Travel Tip: Eating and Drinking in Proseccoland!

Tour the home of Italy's best-selling sparkler for its growing wine country appeal
Travel Tip: Eating and Drinking in Proseccoland!
Sip bubbles in the cave-hewn cellars of Bisol Desiderio & Figli. (Colin Dutton)
Apr 25, 2016

Note: This is an excerpt from "Proseccoland Sparkles," which originally appeared in the April 30, 2016, issue of Wine Spectator.

Wine doesn't get much trendier or harder to understand than Prosecco, the popular northern Italian sparkler with a head-spinning range of styles.

There's no more enjoyable way to experience the full gamut of Proseccos—from rustic to sophisticated—than by sipping and eating your way across the heart of the steep, terraced hills north of Venice in the peaceful and bucolic Prosecco appellation.

In contrast to Prosecco's 21st-century urban vogue, "Prosecco-land" (as locals often call it) tends to be down-home traditional, in a good way. Though an appetizer using tofu was found on one menu, area dining resembles that of the Italian countryside 30 years ago, with the best bottles of Prosecco Superiore still less than $35. Think creamy polentas with fresh, spicy local sopressa salumi, perfectly fluid, al dente risottos and a variety of meats cooked over coals. Menus follow the season: in spring, asparagus, lamb and wild greens, for example; in fall, pumpkin, chestnuts, mushrooms and game. There is usually a selection of fresh seafood, and in winter some chefs base entire meals on the region's most prized ingredient: Treviso radicchio.

The Prosecco Superiore appellation, centered in the hills of Valdobbiadene and Conegliano, a historic countryside dating from the Roman Empire through the battlefronts of World War I, lies within a two-hour drive of the Venice airport.

Visitors to Venice shouldn't hesitate to explore this nearby wine country, although Prosecco tourism still takes a backseat to hiking, biking and other forms of travel recreation.

"We are in the capital of bubbles in the world," enthuses Gianluca Bisol, 50, the exuberant president of Bisol winery, citing Prosecco's rise to its current position as the world's most exported sparkling wine. "But," he adds, "when you arrive in Valdobbiadene, there is very little experience around Prosecco."

Unlike in Italian wine capitals such as Barolo or Chianti, wine hospitality here remains underdeveloped. But Bisol predicts it won't stay that way.

In fact, change has already begun. More and more wineries are adding guest accommodations and offering visits and tours. Restaurants, trattorias and cafés are growing their wine lists to showcase local breadth and variety. One symbol of the move to distinctive character is that Prosecco is no longer served in Champagne flutes but in generous glasses, including a diamond-shaped version developed by local producers and Riedel.

The winding, scenic drive from Valdobbiadene to Conegliano takes about an hour. The best visiting strategy is to choose a base for three days and explore from there.

From his family's winery in the heart of Valdobbiadene's vineyards, Alberto Ruggeri suggests how to learn about Prosecco. "Go to the top of the Cartizze hill," says Ruggeri, 38, pointing upward from his Le Colture winery. "There you can understand everything."

Ruggeri regularly leads guests to the top of Cartizze, Prosecco Superiore's most coveted rocky limestone terroir (comprising 250 acres cultivated by 140 growers) and walks them along the ridge of his family's steeply sloping vineyard.

The view is stunning. Uphill behind him are dense forests of the Alpine foothills. Looking down and southward, you see a sprawling range of slopes and valleys that drop off to the flat vineyards and industrial plains south of the Piave River. The hills of Valdobbiadene and beyond are dotted with evocative architecture, including beautiful bell towers, abbeys and historic villas.

Out on the horizon, about 50 miles south, is Venice, with its famously crowded canals, piazzas and palaces. But here on Cartizze this Saturday morning, there are no tourists.

Still, guest rooms can be scarce, so it's wise to book well in advance, particularly for weekends of the main season, which runs from April to October. Between winery visits and meals, plan time for short trips to see other sites, including villas open to the public, the medieval castle-topped town of Asolo, and the canals and monuments of tiny Vittorio Veneto and of the regional capital, Treviso, which resembles Venice on a smaller (and less touristy) scale.

Note: We recommend contacting restaurants and hotels in advance to confirm hours of operation and/or any seasonal closures. When calling the following establishments from North America, dial  011 and then the telephone number.

Prices in this story have been converted to U.S. dollars using the exchange rate at press time ($1 equals 0.88 euro) and rounded to the nearest dollar. In the listings below, restaurants take all major credit cards. All hotel prices are for double rooms and include complimentary breakfast. The wineries profiled all offer English language visits; make reservations in advance by e-mail or telephone.

WHERE TO EAT

Ristorante Da Gigetto
5 Via Alcide De Gasperi, Miane
Telephone (39) 0438-960-020
Website www.ristorantedagigetto.it
Open Dinner, Wednesday to Sunday; lunch Wednesday to Monday
Cost Entrées $14-$24; tasting menu $51

You might be drawn to this ambling farmhouse just for the wines in its cavernous cellars, tended by longtime sommelier Roberto Pieri. Since 1978, Pieri has assembled a 1,600-label wine list including large-format finds like a double-magnum of Gaja Barolo Sperss 1989 ($1,085). Founded nearly a century ago and still run by the Bortoloni family, Da Gigetto is a must.

Choose from among a selection of starters ranging from modern swordfish tartare served with peach confit to the traditional sopa coada-an earthy pigeon soup in which a pigeon-stuffed pasta dumpling is served in a rich bouillon. For a red wine-friendly main, try rabbit leg cooked to fall-apart tenderness and complemented with spice and umami flavors from accompanying scallions and chanterelle mushrooms. Drink from the best wineries across Italy, or stay local with a bubbly such as Desiderio Bisol & Figli Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Crede 2014 ($23) or a Bordeaux-style red such as Serafini & Vidotto Montello e Colli Asolani Phigaia after the Red 2010 ($25). Ask for Pieri and take your aperitif or glass of dessert wine in the cellar.

Ristorante La Corte
24 Via Roma, Follina
Telephone (39) 0438-971-761
Website www.lacortefollina.com
Open Lunch and dinner, Wednesday to Monday
Cost Entrées $32-$43; prix fixe menus $55-$66; tasting menus $54-$89

Winding through several ground-floor rooms and the courtyard of the Villa Abbazia hotel (see page 67), La Corte is arguably Proseccoland's gastronomic leader. Elegantly appointed and candlelit by night, featuring oversize tables, ceiling frescos and an open fireplace, the dining room provides an intimate setting for chef Donato Episcopo's inventive cuisine. The Puglia native, 42, took the helm here two years ago, cooking with a light hand and a creative imagination for north-south Italian combinations that break the traditional Veneto mold.

A starter of local prosciutto and greens becomes a complex palette of flavors, with shaved Sicilian almonds, bite-size savory cannoli of local ricotta and sweet grilled Tropea (Calabrian) onions. A tartare of fassone (Piedmontese beef) is salted and spiced with Pantelleria capers and anchovies. A favorite fall dish of stuffed guinea fowl in a sauce of its own livers will have you crying out for a match from the 500-label Italy-dominated wine list-perhaps the Giuseppe Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2006 ($441). For Prosecco, try a rare brut from the Cartizze hill, such as the Silvano Follador Brut Nature Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze 2013 ($41).

Locanda Marinelli
5 Via Castella, Col San Martino
Telephone (39) 0438-987-038
Website www.locandamarinelli.it
Open Lunch and dinner, Wednesday to Monday 
Cost Entrées $21-$29

Hidden amid vines and a small garden at the edge of tiny Col San Martino, just southeast of Valdobbiadene, this elegant country restaurant is run by the fourth generation of the Marinelli family. Young chef Stefano Zanin turns out refined versions of classics such as risotto perfectly creamed with butter and Grana Padano and blended with pungent porcini. He also innovates with the local bubbles in dishes like his pan-fried chicken fillets simmered in a zesty Prosecco reduction.

At dinner, the restaurant offers a full menu; at lunch, it's a set of daily market-based specials. Consider starting with the spicy, deliciously fatty and moist local sopressa, served with traditional harvesttime accompaniments of hot polenta and a medley of sautéed mushrooms. Guests choose from a wine list of about 120 labels representing Italy, Burgundy and Champagne; try the complex Nino Franco Brut Vino Spumante Grave di Stecca 2012 ($34). For dessert, don't skip the refreshing house-made fior di latte ice cream topped with dried Glera grapes macerated in fiery grappa.

Osteria al Castelletto
3 Via Castelletto, Pedeguarda di Follina
Telephone (39) 0438-842-484 
Website www.alcastelletto.com
Open Lunch and dinner, Wednesday to Monday
Cost Entrées $17-$23; steaks, market price; antipasti $38 per person

From the outside, this centuries-old institution may look like any other roadside trattoria. But cross the threshold and you'll be wowed by the comforting aromas, cozy country setting and food from a kitchen over which Clementina Viezzer, 70, has presided for nearly four decades.

Dining here is like visiting an indulgent Italian grandmother-you need a strategy. You can fill yourself blissfully on the delicious and copious antipasti or skip the appetizers entirely-there simply isn't room for all.

On a recent antipasti-focused visit, a simple serving of bruschetta arrived do-it-yourself style as a bowl of chopped fresh tomatoes in herbs and olive oil, accompanied by hot toast. That was followed by milky burrata melting on a plate of hot polenta, with slices of lightly spiced local sopressa, then by perfectly fried tempuralike vegetables, and finally by a plate of hand-sliced Piedmontese beef carpaccio drizzled with sweet balsamic vinegar. Who had room for Viezzer's famed al dente risottos or her meats rubbed with rosemary and grilled over hardwood embers? Next time.

The 150-label wine list is peppered with surprises such as Ferrari Brut Trento Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore 2004 ($124) and the 2004 to 2006 vintages of Antinori's Toscana Solaia ($294 each).

Trattoria Alla Cima
13 Via Cima, San Pietro di Barbozza (Valdobbiadene)
Telephone (39) 0423-972-711
Website www.trattoriacima.it
Open Lunch, Wednesday to Monday; dinner, Wednesday to Sunday
Cost Entrées $12-$20

Trattoria Alla Cima offers the area's best vineyard setting for a lunch of grilled meats and other simply prepared local specialties accompanied by plentiful Prosecco. This popular trattoria offers an open grill and spills out of an antique stone farmhouse onto a large, year-round enclosed terrace surrounded by hillside vineyards. Dig into rich seasonal starters like oversize pumpkin gnocchi drizzled with butter and seasoned with a sprinkling of smoked ricotta shavings-a rich combination that pairs perfectly with the slightly sweet Ruggeri & C. Dry Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore di Cartizze 2014 ($23). Then try some hardwood-grilled meats-from lamb to sausage to beef filet to lamb liver-or a sweet and tangy house specialty of oven-baked guinea fowl glazed with balsamic vinegar. A list of 100 wines highlights local producers and some rarities, including Cabernet-Merlot blend Sorelle Bronca Colli Trevigiani Ardesco 2010 ($23).

WHERE TO TASTE

Bisol Desiderio & Figli
33 Via Follo, Santo Stefano di Valdobbiadene
Telephone (39) 0423-900-138
Website www.bisol.it
Open By appointment
Cost $10-$30

Founded in 1875, Bisol is a family-owned winery (now partnered with the Lunelli family of Ferrari spumante) that has become one of the largest high quality producers in the region. Tours and tastings in the winery, which is built into the Cartizze hill, last about an hour and end in historic vaulted cellars where you'll taste three wines. Bisol makes a wide range, including single-vineyard crus and small-production traditional-method sparklers. Tours costs a minimum of $30; go solo and cover the whole fee, or split it with fellow travelers for as little as $10 per person.

Le Colture
5 Via Follo, Santo Stefano di Valdobbiadene
Telephone (39) 0423-900-192
Website www.lecolture.it
Open Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., or by appointment
Cost No charge for tasting only; $8 for tour and tasting

Not only is Le Colture, owned by a branch of the Ruggeri family, a top-quality Prosecco producer, with about 100 acres of vineyards, it also offers the most comprehensive visits around. For those who book tours in advance, staff take the time to escort visitors, by vehicle or on foot, through prized vineyards to reveal the terroirs and show the property's cultivation methods. Le Colture's offerings include a range of six Proseccos made with small autoclaves in varying degrees of dryness and from single vineyards. Tastings include three or four wines served with salumi and cheese plates.

Nino Franco
147 Via Garibaldi, Valdobbiadene
Telephone (39) 0423-972-051
Website www.ninofranco.it
Open By appointment
Cost $20-$34

Nino Franco is a leading négociant run by the tireless Prosecco pioneer Primo Franco, 68. Franco, who typically works closely with small growers, has one vineyard for his small-production Grave di Stecca brut, planted around the family's Villa Barberina (see page 67). Nino Franco doesn't offer tours but does offer tastings with Primo himself, his wife or his daughter in the elegant winery transformed by architect Tobia Scarpa. You can taste three wines for $20 or six wines for $34. Conversation with the Francos-fonts of experience and knowledge-comes at no extra charge.

Dining Out Wine Bars Sparkling Wines Italy

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