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Prosecco: Italian Bubbly on the Rise

By Dan Rabin

Photography by Dan Rabin

It seems only fitting that one of Italy’s most prolific wine-producing regions is located near Venice, the country’s most liquid city. The Veneto region in northeastern Italy produces a greater variety of reds and whites than anywhere else in this wine-intensive country.

Surprisingly, the wine most closely identified with Venice was little known outside of Italy a decade ago. The grape-growing districts north of Venice are home to the preeminent producers of Prosecco. In recent years this sparkling white wine has attracted a growing legion of admirers in the US and elsewhere among fans of bubbly seeking an affordable alternative to champagne.

Those who encountered Prosecco prior to its recent surge in popularity often did so in a Bellini, the signature cocktail of Venice. The original Bellini - one part white peach puree to three parts Prosecco - was concocted in the 1930s at Harry’s Bar, a Venice institution and former hangout of Ernest Hemingway, Orson Wells and numerous other luminaries and jet setters.

Prosecco is produced from the white Glera grape which, until recently, was called the Prosecco grape. The name was changed to protect the indigenous beverage from lesser-quality foreign imitators. Previously, anyone producing wine using Prosecco grapes could call their beverage Prosecco without regard to where it was produced.

New regulations adopted in 2009 mandate that only wine produced in certain districts of Veneto and the neighboring Friuli Venezia Giulia region can use the Prosecco name.

The most prestigious growing area for Glera is in the steep hills near the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. Here, the vineyards must be maintained and harvested by hand as the vertical topography is inaccessible to machinery used in more forgiving terrain. In certain prime grape-growing areas, land is valued at over $1 million USD per hectare (2.47 acres).

The area’s importance in Italian wine circles is further enhanced by the presence of the Wine Academy at Conegliano, 40 miles from Venice. The country’s oldest wine school, founded in 1876, is fertile training ground for Italy’s next generation of winemakers who begin their studies of enology as early as age 14.

As a sparkling white wine, Prosecco is often compared to champagne, although they maintain distinct personalities. The classic French bubbly is produced using the traditional champagne method, or méthode champenoise, in which yeast and sugar are added at bottling to produce a secondary fermentation in the bottle. Champagne is aged for at least a year and sometimes considerably longer during which time it develops its characteristic toastiness.

By contrast, Prosecco is produced using the less costly and less labor-intensive Charmat method, where a secondary fermentation takes place in a pressurized stainless steel tank prior to bottling. Age is not an ally to Prosecco which is best enjoyed young when its delicate fruitiness is at its peak.

While champagne maintains a more glamorous image, it comes at a steep price. Most Prosecco retails for a wallet-friendly $10-20 a bottle. Prosecco has been experiencing annual double-digit growth outside Italy in recent years. In 2009, Prosecco sales in the US rose around 30% while champagne sales slumped. Even as the market for champagne rebounded in 2010, Prosecco’s popularity continued to accelerate.

What is the attraction of this every-occasion Italian sparkler? Prosecco is ight on the palate, crisp and unassuming with hints of apple, pear, peach or even tropical fruit. Often served as an aperitif, the beverage is also food friendly. It pairs well with light appetizers, a variety of cheeses, and seafood, especially shellfish. Refreshing and low in alcohol, Prosecco owes much of its newfound popularity to its versatility, approachability and affordability.

“The secrets of good Prosecco are fresh flavor, good acidity and alcohol around 11%,” explains winemaker Paolo Bressan of Vigna Dogarina, a winery located in Campodipietra about 20 miles northeast of Venice.

The 25-year-old Bressan was raised around the vineyards near Venice and graduated from the Conegliano Wine School. Following stints in California’s Santa Barbara wine country and elsewhere in Italy, Bressan returned to his roots to work with Dogarina.

Dogarina wines, including several varieties of Prosecco, have recently been introduced to the US by Paulaner-HP USA, a Colorado-based importer. They join an increasingly diverse collection of Italian sparkling wines on bottle shop shelves and restaurant menus.

In Veneto, producers are raising a glass to Prosecco’s recent popularity in markets far from its traditional homeland. If current trends continue, this Italian bubbly should keep its sparkle for years to come.

Dan Rabin is a travel, food and beverage writer from Boulder, Colorado.

Sidebar Half the production of the 30-year-old Vigna Dogarina winery is devoted to Prosecco. With its easy access from Venice, a visit to the modern winery makes an enjoyable side trip for travelers interested in exploring Prosecco and other indigenous wines from the ground up. Guided tours, which take in the vineyards, cellar and tasting room, are offered six days a week.

Vigna Dogarina Vigneti in Campodipietra Via Arzeri, 35 - 31040 Campodipietra di Salgareda (TV) - Italy
www.vignadogarina.com

To book a visit, contact: Romina Tonus Tel: +39 (0) 422 804129 Email: r.tonus@vignadogarina.com

Travel packages to Venice, including lodging and direct flights from the US, can be booked through Delta Vacations (www.deltavacations.com).

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