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The Elixir of Happiness

Centuries ago, when tales of Ponce De Leon finding the “fountain of youth” near St Augustine, Fl. was on everyone’s tongue, a Gnome living in the foothills of the Italian Alps was becoming a legend too, when he discovered the Elixir of Happiness in a wooden barrel full of fermenting prosecco grapes.

Tasting the mysterious brew, the Gnome began singing its praises and declared that he found the secret of all happiness. And from that day on, the little Gnome became known to all as, “Bollicino Bubbly”, the guardian of happiness.

Or so the legend goes.

Now, I don’t know if Mr. Bubbly is still guarding the happiness in those hills, but I do know I dance around when I sip on the fêted Prosecco DOC. It is no doubt, the true elixir of joy!

Vino di Prosecco

Sparkling wines in general, have long been seen by Americans as the ugly step-sisters to the more glamorous French bubbly, with the words Reims or Epernay screaming out from across their aristocratic labels. What a shame.

The Spanish make smooth Cava’s, the Alsatians make sensuous Crémants, and then; there are the lively styles of the Blanc de Blancs & Blanc de Noir’s from the Pacific Northwest, not to mention, the hundreds of Spumanti’s from all over Italy! I could go on and on, country after country but at the end of the day, for all the sparkling wines that I have tasted throughout in my wine thirsty life, there is nothing like a Prosecco, from the Conegliano/ Valdobbiadene region of Italy. And yes… there is a difference.

The Blind Tasting

To prove to the Champagne snobs that Prosecco is not a poor Champagne wannabe, a blind tasting was conducted where a bottle of Bortolomiol Prosecco di Valdobbiadene was unanimously chosen over a bottle of Oudinot Cuvee Brut Champagne (rated WS 91) which took the Champagne worshippers present, completely by surprise. Light, crisp and delicately dry with a perfect balance of fruit and flora, the Prosecco was a sharp contrast to the yeasty, acidic, citrus scented Champagne. It wasn’t until we paired the wines with Prosciutto, smoked salmon and assorted cheeses that Champagne’s reputation was soon restored. It became clear that it’s Prosecco for Prosciutto and Champagne with goat cheese.

Prosecco D.O.C. Conegliano – Valdobbiadene

Protected by a DOC designation since 1969 the Conegliano/ Valdobbiadene (Val-doe-be-ah-din-ā) DOC consist of 15 communities dedicated to the strict code & guide lines that were established to keep the art of making Prosecco wine – alive. The district is also home to two of the most prestigious enology institutions in the world, The School of Enology, established in 1876 and the Institute for Viticultural Experimentation, founded in 1923, which have been instrumental in the development of this glorious elixir. Very much like the Champagne region in France, the DOC community keeps the vines and the producers here, in a class all their own.

To start, the grapes must only come from registered vineyards in the designated area. There must be a minimum of 85% prosecco grapes grown in the area, with a 15 % maximum blend of Verdiso, Perera and/or Bianchetta grapes.

The wine must only be bottled within the province of Treviso and must, have an organolectic examination carried out by commissions of oenologists from the Chamber of Commerce, before it’s bottled.

Prosecco Styles

There are four styles now produced in the area, mostly made with 100% prosecco grapes that include Sparkling, Semi-Sparkling, Superiore di Cartizze & Tranquillo, the only still wine in the DOC.

Semi-Sparkling

Believed to be the descendent of the ancient “Pucino”, the favorite drink of the Roman Empress Livia, this wine has been putting a smile on people’s faces for over two thousand years. The Prosecco DOC’s version of a Vin de Table, the semi-sparkling is light and fruity, fragrant and fresh without being sweet. Always a crowd pleaser and easily available, is Mionetto’s Frizzante, a great wine for sitting by the fire, a cocktail party or, your next event.

Sparkling

The result of the decades of diligent research conducted by the enological institutions in the district, Prosecco Sparkling wine is a fine wine that rarely disappoints. It is simply easy to drink. Traditionally low in alcohol, usually under 12% and a bit dryer than the semi-sparkling, it is crisp and delicately dry with pleasant fruit and floral notes. You can chose between a Brut and an Extra-Dry and know that either one, will flatter any dish being served from lump crab to roast pork. Whether it’s a Holiday celebration or a quiet Saturday night at home, this is the very enjoyable wine that blew the crown off Champagne at our last blind tasting.

Superiore di Cartizze

The most highly regarded wine in the region, the Superiore di Cartizze, with its light scent of fruit and wildflowers, can easily stand on it own. Made only from the grapes grown on a small, 262 acre plot of land snuggled in between the highest hills in Valdobbiadene, makes this wine the true definition of a “cru” (vineyard or area of vineyards of a single vine variety). For a perfect after-dinner wine that can also start with cocktails and h’dourves, try a Bisol Superiore di Cartizze, if you can find it. Rarely stocked at the local wine shops but frequently on the best wine lists, tasting this beautiful wine is a treat to behold.

Tranquillo

The least known version of Prosecco outside its production zone and virtually impossible to get outside the Veneto, Tranquillo is the only still wine in the DOC. A delicate wine, straw-yellow in color, with a bouquet of apple, pear, almond and wild-flower honey, it will be a good wine to try on the next visit to the Veneto.

In case you’re having a hard time finding the producers mentioned at the local wine shop, have no fear. The only words you need to see on the label are Prosecco di Valdobbiadene or Conegliano. Once you have experienced the taste, then you can explore which vintner’s style you prefer. With most DOC Prosecco’s being in the $10-$20 range, discovering your favorite one, should not take long.

And even though Ponce De Leon’s fountain of youth never did much for me, the elixir of happiness always leaves a smile on one’s face and a tale to be told.

Salute!

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