Thursday, January 16, 2014

Prosecco: the perfect sparkling wine for Valentine's Day

A crisp, fruity alternative to Champagne from Italy’s Conegliano  Valdobbiadene DOCG

By Dwight Casimere

VENICE, ITALY—Prosecco has outpaced Champagne as the most popular sparkling wine in the world. This year, as Valentine’s Day approaches, it’s expected that more toasts will be raised, and love’s ephemeral contract sealed with glasses of this bright, distinctive Italian bubbly.

Prosecco was conceived in the lush green hills of the Veneto region, between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, just a short distance from Venice. The cascading hillside vineyards are in the shadow of the majestic, snow-capped Dolomite mountains. I've flown over the mountains and vineyards many times on the way to either Venice or Verona. It is a breath-taking sight indeed.

Prosecco is a marvelous alternative to Champagne. It is decidedly different in flavor and character, in that it is often lighter and a touch sweeter, two characteristics that make it more acceptable to a growing number of fans around the globe. Typically made with 100% of the Glera grape, a native varietal, formerly called the Prosecco grape, it renowned for its beautiful light straw color and bright taste. In addition to its delightful taste, which is characteristically light and fruity, with just a touch of sweetness, it is very easy on the pocketbook.

All of the Proseccos I tasted were in the very comfortable $15-$20 range and delivered a lot of flavor bang for the buck. Here are a few of my favorites:

Nino Franco Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Rustico $15.99
This is a lively, food-friendly prosecco that literally “jumps in your mouth” with firm bubbles and crisp acidity. The first thing that hits you is the smell of fresh bananas and the taste of fresh pears. This is a great wine to have with crab salad or shrimp tossed with watercress, avocado and a light lemon vinaigrette. This will quickly become your favorite brunch beverage. Rustico is perfect for making the Bellini Cocktail, made famous by the author Ernest Hemingway at Harry’s Bar in Venice. Pour an ounce and a half of Rustico in a tulip glass and add an equal amount of pear juice or pear nectar. I add a touch of triple sec just to brighten the taste, but you can omit it. It’s terrific with Eggs Benedict or Eggs Florentine. Substitute a small filet of salmon or a slice of Nova Scotia for the Canadian Bacon and you’ve got a match made in heaven.

Villa Sandi Prosecco Superiore di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOCG $15 - I had the opportunity to taste this lovely rendition of Prosecco Superiore with the owner of the Villa, Giancarlo Moretti Polegato, at last spring’s Vinitaly in Verona. The wine comes from the family’s 1622 Palladian-style Villa on their luxurious estate tucked away in the hills in the heart of the Veneto near the town of Valdobbiadene, about 40 miles north of Venice. This is a very intense wine with a beautiful pale straw color and fine, persistent bubbles. The first sensation is the smell of delicate, white acacia flowers with the crisp taste or ripe golden apples. There’s a yummy taste of slightly sweet mandarin oranges on the back of the tongue, all leading to an harmonious finish. This is a great wine to have with cheese and fruit, a Cobb Salad or a plate of Fettuccini Alfredo with a light cream or vodka/tomato sauce.

Canella Prosecco Superiore di Conegliano Valdobbiadene $16.
A youthful freshness characterizes this relatively low alcohol version of Prosecco. It has a crisp vitality that makes it ideal to sip and chat on a lazy afternoon. Grown on family-owned hillside vineyards around Conegliano, the estate owners, the Canellas, recommend that you enjoy this wine by pouring it in a “bollicine” glass, a unique Riedel crystal glass, designed especially for their portfolio of wines, in order to fully appreciate the wine’s delicate fragrance and aromas. Meyer lemon, Key Lime and Clementine orange give it a zingy acidity and a touch of sweetness. The rich, silky-smooth texture makes it a perfect match with Dover Sole, a caviar tower with capers, thinly sliced red onion, thin lemon wedges and chopped boiled egg trimmings or fresh cooked peel ‘n eat prawns, even a bit of smoked sturgeon.
The winemaker, Roberto Pivetta suggests that, even though the wine contains only 11% alcohol, it can be aged in the cellar and enjoyed for several years to come.

Those are my picks for Prosecco Superiore from Conegliano Valdobbiadene. You can take the money you saved by not buying Champagne and purchase a really nice bouquet of American Beauty Roses or a fancy exotic flower arrangement complete with rare Bird of Paradise flowers for your Loved One. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Gioancarlo Moretti Polegato-owner of Villa Sandi

Below: Villa Sandi Estate

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