Drink - Victoria Moore drinks Prosecco as a winter aperitif

Prosecco, a very unloved drink, is the ideal winter aperitif

It hardly seems fair that Prosecco is so often considered a poor man's champagne. Thought of this way, as something to be drunk in straitened circumstances by unhappy mouths seeking and lamenting the absence of French depth and complexity, it will always taste as miserable as the bland sugar-water that typifies the worst of its kind.

Prosecco is a very unloved drink. In my edition (1998) of Christie's World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine, Tom Stevenson writes: "Some experts on Italian wine accept that most Prosecco is ordinary but are enthusiastic about a small number of the best producers. I am enthusiastic about an even smaller number."

If that sounds like a fatal blow, it is nothing compared with what he has to say later: "Probably the most overrated sparkling wine grape in the world."

Well, I like it. For me, a good Prosecco is the ideal winter aperitif. There are times when I actually prefer its simple, countrified charm to the neediness of champagne.

Prosecco makes no demands, it just is. It has a light, sweet scent that reminds me of snowdrops and emeralds and glinting frost. I like its chiffony smell of apple and pear. And I love the way its slight sweetness melds into the fattiness of the prosciutto I eat with it.

The fact that it is inexpensive (a decent bottle need cost you only around £7) also means that you can pour a glass at lunchtime, or order it for fun in restaurants without the slightest twinge of guilt. The edge of sugar also gives such a pleasing lift at the end of a long day.

Then there is its Venetian heritage. Prosecco - the name of the grape, not the region - grows in the hills around the lagoon city of Venice, and so it is served in every little bar and restaurant there. At the famous Harry's, they make it into bellinis using peach pulp (if you try this at home, be sure to use real peaches - you can freeze the puree - and do not even think about using the sickly nectar you find in glass jars). Elsewhere, it's drunk alone, irreverently, from scratched old glasses so worn they have turned opaque.

You see, although it is true that there are oceans of bad Prosecco (thin, acidic, over-sweet, dull, horrid stuff), a half-decent one doesn't need to try to be fancy - it is effortlessly glamorous and uplifting and fun. When I drink it on a cold winter's evening in dank England, I always imagine the shimmering Venetian canals and the fur-hooded speedboat drivers and gondoliers huddling together like crows against a Canaletto backdrop. Cold and wet doesn't always need to be depressing.

This article first appeared in the 02 February 2004 issue of the New Statesman, The Hutton report - How a judge let Blair off