Italy’s Best Sparkling Wine Value: Veneto's Prosecco

Continuing our Italian Sparkling wine Journeys (just in time for the holidays), we will continue to head east thru northern Italy. You may recall we started in Piemonte with Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti. Then traveled east thru Lombardia and their sparkler, Franciacorta. Continuing on east of Lombardia is the Veneto, home to some world class red and white wines and perhaps the best sparkling wine value (along with Cava from Spain) available on store shelves. I am talking, of course, about Prosecco.

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For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.

The Veneto lies in the northeast corner of Italy with mountains to the north and the Adriatic Sea to the east. The area of the Veneto was sparsely populated in ancient times. Much of the inhabitable land was lagoons and islands. When the Romans came in the second century B.C., they founded the cities of Verona, Vicenza and Padova and called the area, Ventia. After the Roman Empire fell, local population looked for a place of safe haven from the invading barbarians. They settled in the marshy island areas on the coast that provided them with a safe refuge. It proved to be a wise choice as the barbarians bypassed the difficult to access areas on the march south towards Rome. This safe haven eventually grew up to be the city of Venice. As the city grew, it prospered, eventually becoming one of the worlds leading seaports connecting the trade routes of Africa, Europe and Asia. Venice flourished becoming a multi cultural depository for ideas. As trade routes changed, however, Venice lost its prominence as a trade capital but remained healthy and wealthy based on the industries that flourished there and of course, tourism.

The wine history of the Veneto dates back at least to the Roman times. Prosecco was certainly made as far back as the 1100’s. The wine, however, barely resembled today’s wines. It was a faintly effervescent wine that was made and consumed locally (similar to Moscato d’Asti). The wine is made from the prosecco grape thought to hail originally from the region of Friuli. This grape is a white grape that naturally ripens very late in the season. Accordingly, growers are forced to wait until late in the harvest season to pick the grapes. The winemakers would crush the grapes and the their fermentations would be initiated. However, in the days before temperature control, winter would set in and the lower temperatures would halt the fermentation. The wine was then bottled. When the temperatures warmed the following spring, there would be carbon dioxide bubbles trapped in the wine giving it a light fizzy quality. Because the fermentations were not complete, the wine often was sweet from residual sugar left in the wine. That is, the yeast cells were killed by the cold before they converted all the sugar in the must to alcohol and CO2.

This production method of bottle fermentation changed around 150 years ago. Prosecco as we know it today can trace its roots back to the 1868 with the founding of the Carpené Malvoti winery by Antonio Carpené, a winemaker and a chemist. He began to make his Prosecco in large tanks instead of allowing the fermentations to occur in bottles. The use of pressurized tanks to make wine was created in France and is known as the Charmat (named after the inventor) style. Carpené also founded the School of Viticulture and Enology at Conegliano in 1876. This school is one of Italy’s leading wine schools today and has been dependable for keeping the quality levels of Prosecco consistently superior.