"Who can entertain a doubt that some kinds of wine are more
agreeable to the palate than others, or that even out of the very same vat there
are occasionally produced wines that are by no means of equal goodness, the one
being much superior to the other, whether it is that it is owing to the cask, or
to some other fortuitous circumstance? Let each person, therefore, constitute
himself his own judge as to which kind it is that occupies the pre-eminence. Livia
Augusta, who lived to her eighty-second year, attributed her longevity to the wine
of Pucinum, as she never drank any other. This wine is grown near a bay of the
Adriatic, not far from Mount Timavus, upon a piece of elevated rocky ground, where
the sea-breeze ripens a few grapes, the produce of which supplies a few amphoræ:
there is not a wine that is deemed superior to this for medicinal purrposes."
- Pliny the Elder - Natural History, XIV.8
I have never been to Venice, however, in my mind's eye the sunlight over
the Grand Canal is the color of Prosseco. This flirtiest of all sparkling
wines is named after the grape which must compose at least 85% of it;
the best examples are 100% Prosecco grape. The varietal is grown throughout the
Conegliano-Valdobbiadene region that surrounds Venice, on steep southern facing
hillsides that have been sculpted by man over the last two centuries to take the
best advantage of the Italian sunshine.
Though the vine has only been cultivated for about two hundred years under the name Prosecco, there seems
to be a thread that links the vine back to Roman antiquity. At first blush it may seem that the story was concocted by the PR department of the
Consorzio Tutela del Vino Prosecco DOC di Conegliano e Valdobbiadene. That group of growers with the unwieldy name was established in 1962 to promote the establishment of a Denominazione D'Origine
Controlata for Prosecco, which the Italian government did in 1969. The claim is that the
Prosecco vine is one and the same as a vine called Pucino mentioned by our friend Pliny the Elder above. The tale is given credence by the fact that
there is still a town near Trieste, close to the source of the Timavo river, called
Until recently, Prosecco has not been that well known outside of Italy and has
been lumped with all sorts of undignified sparkling italian wines as it is not
produced by the méthode Champenoise used in the Champagne region. The prosecco
grape is too delicate to survive the extended ageing required by the méthode
Champenoise without losing its vitality and freshness. It is produced instead by
the no less french but much maligned méthode Charmat, where the wine is
pressurized and additional sugar is added to encourage a second fermentation.
While this method can produce horrendous swill, such is not the case
with the best of the Prosecco. The wine is straw yellow, refreshing and carries
the essence of summer in its fine bubbles: citrus, flowers and pears.
Though an absolute delight as an aperitif, or with any food with a delicate touch, the most famous use for Prosecco is as one of the principal ingredients in a
most delicious cocktail called the Bellini, the signature drink of the famous
Harry's Bar in Venice.