GRAPEVINE with LIZ SAGUES: Sparkling boom puts fizz back in wine market

PUBLISHED: 10:50 13 May 2008 | UPDATED: 15:04 07 September 2010

The wine market is fizzing – quite literally. British drinkers bought 42million litres of sparkling wine last year, almost half as much again as the total five years earlier. Champagne sales have soared too, up by very nearly a quarter over the same peri

The wine market is fizzing - quite literally. British drinkers bought 42million litres of sparkling wine last year, almost half as much again as the total five years earlier.

Champagne sales have soared too, up by very nearly a quarter over the same period, to a total of 29million litres.

Turn those figures into bottles, and that's some 95 million corks which popped in 2007.

Higher quality has helped boost the popularity of fizzes other than champagne, and a bigger, better choice from the new world has contributed, too. But don't forget Europe, where the bubbles began.

I've been chasing some of them, in one of the prettiest of fizz-producing regions. Fifty kilometres north of Venice, the terraces of vines wind over a landscape of steep hillsides dotted with villages whose campaniles soar skywards against a spectacular Alpine backdrop.

It was early spring, when snow lay thick on the Dolomites and the vine buds had still to break. Inside the wineries, the bubble business was going on in pressurised stainless steel tanks, for this is the land of prosecco.

Most respected sparklers follow the traditional champagne method of second fermentation in bottle; here it's different - the second fermentation is in tanks. The results don't have the extra dimensions added by in-bottle fermentation, but the prosecco producers don't want those. Their ideal is to focus on the fresh, pure fruit of their raw material - confusingly, both grape variety and finished wine carry the name prosecco.

Naively, I expected massive bubbling vats (though maybe you find them in the biggest, most industrialised wineries) watched over by teams of factory workers in white overalls. But at the top of the prosecco pyramid, wineries such as Adami's look very much like small modern wineries the world over - with only the pressure gauges on the gleaming stainless steel tanks hinting at the forces within.

There, export manager Enrico Valleferro concluded the lesson he'd begun when 32 members of the prosecco consortium came to London last autumn to explain the difference between the best wines - from the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOC - and those from the richer-soiled, hotter, more humid plains below which aren't allowed to put those three important capital letters on their labels.

Adami is a family affair, with brothers Franco (winemaker and president of the DOC consortium) and Armando (the business brain, but also a trained oenologist) the third generation in charge.

Their winery is immaculate and full of hi-tech equipment. But the value of all that investment hinges on the quality of the fruit from the family's own 12 hectares of vines and from the 30 growers who supply them regularly. Prosecco grapes are delicate and need careful handling, and the quality of the base wine made from them is crucial in achieving the final result.

But I'll happily raise a glass to toast their achievement: a range of very fine wines, from a still prosecco rarely seen outside the Veneto region to the top single-vineyard Giardino, the only Adami sparkler to carry a vintage. After a year in bottle the 2006 had developed a delicate hint of honey behind its lively floral character and had huge persistence - delicious.

Adami wines are mostly to be found in restaurants, including Locanda Locatelli, though you can buy various cuvees at Planet of the Grapes, New Oxford Street, Ottolenghi, Upper Street, Islington (also on the restaurant list), and Salusbury Food Store, Salusbury Road, Queen's Park, at prices from £11 to £19.

But whenever you're buying prosecco, read the label carefully. The letters DOC do make a big difference.

And a final piece of advice from Enrico Valleferro: don't serve prosecco in a flute, use a good white wine glass instead. Like burgundy, prosecco is flattered by being tipped towards the front of your mouth first.

Liz Sagues


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