The Rising Tide of Prosecco – Why?


Everybody had the notion, across the U-oo-K

to use Prosecco, to start and end the day . .

Paraphrasing the Beachboys, 60s – come on, you remember bopping away to them, and there is a link, I promise!

Ok, hands up – I agree these are probably Cork Talk’s worst ever opening lines, since its inception eighteen years ago! However, I plead mitigating circumstances – please blame it on my Prosecco pickled brain!

prosecco logo

 And the link? Well, did you make it back to the UK over the Christmas period? If so, I’m prepared to wager that you tasted, no doubt on several occasions, the current darling sparkling wine fad. I’m talking Prosecco, Italy’s de riguer fizz. Am I right?

Thought so! The UK is awash with it at the moment. Marks & Spencer and the Co-op, for example, have reported spikes in Prosecco sales over the Christmas period, with Lidl delighted to brag that their Prosecco sales have tripled! Other retailers are also reporting increased sales.

All this equates to the UK being the world’s third largest importer of Prosecco, buying five million bottles annually with an ex-cellar (cost directly from the producer with no taxes added) value of approaching 25 million pounds! So it’s not surprising that when we were in the UK we were always offered Prosecco as an aperitif, with many no doubt employing this less expensive sparkling wine on Christmas Day and to bring in the New Year.

My apologies to our Italian friends, but, why?

I’ve taken a quick, wholly unscientific straw poll amongst several friends in the wine world as well as fizzaholic family and friends – no names, to protect the innocent! It seems we are in agreement – most of the Prosecco in the economic to mid-price range is just too sweet! And this is Prosecco labelled as Brut, which according to EU regulations means that it should be dry!

prosecco tesco
Tesco Prosecco Brut – Dry?

 The EU is specific about how many grams of residual sugar there should be in the various styles of Sparkling Wine produced in Europe. This ruling applies to all – Champagne, Cava, Sekt (German Fizz) Prosecco et al.

However, there is room for manoeuvre. The driest style of fizz is Brut Nature – in fact my favourite. Here producers can so label their sparklers if it has fewer than 3grms of sugar per litre. Therefore, 1grm, 1·5grms etc all qualify. The next driest style is Brut, but the margins here are wider.

Brut Sparkling Wine can have between 3grms – 12grms per litre. Herein lies the problem. If we take the starting point as 3grms (were it fewer, it would be labelled Brut Nature) and the maximum as 11·9999grms that gives the producer a lot to play with.

With a mid point of, more or less, 7·5grms, this is where we might expect most Brut Sparkling Wines to be, hedging bets between those who like a slightly sweeter dry and those who like it close to the bone! When I first started drinking Cava here in Spain, I found that most were at about 8grms – just right. But Cava, too, seems to have started to up the ante in terms of its sweetness over the last few years, although only slightly – 9grms to 9·5grms is now common.

This is why I now prefer to go for Spanish Sparkling wine that is designated Brut Nature as I feel it goes better with aperitifs as well as remaining a super, fresh, palate awakening celebratory drink –  but this, of course is simply a matter of taste.

But back to Prosecco. The Italian sparkler is made with different grapes, of than Cava, and Champagne. In fact the grape goes by the same name, Prosecco. In times long gone this grape, sometimes harvested as late as November was used to make still wine in covered vats. It had the habit of stopping fermentation when the ambient temperature dropped, leaving a relatively high level of residual sugar. When the temperature rose, fermentation would restart. The end result would be quite sweet slightly sparkling wine.

prosecco waitrose

 Prosecco, the sparkling wine, had been born. Modern day producers tried to replicate that which had happened naturally in the past and as such most Prosecco today is made by a different method than most of the rest of the world’s sparkling wine.

The method invented in Champagne, and now termed ‘The traditional Method’ for fear of being sued by the powerful liturgy-happy lawyers of Champagne, is how Champagne, of course, is made, Cava and most other Sparkling Wine. Here a second fermentation is provoked in the bottle, causing of course, the bubbles and the famous ‘pop’ as the cork flies.

Prosecco also has a second fermentation, but this is induced, not in the bottle but in the large, sometimes, huge, fermentation tanks. It is called the Charmat process. My worry is that, in trying to replicate the ‘accidental’ sparkling wine of the past, producers are also making the wine too sweet, in the mistaken belief that this is what the consumer wants. If it’s legal, it must be below 12grms of sugar per litre, as we’ve seen, but how much below?

Sainsbury Prosecco - how close to the 12grms/litre max for Brut Sparkling Wine?
Sainsbury Prosecco – how close to the 12grms/litre max for Brut Sparkling Wine?

Another word of caution, and this very much on the side of Prosecco. There is a concern amongst Prosecco producers that much of the sparkling Italian wine that is dispensed from kegs in UK pubs, is in fact not Prosecco. But other (in their view, lesser) Italian (perhaps!) sparkling wine. In law Prosecco can only be sold in bottles, so if the slightly sweet sparkling style is for you, then be warned!

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Bodegas Altolandon, DO Manchuela



I hang my head in abject shame! This article is soooo late! It’s a disgrace that it has taken me fully nine months to get around to writing about Bodegas Altolandon, having received a selection of their wines way back in March, 2014!

However, I hope they might be placated a little as one of the reasons for the delay is that, since tasting them, the empty bottles have been on display in my office – so visually pleasing are their labels! It’s true, an old died-in-the-wool pro like myself can still be seduced by a wine label, so it’s not surprise that labels sell wines.

an example of the excellent labels that adorn the wines of Bodegas Altolandon.
an example of the excellent labels that adorn the wines of Bodegas Altolandon.

Of course, it’s what’s actually in the bottle that will ensure a further purchase of the same wine, or not, as the case may be. Well, there’s no doubt that the wine in the Altolandon bottles is as attractive as the labels on the outside!

Tell me though, when was the last time you bought a bottle of wine from DO Manchuela? Hopefully it wasn’t that long ago, but I suspect it might have been. This area of production inland from Valencia, adjacent to DO Utiel-Requena on the La Mancha side, isn’t as fashionable as it should be, nor is it (therefore?) as as easily found in wine shops and supermarkets as befits its general quality.

Well, one of my New Year’s Resolutions (see last week’s Cork Talk, archived on click Cork Talk) is to continue to seek out quality wines and areas of production. I’m on a mission – Manchuela, will be recognised, and wholly on merit! And I’m starting with the portfolio of white and red wines from Bodegas Altolandón.

You may remember my article in April last year, (nah, I doubt it, since when have I been memorable?!) the third and final part of the ‘Great Bobal Taste Off’ series. This is what I wrote about the 93 pointer Altolandón 100% Bobal:

Bodegas Altolandon makes Rayulo, a 93 Peñin pointer, 100% Bobal. It’s colour is dark cherry, which is also on the nose and the palate, but there’s a good fruit element too, loganberry and maybe red currant as well. It has a refreshing acidity in the mouth, with good structure and power. Rich, full and yet elegant, to make it perfect for enjoying over dinner with some time to reflect on all that’s good with the world!

The wine has a sense of place about it – some autumn undergrowth mixes perfectly with the up-front, mostly dark red fruits. It’s eight months in French oak have added complexity and depth of flavour.

And there’s more: Altolandon, with the purple circles arranged in the form of a bunch of grapes adorning the label, is made with Syrah, Garnacha and Cabernet Franc. It’s as richly coloured as you would expect and the vineyard’s 1,100 metres above sea level makes a contribution to the brilliance of the wine in the glass.

altolandon 1st wine

The grapes are harvested by hand and placed, with care, in 12k baskets – no grapes squashed in transit here. Also, whilst it’s not revolutionary, it’s not commone either that the wine is fermented without the addition of cultured yeasts. Fermentation takes place simply with the wild yeasts that are found of the skins.

There’s a dark-fruit jam nose that tempts the taster. On the palate there is weight and roundness, coming from perfectly ripened grapes and there’s depth too, from quality grapes and also from the 14 months spent in French barrels. Put simply, it’s lovely wine!

L’Ame Malbec comes from relatively young vines, and yet they are clearly producing top quality grapes. This Malbec, a French variety and yet so prevalent in Argentina, can really show well when there’s plenty of sunshine around. Link this with the dramatic drop from daytime temperature to those recorded at night and you have the perfect start.

Hand harvesting and, like all Altolandon wines, fermented with wild yeasts, the final product is seductive. You’ll find violets on the nose, with dark forest fruits quickl coming though. The French oak has also made an impact with a touch of tobacco and coconut on the nose and a rich fullness in the mouth. It’s earthy and fruit driven on the finish and has to be one of the best Malbecs in Spain.

My favourite label is that of the Irrepetible, and I hope that, despite the name, the wine is repeatable! This wine is certified as organic and it just shows how well organic wine have developed over the year. This is a super wine, not just super – for an organic wine!

Blackberries, a touch of earthy minerality and Cassis can be found on the nose plus a touch of leather. There’s plenty of weight in the mouth but elegance too. Lovely, and the coolest label of the lot!

CF de Altolandon is an example of how Cabernet Franc (hence the CF) can survive very nicely, thank you, outside of its comfort zone in Bordeaux which has always been considered its natural home. The other Cabernet, as it is referred to sometimes, isn’t as commonly found in other countries as its more famous big brother, but there are some excellent examples in Spain. CF is one of them.


It’s full, rounded and rich with power and a long finish, but it also has elegance as well as complexity. It’s structured, with layers of pleasure to be found as you drink it over an evening with dinner, shared with treasured friends and family.

Dark forest fruits with red currants too and a slight smokiness. There’s that violet note again and it has a very slight chocolate liqueur finish. Hold it in the mouth and let it speak to you – super, exemplary DO Manchuela wine!

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REPORT: Liberty Wines Tasting

The imposing home of Surrey County Cricket plays host to Liberty Wines Grand Tasting
The imposing home of Surrey County Cricket plays host to Liberty Wines Grand Tasting

I was delighted to be invited to be a part of the Bodegas Castaño Delegation attending the annual Liberty Wines UK Grand Tasting, held at the excellent Kia Oval, home to Surrey County Cricket, towards the end of January 2015. What a super way to start a new year of wine events!

Delighted to have been co-opted onto the Bodegas Castaño Team!
Delighted to have been co-opted onto the Bodegas Castaño Team!

My role, apart from tasting as many of the top quality wines on show as I could, was to assist Bodegas Castaño’s Head Winemaker, Mariano, who has worked the vineyards of DO Yecla for 30 years! Whilst my Spanish is some distance from being fluent, my wine-Spanish isn’t bad at all and I was pressed into service as translator.

Liberty Wines have an international portfolio of wines whose prices range from the economic to the expensive, but wherever one buys within this spectrum, you can be assured of value for money.

Mariano was a man on a mission and I had to keep up with him! We tasted, first, many of the range of white wines available and there were lots of splendid examples from well known wine producing countries (Italy and France figure very strongly on the Liberty list as well as Australia and New Zealand) and also from countries whose wines one doesn’t find so easily here in Spain – USA, Austria and Canada are examples in this category.

So many different white wine grape varieties and perhaps for me it was the superb Burgundy Chardonnays along with the ‘perfect’, in Mariano’s word, Condrieu, using of course, Vioginer.

From reds we went onto rosé where we found some lovely examples, particularly from Australia, showing a variety of soft red fruit notes as well as demonstrating that one cannot call rosé wine, pink any longer! Such wines are now made in many different versions of pink, though there is at the moment a noticeable leaning towards the very pale Provence style.



I wonder if winemakers of Provence are pleased to be flattered in this way, or slightly worried about the competition! I think we can expect to see many of these Liberty Rosé Wines, of all hues, taking shelf space in the coming Spring and Summer!

And the reds? Well an amazing variety from so many countries. Favourites for me were those which had Syrah/Shiraz either in the blend or made as mono-varietal and two of these included a tiny percentage of Viognier, one French one Australian – both excellent.

Please see my article soon in the Costa News Group click Cork Talk   for more information about this excellently organised and extremely tasty event!

What a stadium! The Kia Oval, London.
What a stadium! The Kia Oval, London.