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Prosecco Primer
By Marguerite Thomas
May 28, 2013
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Most travellers who make their way to Italy visit Venice, ramble through Rome and perhaps ski or hike the hills around Cortina. The Prosecco region, by contrast, remains one of Italy’s last well-kept secrets, relatively unknown even to enophiles. It’s hard for me to understand why this Northern Italian gem isn’t on every wine lover’s list of must-see wine regions.

No, I take that back--if you’re one of those people who drinks only red wine I get why Prosecco (which is the name of both the region and its wine) may not be the place for you. But if you have a relatively broad palate, and if you would appreciate spending a few days in a bucolic little corner of Italy, Prosecco could be the perfect destination (this is such an exceptional place, in fact, that it is in the running to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site).

Of course you already know that Prosecco is one of the world’s best-known and most popular sparkling wines, but can you find the region on a map? Look for it nestled in the Veneto, up in the northeastern part of the country some 30 miles from Venice and about 62 miles from the Dolomite Mountains.

The Prosecco delineated wine area, which is shaped somewhat like a freeform fish, is bookended by two towns, Conegliano, located in the lower eastern section where the fish’s mouth might be, and Valdobbiadene, towards the top of the tail. (If you want to have a go at pronouncing them, the g in Conegliano is silent; trickier is Valdobbiadene: Valdo-bee-AH-den-nay.) The sub-district of Cartizze, also located in the fish’s tail and widely considered the jewel in Prosecco’s vinous crown (to mix a metaphor or two), is a steep hill covered with about 260 acres of vines.

Prosecco’s grape is Galera. The wines are almost always produced by the Charmat method, in which they undergo second fermentation in large pressurized steel tanks (autoclaves) rather than in the bottle. A few producers are experimenting with refermentation in bottle, with promising results. One of the best of the ones I tasted is BELLENDA, whose Valdobbiadenne DOCG Prosecco Superiore Brut “Sei Uno” is enticingly dry and multifaceted.

In 2009 Prosecco quality control status was promoted from DOC to Italy’s highest designation DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita). In general when selecting top quality Prosecco look for wines labeled Prosecco Superiore DOCG. Superiore di Cartizze is also considered a quality recommendation. Because Prosecco is at its best when young and very fresh it is seldom vintage labeled as producers frequently blend in some wine from the previous year (unlike good Champagne, aging does not, as a rule, add complexity and richness to Prosecco).

Increasingly, however, more and more superiore wineries are making a millesimato, in which all the grapes must be from one vintage. Another indication starting to show up on labels is Rive, a new system that singles out vintage-dated Proseccos made entirely of grapes from a single town or hamlet (In local dialect rive means hillside). ADAMI Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore Dry “Vigneto Giardino” Rive di Colbertaldo 2012 is one praiseworthy example.

Prosecco is produced either “Brut” (fermented nearly dry with no added sweetness), “Extra Dry” (sweetish), or “Dry” (sweeter), with Extra Dry and Dry categories receiving varying degrees of dosage before bottling. Since I gravitate towards dry rather than sweeter wines myself, on a recent trip to the region my first instinct was to seek out Brut Proseccos.

Somewhat to my surprise, however, after a couple of days of evaluating dozens and dozens of all three categories of Prosecco I came to the conclusion that Extra Dry wines were generally more appealing. In the best of the Extra Dry sparklers the dosage adds balance and roundness rather than perceptible sweetness, while Brut wines often seem more one-dimensional, less nuanced.

For the most part it is a mistake to compare Prosecco to Champagne. Prosecco’s charm lies in its light, airy, refreshing character. It is fragrant, fresh, fruity and fun to drink, not to mention considerably more affordable than Champagne. But if you’re looking for the gravitas and depth of fine Champagne chances are you’ll be disappointed by the comparison. Also, unlike Champagne’s affinity for food, Prosecco, generally speaking, is best enjoyed as an aperitif or partner for light foods.

If you do visit this region be sure to try Prosecco Tranquillo, a non-sparkling, very dry white wine made from the Glera grape. Production is small, and few bottles make it outside the area itself, but the wines can be alluring and refreshing, especially with favorite regional dishes such as risotto and fritto misto.

Another curiosity worth trying if you can find it is the sur lie wines in which a small amount of yeast is added after the wine is bottled, which allows refermentation to occur—but unlike, say, Champagne, the sediment remains in the bottle (these wines are usually decanted off the lies before serving). The result is a slightly cloudy and tart, but intensely aromatic and deeply flavored fizzy wine. SPAGNOL/COL DEL SAS “Il Fondo” is one particularly appealing example.

Among the hundred or so wines I tasted in Prosecco, I’ve put together a brief list of a few of my favorites, many of which are available in the United States. It’s an incomplete list to be sure, designed simply to get you heading down your own road to Prosecco.

ADAMI:
Brut “Bosca di Gica”
Brut “Col Credas” Rive di Farra di Soligo 2012 “Vigneto Giardino” Rive di Colbertaldo 2012

BELLENDA
Brut “Sei Uno”
Extra Dry “Miraval”

BISOL
Brut “Crede”
Extra Dry “Jeio Comei”
Cartizze Dry

BORGOLUCE
Brut; Extra Dry “Rive de Collato” 2012

BORTOLOMIOL
Brut “Jus Naturae” Millesimato 2012 Vino Biologico
Extra Dry “Bandarossa 2012

SPAGONL/COL DEL SAS
Brut “Rive de Solighetto” 2012
Brut “Col del Sas”
Extra Dry “Col del Sas”

FROZZA
Brut “Rive de Colbertaldo”
Extra Dry “Col dell’Orso

LA MARCA:
Brut Millisimato
Extra Dry “San Nicola”

LA TORDERA
Brut “Otreval”

LE COLTURE
Brut “Fagher”
Extra Dry “Pianer”

LE MANAZNE
Brut
EXTRA DRY “20.10” MILLESIMATO 2012

MEROTTO
Brut “GrazianoMerotto Cuvèe del Fondatore” Rive di Col San Martino 2012

SILVANO FOLLADOR
Brut “Nature” 2012

TANORÉ
Extra Dry
Cartizze

VIGNE MATTE
Brut Cuvée
Extra Dry Cuvée
“Millesimatte” 2012;

ZARDETTO
Extra Dry “Molin” 2012