Prosecco: Champagne's Sexy Italian Cousin

I'm often inspired by this illusive effevescent wonder. It makes the perfect start or finish to any dining experience and is a masterful accompaniment to meals designed not to overpower the delicate sparkling wine. A tall flute of prosecco is simple: visually perfect. Not much need be done to enjoy it, but it brings added pleasure to anything it is paired with.

Prosecco refers to the grape grown in the Treviso province of the Veneto region in northern Italy. It flourishes on the terraced hills between the Conegliano and Valdobbiadene regions north of Venice. The grapes full ripeness is achieved late in the season giving it its characteristic crisp and slightly bitter finish, making it perfect for use in dry sparkling (spumante) and semi-sparkling (frizzante) wines. Unlike Champagne, Prosecco is made with the Charmat method pf producing sparkling wine in which the second fermentation takes place in pressurized tanks not in the bottle. The shorter, less labor intensive method is ideal for Prosecco as it preserves the crisp, young, fresh flavor of the grapes and keeps it affordable.

Early spring, heading into summer is the perfect time to begin enjoying this light, citrusy, sparkling delight. With tiny bubbles that roll over your tongue Prosecco enjoys the company of delicately flavored seafood, light citrus salads, and lemon. Notes of honeysuckle, melon, green apple, pear and toasted almond can be drawn out with skillful vinaigrettes and sauces.

When choosing a good Prosecco look for the D.O.C. denominations: Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, Prosecco di Conegliano or Prosecco di Valdobbiadene. These wines are always a good bet for quality. Also the sub-denomination Cartizze (indicating they were grown on the slopes around the village of San Pietro di Barbozza). These are known for their drier, more mineral characteristics. It is best to drink Prosecco within three years of its vintage to experience its peak freshness, although many of the high-quality wines are best aged up to seven years.


Any true Italian meal starts with an aperitivo, even before the antipasti, and prosecco is always my favorite choice. Venetians also refer to it as an ombrette or a "pick-me-up". Paired with a classic marinated seafood salad of fresh calamari, octopus and mussels, served in a radicchio or endive cup, simply dressed in lemon juice and good olive oil will make this sparkler sing. Another tried and true antipasti is prosciutto wrapped melon. This salty, sweet, juicy play on fresh and cured is an exotic dance when paired with an explosive prosecco. Your palate will feel like it's on a tour of tastes and textures.

My most exciting, yet ephemeral experience was just outside of Venice. It was a picturesque Italian day, the wispy clouds swirling with blues and pinks so high in the sky as to inspire you divinely in a very Michelangelan way. We had traveled up to visit a friend who happened to be attending an Italian friend's bridal shower. We were lucky enough to be invited along. Upon arriving we were taken around back to the garden. A beautifully designed amalgamation of proper English lines and organization meeting Italian romanticism and flair. Perfection for a party! Everyone was standing among tables draped with white linen, and gorgeous displays of the bounty of the Veneto. We started at the bellini bar:this I will never forget. Fresh peaches, italian plums and raspberries made up the colorful purees that were added to the most delicate, dancing Prosecco from just down the road.

We were surrounded with Venetian specialties: fried crab claws, anchovies with egg, tiny octopus, polenta, creamed cod and marinated sardines, risotto with peas and asparagus, squid ink pasta, veal liver and onions, soft shell crabs, bigoli with anchovies, and we can't forget the famous purple artichokes. Served simply, these straight forward dishes begged to be coupled with our bubbly companion, and went well with the many other prestigious Northern Italian whites. Following a meal of this magnitude there were many sweets cascading from the tables, but none puts the cherry on our sundae like a classic sgroppino. A scoop of local lemon sorbetto in a glass of, you guessed it, prosecco.

This was a dream indeed, with many courses, and I realize we may not all be so lucky to experience Prosecco in its true habitat surrounded by the foods it grew up with. But who's to say a light Northern California lunch or Northwest dinner wouldn't swoon if presented with its sexy Italian guest.