Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Naked Vine One-Hitter: Dinner with the Father of Prosecco

I love a wine with a good story.

As you all know, I’m a big fan of bubbles. But I’ve never quite figured out what to do with Prosecco.
Bust of Antonio Carpene outside the Istituto Coneglio
I can usually find it for about the same price as other decent, entry-level sparkling wines like Cava or some of the less-expensive American producers, like Gruet or Domaine St. Michelle. When I’m snagging a bottle to go with a meal, I rarely gravitate towards Prosecco on my own, but I’ll certainly try one if it shows up at the door.

When a bottle of Carpenè Malvolti 1868 Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOCG Extra Dry appeared, I was quite pleased. I’d given good marks to the Bisol “Crede” Prosecco a couple of months ago, and I hoped that this one would be of similar quality. As I pointed out when I wrote about the Crede, if you see the regional classification of “Valdobbiadene DOCG” on the side of a bottle of Prosecco, you’re probably looking at a pretty decent bottle.

What I didn’t realize when I opened the package was that I was holding an interesting little piece of history. Antonio Carpenè, the man whose name is borne by the bottle, sounds like one fascinating dude. He was a pioneer in Italy of scientific winemaking. Armed with a Chemistry degree from the University of Pavia, he turned away from a professorship at the University of Bologna to found the first modern winery, Carpene-Malvolti, in the Veneto in 1868 (hence the wine’s name) as well as founding the Istituto Conegliano, which is now the largest technical winemaking school in the world.

Now, one might suggest that he was a little too deeply ingrained with science. His son was named “Rubidium” and his daughter was named Etile, which is the Italian spelling of “Ethyl.” He was going to name his second daughter “Oenocyanin” – after the pigment in grape skins, and I can imagine the…um…conversation that followed. The daughter ended up being named “Mary,” who eventually carried on the family tradition by naming her first son “Iridium.” Takes all kinds.

In any case, in the 1930’s, Carpene’s sone, Antonio Carpene, Jr. decided to apply a new method of wine carbonation to Prosecco. This method, called Metodo Italiano or the “Charmat Method,” is a less expensive, less time-consuming carbonation method than the tried-and-true method Champenoise. In the Charmat Method, rather than being carbonated in bottles, the wine undergoes this secondary fermentation in steel tanks, which are sometimes coated in enamel. The wine is bottled under pressure in a continuous process. The grape varieties like Glera used in Prosecco respond positively to this method, maintaining their flavor characteristic much more firmly.

So, back to this bottle of bubbles. Prosecco is often an aperitif, but the tasting notes indicated that it
would be a good match for a fish dish. Since the Sweet Partner in Crime and I had a meal of slow-roasted salmon filets with a horseradish-yogurt sauce and some roasted balsamic potatoes in the queue, we decided to throw this in the fridge and hope for the best with those somewhat difficult to pair flavors.

My first impression was that the flavor profile in general was much richer than a “typical” Prosecco. The nose is floral with a hint of yeast and caramel. I found big peachy-pear flavors on the front end which led me to expect a Moscato-style sweetness. Instead, the palate is soft and quite dry. The carbonation is pleasantly sharp, finishing cleanly with a long, pleasant peach finish. Quite pleasant to enjoy on its own. AFter enjoying this wine with our meal, I imagine this wine could be a Swiss Army knife of pairings for a Prosecco lover. It has enough carbonation to clean the palate of a creamy sauce like the one we used, while it still had enough flavor to balance the starch and cut through the oil in the fish.

The price of the Valdobbiadene area wines tends to be a bit higher, but I thought it was every bit the equal to the Crede, which I previously reviewed – but at $19, it’s several dollars a bottle less. If you’re looking to explore some of those wines, this would be a nice entry into higher-end Prosecco. Is it a bit of a reach for an everyday sparkler? Probably, but I think you’ll enjoy the flavors within, whatever or whomever you have it with.

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