Thursday 19 February 2015

"A glass of Prosecco, please…"

The way in which you order a glass of wine reveals a great deal. It’s not like taking a bottle quietly from a shelf, or choosing a name from a list. You actually have to summarise what you want. And someone is going to interpret that – could be the barman, could be the wine waiter, could be the person you’re out with, or could be an absurdly judgmental observer. Like myself.

Take the person who straightforwardly orders “A glass of red wine, please”. Do they simply not care which one they get? Would they ask for “Oh, just any piece of meat, thanks”?

Or perhaps they genuinely cannot taste the difference between a light, sprightly Beaujolais and a face-punching Shiraz. In which case, their relationship with wine will probably be long, carefree and joyfully inexpensive.

Then there’s ordering “A glass of House white.” The implication? “I’m shifting the responsibility here.” A House Wine has been chosen by the establishment as representative of their own principles of taste and value. They’ve even put their name to it. So if you take someone to Jamie’s Italian, and order a glass of Jamie’s Italian Bianco, and it’s horrible, who’s going to get the rap? Jamie.

One notch up is the varietal orderer. Asking for “A glass of Chardonnay” says “I know what I like.” And they’ll probably like something fairly consistent and pretty much always drinkable, like Merlot or Pinot Grigio, which won’t have the potential peaks and troughs of, say, claret.  It’s a brave drinker who orders a random “glass of Bordeaux”.

And then we enter the realm of people who really know their wine. It’s revealed as soon as they order. “A glass of Pinot Noir, please. Burgundy if you have it…” It’s like saying, “I know what I’m talking about. Don’t mess me around.” The Rioja…is it Riserva? What year is the claret? “A glass of your House Red – what is  it exactly…?”

Finally there’s the over specific, the customer who orders a glass by reciting its entire listing, thereby declaring that they actually know nothing about the wine. In one posh London restaurant, they list six red wines available by the glass, each of them described in full, like: 2010 Les Cadrans de Lassègue, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France. The only cool way to order that is “A glass of the Saint-Emilion, please.” Anyone who rattles off the entire description in ordering a glass is clearly an idiot. As is someone who says “I’ll have a glass of the Bordeaux from France”. Or, for that matter, “A glass of number 2010, please.”

Which just leaves the issue of ordering a glass of sparkling white wine. Or, as people actually say, depending on their location, food and wallet, “A glass of Champagne”, “A glass of Cava” or, in particular, “A glass of Prosecco”.

Recently, CJ and I got invited to try out draft Prosecco-which-isn’t. This is a sparkling Italian white wine being served on tap, from a keg – but it can’t be called Prosecco, because it isn’t fermented in a bottle. So all the experts are wrangling about definitions, and the classifications of Italian wine. And I’m thinking, how are people going to order it?

Because no-one asks for “a glass of sparkling white wine”. It sounds as if you want Champagne, but are too embarrassed to ask for it.

There are circumstances in which Champagne is appropriate, and Champagne gets ordered. And there are others when someone gets stung into paying for a glass of Champagne they never intended. So when someone thinks “I’d genuinely like a nice, sparkling white wine – is there something reasonably priced?”, the question they ask is, “Do you have a Prosecco by the glass?”

Unfortunately, that provokes a bizarre answer from the man behind this keg, along the lines of “Ah, well, we don’t have Prosecco as such. We do have this sparkling white wine on tap, which is made from glera, the grape from which Prosecco is made. But it’s not, technically, Prosecco, because of the way that it’s fermented. I can give you a glass of this, but legally I have to say that it’s not Prosecco.” Oh. Well, how about “A glass of not  Prosecco”?

Failing to see the value of calling it Not Prosecco, they have in fact given this fizz a new name – Vinovispo. And this is surely where madness tips into absurdity, the moment where one of the snakes on the plane leaps out of the toilet. What kind of colossal advertising campaign would be required to get punters asking for “a glass of Vinovispo, please”?

We’re also glossing over another small but significant point here, which is that Sediment wasn’t terribly impressed by the wine itself. I found it rather bland, insipid actually, lacking in any significant flavour. And CJ complained that, despite its complicated chilled delivery system, it wasn’t cold enough. There wasn’t the requisite condensation on the glass. And somewhere between his concern about what was on the glass, and my concern about what was in it, the whole sparkling concept went flat. In the end, it simply wouldn’t be worth the trouble required to ask for it.

“Actually, I’ll have a glass of Prosecco, please.” And you can read into that what you will.



  1. Prosecco is generally not made by fermentation in bottle. The reason that keg prosecco is not allowed is because the rules say that prosecco "must be marketed exclusively in traditional glass bottles".
    There is also a massive problem of fraud driven by the explosion in popularity of the wine which will undoubtedly be made worse by widespread use of draft wine.

    1. I had exactly the same reaction when I reached that sentence about the prosecco. Only (the relatively rare) Metodo Classico has a secondary fermentation in a bottle. Nevertheless, the piece is interesting - and certainly provocative! :)

    2. Thanks both - I am not among "the experts wrangling about definitions", so thanks for correcting what I was told!

  2. "What kind of colossal advertising campaign would be required to get punters asking for “a glass of Vinovispo, please”?"

    The lack of name recognition doesn't hinder my local pub from selling several unheard-of beers, if your concern is founded then it's pretty worrying for any small producers trying to sell new products!!

    1. The difference is that (a) you expect to see beer on draught, whereas if you see the word Vinovispo on a tap you would have no idea what kind of drink it was; and (b) beers usually then explain what variety they are on the tap, eg Bitter, Pale Ale etc. So at least the customer gets some kind of guidance!


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