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Written by Nikitas Magel   

The Vino in Villa USA 2008 Wine Tasting Event

As I briefly touched on with a number of the Italian representatives pouring their wines at the recent Vino in Villa wine tasting, Prosecco isn't widely available in restaurants here in the States — even in the culinary epicenters of San Francisco and New York, where the event was held this past week. My comment surprised a number of them, since this sparkling wine is not only a common fixture in the culture of northeastern Italy, where it's produced, but widely drunk in the rest of their country and in many areas throughout Europe — second only to Asti, among the most popular of Italian sparkling wines. But here in the States, with bubbly from California and France dominating the market, Prosecco could definitely benefit from greater awareness with consumers — and that begins with periodically reacquainting retailers and restauranteurs with the charm and approachability of this imminently likeable sparkling wine. Vino in Villa presented that very opportunity, bringing to the U.S. a taste of what is normally a large two-day international festival just north of Venice, Italy the month prior.

The west coast portion of the event took place in the small dining room of Greens Restaurant in San Francisco's Fort Mason. Although I had wrongly assumed that the restaurant's management would have taken what I felt was a perfect opportunity to showcase the vegetarian food for whose quality and creativity they're so well known (beyond, of course, the occasional platter of baked finger foods), the venue itself was charming, and perfectly accommodated the modest number of producers represented. A number of the individuals pouring wine had only just recently traveled some long distances in a very short span of time, having presented their wines at a venue in Manhattan's Time Warner building only four days prior, immediately following the flight from Italy. Nevertheless, as a group, they were warm and outgoing, and visibly proud to be representing the Prosecco region and what amounted to some very good examples of the sparkling wine it produces.

Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene (the complete name for the wine and its production zone) is made from the Prosecco grape, a rather neutral white variety native to the Veneto region. Although still versions exist, it's mainly a fizzy wine. Though, unlike the Champenoise (or Traditional) method whereby the final fermentation occurs within the bottle, Prosecco is made using the Charmat (or Tank) process of sparkling winemaking. In this method, the wine undergoes its second fermentation in large tanks prior to filtration and bottling under pressure. Contrary to what many might believe, this is not an intrinsically inferior technique of sparkling wine production. Granted, it is a bulk production method that tends to appeal to producers of cheap sparklers, but there are choices that reputable winemakers can make to ensure quality output with this method. The wines poured at this event were, without a doubt, all of a calibre that strongly suggested a great attention to detail throughout their production process.

And though all the wines poured shared the same sparkling character, variability came in the form of sweetness. A hallmark of Prosecco is the common practice of allowing for a noticeable amount of residual sugar, yielding styles that range from Brut, through Extra Dry, to Dry. The sweetness of well-made Prosecco is rarely cloying, but a certain level of it is chosen in the winemaking process in order to punch up the dullness and tone down the bitterness that are both inherent of the grape's character. The result is a fizzy, mildly sweet and fruity wine that's easy to like, and great on its own or as an aperitif.

The finest examples of Prosecco are known as Cartizze. Since the tasting event featured a number of producers who make this variant of the wine, I was fortunate enough not only to taste quite a few samples of it but to learn more about it's progeny. The wines bearing the name Cartizze are made from grapes specifically from the eponymous subzone, a cooler elevated portion of the larger area, known for producing wine of higher quality (and prices) than normal Prosecco. Relative to the rest of the surrounding area, Cartizze is tiny. This fact, combined with the high demand for its grapes, has resulted in the vineyard's division among a disproportionately large number of growers (150 to be exact). Because of the elevation and aspect of this hill, the grapes grown in Cartizze tend to be higher in acidity, more concentrated in flavor, and by law must be made in either an Extra Dry or Dry style (counterintuitively sweeter than Brut). To adequately balance the sharper acidity and enhance the fuller fruit phenolics of these grapes, it's necessary for the resulting wine to have a good amount of residual sugar, which (I'm guessing) would otherwise make for an overly tart and angular wine. True to the promise of quality for which this subzone is known, the samples of Cartizze I tasted were, across the board, stellar examples of Prosecco. Without any doubt in my mind, this was the style wherein the producers truly shined.

For more information, contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , the public relations firm that organizes the Vino in Villa tasting events bicoastally in the U.S. For further information on the consortium of producers from Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, the main DOC (Controlled Denomination of Origin) production zone for Prosecco, as well as the Vino in Villa International Festival of Prosecco, consult their website or email them directly. end

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