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Michael Franz
Michael Franz
Prosecco, the Laid-Back Bubbly (Post, June 4)
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Entertainment Marketplace: Winery Guide

The Grapevine
Michael Franz
Washington Post Wine Columnist

Wednesday, June 04, 2003; Noon ET

Washington Post wine columnist Michael Franz comes to the Web for The Grapevine to talk about the art of wine and his latest column.

Franz has worked as wine columnist for The Washington Post since 1994, and has conducted more than 650 site visits and tastings at wineries across Western and Eastern Europe, South America, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. You can find his column on alternating Wednesdays in The Washington Post Food section.

The transcript follows -- enjoy the oenological banter.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Michael Franz: G’day mates! Welcome to The Grapevine, an interactive forum on all things vinous. The basic idea for the show is that you submit any question plausibly related to wine, and I do my best to shed some light on the matter. Anything from the growing of wine grapes, to the craft of the winemaker, to the workings of the wine trade, to issues of buying, storing and serving the stuff is fair game, so the range of potential discussion points is very broad. I’m always especially interested in questions regarding the pairing of wines with food, so let me help if you’ve got a question along these lines.

If you’ve seen today’s “Wine” column in the Post, you know that I published a story on Prosecco that required using up almost all of the available space, so here are some tasting notes on the recommended wines:


Mionetto (Prosecco di Valdobbiadene) “Extra Dry” ($18, Siema): Juicy and full of fun. Interestingly, this bottling had much, much smaller bubbles than the Brut from this same producer. As a result, in terms of flavors, this is a less “serious” (i.e., Champagne-like) beverage than the Brut; but in texture, this bottling was much more classy and serious. All things considered, I thought this wine was the single best expression of the Prosecco grape and the “idea” of Prosecco.

Zardetto (Prosecco) Brut ($12, Winebow): This is drier than most so-called “Brut” Proseccos, but is still a far cry from my notion of what Brut dryness really means. In any case, the wine is delicious. Very fresh (all 3 bottles tasted), and is just packed with bubbles and fun, with nice acidity that keeps the package balanced. It is also widely available, with the related advantage of fast turnover and probably the highest probability of freshness.

Tenuta S. Anna (Prosecco) “Extra Dry” ($11, Siema): This shows lots of floral, “muscatty” aromas, and is notably sweet, but fine acidity keeps this nice and refreshing. I loved my bottle when first opened, and loved it every bit as much when I uncorked it for a second look the following night.

Val d’Oca (Prosecco di Valdobbiadene) “Brut” ($11, Select): This wine is on the drier side for this category, but still makes more sense here than below. Nice flavors and a relatively clean finish. Solid stuff, and certainly representative of fine Prosecco, but this nevertheless didn’t quite light me up like the three wines above.


Canella (Prosecco di Conegliano) “Extra Dry” ($13, Bacchus): This was certainly the class of this category, and there was never any question about whether it was in the right spot. I’ve tasted this wine many times, and have always admired its sophistication, which seems a bit at odds with my take on Prosecco as an non-serious, fun wine…but the fact is that this is not some sort of hairshirt wine. It has plenty of flavor, and does show the character of the grape—though less overtly than most of the wines above. If you want to enjoy a glass of Prosecco as an aperitif but then have another glass with dinner, this might be your best choice.

Zefiro (Prosecco) “Brut” ($13, Winebow): Or maybe this one would be the best choice, as it is really good too! Really a very nice wine, and clearly this is properly categorized, as it is on the dry side, with restrained aromatics. Still, there’s plenty of that foamy, fruity fun in this.

Nino Franco (Prosecco di Valdobbiadene) “Rustico” ($13, Wines, Ltd.): This was the toughest of all of these to categorize, as it really shows elements of both categories. Even accounting for the power of suggestion, there is indeed something “rustic” happening in this wine…straw notes, and an earthier profile (less straightforward fruit, less floral stuff). The wine has plenty of bubbles, but isn’t as effervescent as the fully foamy renditions. It has plenty of aroma, but not as much (or as floral) as the strongly aromatic bottlings. It has too much flavor to be called austere or restrained, and is too distinctive in character to be called international. So, how ‘bout if YOU try it, and tell me how the heck you would categorize it?

Carpenč Malvolti (Prosecco di Conegliano) ($13, DOPS): This doesn’t say either Brut or Extra Dry on the label, but it pretty clearly belongs in this category. It is on the simple side, but clean and very pleasant. Light floral tinges, with almost a citrus-like zest of acidity, which is quite welcome.

Mionetto (Prosecco) “Brut” ($15, Siema): The first bottle I tasted was underwhelming, but a second was really very nice--fresher and much more lively in terms of mousse. The fruit is nice, with floral notes balanced against earthy notes. A bit pricey, though….

So…let’s get rolling with your questions. Please don’t be offended if I can’t get to your question during the hour, as there are almost always more than I can manage. Generally speaking, I try to respond first to those questions that may be of most general interest, or at least those that I can answer with information that will be useful to participants other than the questioner. However, I also take questions to help individuals, so please be patient and keep trying!


Washington, D.C.: A great article.
1. %vol - do you know why are some prosecco's 11% (Zardetto) and others 11.5% (Bisol)
2. Now that you've "exposed" Prosecco in this area, can we hope there will be more choices. It seems that it's either Nino Franco, Rustico or Zardetto around here, sometimes a Bisol lurks or one other label.
3. Who has the best variety of labels?
4. You might like to point readers to the web site www.prosecco.it (English text under "The Land of Prosecco"). This gives some geographical and production details without being too analytical.

washingtonpost.com: Prosecco, the Laid-Back Bubbly (Post, June 4)

Michael Franz: Hi there,
That difference in alcohol content could be related either to greater ripeness in the grapes resulting in more sugar in the must (which then, if fermented to the same level of dryness, would result in more alcohol) or to the higher alcohol wine being drier (i.e., having had more of its sweetness fermented.
--Yes, let's hope we'll now see a greater variety of Proseccos available here!
--On "variety of labels," do you mean retailers or producers? Mionetto has the most different products among producers (to my knowledge), and as for retailers, I'm afraid I don't know which ones stock a lot of different wines.
--Thanks for that pointer to the web site, too!


Richmond, Va.: During a previous chat I asked your opinion of Berringer wines. As I recall you used the term "industrial wine(s)." Can you explain this term?

Michael Franz: Sure. I mean wines made in gigantic quantities, in massive production facilities, from fruit or juice that is trucked in from all over California, and which hence has no connection to any particular place.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi Michael!

I've been a lurker, but never had a question until now: When I was cleaning out my parents' home, I found a bottle of wine called Chateau Malamison. It also said "Baronne Nadine de Rothschild Moulis Appellation Moulis Controlee 1993." Could you tell me anything about this wine? Should I drink it now or wait? Thanks for all the good advice.

Michael Franz: Drink that baby tonight!


Alexandria, Va.: As a retail wine professional, I see a disturbing trend: big corporate wine putting the squeeze on small, family-owned producers. Do you take the winery ownership into consideration prior to publishing a review? A flip through the pages of any wine magazine reveals these "brand" labels already get gobs of press.

Michael Franz: Great question! let me first offer a straightforward answer, and then a less straightforward explanation. No, I do not take that factor into account. This is because I understand my primary responsibility to be giving an unprejudiced assessment of the quality of the wines I review, without letting my personal preferences or notions intrude any more than necessary. I'm no more inclined to root for Goliath than you, but my readers may not care. So, if a Gallo wine is just a bit better than that made by Domaine Mom & Pop, I'll rank 'em that way and let the reader decide. If readers have to filter my reviews for extraneous considerations, I dilute the value of my contribution.


Germantown, Md.: Mr. Franz,

Thank you for your funny and interesting column. After reading you column today, I went over to my very small wine rack, and found the Prosecco I recently purchased. I couldn't believe my luck, I actually own a bottle of wine you recommend. First chance I get, I'm going to open the bottle of Canella Prosecco and congratulate myself on finding a bottle of wine recommended by you in Montgomery County. Which leads me to my question, there was a recent article in Newsweek on Costco detailing, among other things, that they are the leading retailer of wines in the country. Is it worth the drive from MC to a VA Costco to buy wine? The article gave examples of buying Dom Perignon for $90 and good Pinot for $60 when each sells for $120 and $80 respectively at other retailers. I'm not close to that $$ category -- more like hoping for a $25 -15! Whadda you think? Thanks -- gotta go, that Prosecco is calling my name!

washingtonpost.com: Prosecco, the Laid-Back Bubbly (Post, June 4)

Michael Franz: Thank you!
I have gotten mostly--but not uniformly--favorable feedback on Costco. I do not have the inside scoop, however, so let's put this up for comment:

Can any of you weigh in for or against Costco for wine?


Washington, D.C.: Further on my question from two weeks ago about foie gras, to which you asked whether it was pate foie gras or fois gras. The label says "bloc de foie gras de canard"... so I'm guessing it is a pate? And best wine to pair it with?

Michael Franz: Hey! I'd say that is probably a solid piece (bloc), and I'd suggest placing it on simple, quartered slices of toast, with the crust removed. Serve it as a simple first course with a Sauternes with a few years of age on it (1996?) so that it won't be too sweet to let the foie show its stuff. Then follow with a fairly flavorful and dramatic main course...lest the main course be anticlimatic!


Rockville, Md. wine questions: Kim O'Donnel referred me to you (apologies to everyone who reads both chats)....

We're planning a late summer lunch reception for between 300 and 400 people. The menu will be lots of Middle Eastern dishes -- lamb kabobs, grilled chicken over rice, baba ghanouj and hummous, grape leaves, traditional sweets, and more.

First, can you suggest a red and a white wine to complement the meal? I prefer drier wines, but I don't know what would go well with this kind of food. Second, how much wine do you count on per person -- we're thinking we won't need as much for a luncheon as for a dinner. Any thoughts?

Michael Franz: Yikes! That is a lot of people, and a lot of wine! I'd say you're safe with no more than half a bottle of wine for each adult attendee, but I wouldn't go much below that. And as for the best wines to go with those foods, try this: Spend a night at Zatinya, a fantastic new restaurant downtown (around 7th and H?) that features mostly Greek and Turkish foods and has a great list of wines to match. order a bunch of little plates akin to what you'll be serving, and take some friends and try a whole bunch of wines by the glass. It will be a blast, and you will have a really good idea of what you'd like to select. And: Spit or ride Metro! If this isn't workable for you, just ask me again in an upcoming show...I take it we'll have time, since this is a late-summer affair.


Bethesda, Md.: We are going to upgrade our wineglasses to Riedel Vinum -- which red wine glass shape would you recommend as an "all-purpose" shape?


Michael Franz: I have and very often use the Bordeaux, Syrah, Pinot Noir and Chianti/Zinfandel glasses. All are good, but I've come around to the view that none are quite as strong for all-purpose tasting as the Spiegelau Chianti/Zin glass, which is notably cheaper than the Riedel. I think that Schneider's on Capitol Hill stocks them...and I really think you should test-drive one before buying Riedel!


Houston, Tex.: Costco seems to have a large variety of wines
at very good prices: I have heard wine shop
employees whisper to customers that they can
save a lot on the same wine by going over to
Costco. I have seen some top N Rhone labels,
good selections from Chile wines etc.; I don't have the specifics at hand but I do recall getting some Ceretto Barolo for about $30. They have a list on their web site you can check for prices (but I think
this list is for those states to which they can ship so it may be good for a general idea only.)

Michael Franz: Thanks, Houston!


Washington, D.C.: Could you recommend a Russian River area Pinot Noir for under $18 to serve with salmon?

Michael Franz: Yes, but there is only one really good one that I know of at that price level: Kenwood. Happy hunting...call retailers before driving!


Fairfax, Va.: What kind of wine would you serve at an afternoon BBQ consisting of the standard burgers and potato salad?

Michael Franz: If I could choose only one? Zin, and make it: Rancho Zabaco Heritage Vines Zinfandel.


Montclair, NJ: Mr. Franz,
I have a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino from 1997. Should I keep it, or drink it immediately?

Michael Franz: You COULD drink it now with food, or hold for another 3-4 years.


Costco for wine: Have bought from Costco in Virginia for parties.
Good, decent regular and magnum-sized bottles of stuff you're willing to drink tonight.

Never saw any of the $30-and-up wines that people have talked about. Maybe those are Costcos in California...

Michael Franz: ...Maybe, though I've heard that you can buy classified growth Bordeaux (and pricey ones, too) in northern VA. Any of you able to confirm this?


New York, N.Y.: Hi! We are having difficulties deciding on two or three red wines to serve at our wedding in a few weeks. We have the white and the champagnes taken care of, but it seems that for a decent red wine, you have to spend more than we can afford. Do you have any suggestions for a good middle of the road (not too light, not too heavy) red that can be served for under $10 a bottle? (The meal is a buffet, with grilled beef tenderloin, grilled lamb and grilled swordfish) Thank you!

Michael Franz: I'd vote for: Indigo Hills (North Coast, CA) Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 ($9) or Anime (Friuli Isonzo, Italy) Merlot 2001 ($10). Congratulations and good luck!


Fantastic Column!: Hi Michael -- I just wanted to thank you for such a fun column today. Informative and entertaining. A group of fellow New York ex-patriates are getting together this weekend to sample a variety of pizza from places people have claimed are decent NY substitutes (I'm highly skeptical). I was going to look for some of your chianti recommendations from a few weeks back, but now I'm thinking prosecco, pizza, and cannoli sunds divine.

Michael Franz: Thanks for the kind words. Sure you and your friends couldn't make it to Chicago for some real pizza? (Sorry.) As for vino...I think this is too tall an order for Prosecco, which might be ok with the cannoli, but which would probably get whupped by the pizza. I really like Barbera with pizza, and most good stores will have a few for you to try. And there are even some very good ones coming from California these days...last night I tasted a stunner: Imagery Estate Winery Sonoma Valley "Artist Collection" Barbera 2000...and it was WICKED!


Washington, DC: Hi Michael. I will be opening a bottle for a special occasion on Friday. Which of these 3 bottles would you open (we'll be having cheese/crackers/olives, etc). 1997 Silver Oak Cab, 1997 Josephs Phelps Cab, or 1982 Rioja (sorry, don't remember the winery)?

Michael Franz: I'm worried about that Rioja, which may need life support at this point; and the Silver Oak will benefit from another year or two to give the wine time to soak up some of that American oak...so I'd go with the Phelps!


Washington, D.C.: I will rephrase the question. Which wine stores in the DC area have the best selection of different kinds of Prosecco.

Michael Franz: Sorry to say that I don't know...

...can anybody help with this?


Somewhere, USA: Hello and thank you for taking my question. Per your recommendation, I tried the Camelot pinot noir and really enjoyed it. I noticed they also make other wines...have you tried them, and would you recommend them?

Michael Franz: The other wines are fine, but that Pinot is unbelievable, eh?!


Baltimore, Md.: Dear Mr. Franz,
Thanks for the suggestions on Prosecco in this morning's paper. I only once tried a prosecco, and will now make sure to get several bottles to become better acquainted with this "wild and crazy guy" wine.
For the wineglass reader: Amazon.com has periodic sales on Spiegelau wineglasses--keep an eye out for them. I got 6 Bordeaux and 6 Burgundy glasses for $49.99 with free shipping! These sales come up for a few weeks every few months (I guess when they get a backlog). Keep up the good work. Let's hear about Aussie shiraz and 2001 Zinfandels!

Michael Franz: Thanks for the tip!


Washington, D.C.: Mr. Franz: Thanks for the columns, and the chats!

Can you name any readily-available wines that are not from Bordeaux that seek to emulate the classic Bordeaux style -I lack the vocabulary, but there's a bit of barnyard, and the fruit doesn't pull a gun on you as it enters your mouth]. The "California" style doesn't appeal to me, even when a Bordeaux-like blend.

Sorry for the generalities; I hope you get what I mean . . .

Michael Franz: Funny you should mention this! I've already filed a story on this precise topic, and it will run in the paper two weeks from today. I can't scoop the print edition here and now, so let me say this: The story offers the hunch that there is now, finally, one place outside of Europe that can be said to be the first to produce red wines that really bear a likeness to Bordeaux. Anybody got a guess on which region I've got in mind?


Wilmington, Del.: The Australian red wines I like best are labeled "old vines" and "dry grown" or "dry bush grown." What exactly does "dry grown" mean? Is there a California equivalent wine? Thanks for your willingness to take our amateur questions.

Michael Franz: "Dry grown" means not irrigated, which usually results in lower yields and more concentrated wine. "Bush vines" are also called "head pruned," meaning that they aren't trained along a wire. These are also usually old vines, and again this generally means lower yields and more concentrated wine.


Chicago, Ill.: Bravo Michael! I loved your article today, and in light of the fact that I'm heading to that region of Italy later this year, I'm looking forward to trying even more of these wonderful wines. I am learning so much about wine through your articles and chats, but I understand this isn't your "primary" profession - what do you teach in "real life?" Thanks again and keep up the great work.

Michael Franz: Thank you...and in real life, I teach and publish in the field of political philosophy.


Michael Franz: Yikes! Out of time with lots of interesting questions that must go unanswered. Please try again in two weeks, same time, same site. Until then, cheers!



That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.


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