Tasting Report: Vino in Villa USA Prosecco Event, June 9, 2008

Italian sparkling wine gets little love, and is often hard to find in the U.S., so it was a real treat to get to try a dozen or so Proseccos at a recent event in San Francisco, offering that rare chance to taste numerous producers and varieties side by side.

First, a little primer: Prosecco comes from the Veneto region of Italy (predominantly the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene sub-region named for the two towns it lies between; all the wines at the event were from this sub-region), right outside of Venice, to the northwest. Hundreds of producers work about 50,000 acres of land separated into 15 communes. About 12,000 acres of land are planted with vines.

Prosecco is made primarily from the Prosecco grape, but up to 15 percent of the wine may, by law, be something else: Verdiso, Perera, and Bianchetta varietals. Since the grape structure is about the same from bottle to bottle, the real difference can be found in the level of sugar remaining in the bottle. Alas, this can be as confusing as pronouncing Valdobbiadene. As with Champagne, descriptors are used to explain the sugar level in the bottle. With Prosecco, two main types exist: Brut and Extra Dry. Brut is limited to 15 grams of sugar per liter and is generally considered the driest (least sweet) type. But Extra Dry can have anywhere from 12 to 20 grams of sugar per liter, so while it’s paradoxically considered less dry than Brut, in reality it can have even less sugar. Confused? Don’t worry: With Prosecco you’ll often find that Brut and Extra Dry are pretty meaningless since either one can end up being drier, and that bottles taste pretty similar within a brand.

In fact, there was a surprising consistency in the Proseccos I tried, even across brands and types; with most wines showing that light fizziness that I really enjoy in Prosecco (Champagne can often feel like drinking CO2 foam), with light fruit flavors that taste really refreshing. I dare say I didn’t have a bad glass of wine at all yesterday, and that’s good news if you want to try a Prosecco but find there’s only one brand on the shelf at the store.

Favorites were found, of course. At the top of the list I have to put Bisol’s “Cartizze” bottling, named for the Cartizze hill where the grapes are grown and one of the few specific-place-labeled Proseccos you’ll find. It’s blended from multiple lots of Prosecco, giving it an intriguing complexity and subtle sweetness that would go well with dessert or on its own. (The company’s PR rep called it “breakfast wine,” quoting a line from Decanter‘s Steven Spurrier that though Prosecco is good all day, at least one glass should be consumed before noon.) Bisol’s less-expensive “Crede” bottle was also very good, and quite a bit richer.

In general I found myself favoring Brut bottles over Extra Dry, with both Col Vetoraz and Le Contesse offering Bruts that packed strong apple flavor. Neither could be described as overly complex, but both were just the thing for drinking on the porch as the sun goes down, just before a big fat Barolo ruins your palate.

As a side note, one of the draws of this event was the promise of interesting and unusual food pairings, courtesy of Greens Restaurant, where the event was held. Alas, in an hour I saw appetizers only twice, as they were snarfed up immediately by hungry restaurateurs camped out by the kitchen. Bummer.

Prosecco Tasting Report

NV Bisol Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut “Crede” – A-
NV Bisol Prosecco Valdobbiadene Spumanteante Superiore di Cartizze Dry – A
NV Borgoluce Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut – B
NV Cantina Colli del Soligo Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut – B
NV Cantina Colli del Soligo Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry – B-
NV Col Vetoraz Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut – A-
2007 Col Vetoraz Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry Millesimato – B+
NV Col Vetoraz Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Dry Millesimato – B
NV Col Vetoraz Prosecco Valdobbiadene Spumante Superiore di Cartizze Dry – B
NV Le Contesse Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut – A-
NV Le Contesse Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry – B+
NV Terre di San Venanzio Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut – B
NV Terre di San Venanzio Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry – B
2007 Zardetto Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Dry – B+

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