Monday, January 18, 2016

Ruffino brings its Prosecco to the wine festival

Since Italy is the theme region at the Vancouver International Wine Festival, it is hardly surprising that numerous Prosecco wines which will on the tasting room floor.

The surprise is that one of them will be at the table of Ruffino, one of the great Chianti producers. It added a Prosecco to its portfolio five or six years ago. That tells you something about how Prosecco has been taking the world by storm.

The Ruffino winery was established in 1877 by Ilario and Leopoldo Ruffino. The winery was sold in 1913 to the Folonari family. Even though that is also a distinguished winemaking family, the Ruffino name has never been allowed to disappear.

The Ruffino reputation was made (and is sustained) with Chianti. Ruffino was the first Chianti producer to export to the United States.

The winery also was named an official supplier to the Italian royal family when Italy had a king. Riserva Ducale Chianti Classico, the winery’s flagship red, was first produced in 1927. The name recognizes the winery’s royal patronage at the time. Victor Emmanuel 111, the last king of Italy (and the king who had Mussolini arrested), abdicated in 1946 and died the following year in exile.

Why would a Chianti producer extend its production to Prosecco? The Glera grape, the main Prosecco variety, grows in northeastern Italy, across the Italian peninsula from Tuscany.

Well, consider how Prosecco sales have grown in British Columbia alone, never mind in the world at large. The first Prosecco was listed here in 1995. Now the Liquor Distribution Branch lists 28. That does not include the Ruffino example which is just being introduced to the market.

Sales of Italian sparkling wine in British Columbia (nearly all of it is Prosecco) hit $100 million in the 12 months ended March 31, 2015, up a whopping 28% from the previous year. In fact, Prosecco sales have nearly doubled in the past two years.

Prosecco gets its bubbles by being fermented in a pressure tank, not in individual bottles. The full-bubble wines are called spumante while those with less effervescence are called frizzanté. Tank fermentation has two advantages: the wines, which usually are dry, are much fresher than bottle-fermented wines; and are considerably cheaper to make. Most sell here under $20.

Barbara Philip MW, the LDB product consultant responsible for this category, explains the appeal of the wine.

“Prosecco tends to be softer on the palate that, say, Champagne or Cava, and is driven by upfront fruity aromas rather than toast and mineral,” she says. “Many are well packaged and that encourages consumers to pick them off the shelf. Then they taste it, like it, and come back. I also think that people love the name. It is easy for a non-Italian speaker to pronounce and sounds kind of fancy rolling off the tongue.”

The Ruffino Prosecco was poured at a recent tasting sponsored by the Wine Festival for media and trade. It is an impressive example, starting with elegant packaging. It is crisp and refreshing, with energetic bubbles, fruity aromas and flavours of apple. I scored it 90 points and I fully intend to revisit the wine at the Ruffino table during the festival and pick up a few bottles at the festival’s wine store.


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