Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Prosecco: Italy's new sparkling star

The beautiful wine region of Prosecco is right on the doorstep of one of the world's most romantic cities, Venice. And while Venice is a destination of timeless appeal, wine styles don't get any hotter right now than prosecco.


In Venice, the cool crowd sip on Bellini cocktails made from prosecco and peach juice. In New York and London, spritzes are all the rage, with prosecco mixed with Aperol or Campari. Combined with vodka and lemon sorbet, prosecco is also an ingredient of the cocktail sgroppino, while in Australia, it has enjoyed an immense rise in popularity as an aperitif.

This evening I am enjoying a Bellini in the bar of the ultra chic M Gallery Hotel Papadopoli, a boutique establishment at the intersection of the Grand Canal, the “main road” in Venice, and the smaller Tolentini canal.

I'm taking a short break exploring the marvels of the city after a trip to what has become one of Italy's hottest vineyard destinations; centered on the nearby towns of Treviso, Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, where grape growing dates back to Roman times.

Wine tourism is all the rage here, and across Italy, with over five million travellers each year motivated solely by their love of Italian wines. And prosecco is at the forefront. Last year it out-sold Champagne globally and the whole region has a gourmet focus, producing an array of table wines (unlike Champagne), cheeses including Asiago and Grana Padano and various salumi and prosciutto.

The surge in international demand has meant plantings are increasing rapidly throughout the region – as are tourist numbers.

The appeal of prosecco is easy to understand; whether made fully sparkling (spumante) or lightly sparkling (frizzante), it is refreshing, low in alcohol and relatively affordable. It is all about freshness and immediate drinkability. It has been promoted as “nice, at less than half the price (of Champagne)”.

Wine producers here run the gamut from small farmhouse makers with just a few rows of grapes on steep slopes to those with historic mansions like Villa Sandi, which dates back to 1622 and is one of the grandest wine estates you'll find anywhere. 


The region is alive with cantinas offering tastings and upmarket hotels and eateries catering for the influx of tourists – including Villa Sandi's boutique Locanda Sandi (above). Take detours off the main roads here to hillside villages where the odd wild boar still roams.

The entire appellation is dotted with medieval walled towns and cities and beautiful old churches. The rugged countryside is full of abbeys, churches and castles with a mountainous backdrop.

The delightful city of Treviso (below), known as Little Venice because of its rivers, canals and many churches, barely rates a mention in many guide books but it is a charming base from which to explore for those who do not wish to commute the 40 or so kilometres from Venice.



Some of the old water mills that dotted the city have been converted into trendy homes but the city retains much of its ancient charm. It's a prosperous place; where locals and tourists alike stroll the ancient streets and piazzas, and walk the river banks and canals in the midst of leafy gardens.

The region is best explored by taking the La Strada di Prosecco (Prosecco Road) – a driving route that passes many of the finest wine estates, vineyards, osterias and enoteccas.

It is interesting that while prosecco is known and loved as a style, many drinkers know nothing of its back story.

Prosecco is usually made from the indigenous glera grape (itself sometimes known as prosecco), although other varieties are allowed and while the name prosecco derived from a village near Trieste, DOC Prosecco is produced in the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions, largely around the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene.

Unlike Champagne and premium Australian sparkling wines, prosecco is largely produced using the charmat method, in which secondary fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks. This makes the wine cheaper to produce, and has resulted in a global explosion of interest over the past five years with 65% of production exported.

The wines range from sweet to dry but all are best consumed when the wine is as young as possible – and certainly within a couple of years of production.

Some experts say prosecco should be enjoyed from a white wine glass rather than a Champagne flute, as this accentuates both the aromas and flavours.

In 2009, the Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOC appellation from the hilly areas of the region, was lifted to the loftier DOCG recognition, and there is also now an Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG to the southwest. The DOCG consorzio has even applied for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

The other regions have since 2009 been recognised as DOC – and that includes the majority of the prosecco exported to Australia.

Either way, its is no surprise that Italian producers hail prosecco as “the success story of the 21st century”. It's the instant success story that has taken hundreds of years.

That said, the news is not all good. The wet 2014 vintage has been described as “the most difficult in 50 years” with both quantity and quality down considerably. Some of the leading producers have said they will not make flagship wines.

But still the planting continues, and exports continue to grow.

THE FACTS
M Gallery Papadopoli Hotel Venezia is set in an 18th-century mansion with just 97 rooms and suites, some with magnificent views. The hotel is just a short walk from the bus station and one stop, or an easy walk across the the Constitution Bridge, to the Piazzale Roma water bus stop and the main railway station. +39 041 710 400. www.hotel-papadopoli-venice.com.



Emirates flies from Australia to Dubai 84 times per week, with daily onward connections to 35 European destinations, including Venice. Emirates provides 30kg of checked luggage per passenger in economy class and 40kg in business class. 1300 303 777 or www.emirates.com/au

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