Puttin’ on the Spritz

Ring in the new year with a flute of prosecco.

The sound of a ‘pop’ resounds in your ears. You can see the bubbles fomenting in the glass. you can hear the continuous hiss of snapping bubbles being poured. Th ese are the hypnotic announcements of a sparkling wine. Th en there are the delicious, refreshing flavors that dive into your palate and the glistening petillance on your tongue. It could be Champagne, but no: It is a newcomer to the sparkling wine stage, but one that is growing in stature. It is coming of age, and sparkling wine drinkers of any age are popping bottles of it every day. Th is is prosecco.

Prosecco hails from the northeastern quadrant of Italy: Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Treviso. It even has a more highly regarded subregion, known as the Conegliano Valdobbiadene, which is classified as a DOCG rather than a DOC. In fact, its official name is Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, denoting its status. Producers can also use each of the zones separately on their label if all of the grapes come from that particular zone. Cartizze refers to an even smaller subzone within the Valdobbiadene that some producers deem as “grand cru”-like. These are the rarest and most expensive proseccos.


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Italy’s lush landscape produces some of the most prized proseccos in the world (photo courtesy Ruggeri Utilizza).

Prosecco was named after the grape it was made from, prosecco, but authorities changed the name of the grape to its traditional name, glera, officially. It can be blended with smaller proportions of other local grapes—verdiso, perera and bianchetta—as well as the more international pinot and chardonnay. These other grape varieties can add complexity to the blend; however, glera is almost always the vast majority. Vineyard sites across this landscape are very diverse and complex. But the finest vineyards have very well drained soils and slightly higher elevations, enabling longer hangtime and fresher fruit flavors in the grapes, balancing acidity.

This is evident when you visit the Conegliano Valdobbiadene area, seen as the best source of grapes for prosecco.

Unlike many other sparklers that try to mimic Champagne, prosecco is made using the Charmat Method. This method uses the same principles as classic Champagne, but in bulk form. So, the initial fermentation is done is large, stainless steel vats. The wine undergoes its secondary fermentation, also in vats, with the addition of sugar and yeast. Once that process is complete, the wine is filtered, in order to remove any solids (including spent yeast), and bottled under pressure to retain its sparkle. Instead of lengthy aging on the lees of the wine in the bottle, such as in the Champagne method, prosecco thrives on the vivacity of its fruit. Because this process takes only three months from harvest to bottling, the wine is much more fruit-driven than yeasty. Prosecco also tends to have a more apparent sweetness than brut Champagne; in fact, most prosecco is extra dry (which is technically sweeter than brut). The mousse in a bottle of prosecco is not as refined as a bottle aged on its lees, according to the Champagne method, but the youthful brightness of fruit is what prosecco lovers have come to enjoy.

One of my favorite producers is Sommariva, nestled in the Conegliano Valdobbiadene zone. Its Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut is 100 percent glera (from the lower-yielding Balby clone). It is delightfully fresh and elegant with lightweight citrus and melon tones. I love it for its high “drinkability” factor, courtesy its creaminess and rounded edges.

Canella also produces a really lovely Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore, which is a touch fruitier and more floral. There is a sense of more airiness in this example that harkens a fresh breath of alpine flowers and orchard fruit.

Ruggeri makes a wonderful Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. Extra Dry, which it calls Giall’Oro, meaning gold label. But my favorite gem in its cellar is their Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. Extra Dry Giustino B. Named after Giustino Bisol, the founder of the winery, the bottle carries true legacy for it. It has an added intensity and complexity—and will leave you wanting more.

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