Toast Mom with Sparkling Wines

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We’re coming up on Mother’s Day, and nothing, in my opinion, helps celebrate the holidays like sparkling wine. So, I thought I’d weigh in on that category with some perspective on three sparkling wine regions that have caught my attention, grabbed my palate, and might just give mom that special taste treat she deserves. They are: Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, Trentodoc, and Franciacorta. All three occupy areas in Northern Italy, and all three produce sparkling wines of very high quality.

Let me start with Prosecco, the fastest growing segment of the sparkling wine industry. There are oceans of Proseccos being produced across Northeast Italy, but only the very best come from Conegliano Valdobbiadene.  This appellation isn’t easy for Americans to say or pronounce, but it’s easy to spot on a label and the quality of the wine is easy to identify on the palate. You’ll find Conegliano Valdobbiadene in the hilly countryside about 35 miles from Venice and 60 miles from the Dolomites. Here, elevation and history play an important role in the production of Prosecco. The first written document linking Prosecco to this area dates back to 1772.  A D.O.C., an area of designated production and quality overseen by the government, was added in 1969, limiting the production of Prosecco in the region to just 15 communes.

There are three quality levels of designation in the region: Conegliano Valdobbiandene Prosecco Superior D.O.C.G., Conegliano Valdobbiandene Prosecco Superior D.O.C.G. Rive, and Conegliano Valdobbiandene Prosecco Superior D.O.C.G. di Cartizze. As you climb the quality ladder of Conegliano Valdobbiandene Prosecco Superior D.O.C.G., the yields are reduced, the areas of production are limited, and the ensuing results in the bottle are quantifiable.

The best producer in the region is generally acknowledged to be Bisol. I tried three of their Proseccos recently: Jeio Prosecco DOC (SRP: $18), Bisol Crede Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG 2017 (SRP: $25), and Bisol’s Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG (SRP: $45). At $18, the Jeio is an outstanding value, offering complexity and elegance at a fraction of the price of many of the world’s best sparklers. The Crede is a step up in both pride and refinement, and the Cartizze is truly special-worth every penny and easily at home among the finest sparkling wines on the planet!

Another Valdobbiadene worth seeking out is Canella (SRP $22). A great value, the Canella Valdobbiadene is a terrific mixture of tradition and modern viticulture. I would recommend this sparkler as an aperitif or a foil for seafood dishes, especially shrimp!

Not far from Conegliano Valdobbiadene, you will find the Italian sparkling wine appellation of Trentodoc. Here, from the mild climes of Lake Garda to the bitter cold of the Dolomites, some of the finest sparkling wines in Italy are produced. The wines are all made in the traditional method, and they are some of the tastiest sparklers I’ve had the pleasure of drinking.

This is a small region, with the vineyards of Trentino comprising just two percent of Italy’s total vineyard acreage. The vines are cultivated at a variety of altitudes, which allows producers to capitalize on the many microclimates found within the mountains. Grapes grown at higher elevations are often blended with grapes from lower situated vineyards, with each vineyard bringing its own collection of characteristics to the finished product.

Not nearly as widely produced or distributed as Prosecco, the sparkling wines of the Trentodoc are worth seeking out. A producer I’ve become familiar and quite fond of is Ferrari. Like the car, Ferrari’s Trentodoc sparklers are sleek, elegant, and racy. From a family that began its sparkling winemaking dream in 1902, Ferrari is considered, well, the Ferrari of Trentodoc sparklers. Its Sparkling Rose has been called the best sparkling wine ever produced in Italy, and while I can’t argue with that, I also can’t fail to mention the incredible value offered by Ferrari’s Brut (SRP: $26) and its Rose (SRP$27). Made with 100-percent Chardonnay grapes, Ferrari’s Brut provides everything I want in a great sparkler: long and persistent fruit flavors, a lovely base of acidity, and amazing flexibility with cuisine. Share it with a bowl of popcorn and a movie, or pair it with a classic Parmesan Risotto on a date night. Either way, it’s going to be a great evening. The Rosé is even more flexible, appropriate for everything from smoked chicken or pork to a grilled hangar steak.

Two other Trentodoc producers I’ve become familiar with are Moser and Letrari. Moser’s Trentodoc Brut, comprised of 100% Chardonnay (SRP $35), is lovely, refined, and elegant with persistent citrus aromas and flavors. Letrari’s Redserva 2011 (SRP $44) is bigger and bolder with toasty notes of oak and lees buttressed by terrific acidity. I recommend both wines highly.

Moving into the state of Lombardy, about an hour east of Milan, you will locate the third outstanding Italian sparkling wine region: Franciacorta. Wines have been produced in the roughly 150 square mile area for centuries, but sparkling wines are a new commodity here. Even from the early days of their production, it was obvious that the soils and climate lends itself to high grade sparklers.

There are five types of sparkling wine produced in Franciacorta: Franciacorta, which allows a  blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, Pinot Bianco, and Ergamat grapes, Franciacorta Saten, where producers can blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc, Franciacorta Rosé, which permits a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero, and Erbamat grapes, Franciacora Millesimato, a vintage-designated wine where a minimum of 85 percent of the grapes must come from a single year, and Franciacota Riserva, made from the very best vintage wines that are aged at least five years on the lees.

I’ve had the opportunity to sample many great sparkling wines from Franciacorta, but I will never forget my first, which came during the filming of an episode of my PBS-TV show, Culinary Travels with Dave Eckert. I was at BellvVista, which was founded in 1977. In tasting through their wines, I was astounded by the quality and complexity of their sparklers. Now in possession of nearly 500-acres of vineyards, Bellavista produces more than a million bottles of Franciacorta sparkling wine annually. Bellavista’s Cuvee is a blend of more than 90-selections from 107 crus! I am a big fan, but an even bigger fan of Bellavista’s Grand Cuvee Pas Opere, an extraordinary Franciacorta made in only the very vest vintages. Never shy about pricing (SRP: $55), the Grand Cuvee Pas Opere is on par with some of the finest sparkling wine in the world, and yes, that includes Champagne.

Here’s hoping you have a sparkling Mother’s Day, or whenever the mood strikes you!

Story by Dave Eckert @eatsanddrinkswithdave


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