Henry’s Favorite Wine (These Days)
Looking Back to See Ahead
By Henry Beylin, Gjelina Group’s Wine + Beverage Director
I never liked Prosecco. To this day it's a very bland, unexciting wine that speaks more of business savvy, marketing and mindless consumption. There are exceptions to everything and they exist here too, but those aside, it's a very uninspiring category. Most are fruity, have the appearance of — if not actual — sweetness with a taste that can be described as correct and general. It is popular, however, very popular. In 2021, there were 627.5 million bottles produced, making it one of the most popular wines in the world. What a revelation it was then when I had my first Prosecco Col Fondo many years ago. It was everything Prosecco wasn't supposed to be. Fresh, savory, tangy, yeasty, slightly bitter and unfiltered. Furthermore, it appeared to be made with intention. It was specific and singular and thoughtful. Somebody was trying to say something in a fresh way. This new expression seemed so timely and of the moment with the wild and sour-like flavors of many natural wines, the nascent orange wine emergence, pet nats and unfiltered wines from, well, everywhere. Except it wasn't a fresh and new expression. It was the original version. The progenitor of oceans of modern homogeneous swill. What the fuck?
Col Fondo means "with the bottom," referring to the yeast. Col Fondo Prosecco undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle like many other sparkling wines trapping the CO2 bubbles and creating carbonation, but the resultant yeast are not disgorged but remain in bottle, eventually settling at the bottom. The yeast is meant to be incorporated into the wine making a hazy and rustic looking beverage for all relevant hipsters. And this was the way, the only way until the 1970's and the advent of stainless steel tanks. One could now control temperature and pressure which allowed the secondary fermentation to happen in large stainless steel tanks, be filtered and bottled under pressure resulting in a clean, inoffensive "modern" wine while allowing production to scale up exponentially. All of a sudden farmers didn't have to make their own wines but could sell grapes to large firms that made wedding toast wine for the world and all regional and personal expression was lost to efficiency. And then upwardly mobile Americans who could not decide whether to eat breakfast or lunch invented brunch bringing forth the Mimosa, and the new sleek Prosecco found its raison d'etre.
But not everybody changed their methods of production, and some that did kept making the traditional method of Prosecco, now known as Col Fondo but before simply Prosecco, in tiny amounts, sometimes just for family and friends, as a way of maintaining a link to previous generations. The world at large also developed an interest in the artisanal and the seemingly more authentic. Experiencing something traditional from a very localized culture is a counterpoint to the very modern sameness all around us. Prosecco Col Fondo found its moment.
Col Tamaríe Col Fondo is a great example of the re-emergence of this classic style. The wine is joyful and fun. The yeast adds a level of complexity and textural depth. The flavor is slightly funky but clean, much more savory than fruity, zesty, salty and earthy. It's great with food, all food. It's balanced and intentional. It represents somebody. That's key. It links us to the past while looking forward. And it tastes damn good.