A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Non-Fizzy Glera (Prosecco) - Valdobbiadene, Veneto, Italy

Prosecco used to be so simple.  If a bottle was labeled as Prosecco, you knew where it came from and what grape was used to make it because both went by the same name.  There was only one DOC zone, Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene, whose rules stipulated that the wine made there had to be comprised of at least 85% Prosecco grapes.  Since Prosecco was both a place and a grape, it was so easy to understand.

Leave it to bureaucrats and marketers, though, to come in and complicate a simple thing.  In addition to the one DOC zone, there were also a handful of IGT regions located nearby that were able to use the word Prosecco on their labels because it was the official name of the grape used to make the wine.  Fearing that consumers were too dumb to be able to figure out the difference between an IGT Prosecco wine and a DOC one, the authorities stepped in in 2009 with a new plan.  The Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOC region was elevated to a DOCG and the former IGT regions were all elevated to DOC status.  The Prosecco grape, though, would no longer officially be known as Prosecco, but would now be officially known as Glera (Glera has always been one of its synonyms, but Prosecco was by far the most common name for the grape).  Further, only the Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG region can now use the name Prosecco since, by changing the grape's name, the authorities had turned Prosecco into a geographical designation rather than a viticultural one.  The newly formed DOC regions have to use the name Glera if they want to refer to the grape that they use to make their wines.

So now we live in world where you go to Prosecco to drink Glera, which is a little confusing because the town central to the new DOCG is called Valdobbiadene, not Prosecco.  There is a village called Prosecco, which is likely the source for the original name of the grape, but that village is in Friulia, near Trieste on the Slovenian border (where, oddly enough, they call the grape Glera).  Some maintain that the grape is originally from there, while others believe it's from the Colli Euganei, about 30 miles south of Valdobbiadene, where the grape is known as Serpino, which is easily the coolest of the grape's synonyms.  The grape's history in the area around Valdobbidene can be traced back to the early 19th Century, though some believe that the vinum pucinum mentioned by Pliny in Roman times may be a reference to the Glera grape, though as we've noted many times, tracing any modern grape back to Pliny is a difficult task.

All that is well and good, you may be saying to yourself, but is this Fringe Wine guy really trying to pass Prosecco off as an unusual grape just because it's now called something different?  Well, no.  I'm well aware that Prosecco is everywhere (even, apparently, in one of those Facebook games called CityVille), but that's fizzy Prosecco.  The Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOC produced over 250 million bottles of wine in 2000, the overwhelming majority of which was either fully sparkling or frizzante.  No, what I've found is a still wine made from the Glera grape, which is a rare bird indeed.  The DOCG regulations do allow for the production of still wines, though very few producers bother as the fizzy stuff is what people really want.  Prosecco sales have been on the rise, especially lately, as people are beginning to turn away from more expensive options like Champagne in these rough economic times.  The method that makes Prosecco so much less expensive (the Charmat method) also tends to make the wines more fruit-forward with fewer of the bready, yeasty secondary flavors and aromas that mark traditional method sparkling wines.  Prosecco is an easy drinking, crowd-pleasing kind of wine and the bubbles are a major part of that image for consumers.

While marketing is a big reason for the tiny production of still Glera-based wines, the perception of the grape as somewhat bland and uninteresting is certainly another.  Bubbles, especially cheap bubbles, are a good way to put a little sauce on a dry steak, so to speak.  Finally, Prosecco has, historically, almost always been a sparkling wine.  The early history of the grape's cultivation reads an awful lot like that of the Mauzac grape.  Prosecco ripens very late and so it doesn't go into the cellar for vinification until late fall or early winter.  The wine usually wasn't finished with its fermentation before the temperatures dropped so low that the yeasts kind of fell asleep and stopped doing their work.  The winemakers would bottle when the vats stopped bubbling and, since filtration wasn't a common practice, the sleeping yeast cells would be bottled along with the slightly sweet wine.  When the temperatures warmed up, the yeasts woke up and carried on their work inside the bottle, expelling CO2 as they carried on, which didn't have anywhere to go inside the sealed bottle, and so was absorbed into the liquid, creating little bubbles.  People liked this style and, through the years, Prosecco wines have become synonymous with bubbles.

The wine that I had, though, was the 2008 (prior to DOCG elevation and, thus, "just" a DOC wine) Adriano Adami "Giardino" Prosecco, which I picked up from my friends at Curtis Liquors for about $18.  This wine was 90% Glera and 10% Chardonnay and the grapes come from the Giardino vineyard, which the Adami family has owned since 1920.  Most of the grapes grown on this site end up in a kind of prestige cuvée, but they specially select some for this still wine.  The grapes are lightly pressed before being fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel where the wine stays on the lees for three months.  In the glass the wine was a very light, almost clear silvery lemon color.  The nose was fairly aromatic with green apples and lemon peel and just a hint of leesy funk.  On the palate the wine was on the lighter side of medium with fairly high acid.  There were racy flavors of green apple and lemony citrus.  This wine was definitely on the wrong side of its lifespan (the Adami website recommends drinking within a year of the vintage), but it was still holding together very nicely.  It's simple and fruity with a really nice vein of acidity to hold it together.  At $18, it's a bit steep, though, and there are much better values out there, though if you can find a fairly young version, I'd imagine that it's pretty tasty given how well it has held up over time.


Glera said...

I love the was we now have to use both words Prosecco and Glera carefully! You know DOCG and IGT...

Peter F May for The Pinotage Club said...

I wondered if the drive to protect the Prosecco name was because wineries in other countries were making sparkling wines from Prosecco and - of course - since Prosecco was the variety name there was nothing to stop them 'taking advantage' of the Prosecco name.

I tased a couple of sparkling Proseccos in Australia a few year ago, but these wouldn't now be allowed into the EU under that name. Also some pink sparkling wine from Italy destined for the UK Marks & Spencer supermarket chain was seized shortly after the regulations came into effect -- its name? Rosecco :)

Stanislav Rudý said...

... similar to "Mosecco" one day in Mosel Valley in Germany... :-)