Friday, December 5, 2014

Prosecco: The Leading Sparkling Beverage in the US

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK--Eataly, the Italian food emporium, was the point of entry for the newest edition of Prosecco DOC, the most famous Italian sparkling wine in the world and the leading sparkling beverage in the United States. The introduction, presided over by Stefano Zanette, President of the Consorzio Tutela Prosecco DOC, was a Food and Wine Pairing Dinner with Prosecco DOC and cuisine prepared by the chefs at Eataly's Pizza and Pasta restaurant.

Proseeco is Italy's answer to French Champagne. There are, however, some distinct differences. While      top quality champagne is fermented and riddled in the bottle, and often identified by vintage year, Prosecco is a non-vintage sparkling wine that is made by use of the Charmat, or tank method. (Named for the Frenchman, Eugene Charmat, it was actually an Italian, Federico Martinotti, who first patented and perfected the idea of fermenting the sparkling wine in bulk in large stainless steel tanks, referred to as the 'Martinotti' or 'Italian' method).

The name of the wine derives from the Italian village of Prosecco near Trieste where the Glera grape, from which it is made, may have originated. Prosecco is produced in the hills north of Treviso, in the regions of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia, traditionally around Cornegliano and Valdobbiadene. The fact that Prosecco is lighter in texture, slightly sweeter and less expensive than Champagne has contributed to its runaway popularity. Besides being a budget-wise alternative to Champagne, Prosecco is also terrific as an ingredient for mixed drinks, most notably the Bellini cocktail, made famous by the  writer Ernest Hemingway at Harry's Bar in Venice, and the latest craze, the Aperol, which is made with a sweet orange liqueur of the same name.

"Prosecco is not just the name of a wine, it is a place, a land," opined Stefano Zanette, President of the Consorzio Tutela Prosecco DOC, who hosted the Eatly New York wine and food pairing. "We have over 20,000 hectares (about 50,000 acres) under vineyards."

Prosecco is produced in the nine provinces of Northeastern Italy, one of the most beautiful areas in the Italian peninsula. Its made from the Glera grape, an ancient, indigenous variety that dates back to the Romans. The intense popularity of Prosecco can be attributed to a number of factors, the most obvious being that it is less expensive to produce and to buy than French champagne. But there are other factors, too.

"Women have been in large part responsible for the rise of Prosecco," Zanette declared through an interpreter. "The wine is less acidic and lower in alcohol than champagne, coming in at about 11 perr cent. It's also generally a bit sweeter and lighter on the palate, which makes it more approachable for many people." Another plus, Zanette noted, is that Prosecco goes with just about anything. It's especially terrific with appetizers or a light buffet. For the Holidays, its a perfect addition to any meal. Prosecco is a sparkling beverage that everyone can enjoy.

For the Eataly food and wine pairing dinner with Prosecco DOC, the culinary staff rolled out a delicious array of Antipasto, including Insalata Di Stagione (salad of the season), consisting of fresh Arugula with Shaved Fennel in a light vinegar and olive oil dressing, followed by an assortment of Salumi, fresh cheeses and assorted antipasti.  Villa Sandi "Il Fresco" non-vintage Brut ($13) was the first Italian sparkler to be poured. With its bright notes of golden apples, pears and jasmine flowers, it made for an excellent palate stimulant in preparation for the heavy artillery to follow.

Eataly's pizzas, with their thin, light crust, made with the finest semolina flour and topped with the freshest of ingredients, were next to arrive steaming hot. The variety was dazzling; Margherita topped with Mozzarella, fresh Tomato Sauce, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and fresh Basil; Maseese, consisting of Mozzarella, Tomato Sauce, Neopolitan Spicy Salami, Fresh Basil and Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVO) amd Chili Ventura tickled the taste buds, followed by Ventura, with Mozzarella, Parma Ham, Arugula and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano. Astoria Lounge Prosecco DOC Extra Dry NV ($17) in its distinctive bottle was next. The grapes are sourced in the rolling hills of Veneto just north of Venice directly from the Astoria estate. Its a beautiful straw color with a creamy, full taste that just caresses your mouth. With its generous flavor of Golden Delicious Apples, it was in perfect harmony with the myriad flavors of the pizzas, both savory and herbaceous.

Next came the pastas, the first of which was the most delightful I've ever experienced; Ravioli Di Zucca, an absolutely enchanting, light pillow of Housemade Ravioli filled with Roasted Butternut Squash and combined with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and a unique ingredient, Almond Amaretti Cookies finished with Brown Butter sauce and topped with crispy Sage leaves. It was like having dessert and your favorite pasta dish all rolled into one! To say this was a masterpiece of flavor and texture is an understatement. The next dish, I called Basta Pasta, because it arrived in a gut-busting sized family-style plate with enough pasta to feed an army! The pasta, Spaghetti Con Pomodoro (Spaghetti with tomatoes) was a simple, straightforward combination of fresh Homemade Pasta and a tangy freshly made Tomato Sauce. No grated cheese or other adornment was needed. Cantina Colli del Soligo Prosseco DOC NV(also $17) from Treviso was next to arrive on the scene. It proved itself to be a robust, flavorful accompaniment to the pronounced flavors of the pastas.

The Cantina Colli del Soligo is a cooperative located strategically between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. Established in 1957, its a cooperative that was created to meet the needs of prosecco producers in the Soligo area. Its membership has now reached 700 partners. Soligo Prosecco is distinctive. Its made in the Frizzante style, which means it has slightly less bubble concentration than standard Prosecco, with a light, refreshing interpretation of the Glera grape. Its notes of ripe peaches, pears and acacia blossoms on the nose accompanied by a delicate underlying minerality and a crisp finish, make it the perfect pairing with flavorful foods like hearty pizzas.

Dessert consisted of Eatly's signature housemade Gelato and Sorbet and a variety of Biscotti (Italian cookies). The grand finale was Val d' Oca Prosecco DOC Millesimato Blue 2013 ($10, YES $10!!!!).
First of all, I don't think you can find a better value in Prosecco. I discovered this one by accident a few weeks ago, when I stumbled into a wine shop that, inexplicably, had no other prosecco on the shelf. In fact, when I asked the proprietor for a recommendation he said "Huh?!!" Anyway, this is a surprisingly complex prosecco for the price. Aromatic, with a distinct floral perfume and hints of crushed roses and an underlying scent of freshly mown grass, it has a bright, clear flavor with just the right balance of acid and fruit. Harmonious, with a dry finish, it goes perfectly with fish, light appetizers, sushi and anything that comes out of a bakery, i.e. cookies. I could have stayed with this one all night. Kudos to Alessandro Boga of Colangelo public relations who organized the event and acted as its suave interpreter and speaker.

Below: An assortment of Eatly's signature pizzas

 Massese Pizza with Spicy Salami, Fresh Basil. EVO and Chili Ventura
Below: Margherita Pizza with Mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano and Fresh Basil

 Villa Sandi "Il Fresco" Prosecco
 Assorted Antipasti
 Fresh Arugula Salad with Shaved Fennel
Below: Ravioli Di Zucca with Butternut Squash, Brown Butter, Almond Cookies and Sage

 Speaker and interpreter Alessandro Boga of Colangelo public relations

 Val d'Oca Blu Prosecco Millesimato Extra Dry 2013

 Pizza lovers dig in

 Basta Pasta!!
 Prosecco DOC Consortium President Stefano Zanette and speaker and interpreter Alessandro Boga confer over a glass of Cantina Coli del Soligo Prosecco (below)

 Dolce (dessert) of Housemade Gelato and Sorbet with assorted Biscotti (cookies), perfect with Prosecco
 Dwight Casimere with Prosecco DOC President Stefano Zanette
Below: The menu for Eataly's  Food and Wine Pairing Dinner with Prosecco DOC

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