Tag Archives: italy

The new age of Prosecco

written in collaboration with wine author and consultant  Alan Tardi

If you like wine — and since you’re here on wine.com I’m assuming that you do — you’ve probably heard of Prosecco. You might well have tried it and you might even be a fan, like millions of others throughout the world, but there’s much more to this quintessentially Italian bubbly than most people are aware of. There are a few important things you really need to know to help you find the one you’re really looking for, that is, the one you’re going to enjoy the most.

To begin with, you probably know that Prosecco comes from Italy, in the northeastern corner of the country, but did you know that there are actually three Proseccos? And, while all three share some common factors and are produced in the same general area, there are some critical differences between them. In a nutshell, it comes down to two things: terroir and tradition.

Prosecco DOC, created in 2009, is produced in an extensive area encompassing two regions of Italy — Veneto and Friuli — 9 entire provinces, and 556 towns. Because most of the growing area is located in flat plains and valleys, the yield of grapes per hectare is much higher and many of the vineyards can be (and are) harvested mechanically. Despite the fact that this is a new appellation, Prosecco DOC now accounts for about 80% of all Prosecco produced.

Colli Asolani Prosecco Superiore DOCG, also created in 2009, is a small area located in the hills around the town of Asolo in the province of Treviso. Though wine has been produced here for a long time, until bubbly Prosecco started to boom, the real focus of this region was — and in many ways remains — still red and white wines. The Colli Asolani area currently produces about 1% of Prosecco.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG is a small area consisting of 15 municipalities (most are sleepy villages) in an east-west swath of hills located right in the middle of the greater Prosecco area. This is where the Glera grape — which must make up at least 85% of all Prosecco — first found its ideal home and this where the wine we now know as Prosecco was born.

Grape growing and wine making have been taking place in Conegliano Valdobbiadene (ko-neh-yee-ah-no val-do-bia-deh-nay) for hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of years and the vines have been painstakingly handcrafted over time to fit the undulating contours of the hills. Even today, most of the work in the vineyards is done by hand by thousands of independent farmers on small family plots who supply grapes to the 178 wineries. The “Italian Method” of making wine sparkle was developed around the turn of the 20th century at the enology school in Conegliano (founded in 1876, it is Italy’s oldest and remains a vital and important institution to this day) and the very first Prosecco appellation was created by a Consortium of Conegliano Valdobbiadene producers in 1969.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene occupies an exceptional geographic position: the Dolomite Mountains just behind the hills blocks the harsh northern temperatures while the Piave River Valley at the foot of the hills forms a plain extending south all the way to the Adriatic, bringing warm sea breezes that ventilate the vines and create a unique combination of Alpine and Mediterranean influences.  Even within the small area of Conegliano Valdobbiadene there is a tremendous diversity of microclimate due to its complex geological history.  The Conegliano (eastern) section was shaped by glacial activity from the Dolomites that shaved off the tops of the hills and carried it downwards along with lots of other glacial material extending the hills to the south (you can see this as a heart-shaped bulge on the map). For this reason, the altitudes here are lower, the slopes gentler, and the soils are denser, with lots of ferrous and morainic deposits. The western Valdobbiadene side was little affected by glaciers, so the altitudes here are higher, the slopes are much steeper, and the soil contains an abundance of marine deposits (the entire area was once under water). In between these two extremes is a myriad of environmental variations.

The long viticultural tradition and great diversity of terroir within the Conegliano Valdobbiadene area is reflected in the wines that are made here. In 2009 a sub-category called Rive (ree-vay) was created, which indicates a Prosecco DOCG made entirely from grapes of a single village or hamlet. The grapes must be hand-harvested, the maximum yield of grapes is lower than that of a regular Prosecco DOCG, the wine must be vintage-dated, and the name of the Rive — of which there are currently 43 — must appear on the label. Besides the village/hamlet designations, a Prosecco may also be made from grapes of a single specific vineyard (this is a winery decision and not part of the officially regulations). Then there’s the legendary Cartizze subzone, known as Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze, an entire south-facing hillside in Valdobbiadene of 106 hectares with over 140 proprietors.

While we all think of Prosecco as a sparkling (spumante) wine, it also can be fizzy (frizzante) and there’s even a rare still version known as Tranquillo. While the Glera grape is the principal player in Prosecco, there are also several other native varieties of Conegliano Valdobbiadene that can make a notable impact even in small quantities (especially if they come from old vines, of which there are many in the area). The amount of residual sugar in a Prosecco DOCG also varies considerably and makes a huge difference in the final product. “Dry” (with 17-32 grams of residual per liter) is actually the sweetest type of Prosecco; “Brut” (0-12 grams per liter) is the driest; and “Extra-Dry” is in between.

Finally, while the vast majority of Prosecco Superiore is made using the Italian Method developed at the Conegliano enology school over a century ago, it is also possible to conduct the second fermentation in bottle, either in the traditional process known as Col Fondo in which the sediment (fondo) is left in the bottle, or the Metodo Classico in which it is removed.

There’s something for most every palate and every occasion so dive into Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG and have fun exploring what makes it simply, distinctively Superiore!

Wine.com Tasting Room: Italy

In our second Tasting Room, we’re delving head on into Italy.

Though not a large country in land size, Italy kicks some major butt in wine size. Not only is Italy one of the largest producers of wine in the world, it also is one of the most diverse. The country sports 20 different wine regions, each named by district. Vineyards are planted in just about every corner of the country – from the Alps in the north to the sunny tip of the boot. Add hundreds of DOC and DOCGs and numerous indigenous grape varieties, and you have one complex wine nation.

For the Novice…
Most people shy away from wine labels that look completely unfamiliar. Unfortunately, most Italian wine labels are just that – unfamiliar. So how do you go about decoding Italy? It’s good to know a few key regions and their grapes, as well as the laws that regulate them.
First, let’s talk about the label. Italian wine labels can be quite confusing due to the fact that they have no uniformity. In France you see region, in the US you see grape, in Italy… well, you see both. Sometimes the label will list the region, other times just the producer and occasionally the grape AND the region together. Without knowing what to look for, it’s hard to know what you’re getting. We want to give you a little cheat sheet for decoding Italy. Here, we list the regions and grapes and what you see on the label and what it means.

Tuscany (Toscana)
Tuscany is one of the more famous regions in Italy. The primary grape of Tuscany is Sangiovese. When you see red wines from Tuscany, you MOST LIKELY are drinking a wine based on Sangiovese. Within Tuscany are smaller sub-regions, some with grape specialties. They are:
Chianti (red): Chianti is a DOCG, which means it is regulated by the government. Within Chianti there are other sub-regions.
Brunello di Montalcino (red): Brunello is the grape (a clone of Sangiovese), Montalcino is the sub-region within Tuscany. It’s a collectible wine worthy of the cellar. Try Rosso di Montalcino for a less-expensive and more youthful wine.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: Vino Nobile (the noble grape, which is Sangiovese) is the grape, Montepulciano is the sub-region of Tuscany (NOTE that in Abruzzo, Montepulciano is a GRAPE).
Super Tuscans: For Super Tuscan wines, you may see a grape or a region like Maremma or Bolgheri on the label. You will most likely see IGT instead of DOC or DOCG. This is because Super Tuscan wines came about by not following the DOC and DOCG rules, so they were labeled with IGT (see more on Italian Wine Labels).

Piedmont
A region in the north that is know for three reds: Barolo, Barber and Dolcetto, as well as the ever popular Moscato.
Barolo and Barbaresco: Both are regions producing big, bold, expensive and age-worthy wines from the Nebbiolo grape.
Barbera and Dolcetto: Both are grapes producing light-bodied, reasonably priced wines in Alba (Barbera d’Alba; Dolcetto d’Alba) and Asti (Barbera d’Asti; Dolcetto d’Asti).
Moscato: All the rage, Moscato makes a lightly sweet, lightly sparkling wine with low alcohol levels.

Trentino Alto Adige
 If you see this region on a label, you’re in for a delicious white wine (most likely). Some of the best Pinot Grigio are from this area.

Prosecco
A region and a grape, this is THE sparkling wine of Italy

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
Montepulciano (grape) and Abruzzo (region) make a rustic yet fruit-driven wine from central Italy.

Primitivo
Genetically the SAME grape as Zinfandel here in the US, Primitivo is usually from the Puglia region down near Italy’s boot.

Soave and Orvieto
Two delicious white wines from indigenous varieties in central Italy.

For the Enthusiast…
Though small in land mass, Italy remains a giant in the wine world. With 20 wine regions and numerous indigenous varieties, diversity is a key theme through the country. While that means Italy can be confusing when it comes to wine, it also means there is a little something for everyone beyond Chianti and Pinot Grigio. Our Enthusiast list this month highlights the hidden gems – wines slightly off the beaten path – that are some of our favorites, yet often overlooked due to their obscurity.

Italy is full of what we call indigenous varieties, which means grapes that are local to Italy, species that originated in the country and have found a “home” there. We throw that term, “indigenous variety,” around when we’re talking about non-international grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon is also indigenous somewhere, but since it’s grown just about everywhere else, we call it an international variety.

Italy is quite unique in the vast number of indigenous varieties that are grown and not only consumed within the country, but also commercially sold. Falanghina is not in Australia yet. Aglianico has not picked up in California and I doubt you’ll be seeing Nero d’Avola pop up in South Africa. Countries have tried to grow Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, and while they have had some success, these grapes are just not destined to become international variety superstars. This makes Italy a very special place in the wine world.

There are a few generalities we could throw at indigenous varieties in Italy. For whites, most are crisp, with excellent acidity, and many have a slight hint of a “nutty” character, like almonds or roasted nuts. You may also note a lovely minerality flowing through Italian white wines. For reds, excellent acidity remains a theme, as well as red fruits, dusty tannins and an earth-driven character that is distinctive. That said, both white and red wines vary greatly due to extremely diverse climates, soils and grape make-up. Our selection of Italian gems off-the-beaten-path are meant to show you how Italy truly represents a sense of place.

For the Collector…
Structured and long-lived, the collectible wines of Italy are some of the best in the world. From the highly sought after Super Tuscans to the dust-worthy Barolos to the comeback kid Chianti Classico, we have a delectable list of collectible Italian wines ideal for your cellar. An age-worthy Italian wine has a combination of acid, structure and complexity of flavors. We think most of those wines deliver this harmonious blend. Though the majority could use some age, some of these wines can be drunk and enjoyed now.

We hope you enjoy the wines of this month’s Tasting Room. As always, feel free to let us knwo if you have any questions or would like to learn about a wine subject/region/grape in particular! tastingroom@wine.com

Wine Wednesday & Buitoni

In case you missed it, Buitoni USA is running a Wine Wednesday sweepstakes where they are giving away Wine.com gift cards. Kind of a no brainer – sign up and you’re entered to win a $25 gift card to Wine.com!

In case you are unfamiliar with Buitoni, the company produces a number of Italian food products, from delicious pesto sauces to ravioli to complete meals!

We’ve decided to help pair some wines with these meals during the sweepstakes and today, we’ll feature the Shrimp-Lobster Ravioli with Garlic Butter Sauce. Um, can you say rich white?

Since it’s Italian in nature, my first pick would be an Italian white like the Planeta 2008 Chardonnay. It’s rich, saturated and creamy, a perfect match to that rich garlic butter sauce with the ravioli. The dish is perfect for any rich Chardonnay, but pairing region with region (Italy with Italy in this case) is always a recipe for a good pairing. Don’t hesitate to try another white I love from Italy: Falanghina. This is another rich variety, perfect for a creamy sauce.

Don’t forget to enter the Wine Wednesday sweepstakes today through the Buitoni facebook page.

Staff Pick: WineShopper – Barbi Brunello di Montalcino 2004 375ml


Wine Name: Barbi Brunello di Montalcino 2004 375ml
Wine Reviewer: Eileen
Wine Rating: 5 stars
Paired with: Nothing … I had this one just by itself


Wine Review: I bought two of these for stocking stuffers at Christmas, one for a stocking, and one for me and my partner. Yes, folks, we’re lightweights when it comes to wine. We find ourselves not opening a bottles when we know we won’t finish the 750ml. So these half-bottles are absolutely perfect … and I love that this wine is 93 Wine Spectator points under $20. So … on to the wine!

I enjoyed the mellowness of this wine and its medium body. Not as powerful as a Cab but not as light-bodied as a Pinot. Somewhere in the middle and elegant. As what I would expect from a European / Italian wine, the nose has a rich fruity bouquet and the flavors of dark cherries stood out. The mellow tannins were enjoyable for a nice soft grip. I sort of wanted to enjoy some cheese with it, but I declined and enjoyed my ‘special’ glass all by itself.

Something I’d recommend to share on Valentine’s Day or not, you’ll enjoy it either way. 🙂

Barbi Brunello di Montalcino 2004 375ml

Read more of my reviews on my Wine.com community page.

Champagne style Prosecco?

ninoLast night I had the pleasure of tasting the Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco. Again. I previously opened it on Sunday evening for a few reasons. First, to entice my husband to do a few more “honey-dos” around the house after a very hectic weekend, and second, I was looking for a bubbly buzz. It was successful on both parts! Last night, I opened the remaining half bottle, which had been saved with my favorite Champagne stopper, while doing some computer work. This time, I was less concerned about my bubbly buzz and in-between typing really got to taste the wine.

Originating in the Veneto region of Italy, Prosecco is named for the grape from which it is produced, the wine it creates, and the DOC in Italy from which it hails. Prosecco is a delightful wine, typically made in the tank method, which is different from the method used for wines from Champagne, or the traditional method, as it's called. It shows lots of upfront fruit and usually lacks the typical characteristics common to Champagne and wines made in that style. The Nino Franco, however, is different… I still get the fruit aspect, but also with a lovely crisp, citrus background, with good bubble persistence and a nice, lingering finish. This is a delicious sparkling wine – it is Prosecco, but with an “I can be like Champagne, too” attitude. Good stuff. Enjoy.