- Category: Sparkling Wine Sparkling Wine
- Published: 06 November 2022 06 November 2022
My recent social encounters, as I recall, took place at the Antennae beach in Sanremo, a crowd gathered around a long table at sunset, drying off from the evening swim, enjoying aperativo bites and rapid sips of Veneto’s gluggable spumante. There was no serious consideration of the wine because it wasn’t as necessary as the gratitude for having something to imbibe.
It is only now, following this trip to Asolo Prosecco, a small picturesque DOCG region unrolling before the Grappa mountain, that I can reconsider my prejudices and feel desirous for another glass of this elegant evocative Prosecco.
Asolo - masters of taste
The small town of Asolo, famous for its one hundred horizons, is set among landscapes of exceptional beauty. Get lost in a labyrinth of tales such as that of Asolo being gifted to the Cypriot Queen Caterina Cornero, by the Republic of Venice, or, more recently, the established home of 20th century travel writer, spy and adventurer, Freya Stark.
Stark’s tasteful villa in the town has an extended garden stretching to an excavated Roman amphitheatre and a perched view spanning the Venetian plain, across the flatlands of Veneto.
My best seat in town is on the main piazza at the Cafe Central with one of Enzo’s bitter sweet Prosecco spritzers in hand, pausing for a moment to appreciate the passage of time.
Italians always impress me with their range of appreciation of flavours. In Britain, sweet and bitter is often out of favour as we focus mostly on the dry, and there is a certainly big trend toward bone-dry sparkling wines.
Here there is a place for the full range of bitter, dry and sweet, and we can experience all of them at different appropriate times.
To deal with what can be a prejudice towards our notion of sweetness in the wine, the classification system used here is as confusing as it is useful.
If I walk into a bar and order a glass of dry wine and am given sweet wine then I might complain. However, if I order a dry wine and it tastes fine but just happens to be the sweetest of all they produce despite being labeled dry, then I would think that a curious thing.
In Asolo Prosecco the sweetest wines are labeled Dry, followed by Extra Dry, followed by Brut and then even drier yet with Extra Brut. We are told that this is due to the French classification where wines labeled dry have high residual sugar and so they mirrored that as a starting point and then creating the Brut and Extra Brut later.
My only guess is that from a marketing point of view, if you write sweet on a bottle that doesn’t taste overtly sweet, with around 16g/litre of residual sugar, then you will wipe out a large number of potential buyers who think they are dry wine lovers. Tasting blind, many of us love a bit of residual sugar. This was true for me in tasting these wines in Asolo.
The Asolo Prosecco DOCG is less well known than other Prosecco areas like Valdobbiadene, of Cartizze, despite being geographically close. Our visit identifies a few different categories of producers.
The first is the honest farmer, whose tricky undulating land weaves patchwork through the dangerously steep slopes. The second is the co-op structure, bringing people together to produce organic wines of quality. A third is the merchant squire, investing heavily in restoration, driven by vision and a longing to leave a positive legacy in the region. Finally, we have the merchant prince, with incredibly historic palazzos, a sense of pride, conservatism, and humble appreciation of the incredible good fortune that surrounds.
All together these are the components of good fortune because, much like a contemporary incarnation of the Republic of Venice, the regions flag bearers can build and sustain pathways to conquered markets. This is a similar story Champagne where the big houses stride the world with gusto and the smaller grower-producers offer hand crafted bottles in their wake.
This grand Palladian villa dating back to the 1600’s has been restored by the Moretti Polegato family after they acquired it in the 1970’s. During our visit, a wild thunderous storm, with torrents of rain, send us scurrying into the network of restored tunnels where resting bottles line the walls.
This use of tunnels for both display and storage was inspired by a trip in the early 1980’s by Mario and Giancarlo to Champagne. The inspiration of Grand Marque Champagne as the market maker is developed further as Villa Sandi adopts a flag-ship role for the region’s wines by establishing large export markets that put Prosecco firmly on the map.
Villa Sandi is home to one of the merchant princes of Prosecco, producing wonderful Charmat method sparkling wines from the Glera grape variety for the market, as well as a range of other varieties, and also traditional method sparklers. This sense of mercantile instinct combined with cultural roots is further demonstrated by one of the brothers, Mario, setting up the footwear company Geox.
Giusti is a good place to come to feel the impact of the effort and investment that is going into Asolo Prosecco. Mister Giusti himself has lavished a portion of his vast wealth on this corner of the DOCG to great effect. The winery is concealed from the road by a green roof of vines that weaves and wefts to mimic the curve of the land. The colouring of the building itself has been toned to fit with the natural surrounding environment and is very effective.
It is a vast complex with state-of-the-art technology to work the fruit that grows everywhere from the roof of the building, sliding away upwards towards the ruined Abbey above. Mister Giusti greets us, a proud man with humble, boyish enthusiasm about his project.
We head up towards the ruined abbey of Sant'Eustachio, perched above with Glera vines growing in front of it and then receding down below. From this vantage point, the steep slopes run straight down and the vast plain of the Veneto stretches away. It is a beautiful September day after a heavy downpour and everything is glistening in its refreshment.
On our return, we meet again and now he is with his wine consultant, Graziana Grassini, more famously known as Tenuta San Guido’s Sassicaia winemaker. Over lunch, Graziana tells us that working on this project is about producing terroir wines. Enormous detail is going into grape selection with Graziana tasting and selecting bunches from specific rows in individual plots to achieve her ends.
It is this kind of detail that we really do not expect to see in a region famous for low-cost bulk bubbly. Despite the effort here, the prices of these wines is comparatively low to what we might expect in Franciacorta and elsewhere.
Giusti tells us he wants to restore the reputation of Prosecco so that it returns to something authentic such as he knew in his youth before he left to seek fortunes in North America. He underlines this by stating with a combination of humour and confidence, “I am the only one who has invested hundreds of millions into the area… so I have to believe it!”
7g/ltr residual sugar +/-1
Bele Casel in Monfumo
Bending and twisting through the knobbly hills around Monfumo, the vines seem to run away from us at verticals, an ever-changing window of bushy green tendrils, tinged with Autumn red, and supported by the more solid backdrop of the Grappa Mountain.
A hard-edged hillside ridge marks the division between vineyard and olive grove, with a stray copse at the foot of the slope. We are perched high over Bele Casel’s vineyards, a small ‘Vignaioli Indipendenti’ with Paola and her brother Luca, who are in charge. They report a 30% reduction in fruit from the 2022 harvest due to the drought. The long hot summer turns the Marl soil, rich in organic life and limestone, solid like rock, and impenetrable by the roots.
As is commonly known, most Prosecco is made using the large tank Charmat method but before that was invented, the second fermentation took place in the bottle and was known as Col Fondo, which translates as ‘with the bottom’, or in this case, with the lees. Thus these wines are cloudy, leesy, and come with rich aroma and flavour profiles.
We taste the Bela Casel CólFondo 2011 and 2020, perhaps I have been seduced by the setting but the wines are exceptional with less than 1g/ltr of residual sugar and 4.9g/ltr of acidity. A fabulously wild in-situ tasting experience that I can hardly believe I am enjoying so much.
Bottle twice during spring to make sure the fermentation doesn't stop.
Leesy aromas, hints of fruit. Saline, mineral character dominant on the palate. Full of youth and perfectly refreshing.
Asolo: area of microclimates
The uneven undulating topography can be dry and hot for long periods but also cooled by changing winds that breathe across the land, cooling the vines. The drought of 2022 is part of a new emerging pattern that is seeing groundwater levels dropping and pressure put on all forms of agriculture.
Our guide, the knowledgeable Angelo Peretti, is prone to fall to his knees and pluck rucola leaves from among the grasses, conjuring makeshift salads ready for immediate consumption.
Angelo tells us about the Asolana olive trees that have grown here since the early Middle Ages. The wine, like the olives, have a slither of saline in the flavour that comes from the red iron-rich soils. Angelo interrupts his own conversational flow, excited by an olive berry displaying perfect ripeness for picking. He shakes his head in awe.
Walking among fruit trees, olive groves, and sweeping lines of vines intersected by woodlands, hedgerows, and grasses laced with salad leaves, it is hard not to dispel the image of Prosecco as a wine produced at factory scale. Of course, it still is, as it is in Champagne and elsewhere, and the quality can be questionable at the lower, mediocre end, but there is a sense here that respect for, and protection of, the environment is something that is as much being communicated as it is a necessary component of future survival.
Taste Asolo when you see it; see what you think. Visit if you can. You won’t regret any of it.
Celeber Dal Bello DOCG Asolo Prosecco Superiore Extra Brut
Floral aromas, crisp lean acidity, giving a fresh sensation from the bubbles followed by a lovely clean finish. A perfect wine to take in the view over Asolo and set the evening off on the right foot... Ciao!
Perlage NV Asolo Prosecco Extra Brut Genesis
Less than 4g/ltr of residual sugar
Crystal clear pale gold
Fruit sweetness to the aroma, candied pear, and green apple. Subtle elegance.
Montelliana NV Asolo Prosecco Extra Dry 57
16g/lt residual sugar.
Little bit fuller peach candied lemon
Creamy, rich mouthful of bubbles. Fine fresh finish.
Loredan Gasparini 2020 Asolo Prosecco extra brut cuvee indigena
Brighter deeper yellow.
Rich stone fruit nose,
Fruit sweet, and elegantly rich.
Bele Casel 2018 Asolo Prosecco Extra Brut vecchia uve.
Old 50yr vines, Glera grapes with some field blend too. 0% residual sugar and 6.4% acidity.
Floral notes again, perfume charming
Sweet ripe pear flavour,
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Artichoke pasta and very fine Pigato
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I had warned my significant other that I would be having an inverse departure party, a release of the sanity valve if you like!
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