IN last week’s column I suggested red Burgundies for Christmas, but the holiday season in China is much more expansive in terms of occasions and length of time. In Shanghai, festivities start well before Christmas and extend through the Chinese New Year and encompass a myriad of meals, parties and other merriments.
So what’s the ideal wine for the extended holiday season in China? There exist several fine answers, but let’s first look at the qualities that make a wine perfect for the holidays. First the wines need to be festive and celebratory, they should also be quite versatile and able to match a plethora of food types and because of the cultural and emotional significance of the holidays the wine should be something special. One great solution is Prosecco Superiore DOCG sparkling wines.
For many wine lovers in China and elsewhere the name Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG is a little difficult to pronounce and remember. For the moment let’s forget about the first two words that refer to the region and concentrate on the term Prosecco Superiore DOCG.
Many wine lovers in China are familiar with Prosecco but its the word Superiore and acronym DOCG that denote something truly distinct. Both words are commonly used throughout Italy to refer to higher quality wines made under more stringent regulations. Superiore signifies wines made with riper grapes with a higher minimum alcohol level. DOCG stands for Donominazione di Origine Controllata, which is best yet still imperfectly translated into English as “controlled and guaranteed designation of origin.” This is the highest quality level for wines in Italy.
Denominazione di Origine (DOC) regulations where introduced by the Italian government in 1963 and have been hugely influential in upgrading the quality of Italian wines. Prosecco gained the DOC status in 1969 then in 2009 the historical and classical production area of Conegliano Valdobbiadene was granted DOCG status. Prosecco DOC wines comprise a newer larger production area. Still with me? If not, just remember that when referring to Prosecco wines the combination of Superiore and DOCG is an indication of a better quality wine.
The traditional DOCG area is situated approximately halfway between Venice and the Dolomites in the Veneto region. Now we get to the two difficult names of the region that proceeds Prosecco Superiore DOCG, namely Conegliano Valdobbiadene. The elevated and precipitously sloped vineyards between these historic towns feature excellent exposure to the sun and cool breezes as well as good diurnal temperature differentials that all contribute to a slower and longer growing season and higher quality grapes. All grapes are hand harvested. Collectively these factors, along with exacting winemaking, result in wines of greater freshness, complexity and elegance.
The major styles of Prosecco Superiore wines can be broken down into Spumante fully-sparkling, Frizzante semi-sparkling and still wines. The latter is exceedingly rare but well worth a taste if you have the chance. The wines of this region come in three levels of sweetness, namely the driest Brut, slightly more sweet Extra Dry and the moderately sweet Dry. From the driest to the sweetest, all Prosecco Superior wines feature good acidity and freshness.
This helps to explain the quality and styles of Prosecco Superiore wine, now let’s learn why they’re so appropriate for the holiday season in Shanghai and the rest of China. There’s no better place to start than with food pairing. On so many occasions and in so many places across China my “go to” wines are Prosecco Superior sparkling wines. Whether you’re enjoying a delicate Cantonese Dim Sum brunch, a Shanghai feast with flavorful braised and fried seafood and white meat dishes or a spicy Sichuan or Hunan meal, there’s a Prosecco Superiore sparkler for you.
I tend to serve different styles of Prosecco Superiore wines with regional Chinese cuisines. The more lightly flavored Dim Sum dishes work nicely with Brut wines, while the combination of sweet and sour flavors in many Shanghai dishes are wonderful with an Extra Dry Prosecco Superior sparkling wine. Spicy Sichuan and Hunan dishes are best with Extra Dry Prosecco Superior wines when moderately spicy and Dry versions when extra spicy. Very few types of wine in this world pair so nicely with such a wide variety of Chinese seafood, meat and vegetable ingredients and cooking techniques.