Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene

Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene

While I generally avoid doing writing projects “on spec,” I discovered last week the joy of eating Asiago on Speck. Sorry, I couldn't resist the bi-lingual pun. The recent Vino in Villa show in New York at the Time Warner Center featured several dozen purveyors of Prosecco, a simple and often delightful sparking wine from Italy's Veneto region, but the show's promoters had also set up a strategically located table offering Speck Alto Adige IGP and Asiago DOP. Wine tasting is hungry work, and though my nose may not be making waves in the wine sense, it is fairly adept at sniffing out tasty eats.

Speck Alto Adige looks like Prosciutto but unlike that delicacy it is lightly smoked. The meat is sweet, seductive and smoky soft. The IGP designation that applies to the Speck is short for Indicazione Geografica Protetta or Protected Geographical Indication, a designation assigned by the European Union. The ripened Asagio cheese is easy to eat and yet gives complex notes: dried fruit and sweet butter. We wine people tend to think of defined appellations in a vinous context, but the food world has them also. The European Community DOP seal indicates Denominazione di Origine Protetta, or Protected Designation of Origin. The San Marzano tomatoes I adore qualify, as does the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, yet among the hundreds of European cheeses only 30 or so make the DOP grade: Gorgonzola, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Roquefort, Stilton, and Fontina give the Asiago some quality companionship.

But on to the wine. You can buy a still Prosecco if you look carefully for it, but by and large Prosecco means bubbly, relatively simple, non-meditative bubbly at that, the kind of wine you enjoy for any occasion (the fact that today may be Tuesday is enough of an excuse). Prosecco is a white grape variety; the wine by the same name is produced from either 100% Prosecco or a minimum of 85% Prosecco with helper varieties like Verdiso, Perera, and Bianchetta.

Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOC is a stretch of the Veneto between those two multi-syllabic towns some 30 miles north of Venice, and due north of Treviso. This is a cool climate region. The base wines are first fermented dry, then either left that way (only 5% of production) or carbonated using the bulk Charmat process into frizzante (semi-sparkling) or spumante (fully-sparkling) versions. Prosecco is not meant to be aged; the wine can be marketed a bare month after bottling, and the idea is to drink it now. As with Champagne, “brut” is the dry wine, “extra-dry” is actually sweeter.

I tasted (but refrained from pronouncing) the $18 Cantine Maschio dei Cavalieri Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, a brut frizzante produced from 100% Prosecco, light and playful bubbles, a pale straw with forward acidity, warm fruit notes, peaches and pears (they so often come together), bready notes and gentle apricots. The wine has a luxurious edge, medium body, and some minerality to it, but retains the playfulness Prosecco demands. The gossamer frizzante bubbles tickle the nose as the aromatics stimulate it. Well made.

The $17 Zardetto Prosecco Zeta is 100% Conegliano Prosecco, hand harvested, the product of a single vineyard in S. Pietro di Feletto. Prosecco yields can be prodigious (with concomitant poor quality), but this producer keeps its yields down, resulting in a classic dry spumante that gives balanced notes of fruit (that white peach again) and spice (vanilla), with white floral elements, a tinge of almond and a background of tropical fruit (pineapple). The acidity works, complementing the fruit and the enthusiastic bubbles. I really enjoyed this one.

I tasted the $26 brut (Ruio) spumante from producer Malibràn (about $25), a small family operation that produces some 50,000 cases of Valdobbiadene DOC Prosecco annually. The Favrel family's operation is one that has become perhaps typical in Italy and other parts of southern Europe, a mix of solid tradition with a new winery and a good deal of modern equipment. Both these wines had complex aromatics, based on the fruit itself, melon and tree-fruit with floral overtones, very pure in effect, with acidity that worked without challenging its place in the hierarchy. This full-bodied and very well balanced wine satisfies with a nice, long finish.

The sub-$10 Mionetto Prosecco Brut is quite a value, with honey, peach, green apple and citrus notes leading to a truly crisp refreshing finish. The straw colored wine is decidedly dry and is sealed with a crown cap, yes, the same as our old-fashioned bottle cap. The $19 Mionetto Sergio Extra Dry is sealed with a conventional cork and uses all four of the region's distinctive grape varieties: Verdiso, Perera, and Bianchetta with 70% Prosecco di Valdobbiadene. This is a wine with plenty of fruit. Mionetto USA is presently sponsoring a cocktail contest, offering a $5,000 prize to the producer of the most creative cocktail using their Prosecco, deadline end of 2008.

Entrants to Mionetto's Mixology Cocktail Contest would certainly be wise to avoid the Bellini if they want to claim originality, since this Prosecco-based cocktail is long established. The classic Bellini—five parts fresh white peach pureé and one part Prosecco—was created in the iconic Harry's Bar in Venice in 1948. Prosecco often gives peachy notes, so the combination really works. You are best advised to merrily down the drink, however, rather than meditate on it. Prosecco is happy stuff.

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Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene: a lot of work to pronounce but very easy to drink.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award


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