, but also the subtle shift in consumers' perception of sparkling wines.

"When Americans see bubbles in wine, they think special occasion," Tucker explained. Mionetto is trying to alter that, by highlighting Prosecco's unique flavor and modest price. With its crisp taste and essences of apple, pear and peach, the wine is very palatable to American tastes and easy to drink, even for the novice oenophile. And with a reasonable price range, it's possible to enjoy every day -- and even to explore the wide selection of offerings to find your favorite.

Prosecco is also an excellent choice for more than celebrations, though, as it pairs extremely well with food. Its pale golden hue looks stunning on the table, and its smooth, crisp flavor profile enables a myriad of pleasurable matches -- traditionally with appetizers, fish or other relatively light foods.

However, the wine's versatility opens the way for more modern pairings with cheese (try it as an accompaniment to a cheese tasting, as an unexpected palate refresher), spicy main courses (especially with Indian or Chinese cuisine), and a wide range of desserts (anything from fresh berries and cream to a dark chocolate torte).

Mionetto Cartizze

And don't look at Prosecco solely as the poor man's Champagne. While they both are sparkling wines, the two are produced by very distinct methods, and should each be evaluated on their unique merits.

All Prosecco hails from the eponymous grape, which is found in northeastern Italy -- the Veneto region, primarily in the Valdobbiadene district. The mild climate and rolling hills provide the delicate grapes with plenty of moisture and ample light to produce their fruity, crisp flavor. Traditionally, the harvest occurs in September.

The prosecco grapes then undergo a process known as Charmat, where the wine is held in large stainless-steel containers for about two months. Unlike Champagne, which uses the Chardonnay grape and a minimum of 18 months (and often many more) of in-bottle fermentation, Prosecco's quick fermentation allows the grapes to retain their bright, fresh flavor. In addition to a lighter body, Prosecco has a lower alcohol content, around 10.5% vs. Champagne's 12%, which makes it more approachable for food pairings. The fermentation process also produces delicate bubbles that are less biting than those of Champagne.

Our Picks

Thanks to the efforts of winemakers such as Mionetto, Prosecco is now ubiquitous in liquor stores across the country, as well as online at sites such as Wine-Searcher.com or New York City-based Astor Wines & Spirits. There are numerous offerings -- and beware, a fair share of mediocre ones; important guidelines to keep in mind are that Prosecco is classified as either frizzante (semi-sparkling) or spumante (fully sparkling), and that it should always be served well-chilled. Also, the Cartizze variety, named for the specific region where its grape are grown, is the most prized type, and is often twice as expensive as the other varieties.

Consider the suggestions below a starting point -- after you savor the first refreshing sip, you can always experiment to find your personal favorite.

Bellendra: slightly dry, with floral notes
Bisson: dry, with a mineral flavor
Mionetto Sergio: crisp, slighty fruity
Mionetto Cartizze: complex, with a rich, lingering body
Nino Franco: classic flavor, with a light, fruity body
Zardetto: lemony, floral profile with overtones of apple

It's also important to remember that unlike that precious bottle of Dom Perignon that you've been saving for just that perfect moment, Prosecco need not be aged. It's meant to be drunk tonight; due to its Charmat processing, in fact, Prosecco can lose its desired crispness if left to sit in the bottle for over a year.

So what are you waiting for? Grab some Prosecco to share with someone tonight, or better yet, one for each of you.

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