Glera, “the name is horrible but…” #Prosecco

best prosecco glera

Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes (Robinson, Harding, and Vouillamoz, Ecco [HarperCollins], London-New York, 2012) is an oenographic watershed, an unrivaled ampelographic achievement.

And it’s also an expression of the Zeitgeist.

One of the more stunning contributions of Robinson’s new book is the authors’ impressive scholarly approach to the origins of grape names.

We, the oeno-aware, are part of a generation that pays more attention to ampelonyms (grape names) than any that came before us.

Here on my blog, as I have tried to debunk the many erroneous folk etymologies for Italian grape names that appear over and over in wine books, wine journalism, and wine blogging (e.g., Sangiovese and Aglianico, among many others).

Most of these folk etymologies can be attributed to spotty scholarship and the lack of interest in ampelography beyond the world of viticulture.

The bottom line is that until our generation, the wine world — grape growers, winemakers and bottlers, and ampelographers — weren’t particularly interested in the origins of grape names.

But that doesn’t stop us from wanting to know the why and where of grape names.

As Nietzsche wrote (particularly in The Twilight of the Idols), human nature drives us to attribute meaning to every sign around us (he was a precursor to post-Modernism in this regard). We are compelled to align the signified and the signifier. We need to understand why things have their names. This is one of the reasons that we find so much pleasure in etymology, even when faced with the hard fact that etymology and philology are intrinsically inexact science.

As wine has played an increasingly important role in popular culture, our interest in the origins of grape names has grown accordingly.

I have been particularly impressed with the Wine Grapes entry for “Prosecco” (pp. 853-854).

Here’s an excerpt of what the editors, who do not refrain from editorializing, have to say:

Prosecco, “[t]he dominant, rather neutral grape for Prosecco sparkling wine, probably Istrian,” they write in the entry’s subtitle. “Misleadingly renamed Glera for commercially protective reasons.”

    As part of the promotion of Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene to DOCG status and the enlargement of the Prosecco DOC zone in 2009, the Prosecco Consorzio set in motion an official name change so that this principal grape variety is known as Glera, its supposed Friulian synonym, and Prosecco is reserved for the designation of origin, effectively preventing producers from other regions or countries taking advantage of the name Prosecco to designate any old sparkling wine…

    This amendment is both confusing and misleading: Glera is a generic name applied to several distinct varieties in the province of Trieste, and recent studies have shown that Glera in fact usually refers to Prosecco Lungo and much less frequently to Prosecco (Tondo) and other local varieties from the Karst region such as Vitovska, or the non-cultivated Aghedone and Mocula.

With this entry fresh in my mind, I asked Prosecco producer Luca Ferraro (whose English-language blog I curate) to share his thoughts on Glera.

“The name ‘Glera’ is horrible,” he told me, “But…”

Click here to read what he had to say.

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!

Valdobbiadene: Italian grape name and appellation pronunciation project


Above: In February of this year, Tracie P and I visited the village of Rolle, which lies nearly equidistant from Valdobbiadene and Conegliano in the heart of Prosecco country. Photo by Tracie P.

As the Italian Grape Name Pronunciation project has expanded to Appellations, I couldn’t think of a more mispronounced appellation and Italian toponym than Valdobbiadene. Despite the immense popularity of Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene in this country (due, in no small part IMHO, to the fact that the grape name and appellation name Prosecco is relatively easy for Anglophones to pronounce), consumers and wine professionals rarely know how to pronounce Valdobbiadene correctly. When Prosecco producer Matteo Bisol visited Austin the other day, I seized the opportunity to film him pronouncing Valdobbiadene, Conegliano, Prosecco (the appellation and grape name), and Glera (a synonym for Prosecco, now favored by producers of the still relatively new Prosecco DOCG).

BTW, the toponym Valdobbiadene (a village) is a cognate of valle (valley) and the toponymic adjective Dubla(n)dino (from Duplavilis), which in turn comes from the hydronym Plavis, the ancient name of the Piave river. Thus, Valdobbiadene means valley of the Piave river.*

* You’ll note that in my transliteration of Valdobbiadene, I report only one b. This is due to the fact that the people of the Veneto do not pronounce double consonants. In standard Italian, the correct transliteration is VAHL-dohb-BEE’AH-deh-neh.

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.