Bio Wine Tasting at the Monaco

Wine enthusiasts who happen to be in town on Sunday, February 13th can participate in a tasting of a plethora of bio and biodynamic wines of the region, offered by AIS (Associazione Italiana di Sommeliers) at the Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal. €15 entrance fee includes your tasting glass; there are guided tastings (in Italian) at 11am and 5pm by reservation only (send requests to aisveneto [at] libero.it).

  • When: Sunday, February 13
  • Where: Hotel Monaco Grand Canal
  • 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. (producers start packing up at 6pm, though)
  • guided tastings at 11 am & 5pm (€10 ea, in Italian, by reservation only aisveneto [at] libero.it
  • €15 entrance fee includes tasting glass

 

Venetian Spritz Recipe (or, once an ombra…)

spritz_nan_mcelroy.jpg I call it the National Drink of Venice.

The Venetian Spritz is not, shall we say, an “important” thing. Drink. Whatever. It’s red, for crying out loud, and composed of any unassuming white wine, sparkling water, and your choice of mixer: Aperol, Select, or bitter (Campari, SanBitter or even the herby Cynar). Although the first Spritzes filtered down from Austria and were made with white wine and seltzer only, the newer, flashier red version is a Campari creation that has become a Venetian (and Veneto) habit: as one of its many Facebook-dedicated pages states, is “not just a drink, but a way of life.”

That appealing shade of florescent orangish-red, however, makes the Spritz extraordinarily entertaining; when you witness late afternoon Venetian sunlight angling through the glass, firing it the color of icy embers, ti viene la voglia – it just makes you want one. This is by design of course, and a quantifiable phenomenon. Ask anyone.

P1000700.JPGIt would seem obvious, then, that you should order at least one Spritz during your stay, if for no other reason than to stare in compania, to hang out and blend in. It’s even safe to “try this at home” (although I must to warn you: it won’t be the same).

Thanks in no small part to furious commercial efforts on the part of Campari (who also produce Aperol and Cynar, fancy that), this unpretentious, borderline silly libation is aiming to be the National Drink of Italy. But the Spritz (or ‘Spriss’ in Venessiàn) will always be best enjoyed on its home turf, perhaps Al Chioscchetto on the Zattere, as the sun retreats and the Giudecca Canal sloshes vigorously before you, while everyone at surrounding tables sips theirs, chattering away, catching up with a friend they’ve connected with by chance or by appointment, in who-knows what language. Maybe there’s live music; maybe not.

The Spritz fa il suo effetto (has its effect) on most everyone who tries it; and the result is una marea of requests for the recipe; and although I’d rather recommend a good wine, it just makes sense to post it once and for all. Evvia.

My favorite Venetian Spritz recipe is stamped on the canvas bags made by women in Venetian prison – it’s one of the ways those inside support themselves. Keep an eye out yourself for kiosks located in a number of campi in the city, selling these charming, handy bags in a variety of designs.

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“Official” Spritz recipe

INGREDIENTS:

1 part white wine

1 part Aperol (medium sweet) OR Select (less sweet) OR Campari or San Bitter

1 part seltzer/sparkling water (it helps if you can blast it into the glass)

Combine the above with

a little ice,

an olive, and

a slice of orange / lemon / lemon

respectively, according to your choice of aperitif mixer.

For maximum effect, add late afternoon sunlight and

consume near a large body of water.

If you do try making them yourself, let me know how they turn out, won’t you?

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ONE FINAL NOTE: Don’t forget, when ordering your Spritz, you must specify the mixer. For example, “Spritz con Aperol,” “Spritz with Select” (pronounced SELect), etc. If you don’t, you’ll be asked which you prefer.

* Aperol (made by Campari) has now decided a Spritz is made by combining it with Prosecco, which is convenient in that it supports Prosecco production and can reduce the number of Spritz ingredients to two (or creates a too-fizzy concoction). The hold-outs among us prefer the original, and to enjoy our Prosecco in purezza, by itself.

Pop the Prosecco! (Just don’t call it Champagne.)

vendemmia_costapiane18.jpg“Oh, it’s like Champagne!” is the inevitable, completely innocent response to almost anyone’s first sip of Prosecco, the lively, loveable libation from the Veneto, now known and enjoyed worldwide.* Unless you’re the sort of person who likes giving other people fits, however, try to avoid making this comment within earshot of someone who actually produces Champagne. Reactions can range from mildly indignant to downright apoplectic.

Pourquoi, you ask? Is it because all Champagne producers are snobs? Because they don’t like Italy? Because they don’t like you?

It’s none of the above, of course. It’s more because first, you’re talking about their life’s work; then, they realize that for whatever reason, you have not (yet) drunk enough sparkling wine to understand that although Prosecco bubbles like Champagne and is perfectly palatable and pleasing…the resemblance, mon cher, ends there.

Don’t feel bad. La Difference between Prosecco and Champagne (or the Italian metodo classico produced the same way) is obvious to no one who hasn’t either grown up with wine or made an effort to get to know it better. However, it’s fun to know, a good thing to understand, will contribute to your own enjoyment of both bubblies, and make it easier to choose which might be appropriate for a particular occasion.

I give up. Why isn’t Prosecco like Champagne?

vendemmia_costapiane11_prosecco.jpgThe obvious reason is because it’s not made in Champagne, France. Then, Prosecco wine is made from the grape Prosecco (now named Glera), and not from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and/or any of the other varieties used in Champagne — none of which are Prosecco/glera. Most importantly, however: these sparklers are produced using two completely different methods: one short and efficient, the other long, complicated, more labor intensive, producing a more complex wine. The results are two very different sparklers, each to be enjoyed and appreciated for its own merits.

See if the following, somewhat over-simplified explanation helps clarify things a bit.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.

vat1.jpg

For both types, we’ll start with a still wine that’s highly acidic, created especially to be undergo a second, induced fermentation.

In one method, a yeast/sugar concoction is added to the still wine stored in large stainless steel tanks, or vats. These tanks are sealed for the second fermentation, however, trapping the resulting carbonation in the wine. It will remain in the vats for three months or more (depending on a variety of factors), and remian under pressure continually even as it is bottled. The resulting spumante will be ready for consumption from about six to twelve months later.

ferrari_metodo_classico2.jpgIn the second method, the specially formulated mixture is again added to a still wine. It will not remain in vats, however, but will be bottled and capped (not yet corked) for the second fermentation which will take place inside each individual bottle. For the next eighteen to thirty-six months, the bottles are regularly rotated (manually or mechanically) and gradually up-ended, shuttling the spent yeast (the lees) down into the cap in the process. At the end of this refining process, the neck is flash frozen, the cap is removed, and the now-solid lees pop from the pressure. The bottle is immediately topped off, corked, and packaged for retail — although it will still be a minimum of six months before it should be drunk (it’s recovering from the shock, you see). Sparkling wines produced this way also have a much longer “shelf life.”

Which is which, then?

The first method is called Charmat, or Martinotti after the men who created/established the process; the second, champagnoise — or in Italy, metodo classico, the classic method. The choice of method depends on a multitude of factors, not the least of which is the variety itself; in any case there is no shortage of bollicine, or spumanti (the term that refers to any sparkling wine), both established and innovative, being brought to life from regional varieties throughout the country.

dreamstime_10251196_LucaFabbian.jpgThis is very good news, and offers us the opportunity to become quite adventurous in our sparkling explorations. Do your own taste tests. The next time you have a dinner party, have the local wine expert help you select both a Prosecco (Foss Marai, a Cartizze, perhaps?) or other “Charmat” along with an Italian metodo classico: a Lombardia Gatti Franciacorta, a Piedmont Gavi Soldati di Scolca, a Balter from Trentino. As you sip each, see what you find different…and the same…between them, in the visual, the nose, and in the taste. The goal is not to look for which method is “better;” but instead to identify the distinctive qualities of each — with the enjoyment of the wines, the meal, and the company taking priority always, of course!

The truth is, Prosecco will always remind us of Champagne…and it’s fine to say so. But now, the next time you head for your local enoteca to choose a sparkler, you’ll have no problem chatting up the wine expert and selecting just the right sparkler for the occasion. And remember, it’s not just for New Year’s anymore…

Salut!

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* Prosecco has also become popular enough to be ripped off, evidently: there are reports that only one in ten versions of wine sold as “Prosecco” is produced in Italy – e questo non si fa, that will simply not do. To control this menace, as of the 2009 harvest, the Prosecco produced under either of two new DOCG classifications

  • Prosecco Conegliano-Valdobbiadene
  • Prosecco Montello-Colli Asolani

or under the larger Prosecco DOC zone will guarantee you of its rightful Veneto origin. To complicate things further, the Prosecco variety will now be called Glera…but that’s a whole other post…

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photo credit, last image: Luca Fabbian.

Prosecco procures a promotion.

The humble Prosecco, a DOCG? Who’da thunk it.vendemmia coste piane2.jpg

It’s true though, and ben venga. By the time the next vendemmia (grape harvest or vintage) is bottled, you might find both the phrase Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore printed on its label, and the pink DOCG fascetta (seal) ringing its neck, just like bottles of Barolo, Chianti Classico, Brunello, and other DOCG* wines. With that pink strip, you can be assured that the Prosecco you’re drinking is not only Italian, but was produced in the area that made it famous.

The producers originally wanted to feature only the territory name on the label, but realized almost immediately that outside the Veneto it was the grape prosecco that most of its fans know, not the unpronounceable-without-prodigious-practice, ten-syllable region names.

Good call.

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Therefore, the Prosecco name stands, and now refers to a geographic location (even though the variety itself has been renamed to its synonymous glera).

In addition, the term “superiore” on an Italian wine (such as a Valpolicella Superiore) indicates an alcohol content higher than that of the same non-superiore wine, and is the result of a riper-than-normal vintage. I’m not sure this is the case with the use of superiore in the DOCG name, but I hope to learn soon.

What will change as a result of Prosecco’s DOCG status? First, there’s the guarantee that you’re drinking what you think you’re drinking, and it came from where you expect it to come from. Since its explosive popularity, Prosecco has been imitated all over the world – the producers were quite right to want to put a stop to it. That, and the cost of the wine may be higher (most DOCGs do cost more) we’ll see once this year’s vintage is on the market.

(Do remember however, that a DOCG status, like the number of stars in a hotel rating, is not an automatic indicator of how good a given wine might be, but rather a guarantee of HOW the wine is created, and of its true origin: the varieties it’s made from, where the vineyards are located, vinification methods, etc. A favorite producer or a good vintage year will be a better indicator of quality, but we’ll keep an eye out on which producers go DOCG…and of course conduct diligent and thorough research.

Somebody’s got to do it, vero? Cin cin!vendemmia coste piane3.jpg

* Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, the most stringent of Italian wine production categories (followed by DOC, Denominazione di Origine Controllata, IGT – Indicazione Geografica Tipica, and vino di tavola, in that order).

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The photos above are from the 2007 vendemmia of Coste Piane Prosecco Sur Lie. I continue to credere that each glass I drank from that vintage contained at least few of the grapes I hand-picked in it…

Vin Brulé: the cure for gray days

Along with acqua alta, roasted chestnuts, and ladies bundled in furs that arrive with the onset of winter in Venice, you’ll also find Vin Brulé in abundance: offered by bars, vendors along light-strung calli, and at holiday gatherings. It’s also the perfect thing to combat steely gray skies by filling your home with the scents of the season.

There are infinite variations, but here’s a recipe I was given, served up a recent holiday gathering, where everyone arrived with umbrellas and stivali (boots), and where the mulled wine really hit the spot. It can be adjusted according to your own taste:
To a liter of dry red wine (choose one with a bit of body – corposo) and even a bit of Port if you like, add:

  • half-dozen cloves
  • couple of cinnamon sticks
  • a bit nutmeg
  • tart apple slices, such as granny smith
  • perhaps some orange, or orange peel (avoid lemon peel, which can turn bitter)
  • sugar to taste (I’m going to try it with raw sugar)

Combine all the ingredients and stir till the sugar is melted; bring it to a boil. Light the alcohol that rises from the top to burn it off; lower the temp to keep it warm. Serve to appreciative guests.

Making another batch this evening…if I come up with any insights, I’ll pass them along.

Or if you have some, feel free to share!