rosecco spumante and Palladio: a perfect pairing for a June evening! I was the guest of the Contessa Diamante Luling Boschetti for a gala dinner at her Palladian Villa di Maser in honor of Colli Asolani Prosecco being named one of Italy’s 50 DOCG wine regions, a top honor that guarantees both provenance and quality. The fresh, sparkling wine was an exceptional accompaniment to the Veronese frescoes, the views of the manicured grounds out the large front windows, and the elegant tables set around the fountain on the terrace behind the villa.
Prosecco spumante has been traditionally been the simpler, easy-drinking cousin of champagne, but confusion persists. Top quality producers of DOCG and DOC prosecco spumante want to disassociate the name from low quality, inexpensive sparkling wine, dumped on the market and called prosecco, even though it may not even be Italian. They hope to create a new image that brings to mind the hillsides around the Piave River north of Treviso in the Veneto.
According to DOCG and DOC regulations, prosecco spumante must be made primarily with prosecco (also called glera) grapes, with only small percentages of other varieties like pinot grigio or pinot bianco allowed.
It is made according to the tenets of the “Martinotti Method,” invented in Italy, but somehow claimed by the French and most often referred to as the “Charmat Method.” The grapes are fermented for the second time is large “autoclavi” or closed steel containers that keep the wine bubbly until the bottling phase. This is clearly different from champagne production where the second fermentation occurs in the bottle and the grape varieties are typically chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier.
Prosecco is similar to champagne, however, in that producers can decide how much sugar to include in the dosage after the second fermentation. A prosecco that is labeled “Brut” means that it is dry. “Extra Dry,” despite its name, means not as dry as “Brut,” and “Dry” means medium sweet.
“Brut” prosecco is excellent before dinner as an aperitif or for drinking throughout a light meal of fish or salads, especially when the weather is hot. It should be served very cold. Rounder, slightly sweeter “Extra Dry” versions can be paired with a more substantial meal of chicken or seafood and served slightly warmer. “Dry” prosecco is best with dessert.
In the central hallway of the Villa di Maser, the 12 producers of Asolo Prosecco were busy pouring their various versions of the new DOCG. I was eager to taste the estate’s Villa di Maser Brut. It was elegant, but light and lively, like the contessa herself, who was the prime mover behind organizing the Asolo producers in their push to change DOC to DOCG.
She faced some serious challenges since the relatively small tract (500 hectares) known as the colli or hills of Montello and Asolo, south of the Piave River, is fairly obscure compared to the larger and more well known prosecco area (5,000 hectares) north of the Piave that runs along the hillsides between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. The latter has also been named a DOCG region.
Not surprisingly, the slope of the land is the main determinant of quality for prosecco: the steeper the hill, the better the wine. Any prosecco wine from Colli Asolani or Montello or from Conegliano or Valdobbiadene is likely to be high quality and is likely to be labeled either DOCG or DOC. Lower quality prosecco spumante from the from the wide plains below these hills is generally labeled IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) Veneto, Marca Trevigiana o Colli Trevigiani.
The steepest and most prestigious area is Cartizze. I drove up to this 107 hectare “subzone” (or specially designated area) of Conegliano-Valdobbiadene to see for myself. (If you can say “Conegliano-Valdobbiadene” fast 10 times, you deserve a glass of bubbly).
The road was so narrow and precipitous that I almost lost faith in my GPS navigator. It is hard to imagine how the grapes are harvested from these slopes, all by hand. The fields have the look of a soft, green patchwork quilt laid across the rolling hills. There are few signs or sounds of modern life. It is almost as if time has stood still here for centuries.
One of the oldest wine producers in Cartizze is Bisol, dating back to 1542. The current generation is following in the family prosecco tradition but also experimenting with small production “cru” wines from specific vineyards, organic wines and specialty products like NoSo2, a “no sulfite” prosecco spumante. Sulfites are anti-bacterial and also stop oxidation and discoloration of white wine. Producing a “no sulfite” spumante with taste and characteristics similar to other high-end proseccos is not easy, but has a distinct appeal to wine drinkers who have an allergic reaction to sulfites.
Bisol recently hosted a dinner offering prosecco drinkers the chance to join “La Confrérie du Sabre D’Or,” “The Fraternity of the Golden Saber,” traditionally associated only with champagne. During the Napoleonic Wars, when champagne was first becoming popular, swashbuckling soldiers celebrated victories by opening bottles with swift swipes of their sabers, a ritual known as sabrage. Now, “Chevalier Sabreurs” deign to open bottles of prosecco high in the hills of Cartizze. Well-deserved recognition is finally coming to quality prosecco spumante producers.