It seems only fitting, with the holiday season, to devote a post to the standard-bearer of celebratory wines here in Italy – Prosecco. Until recently, I had been sloppy about my Prosecco knowledge. That is, until my partner and I took the forty-five minute drive from Treviso to Valdobbiadene. This town and area, my friends, is THE bullseye when it come to the gold standard for prosecco.
Prosecco continues to become all the rage outside of Italy. But beware of what you’re buying!
I’ve been one of those people – you know, who gets excited just hearing the word prosecco, without really understanding the vast differences between what is being marketed as prosecco. I’ve learned there are plenty of differences, and a lot of the prosecco being exported is appealing to the general idea of prosecco, and not to the elegant subtleties. The good news is that most people really enjoy the prosecco they are buying at the local grocery or wine shop. But, come to Italy and spend a day in Valdobiaddene, and you might realize you’ve been short-changing yourself.
A day of tastings in Valdobiaddene will help you zero in on the style you like best.
You’ll be pinching yourself when you come to Valdobiaddene, stop at a few wineries, taste, then break for a nice lunch, and then hit the cantine again. It’s all incredibly affordable, and amazingly without pretense. I moved to Italy from California and spent plenty of time in the tasting rooms of Napa and Sonoma. The contrast here couldn’t be more pronounced. Many of California’s wineries have gotten a bit too chi-chi for my tastes. And, the elevated prices of their wines only heighten the exclusivity. But, in Valdobiaddene, people are incredibly down to earth, and the tasting experiences I’ve had have been anything but pretentious.
I abhor sweet wines – unless it’s a deep, velvety dessert wine accompanied by bitter chocolate. The sugar meter in my mouth is pretty sensitive, so I proactively avoid anything that tastes sweet. If you add a floral note to the sweetness then the wine is dead in the water for me.
Now, I’m just using myself as an example for finding THE prosecco wines that work best for you. You might like your prosecco on the sweeter side, and there are plenty of worthy options.
The first big unlock for me recently was finding out that “brut” indicates the driest of the prosecco. Before, I was reaching for “extra brut”. But, ironically “extra brut” is less dry than “brut”. That’s a head scratcher. Rather than arguing the point I filed that tidbit away. The next important information was the residual sugars for different prosecco wines. When I saw and understood this info, I did a big happy dance, since this really helped narrow the field for me. And this is when I hit my personal goldmine of prosecco wines. So, my “sweet spot” (how ironic to use those words) is a prosecco that is dry, with 10-12% residual sugars. When the latter is over 15% the wine is too sweet for me.
I am so grateful for the patience of the people in the wineries for helping me to build my education.
The rule, rather than the exception, is the generosity and kindness of the people working in the different wineries. I’m often worried that I’ll test someone’s patience with my limited wine knowledge, but I need not be.
My best friend Maryann and I took a trip to Valdobiaddene just two weeks ago. On this trip I learned that much of what is exported to the world is average quality prosecco. Now bear with me, because this is my translation, and if you know differently, please correct me. The best prosecco (like other wines in Italy) will come with the designation of DOCG – Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita. It indicates controlled production and guaranteed quality. Not just any wine can get this designation. DOC is the step down. It mainly denotes the wine has come from a general area. (Read more about DOCG and DOC here at Wikipedia). From what I understand, most of what is exported is the DOC prosecco, and that can come from a vast area, but often without the same controls and quality found in the more tightly controlled DOCG wines of Valdobiaddene.
Recently during a short trip to Sonoma I was at an upscale grocery there, perusing the wine aisles. And, lo and behold was a prosecco on display from a winery I had just visited. This winery had amazing wines, but the prosecco being sold was what I would consider from their second or third tier of quality. I told the friend I was with, “This winery has amazing wines, but this isn’t one of them.”
So, I guess demand is so great for an affordably-priced sparkling wine that average quality prosecco is sold and consumed abroad without issue. Meanwhile, many people sadly are missing the best of the best.
A really good prosecco isn’t going to break the bank.
Believe me, I’ve found superb prosecco wines between 7€ and 12€. And, I can assure you I’ve tried these wines out on California friends who have finely atuned palettes. Here in Italy it’s easy and affordable to entertain and feel good about the wines we’re serving. For those of you who live abroad, and don’t have the luxury of packing two cases of wine for the trip home, then you can use a trip to Valdobiaddene as your scouting trip, and then inquire directly with the winery as to who might distribute a particular wine “back home”.
Prosecco is a wine to be drunk now…or at least soon.
Unlike Champagne, prosecco is not designed to be cellared for any real length of time. I’ve been told to drink a vintage within the year. This is really good news to me, because my ability to wait, when it comes to good wine, is pretty feeble.
Perhaps you’re beginning to understand why people in Veneto are known for their passion for drinking. It also helps that Prosecco has a relatively low alcohol content.
Valdobiaddene wineries also offer amazing non-prosecco sparkling wines.
Simply called spumante at the wineries, your tastings can yield some pretty wonderful sparkling wines. On this last trip we discovered two – both considered rose spumante wines. Both were super dry. And, surprisingly, we were told they could “keep” longer than prosecco – two to three years wouldn’t be a problem.
Suggestions for getting started when you come to Valdobiaddene…
I was overwhelmed at the number of quality wineries in Valdobiaddene when I first was researching the area online. I almost shut off the computer because my head was spinning with all the choices.
First, just get yourself there and start driving around. Sure, it helps to have a handful of names, addresses and telephone numbers, but be open to trying a place that looks interesting when you drive by.
Most tasting rooms are closed for the mid-day break, so if you want to make a day of it, I recommend landing in the area by ten or eleven – that is so you can get one tasting in before lunch. Then have a nice leisurely lunch and stroll around Valdobiaddene and have a coffee before tasting again.
Lunch deliciously at Osteria da Coche in San Giovanni
Just a few minutes south of the town of Valdobiaddene is San Giovanni, and this osteria. We had poked our heads in the door at the cantina of Val d’Oca, hoping for a tasting before lunch (we returned later). They informed us they were soon closing for the break. We inquired about a local place to eat, and they pointed us down the road to Osteria da Coche.
What a find! I’m always encouraged when I enter a restaurant and I see it heavily populated with local workers happily chowing down. I’ve been there twice now, and both times we were the only non-locals. It’s a family run affair, and they couldn’t be nicer (they even speak some English if your Italian isn’t so good). For this last visit we both had rigatoni with salsiccia and peperoncino (spicy sausage pasta) for a primi. For secondi I had grilled chicken breast with broccoli with cheese. Maryann had homemade meatloaf and the broccoli. We enjoyed a half liter of prosecco (from the tap), and then I had coffee. The bill for the two of us? 25€ If you go, err on the earlier side as the day’s specials are literally gobbled up in a hurry.
Here are some wineries to get you started:
This was our first experience in Valdobiaddene. How did we find out about it? The osteria staff pointed us down the road, and said we couldn’t go wrong with their wines. I was blown away with their choices and quality. I believe you will be as well.
Val d’Oca http://www.valdoca.com/en/
This winery not only has numerous prosecco choices, the modern architecture is something to behold.
Loved this place. The fellow, Simone, who did the tasting and showed us around, couldn’t have been nicer. He opened a spectacular prosecco for us, which I immediately wanted to buy. Unfortunately, we were informed they’d just sold out. Only 11,000 bottles had been produced. He gave me his card and told me to come back in March next year to get in on the next vintage. I’ll certainly be back.
Lastly, if you’re looking for a wonderful overall resource for the area, be sure to go to this site for Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and are contemplating a trip to Valdobiaddene. Come visit, and your love affair with prosecco will only deepen!