Sunday, June 02, 2013

Three Outstanding Prosecco Producers to Seek Out

On this last trip to Italy I spent a week in the Conegliano/Valdobbiadene area, where the Prosecco Superiore DOCG comes from. Over a period of two days, the Conegliano/Valdobbiadene Consorzio arranged for many of us to see wineries and winemakers. I saw eight in two days. It was the equivalent of speed dating, with appointments starting at 9:00 AM and scheduled at 11-11:30 AM, 2:30 PM and 5:00 PM. Twelve hour days, but a really good way to get quick-start and full-immersion towards understanding many of the different realities on the ground in the most prestigious producing area for Prosecco wines.

Three of the wineries are showcased here. Hopefully I will get time to write about the others, but in any event, these three made an impression and I’d like to spend some time noting what it is they do well. These wineries are not in the extremely hilly areas like Cartizze by Valdobbiadene, but they have great exposures and their wines are notable.

Lionello Lot

Tenuta Col Sandago

Lionello Lot is the youngish cellarmaster and enologist for Martino Zanetti and the Tenuta Col Sandago. Also known as Case Bianche, the property is in Susegana not far from the Castello. The property is neat and well kept, with healthy looking vines and other plants. It’s a largish plantation, with grapes (Glera, Merlot and Wildbacher) and olives. Zanetti also owns the Hausbrandt coffee brand as well as a beer, Theresianer (from Trieste), so he is deeply involved in the beverage business. Everything seems to be run in a very well organized manner, very efficient in the Northern Italian mode. Lionello picked me up on time (as they all did). I really appreciate that sense of promptness.

The Prosecchi from Col Sandago are very good examples of what a very good Prosecco should be. Good perlage, clean flavors, honest appearing wines. Looking around the tasting room, it seemed more like we were in the dining room of a four star hotel, there was an attention to detail that was impressive. The wine I’d like to mention, though, isn’t their Prosecco, but a sparkling rose wine they make (in the same style as Prosecco) from the Wildbacher grape.

I’d never had an encounter with this grape or wine made from it, and while they showed us their still red wine, and it was laudable, we were on a sparkling wine tour. Rose wines are gaining popularity in the world and sparkling rose wines are some of the most sought after wines. Many inexpensive examples can fall short, but the Wildbacher from Tenuta Col Sandago, a Brut style, was crisp, clean and delicious. One gets a sense from these folks that while they are definitely interested in the Prosecco category (and they are committed to it) this Wildbacher grape and the wines resulting from them are of special interest to them. For me as well, as it broke up the singularity of tasting white sparkling wines from the Glera grape over a period of a week. Well done, people!

The Tenuta has hospitality and rooms for their better clients – It’s a beautiful place – someday I’d like to spend more than 2 hours there.

Tenuta Col Sandago - Case Bianche
Via Barriera 41 - 31058 Susegana (TV) - Italy
t +39 0438 64468

Sommariva - Azienda Vitivinicola Palazzo Rosso

Cinzia Sommariva picked me up during one of these days. I knew the winery as Kermit Lynch brings the wine into the US. The estate is closer to Conegliano and is on an elevated plain in an area called San Pietro di Feletto. Again, not on the extreme hills such as one would find in Cartizze, but an area and a land most winemakers would give their eye teeth to make wine in.

The day we were there was stormy, in fact we had a brief rain with some hail. That day, vineyards near Collalto were hit even harder. Susegana as well, had intense hail as the next winery in this post will show.

Cinzia Sommariva looks like a soccer mom. But looks can be deceiving. You shake her hand and get back a firm response from someone with strength and power. It’s hard to be a winemaker, even harder to be a woman in what had traditionally been a man’s world. I know that sounds weird to say, even in these days, but it’s a fact. In any event, Cinzia has hacked her way through many glass, cement or inox ceilings.

Hailstorm at Sommariva

With an importer like Kermit Lynch, one can assume the quality arrives at a high level; such is the reputation of the importer. Tasting the wine, the DOCG Brut, I wasn’t disappointed. The wine was focused, delicate, well-balanced and interesting. There are plenty of Prosecco wines out in the market that are wet and have alcohol and bubbles. And for many people that will suffice. Sommariva aspires to a different type of drinker. Maybe one who likes Champagne and Franciacorta but knows Prosecco doesn't need to reach that far. At the same time, there are times when a well-made wine in a simpler vein is the perfect choice. Not all Saturdays are wedding days; sometime one wants to finish a day of running errands and working in the garden and cleaning with something that will feel like a reward. Something more than a beer or a glass of nameless white wine. Maybe it can lead up to an evening of food and wine and who knows what? But one must prime the pump with good fuel, not just the cheapest or the closest one within reach. Sommariva would be an excellent choice.

Sommariva - Azienda Vitivinicola Palazzo Rosso
Via Luciani Albino, 16, San Pietro di Feletto Treviso, Italy ‎
+39 0438 784316 ‎

Azienda Agricola Malibràn

The third and final winery, Malibràn, lies in the shadow of the Susegana Castle. I was picked up by Silvia Merenda Puppetti, a young lady with a terrific sense of humor. When you are speed dating through Prosecco-land, a sense of humor is a welcome break. Her boss, Maurizio Favrel was just returning from the RAW wine fair in England as was to meet us at the winery.

Malibràn is a small estate, but mind you the land values in this part of the world are off the charts, so there is wealth here, but it’s all in dirt. So while the people have a great life here and they might drive a nice car and eat well (shouldn’t everyone?) they are pretty grounded in the fact that they are connected to their soil in a fundamental way. No Bollywood antics here, no Chinese billionaire investors showing up with piles of money (yet) and unfortunately, not a lot of young people sticking around to do the hard and dirty work of running a farm of grapes.

Maurizio makes two wines that I was interested in. The Sottoriva line, which are col fondo styles of Prosecco, even though they can only call their basic wine, “Colfondo per Tradizione.” The DOCG version is “Colfondo Senza Solfiti.” Maurizio shook the bottle before he opened it, so we could taste all the particulate deliciousness. Lovely wines, although I found myself veering more towards the “Colfondo per Tradizione,” just as I did with the Cá dei Zago wines of Christian Zanatta. By the way, Maurizio and Christian know each other (of course) and we had some lively talk about what they all were doing to revitalize “their grandfather’s wine.” I get it; I’m with you all the way, ragazzi.

Hail damaged vines at Malibràn
The day we were there Maurizio took us out to the vineyard to show us the hail damage. From one who has had to replace his roof three times in less than 20 years, I feel their anguish. When my little Hoja Santa crop gets pummeled, I cringe. And likewise this has been a challenging year, climatically for the folks in the Conegliano Valdobbiadene area.

A brief word about the “Colfondo per Tradizione.” This is a style of wine that is becoming more popular, but I hope the popularity isn’t just a temporary fashion among the sommeliers and tastemakers of New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Austin. This is a genuinely delicious, simple, wholesome wine. It tastes good, but I’m sure it’s also very good for you. The alcohol is gentle; the wine doesn’t go through a lot of steps. And it truly is an expression of what is really coming out of this land. Is it Champagne? No. It’s not an heraldic wine. It’s a wine for folks who want something simple and wholesome and delicious. It harkens back to my early days of wine discovery, when I was young and broke and counter-culturally predisposed. In many ways I haven’t changed, or at least that is the way I feel when I taste wine like this. I am in Valhalla. Wine like this makes me happy.

Azienda Agricola Malibràn
Via Barca II°, 63 - 31058 Susegana (TV)
Tel 0438.781410

Parting note – all three wines are different as are the people that make them. What unites them is their love for an area that few people get to see. Here on the wine trail in Italy I’m very lucky to be exposed to regions like this and am glad to share them with folks who read these posts. These are genuine people. Italy is not totally lost to computers and fast cars on the autostrada and faceless urban landscapes; there are plenty of interesting stories on the trail and I urge every one of you to get off the beaten path and experience this part of Italy that has been like this for many generations and is still here to be loved and enjoyed. I’ll see you there.

Born to be Wildbacher

written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
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