Prosecco At its Finest: Highlights From My Recent Trip

In early May, at the invitation of the Consorzio di Tutela Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG I returned to the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene region of Italy for the first time in more than 17 years. My previous visit was to attend a wedding, and while we did a little bit of wine tasting at the time, I was more focused on connecting with friends than diving deep into the wine. But my impressions of the wines from that trip, as well as many subsequent tastings of Prosecco Superiore since are fairly clear.

In fact, I’ve enjoyed watching the evolution of Prosecco Superiore over the last 15 years. It has gotten drier, more refined, and more expressive. When I first visited, not many producers were making extra brut or brut nature versions of their wines. Most were focused on the extra dry versions of Prosecco, which can contain between 12 and 17 grams of sugar per liter. These days, nearly everyone has extra brut versions of their wines (with less than 6 grams of sugar per liter) and many make a brut nature with less than three grams of sugar.

A number of other things have changed in the region over the past 15 years, most notably the declaration of the wine region as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the region’s decision to make a total ban on the use of glyphosate in any of its vineyards (the first region in Europe to do so).

The Prosecco DOCG region has also spent a lot of time digging deep, so to speak, into its terroirs, and has identified 43 of its steepest, highest-quality, most historical vineyard production areas and codified them into named Rive that can be thought of as the region’s equivalent to Burgundy’s climats.

Needless to say, there was a lot of new stuff for me to explore on my recent trip, and a chance to get to know the region with more depth and intimacy.

What You Need to Know About Prosecco Superiore DOCG

Not all Prosecco is created equal. Sparkling wine made from the Glera grape in a massive swath of northern Italy stretching from Lake Garda across most of the Veneto and all of Friuli gets bottled as Prosecco DOC.

The Prosecco DOC region in light and dark green with the two DOCG regions in yellow and brown.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with Prosecco DOC wine from the wider area. Producers there have even started to make a Rosé version of it that is pretty fun. But a tastier, higher-quality version of Prosecco exists, and that is the wine made in the Prosecco Superiore DOCG region, a much smaller area with stricter controls on how the wine is made, and a striking, definitive terroir and climate.

There are actually two of these DOCG regions, a tiny one surrounding the commune of Asolo, and the other, more well-known one—an area of 15 different communes stretched between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, which is where I recently spent a week.

The Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG region consists of slightly more than 9000 hectares or 23,600 acres of vineyards, split among more than 3400 growers, most of which farm only a tiny slice of a hillside vineyard near their homes.

These vineyards sit just in front of what the Italians call the “pre-alps.” The DOCG region occupies the very first folds of hills that come up off the Venetian plains before the Dolomites rise steeply to snowcapped peaks, which can easily be seen from various vineyards on a clear day.

Cool air flows downwards from these mountain peaks, along with precipitation, creating something of a goldilocks growing region with mild temperatures, generous rainfall, and well-drained, stony hillsides, many of which conveniently face towards the sunnier south.

The soils of the region are all sedimentary in origin, but include 5 distinctly different types, ranging from cobbly conglomerates to iron-rich marls to gravelly morainic soils left behind by glacial outwash.

Most people don’t know that the Prosecco DOCG vineyards are among the most visually spectacular, difficult, and even dangerous vineyards to farm in the world. It can be tough to reconcile this fact with cheerful bubbles that only come with a $18 price tag, but quite often someone dies each year doing vineyard work on the precipitously steep slopes that mark the region.

Here’s what they look like (click for larger views):

These slopes, marked in many places by by grassy unwalled terraces known as ciglioni, necessitate an incredible amount of intensive work by hand—what the locals like to refer to as “heroic” viticulture. Whereas a flat vineyard will require about 150 hours of labor per hectare, per year, the hillside vineyards of Prosecco require more than 600 hours per hectare.

The folded hills, pushed and pulled by tectonic forces and carved by the action of ancient glaciers before being covered with their patchwork quilt of terraced vineyards, were the basis for the region’s UNESCO World Heritage designation.

Many vineyards in the region train their vines in a distinctive classic double cane method, known locally as doppio capovolto, an approach that helps manage the vigor of the Glera grape variety, which has a tendency to produce a lot of fruit if given the opportunity.

Prosecco At its Finest: Highlights From My Recent Trip

While Glera is the region’s primary grape variety and most wines are made solely with this grape, legally 15% of the wine can be made with the other four permitted grape varieties in the region: Verdiso, Perera, Bianchetta Trevigiana, and Glera Lunga. Of these, Verdiso and Bianchetta seem to be the only two that most people bother with these days, as Perera seems quite finicky and very susceptible to mildew and rot, while Glera Lunga isn’t thought to have much character.

Within the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG region, there are two additional wine designations that are important to know. The first is the aforementioned concept of a rive. A rive is a contiguous vineyard area across a hillside or series of hillsides representing one of the steepest, most historical areas of production for Prosecco Superiore DOCG.

While there have been 43 of these rive established, that doesn’t mean you’ll see all 43 of these names on bottles. Only about 15 rive have yet to make it onto the names of commercial Prosecco bottlings. This has to do both with the newness of the concept (established in 2009), as well as the realities of how the region is farmed.

With vineyard ownership split among so many small growers, it can be difficult to assemble enough acreage within a single rive to make enough wine to justify a single-rive bottling, especially in a region where the smallest commercially viable quantity of wine is usually many times larger than a single barrel or two.

These rive both are, and are not, the equivalent of Burgundy’s climats. On the one hand, just like Burgundian climats they are named, defined plots that have been known by those names for many decades, and sometimes more than a century. They have achieved general consensus amongst the region’s winemakers as the highest quality sites in the region.

However, on the other hand, these plots and their specific borders were not established through careful organoleptic analysis by monks over several centuries, and are therefore partially similar to Burgundy’s lieux-dits, which are simply named sites without necessarily any quality designation.

It is not necessarily possible to identify each of the rive through blind tasting. Though one might argue the same is true of Burgundy. The best blind tasters can reliably distinguish Meursault from Puligny-Montrachet, but have a harder time consistently pegging the difference between Meursault Les Caillerets and Meursault Sous Blagny.

Just as with Burgundy, what is under the surface in Prosecco doesn’t necessarily closely align with the historical boundaries of the rive. In fact, I have been told by the head of the Consorzio that scientists have identified 19 different subzones of the region—combinations of soil types, meso-climate, and chemical signatures of finished wines—that are organoleptically distinct, but this research is still ongoing and has yet to be published.

The other designation important to know is the Cartizze DOCG, a separate DOCG area embedded within the larger Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG region. Cartizze is one particularly steep hillside that, for reasons not entirely clear to geologists, features a much higher calcareous component than the rest of the region. It is arguably the most famous and historically prestigious site for Prosecco wine, spanning 264 acres across the main hillside and a few of its rolling companions. Wines from Cartizze typically cost roughly twice what you’d pay for a good DOCG Prosecco, and have a wonderful minerality and fineness that often accompanies limestone-driven terroirs around the world.

Prosecco At its Finest: Highlights From My Recent Trip
The main hill of Cartizze

How Prosecco is Made

Like most fine sparkling wines, Prosecco is made with two fermentations, the first results in a dry wine (with no residual sugar). New yeast and sugar are then added to this base wine, and their fermentation creates the bubbles. Whereas Champagne and some other sparkling wines generally have this second fermentation take place in individual bottles, Prosecco mostly uses the Charmat method, in which this second fermentation takes place in (generally large) sealed and pressurized tanks called autoclaves.

The locals in Prosecco like to refer to this process by its original name, the Martinotti Method, as it was invented and patented by an Italian of that name before being globally popularized by a Frenchman with the last name Charmat.

The second fermentation that happens in these pressurized tanks is generally done rather quickly, under temperature control, preserving the bright, floral, and fruity flavors of the Glera grape, yielding the friendly and reliably tasty character that has made the wine popular for decades. Once the fermentation has progressed to produce the desired level of pressure (usually 5-6 bars), the wine is filtered, cold-stabilized, and then put into bottles.

This method also has the benefit of being able to make sparkling wine somewhat “on-demand” in relatively flexible amounts (the limitation being the size and number of your autoclaves). So as a result, most producers make a vintage worth of still base wine that they keep in sealed, temperature-controlled tanks, which they then turn into Prosecco in batches throughout the year, bottling as demand necessitates. This allows them to deliver the freshest possible product to market and keeps them from having to store lots of bottles of wine until they’re sold.

Of course, like anywhere in the world where winemakers exercise their creativity, there are exceptions to this rule. Some winemakers make bottle-fermented prosecco, including the un-disgorged version that has recently become an officially sanctioned form of DOCG Prosecco known as sui lieviti (which I wrote about in some depth a number of weeks ago).

The Best Proseccos and How They Taste

The primary word that for me most distinguishes the best Prosecci is refinement. While most decently made Prosecco Superiore wines share a green apple and white floral character, those that are most compelling have a more chiseled aspect. They tend to show more mineral character and lean slightly more savory than your typical bottling.

I will admit to generally preferring Prosecco Superiore on the less-sweet end of the spectrum (Brut, Extra Brut, and Brut Nature). Having said that, you will see a couple of Extra Dry and Dry (remember that confusingly when we’re talking about sparkling wine, Extra Dry is semi-sweet, and Dry is sweeter still) bottles below included in the best of what I tasted on my trip. These sweeter wines managed to still convey a precision and minerality and had enough acidity to balance any sweetness on the palate.

Prosecco Superiore of course is not Champagne and never will be. Even when made in a classic method, with bottle fermentation and longer time on the lees, it doesn’t develop the complexity, mouthwatering salinity, and richness that mark the best Champagnes and sparkling wines around the world. Instead Prosecco delivers wonderfully fresh, crisp, and precise floral and apple flavors that while rarely profound, can be wonderfully refreshing and delicious. On the flip side, Prosecco is never marred by the astringency and angularity that characterizes a lot of inexpensive (and not very pleasurable) Champagne.

Because of its expression of clean, floral freshness, Prosecco Superiore is generally best drunk quite young and doesn’t usually reward cellaring. Having said that, one of my favorite wines from this past trip was a 6-year-old bottle of extra brut that was still quite delicious.

I continue to be amazed at the extraordinary value that Prosecco Superiore represents in the market, especially given the amount of work required to farm and harvest these incredible vineyards. To get the equivalent of a single-vineyard expression of place, made entirely by hand, in quantities of only a few hundred cases for less than $20 retail in the United States is somewhat astonishing.

Prosecco At its Finest: Highlights From My Recent Trip
The Rive Farra di Soligo, which extends over three layers of rolling hills

Tasting Notes

Prosecco At its Finest: Highlights From My Recent Trip

2021 L’Antica Quercia “Matiú Brut” Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG Rive Scomigo, Veneto, Italy
Near colorless in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of apple, wet stones, and lime zest. In the mouth, a soft mousse delivers beautifully clean flavors of green apple that have a faint sweetness as lime zest and citrus pith linger through the finish. Excellent balance and acidity. 6 g/l residual sugar. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2020 Adami “Col Credas Extra Brut” Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG Rive di Farra di Soligo, Veneto, Italy
Near colorless in the glass with a hint of green and very fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and white flowers with hints of unripe pear. In the mouth, slightly saline flavors of wet stone mix with white flowers, citrus oils, and green apple skin. Wonderfully fine, stony minerality and length. Very refined. 4 g/l residual sugar. 11% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2020 Adami “Vigneto Giardino Dry” Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG Rive di Colbertaldo, Veneto, Italy
Palest greenish gold in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of white flowers and crushed spices. In the mouth, a voluminous mousse delivers flavors of citrus peel, white flowers, spices, faint salinity, and a whisper of sweetness. Wonderful hints of blood oranges linger in the finish. Excellent acidity. 20 g/l residual sugar. 11% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2021 Le Colture “Gerardo Extra Brut” Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG Rive di San Stefano, Veneto, Italy
Palest greenish gold in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, white flowers, and greengage plums. In the mouth, a soft mousse delivers crisp flavors of green apple, greengage plum, white flowers, crushed shells, and a touch of herbs. One of the highest vineyards in the Valdobbiadene area. Made with a longer fermentation lasting 3 months. Limestone soils, and vines that are around 100 years old. 11.5% alcohol. 5 g/l residual sugar. 6000 bottles made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

Prosecco At its Finest: Highlights From My Recent Trip

2016 Bianca Vigna “Brut Nature” Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG Rive di Ogliano, Veneto, Italy
Pale greenish gold in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of honey and nuts and wet stone. In the mouth, a soft mousse delivers incredibly fresh minerality underneath honey roasted nuts and a whisper of baked apple. White flowers and a hint of salinity linger in the finish. Very clean and bright and still very fresh given 6 years of age. 11% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5.

2019 Ca’ dei Zago “Metodo Classico Dossagio Zero” Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG, Veneto, Italy
Light gold in the glass, with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet stones and ripe apples. In the mouth, applesauce, yeasty bread, and lemon peel flavors are welded to a wonderful wet stone quality that is very compelling. Excellent acidity and a soft mousse. More savory than many Prosecco wines. Contains 5% Verdiso and 2.5% each of Bianchetta and Perera. Macerates for 2 days on the skins in concrete tanks. The wines are bottled in the spring, and the second fermentation takes place in the bottle with lees contact for 14 months before disgorgement. 11.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $40.

2020 Bianca Vigna “Extra Brut” Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG Rive di Ogliano, Veneto, Italy
Near colorless in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of white flowers and green apple. In the mouth, crisp lime zest and lime leaf float on a soft mousse with wet chalkboard and a very nice clean finish. Excellent acidity. Grows on morainic clay soils. 1.5 g/l residual sugar. 11.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $??.

2020 Bianca Vigna “Extra Brut” Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG Rive di Soligo, Veneto, Italy
Palest gold in the glass, with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of citrus pith, lime zest, and lemon cucumber. In the mouth, a plush mousse delivers flavors of stony crushed shells and wet chalkboard minerality laced with citrus pith and lean stone fruit. Farmed on conglomerate soils with some intrusions of limestone at a precarious 70% slope. 1.5 g/l residual sugar. 11.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $??.

2020 Bianca Vigna “Extra Dry” Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG Rive di Colalto, Veneto, Italy
Palest gold in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of white flowers and candied green apple. In the mouth, faintly sweet candied apple flavors mix with white flowers and wet stones, all floating on a soft mousse. This is clean and crisp and stony and faintly sweet. Comes from a heavily wooded section of the appellation, and a very stony hill. 17 g/l residual sugar. 11.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $??.

2020 Carpenè-Malvolti “1868 Brut” Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG Rive di San Pietro Barbozza, Veneto, Italy
Palest gold in the glass, with fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet pavement and honeysuckle and a hint of vanilla. In the mouth, a soft mousse delivers wonderfully fine and clean mineral notes with scents of white flowers and Asian pear flavors. Very clean and crisp. 11.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

Prosecco At its Finest: Highlights From My Recent Trip

NV Adami “Dei Casel Extra Dry” Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG, Veneto, Italy
Near colorless in the glass (faint hint of green) with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of linalool and green apple. In the mouth, white flowers, green apple, wet chalkboard, and bright hints of lime are borne on a soft mousse with lime zest in the finish. Nice mineral undertones. Excellent acidity. 16 g/l residual sugar. 11% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2021 Andreola “26˚1˚ Extra Brut” Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG Rive di Col San Martino, Veneto, Italy
Pale gold in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells slightly of bread dough, white flowers, herbs, and wet pavement. In the mouth, a soft mousse delivers flavors of white flowers, winter melon, and a touch of Asian pear all infused with citrus notes. Crisp and bright. 0 g/l residual sugar. 11.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $??

The post Prosecco At its Finest: Highlights From My Recent Trip appeared first on Vinography.

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 59: Rule Breakers (Bellenda Valdobbiadene Recent Releases)

Have old map of Treviso, will taste…

“We always wanted to break the rules.”

So mentioned Prosecco family producer Bellenda owner Umberto Cosmo and his daughter Lucrezia during an online samples tasting I attended (relatively) recently.

If ever an outfit in Valdobbiadene embodied the Italian spirit of flaunting convention, it’s this one. Founded in 1986 by Umberto and his brothers and father, Bellenda came about due to Umberto being “almost disgusted” by the industrial nature of his family’s animal breeding business. For generations, his family owned vineyards and sold their fruit to local producers—forming a small estate/boutique winery was, at the time, relatively unheard of, particularly in Italy’s Prosecco region where larger brand labels dominated. Detractors told Umberto’s father “‘you are going to lose a lot of money, because Italian wine is dead forever.'” Given the immense success of Prosecco bubbles since then, that piece of advice seems to have aged about as well as milk.

It’s not just in approach and size that Bellenda bucks the trends; as you’ll read below, they take every chance they can get to turn the conventional notion of Prosecco firmly onto its proverbial ear…

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 59: Rule Breakers (Bellenda Valdobbiadene Recent Releases)2021 Bellenda San Fermo Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore, $22

This delightfully elegant sparkler takes its name from the county church that sits adjacent to the limestone-clay vineyards that source it. It’s one of the more precise Prosecco incarnations you’re likely to encounter, offering up pear (with the skins) and wet stone notes. The palate is fresh, fresh, FRESH, with ample green and red apple flavors that are both crisp and over-ripe. It’s hard not to love this wine’s vibrant mouthfeel and fantastic length, ending with citrus pith notes.

 

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 59: Rule Breakers (Bellenda Valdobbiadene Recent Releases)2018 Bellenda S.C.1931 Pas Dosé, Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore, $NA

Named after Sergio Cosmo (Bellenda’s founder) and the year of his birth, this kick-butt Superiore sees partial oak barrel fermentation without temperature control, resting on the lees for three months and then again in the bottle for up to eighteen months, finally being disgorged without liquer d’expédition. Sugar levels are ultra-low (about 1g/L). Apple bread, white flowers, ripe pears, apples, and toasted nut all hit from the nose, along with earthy notes among the more evolved fruit flavors. On the palate, it feels substantial and austerely serious, coming off as reserved and tightly wound—a serious ‘head-fake’ when it comes to what we conventionally think of with respect to Prosecco. Lip-smacking and almost chewy, this is an age-worthy bubbly that might have you rethinking your entire Prosecco mindset.

 

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 59: Rule Breakers (Bellenda Valdobbiadene Recent Releases)2018 Bellenda ‘Sei Uno’ Brut, Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore, $25

Multiple plays on words going on here, with “61” being Umberto’s birth year, and “you are…” being a phrase that apparently his wife like to use (use your imagination to fill in the blank). This classic method sparkler from Rive di Carpesica also spends several months sur lie, with a further six months of bottle aging in Bellenda’s cellar. And… wow… this has nose reminiscent of am excellent non-vintage Champers, with pear, apple, filbert, and brioche action all over the place. The texture is complex, bouncing between richness and vibrancy, all the while dominated by lovely apple flavors. Refreshing above all else, you won’t mistake this for a Champagne in the mouth, but you wouldn’t dare dream of turning this elegant sipper away, either!

 

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 59: Rule Breakers (Bellenda Valdobbiadene Recent Releases)NV Bellenda ‘Così È’ Col Fondo, Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco, $20

“As it is” is a fitting name for this Vino Frizzante. Umberto had to convince his brothers to let him craft this one. The tradition of local farmers taking unfiltered Prosecco with their meals lives on in this bubbly, which is bottled with natural yeast sediment, giving it an appealing hazy appearance. Sourced from a south-southwest facing vineyard near Carpescia, this has a classic Valdobbiadene nose but is less boisterous about it. A palate cleanser to its core, this is profoundly fresh in the mouth, there being pretty much no residual sugar in the mix. Consider it a “more modern” take on the current semi-sparkling craze (well, the craze among wine geeks, anyway)—it’s elegant AF, but you’d better like your bubbles on the zesty side!

 

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 59: Rule Breakers (Bellenda Valdobbiadene Recent Releases)NV Bellenda Fratelli Cosmo Carpesica Metodo Rurale, Veneto, $NA

The most unconventional of all of the unconventional wines in the Bellenda lineup, there’s no added SO2 here. This wine is allowed to ferment for fifteen days on the skins, in non-temperature-controlled wooden vats, and secondary fermentation taking place in the bottle. Bellenda state that they “made this wine with our heart as well as with our head,” in a throwback to the “accidental” bubblies that gave birth to sparkling wine in the region. It’s slightly hazy in appearance, with an inviting nose of flowers and grape notes, just-ripe pear, and a mild bit of funk. Balanced and fresh in the mouth, you get flavors of toast, peaches, and banana. The structure comes off like apple skins in a delicious, ambling way that’s about as crowd-pleasing as Pet-Nat gets. It makes a strong argument for putting more Glera-based Pet-Nat on the market…

 

Cheers!

Upscale your palate! My new books are now available from Rockridge Press!

Copyright © 2020. Originally at Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 59: Rule Breakers (Bellenda Valdobbiadene Recent Releases) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

You Think You Know Prosecco? Wait Until You Meet Sui Lieviti

Prosecco is about to give the world’s pét-nats a serious run for their money. Yes, you read that right: Prosecco. The prim and proper, cheerful and clean bubbly you know and love just showed up to the party with a sleeve tattoo, a couple of piercings, some holes in its jeans, and a whole new attitude.

In the United States, Prosecco is all but ubiquitous. For a certain age segment, it has simply become shorthand for any sparkling wine. Whereas my generation used to say “Champagne” whenever we were talking about bubbles, for Millennials it’s Prosecco.

Prosecco’s cheery consistency is entirely responsible for this fact. People generally know what they’re going to get when they buy a bottle of Prosecco: lightly fruity and floral, faintly sweet bubbles that are a good value.

And if you want something a little higher in quality, but not that much more expensive, you buy Prosecco Superiore DOCG. The wines that bear this designation are a bit more refined and a bit more chiseled, and can be considered the epitome of the form—a form that has improved in quality and gotten less sweet over time—but is still unmistakably Prosecco.

But as of 2019, there’s a new Prosecco Superiore DOCG in town and it is, we might say, bringing the funk. Interestingly, while this may be a new designation for Prosecco wines, it actually represents the formal recognition of the original style of Prosecco, one that has been made for hundreds of years.

Cloudy, chunky, and a little bit wild, ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to sui lieviti. Or, more formally: Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Sui Lieviti DOCG Brut Nature. It’s a mouthful in every sense of the word. A surprising, dynamic, interesting, flavorful, fun, and most importantly, delicious mouthful.

And while it resembles a pet-nat in both form and flavor, Sui Lieviti is most definitely not a pet-nat. Which turns out to be a very good thing.

A Prosecco Primer

For those of you unfamiliar with how Prosecco is made, here’s the short version.

Glera (the name of the grape variety used in Prosecco) grapes are harvested and pressed. That juice is then fermented in steel tanks to make a dry white wine. Sugar is added to that wine, and then yeast, and then the wine is usually put into a sealed tank called an autoclave where a second fermentation happens as the yeast consumes the newly added sugar.

Because that tank is sealed and pressurized, there’s nowhere for the carbon dioxide created by the yeast metabolism to go, so this second fermentation creates the bubbles in the wine. Once the wine reaches the desired level of pressure, the wine is stabilized, filtered to remove the yeasts and sediments, and bottled.

This second fermentation in the tank is known as the Charmat Method, though the Italians like to call it the Martinotti Method since it was invented by an Italian of that name before it was popularized by a Frenchman with the last name Charmat.

Notably, this method of making sparkling wine differs from the traditional method practiced in Champagne and many places around the world where the second fermentation takes place in individual bottles, rather than in a large tank. When wine is made that way, each individual bottle must be disgorged, which is the process of removing the dead yeasts from each bottle. After disgorging, winemakers often add a bit of additional sugar, or dosage, to balance out the wine. Some Prosecco Superiore producers do use this classical method, but it remains pretty uncommon.

So What, Exactly, is Sui Lieviti?

A Sui Lieviti Prosecco is made exactly the same way as a normal Prosecco to start with. But then the second fermentation takes place in individual bottles rather than in an autoclave.

But…. the wine is never disgorged.

So what you get is a sparkling wine that still has a fine sediment of spent yeast cells in it, also known as lees. Sui lieviti means the same thing as the French sur lie, or “on the lees.”

Because the wine is never disgorged, this means that the yeasts usually keep working until they have used up all the sugar that is added to the base wine before it is put in the bottle.

Effectively (and by official regulation and labeling requirements), all sui lieviti Prosecco wines are brut nature, corresponding to less than 3 grams per liter of residual sugar remaining in the bottle, and usually around 11% to 11.5% alcohol.

One Bottle, Two Wines

While I was traipsing around the Prosecco Superiore Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG region recently on a press trip, producers and restaurant staff would usually ask me how I wanted to taste my sui lieviti: “clear” or “cloudy?” If I chose clear, the bottle would be opened and the wine poured gently, resulting in a relatively normal-looking glass of Prosecco. If I chose cloudy, the person serving the wine would gently invert the bottle a few times to throw the lees into suspension before opening the bottle, and I’d get a cloudy, fizzy glass of wine that bore very little resemblance to the first.

I quickly realized that I generally preferred cloudy.

It’s quite remarkable what a difference the lees make in the experience of the wine. Without the lees in suspension, the wines tend to be precise, fruity, and crisp, and to be honest, a lot like a normal Extra Brut Prosecco Superiore. But with those lees in suspension, the wine’s texture changes completely, filling the mouth, and often new flavors accompany the typical apple and white flowers. The lees sometimes bring a little yeasty funk, a little bread-like sweetness, and sometimes some very different flavors of herbs or more unusual fruits.

Sui Lieviti Beats Pet-Nat Every Time

Pét-nat wines, short for pétillant natural, currently represent one of the hottest wine categories in the American market right now, at least in wine-centric areas like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle. These wines, which some affectionately refer to as “farmer fizz” thanks to being basically the first primitive form of sparkling wine ever made, are made by taking grape must that has just begun fermenting and putting it in a bottle. The fermentation finishes in the sealed bottle yielding a cloudy, sediment-filled fizzy wine with often a lower alcohol level.

Propelled by interest in natural wine (many of whose makers have come to embrace the form), pét-nats vary wildly in style, from clean and refined to rustic and even animal in nature. I’ve had some lovely examples, and I’ve had some pretty nasty ones, too.

This variability makes me slightly wary of the category, especially when it comes to spending my own money. Also, I’ve learned through (much alarming) experience that the relatively primitive winemaking behind them means they are “an adventure” to open. Specifically, they must always be opened over a sink, as many of them don’t exactly explode, but often foam over aggressively for a minute or two. This not only makes for quite a mess but annoyingly sometimes results in the loss of 30% to 50% of the wine from the bottle.

In short, pét-nats are a total crapshoot, with only about 25% of them being worth the time and attention they seem to get, at least in this writer’s opinion.

Which is why I say Prosecco Superiore Sui Lieviti kicks pét-nat butt.

Sui lieviti represents everything I think people like about pét-nats—the cloudy, slightly wild, faintly sweet, decidedly unvarnished flavor profile—but without the downsides of still-fermenting, explosive messy openings, and frequently odd flavors and aromas.

And that’s all before we talk about price. There aren’t a lot of sui lieviti wines being brought into the US at the moment (I predict that will change in the next year) but those that are imported rarely exceed $25 a bottle at retail. These aren’t profound wines, to be sure, nor are they made for laying down and aging in any way, but they’re tasty and a lot of fun to drink.

Go for the Good Stuff: Buy DOCG

It’s worth clarifying that Prosecco is not Prosecco is not Prosecco. Which is to say, there exists a vast area of northern Italy, spanning from Lake Garda in the West to the Slovenian border in the East, where someone can make a wine from Glera and call it Prosecco (DOC). The amount of inexpensive bubbly wine produced in this area would blow your mind. It’s starting to get pretty close to a billion bottles a year.

The Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG region, on the other hand, is a much smaller area in the foothills of the pre-alps, characterized by dizzyingly steep vineyards that are overwhelmingly worked by hand at much higher levels of quality and lower levels of production than the wider DOC region (DOCG makes a mere 13% of all Prosecco). Interestingly this wine-growing region was recently the first and only region in Europe to ban the use of glyphosate by all growers completely.

The Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG region’s topography, soils, microclimates, focus on sustainability, and heritage of wine growing means that the wines carrying the DOCG designation are generally much higher quality than those with the mere DOC.

You Think You Know Prosecco? Wait Until You Meet Sui Lieviti
An example of the stunning vineyards of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG area in a subzone known as the Rive Soligo.

This guidance extends to sui lieviti wines as well. There are sui lieviti wines made in the DOC area, but they’re not going to come from the best sites, nor will they approach the level of quality you’ll find in the Prosecco Superiore DOCG versions.

The Ambiguity of Frizzante and Col Fondo

Before it was new, this style of prosecco was old. Very old.

And before it was codified in wine law as sui lieviti, this style of Prosecco was known far and wide as col fondo.

Remember that phrase “farmer fizz?” Well col fondo is basically the northern Italian equivalent of that phrase. Which is to say, for many decades, when locals in the Prosecco region wanted to refer to an un-disgorged, bottle-fermented wine, usually just produced for friends and family, they called it col fondo, which literally means “with stuff on the bottom.”

This cloudy, bottle-fermented form was the original form of sparkling Prosecco before the Martinotti/Charmat method became popular at the beginning of the 20th Century.

While Prosecco has become best known internationally in its clear and bright form, there has long been a local appreciation for both the flavors and the tradition of the col fondo version. Pretty much everyone in the region still uses the phrase conversationally to refer to bottle-fermented wines.

Confusingly, however, you will also still see it on wine labels. Sometimes separately, other times in conjunction with the phrase “sui lieviti” on cloudy bottles of Prosecco.

It turns out that there are a couple of issues with this.

Firstly, col fondo does not appear in any wine law or regulation for the region, so there is no strict technical definition of it in any way. Secondly, and rather bizarrely, it happens to be a trademarked term owned by two companies. Drusian and the large cooperative winery Val d’Oca both registered the term “colfondo” around 2002. If you want to know how it’s possible for two companies to own a trademark, you’ll have to ask the Italian government.

In any case, the existence of this trademark led the Prosecco DOCG consortium to establish and define the sui lieviti wine classification, with the hope that col fondo might go away.

That seems unlikely, in part because the definition of sui lieviti doesn’t encompass the full range of styles that were traditionally made under the moniker of col fondo. You see, wines labeled as col fondo were usually lower-pressure wines (1 to 3 bars of pressure —technically “frizzante”—rather than the standard 3 to 5 bars for “spumante” according to Italian classification) and residual sugar levels weren’t always close enough to zero to call them brut nature. Because sui lieviti must have spumante-level pressure, and must be brut nature, a bunch of col fondo wines were sort of dropped off the back of the bus.

For those producers still interested in making the cloudy, fizzy wines their grandfathers produced, they’re likely to call their wines col fondo, and that term might appear on the bottle somewhere if they’re pugnacious enough to not care about the registered trademark issue. But the official designation they have to put on the label in order to be able to sell their wine is “Vino frizzante,” or more commonly, “Vino frizzante a rifermentazioni in bottiglia” a phrase which means just what it looks like: “fizzy wine re-fermented in the bottle.”

Less aggressive bubbles. Still tasty.

It remains to be seen what will happen to col fondo as both a name and a style. In my opinion, the Prosecco DOCG consortium should come to an agreement with the trademark holders and change the wine law to define the term col fondo as basically a lower pressure sui lieviti. In the meantime however, you’ll have to keep an eye out for both types of cloudy Prosecco from Conegliano Valdobbiadene.

Tasting Notes

Here’s a rundown of the sui lieviti wines that I tasted during my recent visit to Conegliano and Valdobbiadene.

You Think You Know Prosecco? Wait Until You Meet Sui Lieviti

2020 Bianca Vigna “Sui Lieviti – Brut Nature” Prosecco Valdobiadene Superiore DOCG, Veneto, Italy
Pale cloudy gold in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of winter melon, white flowers, and citrus pith. In the mouth, lemon cucumber and wet stone have a nice crisp mineral quality, white flowers, winter melon, with a hint of powdery chalkiness and lime zest. This wine is currently only imported under the brand name Giavi by The Wine House and comes wrapped in a UV-blocking orange film. Score: around 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2020 Fondo Due Valli “Sui Lieviti – Brut Nature” Prosecco Conegliano Valdobiadene Superiore DOCG, Veneto, Italy
A pale hazy blonde color in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of white flowers, Asian pear, and linalool. In the mouth, a soft mousse delivers faintly chalky flavors of applesauce and white flowers that have a nice juicy brightness. The sparkles fade quickly to mere prickles on the tongue. Good acidity. 11.5% alcohol. Score: around 9.

2020 Vitale Girardi “Vitale – Sui Lieviti – Brut Nature” Prosecco Conegliano Valdobiadene Superiore DOCG, Veneto, Italy
Pale hazy gold in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of lemon cucumber, white flowers, celery, and green herbs. In the mouth, cucumber, green apple, white flowers, and greengage plum flavors have a slightly chalky texture and a hint of sweet bread to them. Excellent acidity and soft petillance. 11% alcohol. Score: around 9.

2019 Zinto “Sui Lieviti – Brut Nature” Prosecco Conegliano Valdobiadene Superiore DOCG, Veneto, Italy
Cloudy blonde in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of poached pears, apple sauce, white flowers, and sweet rolls. In the mouth, flavors of applesauce, white flowers, and a touch of wet bread are delivered on a soft mousse that tickles the palate. Good acidity. 11% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9.

2020 Terre di San Venanzio “Fortunato – Sui Lieviti – Brut Nature” Prosecco Conegliano Valdobiadene Superiore DOCG, Veneto, Italy
A hazy blonde color with very faint bubbles, this wine smells of applesauce and white flowers, wet chalkboard, and citrus pith. In the mouth, stony flavors of citrus pith, apple, pear, and sourdough have excellent acidity. Clean, bright, and very refreshing. Score: around 9. Cost: $28. click to buy.

You Think You Know Prosecco? Wait Until You Meet Sui Lieviti

NV Le Rive de Nadal “1.11 Vino Frizzante” Prosecco Conegliano Valdobiadene Superiore DOCG, Veneto, Italy
A hazy greenish-gold in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, greengage plum, Asian pear, and a hint of sweet onion. In the mouth, the wine has a faint mousse, with a light tannic grip and a core of green apple skin, greengage plum, lime zest, and wet pavement. Made from 2020 fruit but technically a non-vintage wine. A blend of 70% Glera, 15% Bianchetta Trevigiana, 10% Perera, and 5% Verdiso. Made in one of the steepest vineyards in all of Prosecco. Score: between 8.5 and 9.

2017 L’Antica Quercia “Su Alto Indigeno Sui Lieviti Col Fondo Vino Frizzante,” Italy
Pale blonde in the glass with a slight haze and fine weak bubbles, this wine smells of sweet apples, white flowers, and a hint of banana and dried herbs. In the mouth, mild fizzy flavors of apple, white flowers, and a touch of pear have a faint chalky minerality and an aromatic sweetness even though the wine is dry. 11% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $24. click to buy.

2020 Oregoletto “Sui Lieviti – Brut Nature” Prosecco Conegliano Valdobiadene Superiore DOCG, Veneto, Italy
A pale cloudy blonde color in the glass with small bubbles, this wine smells of nut skin, honeysuckle, and yogurt. In the mouth, tangy, yogurty flavors of apples and citrus pith have that acidophilus sharpness to them and excellent acidity. Soft mousse. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9.

2017 Marchiori “Integrale – Sui Lieviti – Brut Nature” Prosecco Conegliano Valdobiadene Superiore DOCG, Veneto, Italy
A hazy light gold in the glass, with very few bubbles evident, this wine smells of wet stone, crushed nuts, and dried apricot. In the mouth, the wine is savory and stony, with a lactic creaminess and notes of citrus pith that linger in the finish. Unusual, but tasty. Made of all 5 heritage grapes from the region: Verdiso, Perera, Bianchetta Travigiana, Glera Lunga, and Glera. Fermented with native yeasts and winemaking “according to the moon” says the label. Score: between 8.5 and 9.

You Think You Know Prosecco? Wait Until You Meet Sui Lieviti

NV Casa Coste Piane “Frizzante Naturalmente” Prosecco Conegliano Valdobiadene Superiore DOCG, Veneto, Italy
A cloudy pale yellow gold in the glass with soft bubbles, this wine smells of apple, pear, and a hint of hard cheese rind. In the mouth, a light sparkle and soft mousse deliver flavors of wet stone and a touch of citrus. There’s a light tannic grip as flavors of pears, and Asian pear move across the palate. Nice stony finish. Good acid. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $24. click to buy.

2020 Collalto “Sui Lieviti – Brut Nature” Prosecco Conegliano Valdobiadene Superiore DOCG, Veneto, Italy
A pale cloudy blonde color with tiny bubbles, this wine smells of yeast and warm bread along with apple and wet chalkboard. In the mouth, the wine has a voluminous mousse, filling the mouth with yogurty applesauce flavors, citrus pith, pear, and wet stone flavors. Good acidity. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $25.

2020 Drusian “Sui Lieviti – Brut Nature” Prosecco Conegliano Valdobiadene Superiore DOCG, Veneto, Italy
A cloudy pale greenish gold in the glass with soft bubbles, this wine smells of lemon cucumber, winter melon, and wet stones. In the mouth, celery, winter melon, and unripe pear flavors have an herbal quality to them through the soft foam of the mousse. The herbal notes linger through the finish. Good acidity. Very savory. 11% alcohol. Score: around 8.5.

2020 Adriano Adami “Col Fondo Sui Lieviti Brut Nature” Prosecco Valdobiadene Superiore DOCG, Veneto, Italy
Pale cloudy gold in the glass with very fine bubbles and little chunks, this wine smells of Asian pears and linalool and a hint of Greek yogurt with honey. In the mouth, a voluminous mousse fills the mouth and delivers flavors of citrus and pureed Asian pear, peach, linalool, and a touch of yogurt. A deep, stony, wet chalkboard minerality resolves into a chalky dryness. Picked riper as a rule. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $19. click to buy.

2019 Sorelle Branca “Difetto Perfetto – Sui Lieviti – Brut Nature” Prosecco Conegliano Valdobiadene Superiore DOCG, Veneto, Italy
A cloudy greenish gold in the glass with relatively faint bubbles, this wine smells of wet dog, sweaty socks, and all the world like a yamahai style Japanese sake. In the mouth, savory flavors of celery and aubergine, and a hint of pear have a salty funk that some of my drinking companions liked, but I did not. I did, however, love the name of this wine, which translates to “perfectly defective” or “the perfect flaw.” 11% alcohol. Score: around 8.

The post You Think You Know Prosecco? Wait Until You Meet Sui Lieviti appeared first on Vinography.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 11/14/21

Hello and welcome to my weekly dig through the pile of wine samples that show up asking to be tasted. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

This week included a couple more top-tier Proseccos from some of the steepest plots in the region. The Bellenda (love that photo on their home page) is a particularly complex and dynamic rendition of Prosecco, one which includes a salinity that I really loved. The Villa Sandi is also quite compelling, if a bit more classic in its flavor profile.

The Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are both worth seeking out, both for their classic flavors and relative values, as well as for the fact that like all Frog’s Leap wines, they’re made from dry-farmed, organically grown grapes.

Sticking with Chardonnay for a moment, I’d like to draw your attention to the Lombardi Chardonnay, which has a really fresh and crisp citrus aspect to it, while the Sanford Chardonnay takes on a more classically California form.

The four Pinots I have to recommend this week are all pretty solid, with the standouts being the Dutton-Goldfield “McDougall Vineyard” bottling and the Stephen Ross “Stone Corral” wine. Unfortunately the Stephen Ross wine comes in a ridiculously heavy bottle that outweighs some of the thick Napa Cabernet bottles to which I normally object. There’s no reason in the universe that a Pinot Noir needs to have such heavy glass, which basically says “screw the environment, I want you to think my wine is classy.”

Finally, I’ve got one more Zinfandel (more like a red blend actually) from Limerick Lane that is worth checking out, plus a pair of Syrahs from Troon Vineyard in Oregon, both of which have a wonderful savory character that will appeal to anyone who prefers to taste stone rather than sugar in their Syrahs.

Notes on all these and more below.

Tasting Notes

2020 Bellenda “San Fermo” Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, Veneto, Italy
Palest straw with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of white flowers and wet pavement with a hint of lemon cucumber and a faint resinous quality. In the mouth, wonderfully savory notes of citrus peel, cucumber, a hint of green herbs. Faint saline note with a moderately voluminous mousse that carries an aroma of grilled pineapple. Clean and bright. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $22. click to buy.

2020 Villa Sandi “La Rivetta” Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore di Cartizze, Veneto, Italy
Palest straw with very fine bubbles, this wine has a remarkably floral aroma with the sweetness of green apple. In the mouth, bright green apple and white flowers mix with a hint of green melon, and a touch of saline and citrus pith all carried on a nice mousse. Lovely bright and quite classic in expression. Score: around 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2020 Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apple and a bit of passionfruit. In the mouth, bright green apple, passionfruit, and kiwi flavors have a nice juiciness and a hint of cut grass. Nice silky texture. 13.4% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2019 Frog’s Leap “Shale and Stone” Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of bright lemon curd and a hint of buttered popcorn. In the mouth, the wine is lovely and silky but with a nice crisp edge thanks to excellent acidity. Lovely lemon curd and a touch of toasted bread mix with bright juicy lemon juice and grapefruit. Barrel fermented for only about 4 days and then poured warm into a large concrete “room” where it finishes fermentation at its own pace. Stays for 11 months and the bottle, right off its lees. 13.4% alcohol. Score: around 9 . Cost: $30. click to buy.

2019 Sanford Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon curd, white flowers and a hint of melted butter. In the mouth, tangy pink grapefruit, melted butter, lemon curd and a touch of butterscotch mix with a nice brightness thanks to very good acidity. There’s a toasty bread and oak note in the finish. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2019 Lombardi Wines Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma, California
Light gold in color, this wine smells of lemon pith and lemon oil. In the mouth, bright lemon and pink grapefruit flavors have a nice clean snap to them thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a nice white floral overtone to this wine and thankfully very little trace of oak. Quite pretty. 13.4% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.

2018 Stephen Ross “Stone Corral Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Edna Valley, Central Coast, California
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright cherry and raspberry fruit. In the mouth, gorgeous raspberry and cherry notes are bright with excellent acidity and dusted with faint tannins. Dried herbs and orange peel linger in the finish with a tangy mouthwatering sour cherry quality. Delicious. 13.7% alcohol. Packaged in a shamefully heavy bottle weighing 1.67 kg full. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2018 J. Cage Cellars “Hallberg Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of green herbs, cherries, and cranberry. In the mouth, cranberry and cherry flavors have a faint boysenberry kick at the end with some nice floral tones. Faint tannins, good acidity. 14.4% alcohol. 175 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $49. click to buy.

2019 J. Cage Cellars “Cuvee ’42” Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, California
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of raspberry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, simple but pleasurable raspberry fruit flavors mix with a hint of cherry and dried herbs. Faint tannins. Decent acidity. Straightforwardly tasty. 14.2% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $39. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 11/14/21

2019 Dutton-Goldfield “McDougall Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Fort Ross-Seaview, Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of bright cherry and cranberry fruit. In the mouth, wonderfully pure, even crystalline berry flavors of cherry, cranberry, and raspberry are shot through with a faint hint of cedar and a touch of dried herbs that linger in the finish. Excellent acidity and barely perceptible tannins. 14.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.

2019 Limerick Lane Cellars “Estate Cuvee” Red Blend, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry and licorice with a hint of black pepper. In the mouth, bright blackberry and boysenberry flavors are wrapped in a leathery throw of tannins. Excellent acidity brings a citrus-peel quality to the finish, along with herbs and dried flowers. A blend of 56% Zinfandel, 37% Syrah, and 7% Petite Sirah. 14.6% alcohol. 200 cases made. Score: around 9 . Cost: $85. click to buy.

2019 Troon Vineyard Syrah, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon, Oregon
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of potting soil, iodine, and mulberries. In the mouth, wonderfully saline flavors of boysenberry, huckleberry, rusty iron, dried flowers, and forest floor swirl in a gorgeous haze of powdery tannins. Dashi and a hint of green herbs linger in the finish. Made with biodynamically farmed grapes, and fermented with no additions, save “minimal effective” sulfites. 14.4% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $35. click to buy.

2019 Troon Vineyard “Siskiyou” Syrah, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of blueberries, wet chalkboard, and the barest whiff of camphorwood. In the mouth, wonderfully crystalline flavors of blueberry and blackberry mix with chopped aromatic herbs, dried flowers, and a wonderful dashi umami character which makes the mouth water. Excellent acidity and a nice pine bough freshness lingering in the finish. Made with biodynamically farmed grapes, and fermented with no additions but “minimal effective” sulfites. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.

The post Vinography Unboxed: Week of 11/14/21 appeared first on Vinography.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 7/18/21

Hello and welcome to my weekly dig through the pile of wine samples that show up asking to be tasted. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.

This week is sparkling week on Unboxed. I’ll be honest, the sparkling wine samples tend to pile up in a corner, as they’re just slightly more of a pain to deal with than normal wine samples, and so after a period of time, the guilt gets to me and I have to do a bit of a sparkling purge. So here goes!

Let’s start with the, as usual, peerless set of spakling wines from Raventòs i Blanc, the Spanish family wine estate that has been producing wines since 1497. For a long time, the family made Cava, the typical sparkling wine of the Penedès region of Spain. While they never stopped making sparkling wine, they did stop calling it Cava back in 2012 because they felt the rules for the Cava designation no longer allowed them to produce the best wine they could, the way they wanted to make it, in particular with a place of origin that is more specific than Cava. So now they’re the world’s best producer of Vino Espumosa de España, which they label with what they hope is one day their official appelalation “Conca Del Riu Anoia.” This week I’ve got their three primary sparkling wines to share.

The “De la Finca” (literally from the farm) is a traditional blend of the three primary Cava grapes: Xarel-lo, Macabeo, and Parrellada grown on clay over marine sediments (aka limestone) and from the estate’s oldest vines, planted in 1964 in a vineyard they call “Vineyard of the Fossils.” This wine spends 3 years on the lees, and is a lovely balance between fruit and more autolytic characteristics.

The “Textures de Pedra” (literally textures of stone) is an extremely unusual blend of 3 red(ddish) grapes, a mutation of Xarel-lo that they call Xarel-lo Vermell that ends up with darker pink/red colored skins instead of green, along with two other rare local Penedes varieties, Bastard Negre and Sumoll. It’s got an unusual spiced character that I really like.

And finally their “Manuel Raventòs Negra” is a blend of Xarel-lo and Sumoll that spends 6 years aging on the lees in the bottle before release, and it’s a full-on mouthwatering glass of complexity and refinement that can easily compete with top Champagnes.

We’re going to take a mini global journey through sparkling wine this week, it seems, with our next stop in Germany, where Ernie Loosen makes a sparkling Riesling under the Dr. Loosen label. He makes several, actually, but this “Extra Dry” version is tasty, fruity bottle with an extremely attractive price tag.

Jumping to Burgundy, you can chek out Nicolas Potel’s Maison Roche de Bellene Cremant de Bourgogne, which is also just as pleasurable and easy on the pocketbook.

From Italy, we’ve got a couple of Prosecco’s this week, a straightforward apple and white flowers rendition from Corvezzo and another rosé Prosecco (I wrote about this new category of wine not too long ago) full of strawberries and cream from Bisol.

Perhaps the most exotic wine this week was the Keush “Origins” sparkling wine from Armenia, whose blend of Voskehat and Khatouni offers something decidedly different in terms of taste profile. Keush is a brand created by Storica Wines, which is an ambitious young company that has launched a number of brands to showcase the winemaking heritage and potential of Armenia.

Of course we’ve got regular Champagne this week too, with a solid bottle from Piper-Heidsieck that is on the rich side, but definitely satisfying.

From here in California, another star this week was the Caraccioli “Brut Cuvee” which, frankly, knocked my socks off a little. I’ve been hearing great things about this producer but hadn’t managed to try any of their wines yet, and… wow. Caraccioli Cellars started when the third generation of Caracciolis to farm in the Salinas Valley decided in 2006 that they wanted to expand into winegrowing. But not just any winegrowing. They could easily have just made another Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands (and they do, in fact, produce still wines, too), but instead they decided to make a world-class sparkling wine from those grapes. They took their time (literally, making sure they gave the wine a long aging time on the lees) and ended up with what is easily among California’s best sparkling wines.

There’s also a nice rosé from Cuvaison and a surprising one from Notre Vue Estate, which managed to make a really tsty pink sparkling wine from a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, which was a first for me.

Lastly, we’ve got a rosé from one of the top names in English Fizz (or British Bubbly if that appeals more), Nyetimber, whose non-vintage pink wine has a crunchy autumnal quality to it that appeals.

Well, there you have it. A smorgasbord of sparkling wines, which I’ll wrap up with a simple reminder: sparkling wines are not just for special occasions. They’re for celebrating the fact that we’re lucky enough to drink wine whenever we want to.

Tasting Notes

2017 Raventós i Blanc “De La Finca – Vinya dels Fòssils” Cava Blend, Spain
Light-gold in the glass with a hint of green and medium-sized bubbles, this wine smells of honey, toasted bread, and apples. In the mouth, apples, buttered brioche, and a wonderful saline quality all offer a rich and sumptuous melange of flavors. Soft, full mousse, and excellent acidity. A blend of Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parrellada ages for 3 years on the lees and is bottled with no dosage.12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.

2016 Raventós i Blanc “Textures de Pedra Blanc de Negres – Vinya Més Alta” Sparkling Wine, Spain
Light to medium gold in the glass with a hint of a peachy cast and medium bubbles, this wine smells of baked apples and white flowers with a bit of spice. In the mouth a full, velvety mousse delivers flavors of orange peel, mulling spices, and citrus pith. Hints of dried herbs linger in the finish along with a distinct mineral note. Unusual and distinctive. A blend of Xarel·lo Vermell (a dusky variation on the normally white Xarel-lo), Bastard Negre (not to be confused with Bastardo), and Sumoll that ages for 42 months on the lees with no dosage. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.

2013 Raventós i Blanc “Manuel Raventòs Negra” Cava Blend, Spain
Light gold in the glass with fine bubbles, this wine smells of sea air and buttered brioche. In the mouth, a silky mousse delivers flavors of baked apples, citrus pith, sea air, and toasted brioche. Wonderful citrus pith notes linger in the finish. Refined and very pretty. An unusual blend of 40% Xarel-lo and 60% of a local variety called Sumoll (previous vintages of this wine have been 100% Xarel-lo). Ages for six years on the lees. Disgorged in December of 2020. 11.8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $100. click to buy.

NV Dr. Loosen “Extra Dry” Riesling Sekt, Germany
Pale greenish gold in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of candied green apples and mandarin oranges. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of apple, mandarin orange, and honeysuckle ultimate finish dry as a voluminous mousse sweeps across the palate leaving it crisply clean and floral. Pretty. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

NV Maison Roche De Bellene “Cuvee Bellenos” Cremant de Bourgogne, Burgundy, France
Light gold with a slightly bronze cast and medium bubbles, this wine smells of honey and baked apples. In the mouth, notes of candied almonds, honey, and baked apples are delivered on a velvety mousse. Hints of bitter orange linger in the finish. Quite pleasant, with an autumnal quality that I really like. 12% alcohol. A blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $23. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 7/18/21

NV Corvezzo Prosecco, Veneto, Italy
Pale greenish gold in the glass with medium-sized bubbles, this wine smells of green apples, white flowers, and lemon cucumber. In the mouth, a soft-but-full mousse delivers flavors of apples, star, fruit, and white flowers, with just a faint bitterness of apple skin that lingers in the finish. 11.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.

NV Keush “Origins – Brut” Sparkling Wine, Armenia
Pale yellow-gold in the glass with medium-sized bubbles, this wine smells of white flowers, celery, and a hint of sea air. In the mouth, lovely herbal notes mix with floral high tones as a cucumber and unripe apple note forms the core of the wine. Soft mousse. Quite interesting. A blend of 40% Khatouni and 60% Voskehat. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2015 Caraccioli “Brut Cuvée” Champagne Blend, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast, California
Light gold in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of sea air, flowers, and a touch of warm bread. In the mouth, gorgeous citrus flavors are lifted on a velvety, voluminous mousse, and spread electrically to every corner of the mouth thanks to fantastic acidity. There’s just a touch of brioche blended in there with the citrus pith along with a faint hint of bergamot. Quite stunning. A blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. 20% of the wine is barrel fermented. Then once the final blend is made, 20% ages in steel, the remaining 80% in barrels for two months before bottling for the secondary fermentation. The wine spends 4 years on the lees in the bottle before disgorging. 8 g/l dosage. 12% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $53. click to buy.

NV Piper-Heidsieck “Cuvée Brut” Champagne Blend, Champagne, France
Light to medium yellow-gold in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of sea air, ripe apples, and a touch of butterscotch. In the mouth, saline flavors of butterscotch, baked apple, and lemon bars are delivered on a reasonably soft mousse and backed by excellent acidity. There’s a faint bitterness that lingers in the finish. Slightly ripe for my taste, but has a nice leesy note to it. A blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Pinot Meunier, and 15% Chardonnay that ages for a full 24 months on the lees before disgorgement. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $39. click to buy.

Vinography Unboxed: Week of 7/18/21

2017 Cuvaison “Brut” Rosé Champagne Blend, Los Carneros, Napa, California
A pale, peachy pink in color with very fine bubbles, this wine smells of strawberries and citrus peel. In the mouth, a velvety mousse delivers flavors of orange peel, grapefruit, and raspberries backed by a tart, citrusy acidity that lingers in the finish with a note of blood orange. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.

NV Nyetimber Sparkling Rosé, England
A bright orange-pink in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of dried apples and orange peel. in the mouth, a voluminous mousse swells across the palate and delivers orange peel, dried berries and dried apple flavors that have a nice bite, thanks to excellent acidity. There’s a faint bitterness of burnt orange that lingers in the finish. The fruit comes from West Sussex and Hampshire, and is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. About 80-90% of the wine is current vintage, with the balance being reserve wines from previous vintages. Ends up with usually 11 g/l of residual sugar. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $58. click to buy.  

2019 Notre Vue Sparkling Rosé, Chalk Hill, Sonoma, California
A light orangey-pink in color with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of strawberry jam and citrus peel. In the mouth, a velvety, full-bodied mousse delivers flavors of strawberry jam, tart citrus, and a hint of white flowers. While slightly on the rich side, this wine works pretty well. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a sparkling blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, but I’d happily drink this wine and any others like it. 13.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $29.

2020 Bisol “Jeio Brut” Prosecco Rosé, Prosecco, Veneto, Italy
Pale baby pink with a hint of orange and medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of strawberries and flowers. In the mouth, a velvety mousse delivers flavors of strawberries and cream, white flowers, and a hint of citrus peel that adds a pleasing bitter kick to the finish. This is quite nice. 11% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $18. click to buy.      

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The Best Pink Prosecco for Your Fabulous Post-Pandemic Frivolity

Many of us have reason to celebrate, or will soon, as the pandemic gradually recedes from immediate concern and we all gain something of our old lives back. It’s also summertime in the northern hemisphere, and for many, that means hanging outside with friends drinking summery things, ideally chilled and cheerful.

Enter pink Prosecco, the newest, hottest wine category on the planet.

It’s not every day that a whole new kind of wine bursts onto the scene. Wine trends don’t burst at all, for the most part. They start as a trickle, driven by tastemakers and word of mouth, and if they’re extremely lucky they build over time to a torrent of interest.

But occasionally, a wine region will change its rules to allow its winemakers to do something new, and ecco! a whole new type of wine will emerge. Hello pink Prosecco.

From Past to Pink

Prosecco has been around for a long time, because it used to be the name of a grape. Believed to originate in Slovenia, it has been grown in northeastern Italy for several centuries (references to it date back to 1382).

In the modern era, however, Prosecco came to be known as specifically a white sparkling wine made from a grape of the same name. In 2009, as part of an effort to maintain protection of Prosecco as the name of a designated wine region (much as Champagne defends its name from use elsewhere) the folks in Prosecco decided to rename the grape Glera.

So now, Prosecco (technically Prosecco DOCDenominazione di Origine Controllata) is a wine region and the style of sparkling wine made from Glera that comes from the 9 different provinces spanning Italy’s Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions. There is also a Prosecco DOCG region surrounding the historic town of Conegliano that has stricter rules for production.

For its entire history, Prosecco has always been a white wine, but given the rise in popularity of pink bubbles, the savvy folks behind Prosecco decided they ought to make a pink version, and after much discussion and debate, they announced their change in regulations in May of 2020.

Where the Pink Comes From

Prosecco is normally made exclusively with its white grape, Glera. The new regulations for producing a Prosecco Rosé require 85% of the wine to be Glera, and the rest (in practice usually either 10% or 15%) to be red Pinot Noir, leading to a nice pale pink wine that is then fermented a second time in pressure-sealed tanks to make it sparkling. This is known as the Charmat method, which is popular for being less expensive and time-consuming than having the secondary fermentation take place in the bottle, a la Méthode Champenoise.

With a strawberries-and-cream character accented with bits of citrus or stone fruit, it’s hard not to smile when drinking a glass of well-made pink Prosecco.

As with normal Prosecco, the wines get made at varying levels of sweetness. The vast majority (perhaps as high as 99%) of Prosecco Rosé will be Brut or Extra Dry, which will contain 6-12 grams or 12-17 grams per liter of residual sugar respectively. I have yet to see a Brut Nature or Extra Brut version, which would only contain up to 3 grams or 6 grams of sugar per liter of residual sugar, respectively, but the regulations do allow for them.

It turns out roughly more than half of the wineries in the larger Prosecco DOC region were already making pink sparkling wines, but selling them under more generic regional labeling laws as vino rosato frizzante or rosato spumante. So in some ways, the allowance for a pink version of Prosecco trailed the market demand for a long time.

Not everyone is pleased with the advent of the category, however, including those behind the stricter Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG, who rightly point out that Pinot Noir is not a traditional grape for the region.

A New Flavor Profile

Prosecco has become immensely popular in the last 10 to 15 years thanks to its reasonable price point and its cheery flavors of white flowers, pears, melons, and apples that lean slightly sweeter than other popular sparkling wines.

Just to put a finer point on what “immensely popular” actually means, Prosecco sales in the United States have gone from a few hundred thousand cases per year to several million, with sales growth averaging between 10 and 15% per year annually. In 2018 Prosecco sold more bottles of wine than Champagne did for the first time in its modern history.

I have observed that in the same way that everyday wine drinkers in my generation often casually refer to all sparkling wine as Champagne, most of the people I know in their twenties use “Prosecco” instead as their catch-all sparkling wine term.

Certainly Prosecco has taken the brunch world by storm, offering a fruity sparkling profile that can turn any meal into a celebration, and any glass of orange juice into a mimosa. The rosé version is likely to go over just as well (or even better). With a strawberries-and-cream character accented with bits of citrus or stone fruit, it’s hard not to smile when drinking a glass of well-made pink Prosecco.

Are these wines profound? Far from it. They can’t hold a candle to the complexity of a good rosé Champagne. But they are playful and pleasant, and that is what a lot of people are looking for in a $20 bottle of sparkling wine.

I recently arranged for a bunch of pink Prosecco to be sent my way so I could see what the fuss is about. Most come in crystal-clear bottles (some quite fancy) the better to showcase the jewel-like pale pink of their contents. I expect that many a patio bar will line them up like top-shelf liquor bottles to be ogled by well-dressed patrons.

Unfortunately, as pretty as they are, these clear bottles mean the wines will be exceptionally susceptible to being light-struck, so retailers and consumers alike will need to make sure to keep them stored out of the sun.

Of course, no one usually hangs on to a bottle of Prosecco for long. The time from purchase to “Pop!” probably averages less than 6 hours. If you’re interested in a bottle, or twelve, here are my notes on the wines that were sent to me, in descending order by score.

Note that many of these products are new to the US market, and don’t have full retail distribution as of yet. I have provided links for online purchase where available.

Tasting Notes

2020 Tenuta Sant’Anna Brut Prosecco Rosé, Veneto, Italy
Pale baby pink in color with medium bubbles, this wine smells of strawberries and cream and a touch of citrus peel. In the mouth, silky, voluminous mousse delivers flavors of strawberry, citrus peel, and white flowers across the palate. Very clean, very pretty, with enough of a savory note in there to keep it interesting. 11% alcohol. Bucking the trend with a very dark brown glass bottle (most others are clear). Score: around 9. Cost: $16. click to buy.

2019 Tosti Brut Prosecco Rosé, Veneto, Italy
Pale peach in the glass with medium fine bubbles, this wine smells of strawberries and cream with hints of white flowers. In the mouth, a moderately coarse mousse delivers very tasty flavors of citrus peel, citrus pith, and just the barest hint of berries mixed with white flowers and cream. Wonderfully dry and elegant. 11% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $15.

2019 Antonio Facchin Brut Prosecco Rosé, Veneto, Italy
A pale peach color in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of wet pavement, citrus peel, and white flowers. In the mouth, a gorgeous, silky mousse delivers delicate and refined flavors of citrus peel, hibiscus, and green strawberries with a nice floral note wafting above it all. Excellent acidity. Quite refined. 11.5% alcohol. Bucking the trend with a dark green bottle (most others are clear). Score: around 9. Cost: $15.

The Best Pink Prosecco for Your Fabulous Post-Pandemic Frivolity

2019 Albino Armani Extra Dry Prosecco Rosé, Veneto, Italy
A pale peach color in the glass with medium to fine bubbles, this wine smells of berries and white flowers. In the mouth, a velvety, voluminous mousse delivers wonderfully delicate flavors of strawberries, citrus peel, and white flowers. Only the faintest hint of sweetness. Quite pretty. 11% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $20.

2020 Astoria Vini Extra Dry Prosecco Rosé, Veneto, Italy
A pale orangey-pink in color with moderately fine bubbles, this wine smells of sweet berries, citrus peel, and white flowers. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of berries and cream, citrus peel, and white flowers are borne on a velvety mousse. Decent acidity and a nice long finish. 11% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??.

2020 Brilla! Extra Dry Prosecco Rosé, Veneto, Italy
Pale baby pink in the glass with rather fine bubbles, this wine smells of strawberry candy and white flowers. In the mouth, the wine doesn’t come across as quite as sweet as it smells, with a velvety mousse that delivers strawberries and cream, citrus peel, and white floral flavors amidst decent acidity and a nice clean finish. A party-pleaser for sure, especially with its paisley-embossed bottle with a pink glitter label. 11% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $13. click to buy.

2020 Villa Sandi “Il Fresco” Brut Prosecco Rosé, Veneto, Italy
Pale baby pink in the glass with medium bubbles, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, white flowers, and a hint of berries. In the mouth, a lovely silky mousse delivers flavors of peach and strawberry across the palate, with hints of florals and pastry cream in the finish. I would love this to be a bit sharper, with a hint more acidity, but it is quite tasty. 11% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $17. click to buy.

The Best Pink Prosecco for Your Fabulous Post-Pandemic Frivolity

2019 Val d’Oca Extra Dry Prosecco Rosé, Veneto, Italy
Pale peachy pink in color with medium bubbles, this wine smells of candied citrus and white flowers. In the mouth, a relatively robust and silky mousse delivers faintly sweet flavors of orange peel and unripe berries. The sour hit at the end makes for a little more complexity. Excellent acidity and lift. 11% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $12. click to buy.

2019 Pizzolato Brut Prosecco Rosé, Veneto, Italy
A pale peachy color in the glass with medium fine bubbles, this wine smells of apricots, strawberries, and white flowers. In the mouth, a fairly voluminous mousse delivers silky flavors of stone fruit, strawberries, and white flowers. Good acidity and nice length. Made from organically grown grapes. 11% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $17. click to buy.  

2019 Voga Extra Dry Prosecco Rosé, Veneto, Italy
Pale peachy pink in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of strawberry and watermelon candy. In the mouth, faintly sweet watermelon and strawberry flavors are somewhat candied with hints of white flowers and a touch of candied citrus peel lingering in the finish. A fluffy mousse and decent acidity. 11% alcohol. Comes in an embossed fishnet-patterned bottle. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $16. click to buy.

2019 Famiglia Cielo Extra Dry Prosecco Rosé, Veneto, Italy
Pale baby pink in color with medium-sized bubbles, this wine smells of cherries and whipped cream. In the mouth, faintly sweet candied cherries and white flowers have a nice bright acidity to them and a somewhat soft mousse. Citrus notes linger in the finish. 11% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $14. click to buy.

2020 La Marca Extra Dry Prosecco Rosé, Veneto, Italy
Light coppery pink in the glass with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of candied orange peel and white flowers. In the mouth, faintly sweet flavors of citrus peel and white flowers are lifted on a soft mousse. Hints of gardenia linger in the finish. Would love a little bit more acidity here. 11% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $13. click to buy.  

2019 Valdo “Marca Oro” Brut Prosecco Rosé, Veneto, Italy
Light peachy-pink in color with medium-fine bubbles, this wine smells of apple skin and raspberries with a somewhat unusual wet-leaves aroma. In the mouth, distinctly savory notes of apple skin, dried apples, raspberries, and white flowers move across the palate on a coarse mousse. I wonder, in fact, if this bottle is not a little light-struck, and might be much better than it is showing at the moment. Decent acidity. 11% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.  

2019 La Vostra Extra Dry Prosecco Rosé, Veneto, Italy
Pale peachy-pink in color with medium-sized bubbles, this wine smells of sweet berries in cream. In the mouth, a silky mousse delivers faintly sweet strawberry and citrus flavors but without enough acidity to really make the wine sing. Comes off as slightly flat through the finish. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost: $9. click to buy.  

2020 La Gioiosa Brut Prosecco Rosé, Veneto, Italy
Pale salmon-pink in color with medium to large bubbles, this wine smells of cherries, white flowers, and orange peel. In the mouth, the bubbles dissipate quickly, leaving the wine feeling a bit flat on the palate. Flavors of strawberry and citrus peel have a nice fruitiness to them. 11% alcohol. Score: around 8. Cost: $15.

2019 Perlage Winery “Afra” Extra Dry Prosecco Rosé, Veneto, Italy
A pale baby pink in color with medium bubbles, this wine smells of sweet dried orange peel and candied berries. In the mouth, moderately sweet flavors of dried apples, orange peel, and berries have a very candied aspect. Good acidity, but comes across as a bit too saccharine. 11% alcohol. Score: between 7.5 and 8. Cost: $??

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Here’s $37. Buy a bottle of Prosecco.

Prosecco: cheap fizz. And…scene. It’s mind-boggling to think about the ascent and success of this Italian bubbly in the last decade or so, but one of the final hurdles for the region/category is to realize it’s not just inexpensive, cheerful, and a little cloying. I can think of no better prescription for overcoming these preconceptions than opening a bottle of Nino Franco Prosecco.

I was invited to dinner with Primo Franco, who I’d call a statesman of/for Prosecco. This year his family is celebrating the winery’s 100th anniversary. We opened four bottles that night. Let’s take a look at each, OK?

The town of Valdobbiadene, home of Nino Franco Prosecco.

Nino Franco Rustico NV ($24)

This takes me back to my days in Chicago, starting out in wine retail, which is where I first had Nino Franco Prosecco. That was like…15 years ago. I also remember Triage Wines representing Nino Franco into the Seattle market. The Rustico is very fresh and pear-y. It’s powerfully refreshing and has an undeniable texture to it from a very slight sweetness. Now the sugar in here doesn’t make the wine sweet but provides balance and body. It’s probably one of the easiest-drinking wines in the world. Great with oysters and, also, bread. I don’t know if the latter is a weird thing to say. “Hey, buy this wine, it’s great with bread.” I’ve never been asked, “What wine goes with bread?” But, here’s your answer. Like good bread and butter, fancy-pants carbs and dairy.

Nino Franco Faive Rosé 2017 ($29)

Right now there’s no such thing as a rosé Prosecco because of the region’s rules, though that may be changing. Nino Franco does, however, give you a compelling reason to drink sparkling pink from the area. The Faive is 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. There are few red grapes in a blend adding more aroma and flavor in a small dose than Cab Franc. It really punches above its weight. This is delicious and the savoriness of Cab Franc gives the Faive a serious, unique personality.

Nino Franco Riva di San Floriano 2017 ($37)

I never thought I would have a laser-like Prosecco before but this single vineyard (San Floriano) offering cuts through anything: butter, pasta. Might even stop you in the middle of a sentence. Easily the most elegant Prosecco I’ve had.

Nino Franco Primo Franco 2017 ($37)

Pretty cool to be Primo Franco and not just be an invaluable source and resource for the past, present, and future of the region, but to also have your own wine. The Primo Franco has a touch of perceptible sweetness that perhaps made it not show as well as well shoulder-to-shoulder with the San Floriano. Though the more I think and read about this wine, it might be the one to cellar. Which is a pretty surprising thing to consider!

I did really appreciate the pairing suggestions on the winery website:

Unexpectedly great with salty snacks, meats and spicy foods. Traditionally served with pastries, fruit tarts, cake, macaroons and semi-frozen ice cream cakes or custards.

Ah, now I get it! This would be an amazing brunch wine. I’d probably rotate between donuts and a BEC with a lot of hot sauce, drinking the Primo Franco Prosecco in between each sweet then spicy bite.

Prosecco’s Place

So a big difference between Prosecco and other sparkling wines is that it doesn’t go through a secondary fermentation in the bottle. It’s made via the Charmat method; the wine’s second fermentation is in a tank. (The second fermentation is where you get bubbles.) Is there a different quality perception here, that bottle is better? Is this holding back people from spending more on Prosecco? Does anyone care about fermentation methods except some insufferable wine egghead like me? No one buys a bottle based on this crazy criteria.

But does the tank method have wine pros looking down on Prosecco? The lack of yeasty complexity putting a ceiling on its perceived heights? (Do I need to get into Col Fondo?) Or is it the waves of mediocre stuff? Is it not “cool”? I mean, there’s plenty of awful cheap wine from grape/method x, y, and z but that doesn’t stop people from recognizing a wide range of quality out there.

Parting Thoughts on Nino Franco Prosecco

Prosecco, like Cava or Cremant or anything, can run the gamut from cheap plonk, to good value, to very good to excellent. For P-L-E-A-S-U-R-E, for sheer pleasing power, I am happy to hand over $37 for a bottle of San Floriano. Honestly, I think once people start spending, say, $25 and up for a bottle there tends to be a need to over-intellectualize wine-buying decisions. Pleasure is underrated in fine wine.

Of course, I got to drink these wines for free, eating super-luxe scallops and ravioli (which were ungodly good at Marea, hats off to the cooks). So you can take my proclamations about Nino Franco Prosecco with a grain of salt or a whole grain loaf of bread or whatever.

With that caveat out of the way, the next time I am spending 40 bucks on bubbles I might buy Champagne. (Well, I will need more than forty but I can get most of the way there.) I might buy a very nice Cremant or perhaps an excellent Cava. Maybe even a domestic sparkler. Hmm, Tasmania? Something from Trento, perhaps.

But now thanks to Nino Franco, I’m elevating Prosecco as a contender in the (nearly) $40 category.

Or, heck, just get the Rustico or rosé and with the change grab some pizza.

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Wine Reviews: Acinum Wines from Veneto

Vias Imports — a big player in the U.S. when it comes to Italian imports — has just launched its own label called Acinum. Hitting the nationwide market this month, these wines are solid, value-driven examples of the classic Veneto wines: Prosecco, Soave Classico, Valpolicella and Amarone.

The wines are a result of collaboration between the chairman of Vias Imports, Fabrizio Pedrolli, grower and oenologist Enrico Paternoster. For those looking for an introduction to the wines of the Veneto, these widely-available bottles would be a good and inexpensive place to start.

These bottles were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

Review: N.V. Acinum Prosecco Italy, Veneto, Prosecco
SRP: $11
Pale straw color. Bright and floral nose with a nice mix of lemon-lime and richer peach and guava aromas. Refreshingly crisp and quite dry but plenty of fresh fruit: peaches, lime, kiwi, yellow apple. Add in some hints of honeysuckle, lilies and a slight saline and seashell aspect. A brighter and crisper wine than a lot of Proseccos at this price point that can take the sweet flower and canned peach approach. Impressive for the price. (86 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Acinum Soave Classico - Italy, Veneto, Soave Classico
SRP: $11
Light yellow color. Bright nose of clean laundry, floral perfume and a mix of kiwi and yellow and green apples. Juicy kiwi, peach and apples on a medium-bodied frame. Moderate acid keeps it all clean, some creaminess adds texture. I get some notes of white tea and floral perfume, hints of saline as well. Bright, clean, refreshing, well-balanced. Great for the price. (85 points IJB)

Review: 2014 Acinum Valpolicella - Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella
SRP: $16
Pale ruby color. Smells of tart red apples, wild strawberries, some darker cherry notes, rose petals and green coffee. Medium-bodied with some refreshing acidity, medium tannin but a tiny bit astringent. Tart red apples, strawberries and cherries mixed in with notes of cedar, clove and coffee. Ready to drink but has some fun flavors and structure to offer. (85 points IJB)

Review: 2013 Acinum Ripasso della Valpolicella - Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Ripasso della Valpolicella
SRP: $23
Medium ruby color. Rich red and black fruits on the nose, cherries, plums and currants, mixed in with richer, darker elements of prunes and fig paste, roses, violets and potting soil. Full-bodied, tannins have plenty of structure but a velvety presence on the palate. Medium-low acid, the plum fruit is dark and rich yet crunchy around the edges, plenty of coffee, pipe tobacco, clove, anise cookie and cedar shavings. Not super complex but quite solid stuff. Best with plenty of air or a year or two in the cellar. (87 points IJB)

Review: 2012 Acinum Amarone della Valpolicella Classico - Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
SRP: $55
Dark ruby color. Saucy and rich on the nose, with dense black cherries and plum fruit, a couple waves of sweet mocha, clove, dark chocolate shavings and rich dark soil. Rich and full but maintains a juicy, chewy approach. Dark plums and cherries, the fruit is rich but laced with savory elements. I get pine sap, espresso, charcoal pit, dark chocolate, clove, spearmint chewing tobacco, lots of complex flavors underneath waiting to come out. (89 points IJB)

Tuna and Prosecco: A Delightful Lunch

Tuna and Prosecco: A Delightful Lunch
I’ve always been a big fan of Prosecco, the charming and thirst-slaking Italian sparkling wine, for festive and casual bubbles imbibing. At a recent lunch at Serafina, I was reminded what a great food wine it is as well. Prosecco belongs on your lunch (and dinner) table!

The Proseccos we enjoyed were from Valdo, a shop favorite. Their Brut DOC is a machine here at Esquin. The staff loves it and so do our customers. They also make an excellent Rosé Brut, though don’t call it Prosecco! The Italian wine laws in the region have recently changed to protect the good name of true Prosecco; it has to be made from the Glera grape and in a specific geographic area. The Rosé is made from the Nerello Mascalese grape (surely you’ve heard of it) and is a joy to drink. Ultra-fun! It was perfection with the Calamari, especially with the touch of chile flake giving a little heat. (The Brut DOC was no slouch with it, either. I was alternating back and forth between the two.)

Tuna and Prosecco: A Delightful Lunch

Most unexpectedly, the Prosecco even worked with a sweet pea and ricotta ravioli (with taragon butter and sauteed pea vines, to boot) The sweetness of the peas was a nice match with the DOC Brut, which has a whisper of sweetness.

Tuna and Prosecco: A Delightful Lunch

But my favorite pairing was with the tuna at the top of the post. I devoured it with two special Proseccos from Valdo: The “Cuvee di Boj” and “Cuvee Fondatore”. Both have DOCG status, which denotes the highest quality in the Prosecco region. These Proseccos were drier, more elegant, and most harmonious with the tuna and its melted leeks, fingerling potatoes, and frisee salad with a basil-grapefruit vinaigrette.

It was a wonderful lunch made even more wonderful by convivial dining companions and and special guest Dr. Pierluigi Bolla, the President of Valdo. Hard to think of a more personable and genuine ambassador for the region and the wines. Bravo!

Full disclosure: I was a guest of the importer and distributor who provided the food and wine.


Tuna and Prosecco: A Delightful Lunch