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Il Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene

From Cosa Bolle in Pentola:
If you go into an Italian bar and ask for a "Spumantino," a sparkling wine, chances are you'll be poured a Prosecco, or at least that has been my experience. Chances are also that it will not impress you overmuch, and this is a pity, because there's a lot more to Prosecco than what gets poured in most bars. The wine is produced around the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, in the province of Treviso, and as is often the case with Italian wines, if you look at it closely you'll discover that it's a door into a complex and fascinating world. To begin with, if the label simply says "Prosecco" it can be from the flatlands, and this explains why so much bar Prosecco is uninteresting -- wines from the hillside vineyards will say Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, and here things pick up. There are a number of different styles, with the wines from the lower hills around Conegliano tending to be richer but less refined than those from the higher hills around Valdobbiadene, and the best being Prosecco Superiore di Cartizze, from a specific hill in the township of Valdobbiadene. If you'd rather a still wine there's still Prosecco too, and the region also has much more to offer, as you'll discover from Giampiero Rorato's Il Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, published by Morganti Editori (Verona). To begin with the history; the area has been known for wines since pre-Roman time, though the Prosecco vine only seems to have been introduced, from the Carso Triestino, in the late 1700s. Mr. Rorato also discusses the region's other wines, and then continues with an excellent overview of the region that covers all the major landmarks and most of the minor ones as well, everything from Foliana's spectacular 14th century Abbazia di Santa Maria to Valdobbiadene's public laundry tubs. One does not live by wine alone, so he also mentions the major foods of the region, which range from wild mushrooms and greens to corn (for polenta) on through geese, chestnuts, and distillates, and closes the section with a number of recipes, including Bocconcini di Coniglio al Prosecco, Stewed Rabbit with Prosecco, a recipe from the Ristorante Hotel terme in Vittorio Veneto (page 171):

  • 6 rabbit legs (my note: the hind legs, one could also use chicken if need be)
  • 2 cups (500 ml) Prosecco
  • 5 tablespoons extravirgin olive oil, ideally from the Lago di Garda
  • A walnut-sized chunk of unsalted butter
  • An onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 ribs celery
  • A sprig of rosemary
  • A sprig of thyme
  • 5 juniper berries
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  • White grapes for garnishing

Bone the rabbit legs and cube the meat; brown the pieces in a pan in which you have heated the butter and three tablespoons of oil. Once the meat is browned, mince the carrot, celery and onion, and sauté them until the onion is golden in the remaining oil in a second pan, which should if possible be copper. Add the diced meat, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, and add the herbs, which you should tie in a gauze bag. Raise the flame slightly, add the wine, and cook uncovered. Remember to remove the herb packet when the meat is half done. When the meat has become tender, remove the pieces from the pan and blend the vegetables until creamy. Return the meat to the pan and heat through gently; if need be you can dilute the sauce with a little vegetable broth. Serve hot, garnishing the plates with white grapes.

Note: The recipe doesn't mention polenta, but it would be a nice accompaniment.

Mr. Rorato then discusses the region's major festivals, including, including Conegliano's annual human chess match, and winds up with a rundown of the major wineries; each gets a 2-page presentation with notes on the wines and winery, pictures of both winemaker and bottle, contact info, and visiting hours.

In short, a very nicely done, beautifully illustrated, complete guide to Prosecco and the Conegliano Valdobbiadene area that you will find quite useful if you want to know about the wines, and invaluable if you decide to visit the area.

Drawbacks? A couple: Though Mr. Rorato gives a number of restaurant suggestions at the end of the book, he only suggests one hotel. A few more would have been nice. The second drawback is that the book has only been published in Italian and German to date, though there is some hope that an English version will emerge. Even if your Italian is halting it's worth seeking out, however, especially if you're thinking about visiting the area. The photos will give you an idea of what you won't want to miss, the festival listings will help you plan the timing of the trip, and the winery pages will help you decide whom you want to taste.

Practical things:
Il Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene
Hardcover, 300 lavishly illustrated pages
By Giampiero Rorato, 2002
Morganti Editori, Via Morino 5, 37060 Sona (VR)
Tel 045 6081114
ISBN 88-87549-12-5

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