An acre of Prosecco worth more than Napa (equal time for the Prosecco consortium)

Above: I took this photo a few years ago on one of the highest peaks in Cartizze, the top growing zone for Prosecco.

According to Bloomberg.com (March 7, 2010), in California’s Napa Valley, “average prices are $150,000 to $200,000 an acre for a vineyard planted with red varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and $115,000 an acre for white grapes such as Chardonnay… The most desirable sites in Rutherford and Oakville can fetch $250,000 an acre.”

And that was in 2010 at the peak of the financial crisis (the title of the article is “Vineyard Defaults Surge as Lost Land Values Undermine Napa Wine”).

When I visited Cartizze in April 2009 with the scion of one Prosecco’s leading and oldest families, who owns more acreage in Cartizze — the top growing zone for Prosecco — than any other, he told me that the average price of an acre in Cartizze is greater than in Napa. And frankly, he would know: his family’s holding in Cartizze is the cornerstone of its winery and the wines produced from fruit grown there are among the highest priced Prosecco bottlings on the market today.

Whether accurate or not, these factoids give you a sense of the “big business” interests that have come to dominate the cultural and topographic landscape of Conegliano-Valdobbiadene — one of the most beautiful swaths of wine country and one of my favorite places in the world because of my deep connection to the land, people, and wines of Prosecco.

In the wake of last week’s post “Prosecco, lies, and videotape: the real story behind the new wave Prosecco,” I was contacted by public relations firm representing the consortium of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco superiore DOCG growers and bottlers.

“We don’t agree with your position and we would like to explain to you why,” wrote the publcist. I wrote her back immediately and she set up a call between me and the consortium’s director, Giancarlo Vettorello (above, photo via Oggi a New York).

When we spoke the next morning, Giancarlo took issue with what I had written about the Prosecco DOCG:

    This DOCG was just one of many that were created before Common Market Organization reforms went into in 2009, shifting the power to create new designations from Rome to Brussels. It’s one of the many examples of political spoils that [then agriculture minister] Zaia lavished on his hometown…

“Does a humble wine like Prosecco — and by its very nature, Prosecco should be a humble wine — deserve to be elevated to the status of wines like Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino?” I asked paraphrasing a chorus of Italian wine writers who wrote disapprovingly of the new classification at the time (2009).

Giancarlo contended that while the origins of Prosecco may be humble, it has become one of the world’s most “recognizable wines” and is sold today in mind-boggling volume.

He also pointed out that the Centro di ricerca per la viticoltura (Center for Viticultural Research) was founded in Conegliano — Prosecco’s historic epicenter — in 1923, an innovative and ground-breaking institution and a leader in enology that predates the emergence of the sparkling wine industry in Franciacorta, Trentino, and Oltrepò Pavese. In particular, he noted, Professor Tullio De Rosa, who came to the center in 1966, developed techniques for the vinification of white and sparkling wines that reshaped Italian viticulture for the generation that followed (it’s also worth noting the pantheon of Italian wine luminaries who worked at the center, like Michele Giusti, Giovanni Dalmasso, and Luigi Manzoni).

In all fairness, he has a point. Prosecco is one of Italy’s leading brands and exports — like Campari, Perugina, Barilla, De Cecco. And in a relatively short arc of time, the architects of its success have created an interest and awareness of the brand that was unimaginable in the late 1990s when they began to market Prosecco aggressively to U.S. consumers. I think it’s safe to say that U.S. consumers are more likely to know the name of two Prosecco producers than they are to know the names of two wineries in Chianti (a brand that emerged three centuries ago).

Giancarlo was one of those architects. “I worked for fifteen years,” he said, “for the creation of the Prosecco superiore DOCG.”

Well, more power to him, I say. I was happy to share his point of view here and I appreciate that his office reached out to me.

Me? I’ll leave the Prosecco brand to the powers that be.

Just give me some grilled polenta, maybe some grilled sausage or bacalà, and do prosechi colfondo — two glasses of salty, crunchy, cloudy lees-aged Prosecco… one for me and one for Tracie P

Prosecco, lies, and videotape: the real story behind the new wave Prosecco

Above: Until the 1970s, before pressurized “autoclave” tanks were introduced into the appellation, most Prosecco was double-fermented in bottle “on its lees.” The resulting wine was gently sparkling, cloudy, and still had the “fondo” (sediment) in the bottom of the bottle. Even when I lived and worked in the Veneto in the 1990s, it was a lot easier to find Prosecco “col fondo” (with sediment) than it is today. The traditional glass for Prosecco is the one pictured above.

Alan Tardi is one of the great wine writers and restaurant professionals of our generation. I had the chance to meet him a few times when I lived and worked in New York and I’ve greatly appreciated and admired his work (especially this wonderful 2006 article on Asprinio).

But he gets it wrong in today’s New York Times article on Prosecco and its (relatively new) DOCG, “Prosecco Growers Act to Guard Its Pedigree.”

Maybe it was not Alan but his editor at the Dining section who hand-crafted the title (a “pedigree” for Prosecco?). But it was certainly Alan who wrote the oxymoron “sophisticated prosecco.”

The Italian wine writers scratched their head incredulously when then-agriculture minister and native of Treviso where Prosecco is made, Luca Zaia, effortlessly pushed through legislation creating the Prosecco DOCG.

Does a humble wine like Prosecco — and by its very nature, Prosecco should be a humble wine — deserve to be elevated to the status of wines like Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino? asked pundits like Italy’s top wine blogger, Franco Ziliani.

Yes, it’s true, as Alan notes, that the new DOCG (which went into effect in April 2010) gives the wines raised in Conegliano and Valdobbiadene a bureaucratic distinction that sets it apart from Prosecco grown in Friuli, Piedmont (yes, Piedmont), and Australia. But this DOCG was just one of many that were created before Common Market Organization reforms went into in 2009, shifting the power to create new designations from Rome to Brussels. It’s one of the many examples of political spoils that Zaia lavished on his hometown before his boss Berlusconi was forced out by the international community.

And yes, it’s true that the biggest names in commercial Prosecco — Adami and Ruggeri are among those that Alan tasted for the piece — are making “heirloom” vintage-dated and vineyard-designated wines, as well as low-sulfur and even lees-fermented wines.

But these products are the result of attempts by the Prosecco industrial complex to appeal to the hipster sommelier crowd.

In fact, excellent col fondo Prosecco has been produced for many years now by an ever expanding group of small growers (see this post on our col fondo tasting last year). This is the bona fide new wave of Prosecco.

Costadilà is one of those wines and has been available in the U.S. for a few years how. And Coste Piane, which has also been available here for many years, has been making and marketing true Prosecco for as long as anyone can remember. More recently, col fondo producer Bele Casel has shipped its wines to North American shores.

Above: The village of Rolle (not Passo Rolle, the mountain pass, btw) lies at the epicenter of the Prosecco appellation. Nearly equidistant from Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. Most locals would argue that Conegliano is where Prosecco was born as an appellation, even though Valdobbiadene has eclipsed its sister village.

And on a technical note, in Italian and Veneto dialect (including the dialect of Treviso), rive is the plural of riva, which does indeed denote hillside or slope (analogous to costa in Prosecco parlance). The rive system doesn’t denote a single growing site, as Alan implies: it denotes a series of slopes set apart for their topographical designation.

While I’m not a fan of Ruggeri, there’s nothing wrong with a glass of any of Adami’s wines. But they don’t represent real Prosecco. They are an expression of the consumerist hegemony that has choked my beloved trevigiano since the 1990s when Prosecco became a brand in the U.S.

I know I’m splitting hairs here and I remain Alan’s loyal admirer.

His oversights are harmless in the big (commercial) scheme of things and not nearly as bad as those in a Times piece this week in which Eric Pfanner ingenuously believes that a Paris wine shop owner is affected by Robert Parker’s “downgrade” of a 1998 Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

    I have no intention of second-guessing Mr. Parker, who has been tasting, and championing, the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape for decades. But the change in his score for the 1998 Beaucastel highlights the challenges of encapsulating something as complex, subtle and capricious as a fine wine in a single number.

The moment of truth has arrived: it’s high time that we begin questioning the wisdom of Robert Parker’s rating system! It’s enough to make you think that the editors at the Times Dining section only recently discovered bread and butter…

O, Eric the Red, where art thou? O, Solomon among wine writers!

Prosecco colfòndo!

Above: Until the 1970s, before pressurized “autoclave” tanks were introduced into the appellation, most Prosecco was double-fermented in bottle “on its lees.” The resulting wine was gently sparkling, cloudy, and still had the “fondo” (sediment) in the bottom of the bottle. Even when I lived and worked in the Veneto in the 1990s, it was a lot easier to find Prosecco “col fondo” (with sediment) than it is today. The traditional glass for Prosecco is the one pictured above.

Tracie P and I got to experience so many great tastings on our recent trip to Italy but none was more thrilling than our appointment with the Colfondisti, a loosely gathered group of Prosecco producers who have returned to the fondo (i.e., the bottom, pun intended) of their tradition, producing bottle-fermented, lees-aged Prosecco — the way their grandfathers did it and the salty, crunchy, utterly delicious way that Tracie P and I like it. The event was organized by an old friend of mine and colfondo bottler, Riccardo Zanotto (who knows me from my coverband days, when I spent three summers playing 6 nights a week in a zone that some call the “Sinistra Piave,” the left bank of the Piave river).

Above: The village of Rolle (not Passo Rolle, the mountain pass, btw) lies at the epicenter of the Prosecco appellation. Nearly equidistant from Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. Most locals would argue that Conegliano is where Prosecco was born as an appellation, even though Valdobbiadene has eclipsed its sister village. Our tasting was held in a home in the center of the village.

We tasted five bottlings of sparkling Prosecco, from different vintages. And then we tasted the new Prosecco (still), by one of the producers, from the 2010 vintage — in other words, wine that had yet to be double-fermented.

Bele Casel 2009 Prosecco

Luca Ferraro’s wine is made in Asolo (a more recently authorized Prosecco appellation, not far from the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene series of valleys). Among the colfondisti, some serve their wines torbido (literally, turbid or cloudy), while others serve theirs limpido (limpid or clear). Luca is a torbidista, who prefers the sediment in the wine. Very fresh nose, clean, and with some savory notes. Some yeasty notes in the mouth, dominated by good white fruit. Balanced acidity. (Luca is extremely active in social media, he speaks English well, and his wines are present in the U.S. market.)

Cantina Gatti 2009 Prosecco

Carolina Gatti’s wine was the one that reminded me the most of the Prosecco I used to drink in the late 80s and early 90s: it was super salty and crunchy. Some citrus notes and lots of savory on the rich nose. Lighter in the mouth with salty and strong citrus notes. Bright, bright acidity the way I like it! Carolina is also very active in social media and she authors a wonderful blog called Rabosando.

Above: “Zuel” denotes “sella” or “saddle” in local dialectal inflection and it is a topographic designation that applies to the many “saddles” or gentle hills that shape the appellation. In case you were confused, there’s a saddle “di qua” (over here) and another saddle “di là” (over there).

Costadilà 2008 Prosecco

Ernesto Cattel is perhaps the most savvy marketer of the colfondisti and his wine has good representation in some of the bigger U.S. markets. He is of the limpido persuasion (although we always mix up his wines when we drink them at home). If you follow along here, you’ve seen his wine on my blog before. His wine was perhaps the most balanced, very clean on the nose and the mouth, good acidity and good saltiness balanced by honest fruit. He’s done a lot to document the origins of Prosecco Colfòndo but unfortunately his work is not available online. According to Ernesto, it was the legendary Venetian oste (tavern-keeper) Mauro Lorenzon who popularized the term colfòndo (with sediment), giving producers their battle cry in the face of the industrial and commercial autoclave production that now dominates the appellation and brand. Ernesto will be releasing an orange-wine, skin-contact Prosecco from the 2009 vintage.

La Basseta Casa Belfi 2009 Prosecco

Maurizio Donadi is a locally based enologist who makes Prosecco Colfòndo as a labor amoris. He currently experimenting with Effective Microorganism ceramic chips (above) as a means of controlling unwanted aromas and flavors in unsulfured wines. I liked his wine a lot but it may not be for everyone (you have to be careful not to ingest the chip!). Very nice citrus and white fruit nose and mouth. Very clean and with good acidity. Very interesting to talk to Maurizio and taste his wines with him. As you can see above, he is of the torbido persuasion.

Zanotto 2009 Prosecco

I’m so glad to have reconnected with Riccardo and I love his wines. A highly successful businessman (in the furniture business), he makes this wine out of passion and he’s just one of those folks whose generosity of heart and happy spirit can’t help but rub off on you. He bottles wine that his uncle grows in family-owned vineyards and his wine — served limpido — was probably the most elegant of all the wines we tasted. Beautiful nose, very fresh and very clean, fantastic balance of white fruit and savory notes. I could drink this wine every day.

And the still 2010 Prosecco, you ask?

You’ll just have to be like Tracie P and me and go to Rolle to taste it!

Special thanks to Enrico who hosted the tasting in his home in Rolle.

The best Prosecco tasting ever…

and the best tasting Prosecco ever…

In the canon of Italian wine writing, you often find tasters who express the emotion that a wine evokes. In Italian vinography, when a writer uses the descriptor emozionante, the term denotes that a wine was moving, thrilling, stirring, exciting…

Such was the case yesterday at one of the most extraordinary tastings that Tracie P and I have ever attended: yesterday, my friend Riccardo Zanotto, whom I first met back in 1992 when I was playing an American cover band in the Veneto, organized a “Prosecco Colfòndo” tasting with five producers of bottle-fermented lees-aged Prosecco — just for us.

Today, I don’t have the time to post my copious notes from the event but I will as soon as I have some downtime. In the meantime, as Tracie P and I head to Venice to celebrate our first wedding anniversary, I’d like to thank Riccardo and the other producers for what was truly one of the most thrilling wine events I’ve ever attended. In part, because I feel a deep connection to Prosecco, the land of Prosecco, the culture of Prosecco, and the people of Prosecco. In part, because the wines are truly OUTSTANDING. A remarkable and truly thrilling wine event for us.

Škerk: the next big thing from Carso?

When it comes to orange wine, “big” is a relative term… but when Tracie P and I tasted Škerk’s salty Malvazija last night with Marisa and Giorgio and Steve, we knew we were onto something big. We hear that Škerk is going to the U.S. later this month and is looking for an importer. There is no doubt in my mind that his labels will soon join the ranks of those produced by Radikon, Gravner, Zidarich, Vodopivec, Damijan et alia. Utterly fantastic wine…

We ate at Nane della Giulia in the historical center of Padua, a restaurant where I used to have a weekly gig (no kidding!) back in my student days. Tracie P had the radicchio in saor (above).

I had the grilled horse meat salami with white polenta and cabbage. Nane della Giulia isn’t exactly a restaurant “to write home about” but it was great to revisit this historic tavern. In another era, it was at the center of Padua’s rich goliardic tradition. And wow, so many great memories of my early years as a student in Italy.

The food was good and the restaurant packed on a Saturday night. Worth it if only for the nighttime stroll through the beautiful medieval porticoes that lead to this magical neighborhood, like a scene from The Name of the Rose

Headed today to Valdobbiadene to taste some Prosecco Colfondo: unyeasted, less-aged Glera… merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream!

A new Prosecco category emerges: colfòndo

Above: Costadilà is a member of new group of winemakers who make “Prosecco colfòndo.” Note the sediment at the bottom of the bottle (photo taken on our dining room table).

Thrilling news of a new group of Prosecco producers who make their wines colfòndo (con il fondo, i.e., aged on their lees and thus with sediment) came to my attention via Mr. Franco Ziliani’s brand spanking new blog devoted to the world of Italian sparkling wines, Le Mille Bolle (A Thousand Bubbles).

In many ways, Prosecco is the wine that started it all for me so many years ago when I started writing about wine. Back in 1998 when I got my first gig as an enojournalist, it was with a feature story on Prosecco. I know the appellation well because I spent three summers touring the provinces of Treviso and Belluno with a cover band.

To my palate, lees-aged Prosecco is the real Prosecco (not the yeasted banana candy crap that we see too often in this country). Lees-aging gives the wine the saltiness that makes Prosecco raised in Valdobbiadene stand apart from the crowd. I love it and am dying to taste more.

Above: That’s me in the middle rehearsing in the famous Birreria at Pedavena where we played 4 sets a night, 3 nights a week (no kidding). I was in my 20s and the music and beer (often unpasteurized, btw) flowed all night long. How do you like the hair?

Dulcis in fundo (pun intended): one of the producers, Riccardo Zanotto, used to come hear us play back in the day and we shared more than one beer together…

Che bei ricordi! What great memories of rock ‘n’ roll with the Dolomites as our stage and salty, gritty, utterly delicious Prosecco!