We travel to Asolo to search out some of the finest quality Prosecco for food.
by Alan Kingsbury - Friday December 7, 2018 12:12 pm
Prosecco is a lot of fun but is there any serious quality to be found, and is there such a thing as a truly culinary Prosecco? Alan senses something may be going on in the recently formed appellation of Asolo in NE Italy's Alpine foothills.
Prosecco is booming!
Perhaps the exponential international success is due in part to the name itself. Just saying the word 'Prosecco' makes you feel as if you're into something special; and all those scrolling, curvaceous letters look great on a label.
It certainly beats the term 'English Sparkling Wine' on any aesthetic score.
But ultimately the reputation of Prosecco will rest on the merits of its finest wines and in search of the new contenders for the quality top-spot, I travel to the town of Asolo whose name has been given the highest level 'Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita' (DOCG) status.
At the Caffè Centrale on the main square of Asolo I meet with Franco Dalla Rosa, 'Gran Maestro' of the Confraternita Vini Asolo Montello, he has an impeccable knowledge of local winemaking, ecology, and history.
He pours a welcome glass of the 'representative bottle of the consortium', a benchmark Prosecco made each year that showcases the high quality of the local DOCG production, and explains why Asolo wines are so special.
It's all down to the terroir. Asolo has eleven different types of soil, clay being the key element, and a microclimate that features cool, night time winds from the Grappa mountains.
These factors bring enhanced aromatic development and higher levels of of structure-building 'dry extract' than in the neighbouring, and as yet more famous, Prosecco region of Valdobbiadene.
It may be a case of marginal gains but Asolo, an appellation only established in 2009, has the potential to make the finest Proseccos available, especially at the drier end of the spectrum where these wines are not just fun aperitifs, but can become serious contenders for food pairings.
To learn more about the production methods which give Prosecco its characteristics, I visit Enrico Bedin at his family winery at the centre of the region.
The creamy, textured bubbles of Asolo DOCG come courtesy of the not-so-secret weapon of the Prosecco industry, the Autoclave. It's the stainless steel, temperature-controlled tank which can hold pressure during the bubble-forming second fermentation like a giant bottle.
Bubbles formed in the Autoclave are fundamentally different from Metodo Classico or Champagne method, giving more lifted, fruity flavours so much loved by the modern consumer and a lower pressure giving a softer mouth-feel.
The superior, creamy bubbles, rich structure and apricot / peach fruit profile of Asolo Prosecco can have a transforming effect when combined with the simplest of foods.
For a seasonal treat, I try pairing a pumpkin and leek soup seasoned with a grind of black pepper with an organic, Bele Casel 'Extra Brut' Asolo DOCG Prosecco.
The wine is taut, dry and mineral and relishes the natural sweetness of the ingredients.
In fact the levels of sugar are crucial when it comes to choosing a suitable Prosecco for food, especially given that is the sweeter forms (the counter-intuitively named 'Dry' and 'Extra Dry') are the main players in the marketplace.
To get more insight into the issues of sweetness, I meet with Simone Morlin of the Martignago winery.
He is an uncompromising artisanale winemaker who experiments with low levels of sweetness in his Proseccos. His belief is that the best Proseccos for the table employ less sugar and therefore allow the individual effects of terroir to show in the wine.
"A Prosecco with too much sugar gets tiring after the third glass" he says. "Going without sugar, you lose a bit of the fruit sensation but it's asking you to eat something, and so you have a better food wine"
Paradoxically though, one of my favourite Asolo Prosecco discoveries during my visit to the region is anything but dry.
Using natural yeasts and spontaneous fermentation, Loredan Gasparini Cuvee Indigena 'Extra Dry' with 18g/l sugar, comes in at the sweeter end of the spectrum.
Here the higher sugar level is entirely in harmony with the ripe yellow fruit and rich honeycomb flavours with delicious length. It's a wine to enjoy on its own or an indulgent pairing for a dessert of fresh raspberry with home-made ice cream.
Made with 100% Glera grapes from a single vineyard of old vines, Cuvee Indigena is a rare example of an Asolo Prosecco made by traditional method and is a true aristocrat of the regional scene.
Read the label
It has to be said that, even though the name is legally protected, there is a lot of nondescript Prosecco coming from the wider Veneto region so it's important to read the label to establish the quality as well as the sweetness level of the wine.
Asolo Prosecco enjoys the highest status so will always be labelled "Asolo DOCG Prosecco Superiore". When it comes to sweetness, the categorisation is more than a little confusing but important to note when matching a Prosecco to foods.
"Dry" on the label actually means sweet; and "Extra Dry"... still sweet but somewhat less so. These wines are hugely popular as aperitifs.
"Brut" is comparable in dryness to a Brut Champagne, around 8-11g/l, and at this level the Prosecco begins to show a good balance of acidity, minerality and residual sugar. Restaurants prefer this because it is good for most foods.
The driest form of Prosecco, labelled "Extra Brut" has great potential for pairing with savoury dishes and, if pressed to choose, would be my own preference for an all-round food wine because the terroir, vintage, grapes and winemaker's personality are most clearly perceived.
Prosecco, as we know it today, only really began in the 1960s. Prior to that the locals produced a low-pressure, bottle fermented 'frizzante' called Colfòndo. In some ways it's the most 'authentic' sparkling food wine of the region.
Dry, mineral, citric, and cloudy, (the yeast is left in the bottle), it's a rustic wine to be enjoyed in good company with some salami and prosciutto.
Much beloved by locals and the winemakers themselves, Colfòndo is still made today though is somewhat under the radar internationally.
Some may say that, with its dominant yeasty character, it is an acquired taste . It is however gaining popularity with restaurants and sommeliers as a speciality wine.
I end my trip at the prestigeous Villa Sandi and visit their special 'certified biodiversity friendly' vineyard to get a farmhouse preview on the oldest of Yuletide propositions; chestnuts roasted on an open fire.
The Villa Sandi Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut is made a little differently to most in that the must is put directly into the autoclave for both the first and second fermentations, keeping it chilled to preserve flavours.
The delicately fine, low pressure mousse, good length and pleasing lemon notes make for a relaxed and heartwarming accompaniment to the chestnuts, a moreish combination if ever there was one; and yet more evidence that here, in the hills of Asolo we may have a truly foodworthy fizz.