Perfect pairings – the joys of Prosecco Superiore with food

Afternoon tea and Prosecco #SuperioreAfternoon

If you thought Prosecco was just an aperitif wine, the evidence from a recent #SuperioreAfternoon tasting suggests that you should think again. Here, the Prosecco Superiore from Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG, whatever the style in which it’s made, turns out to be a highly versatile food wine.

Drier styles – which include Zero Dosage as well as (soon to be official) Extra Brut, Brut, and wines that have been re-fermented in bottle (often referred to as ‘Col Fondo’ wines) – tend to have both richness and savoury depth. This, in turn, lends these wines to a partnership with classic Italian flavours. They can handle the pungent grassiness of extra virgin olive oil while still having the freshness to cut through the creaminess of a fresh burrata.

Some of these drier wines, like Bortolin Angelo’s Sommaval, have notes of fresh green herbs on the palate, and they work harmoniously with ingredients like avocados and tomatoes, creating a tangy seasoning that lifts the palate.

Savoury wines that have been re-fermented in bottle have the concentration and weight to take on the intense autumnal flavours of truffled arancini. These wines make terrific partners, too, for toasted rounds of bruschetta, whether topped with vibrant summer tomatoes or creamy chicken liver paté – the subtle bready notes present in the wine echo the toasty notes of the bruschetta.

Fruitier wines, both Extra Brut and Brut, find their perfect marriage in salty prosciutto wrapped around juicy slices of melon or peach – it’s all about the interplay of fruit, sweetness and saltiness.

All of these wines, of course, are blissful partners for briny oysters, especially when dressed with a squeeze of lemon. And tiny queen scallops dressed with a dice of prosciutto, when paired with Extra Brut Prosecco, is a salty, tangy, fruity marriage made in heaven.

As you move away from the driest of Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG into Brut styles, which tend to be a little fruitier and rounder on the palate, an echo of fruitiness and sweetness in the food is often welcome. Milky stracciatella topped with lemon zest and nutty crumbs of Tarallo is a revelation when teamed with the zesty palate of wines such as l’Antica Quercia’s Prosecco Superiore DOCG Matiu Brut.

Shellfish have an intrinsic sweetness that is amplified by the gently honeyed orchard fruit of richer Brut wines, such as Colsandago’s Vigna del Cuc. Brut and Extra Dry styles lend themselves to pairings with both seafood and spice. The reverberations set up between these wines and skewers of prawns dressed with sweet chilli sauce lingered on the palate.

These wines also impressed when matched with a creamy salmon tartare, dressed with salty salmon keta and avocado. Here, richer styles, such as Frassinelli’s Extra Dry from the Rive di Manzana, won through. Its weight on the palate, and the sheer juiciness of its fruit, provided a counterpoint for each luscious mouthful.

In a similar vein, it’s worth moving beyond Italy to look for partners for these styles of wines. A lunchtime brunch at a dim sum restaurant, with its succession of delicious dumplings, often tinged with sweetness from shellfish or rich char sui pork, welcomes the versatility and brightness of high-quality Prosecco.

Reach for these wines, too, when tucking into sushi – the sweetness of the rice, the gentle heat of wasabi and the savoury notes from soy sauce all have a part to play in creating a harmonious pairing with Prosecco, alongside the various flavours and textures of the fish. Sashimi lovers, in contrast, should look for Extra Brut styles to create their own perfect match.

As you go up the sweetness scale, moving towards the sweeter end of Extra Dry and into true (if misleadingly named) Dry wines, richer, sweeter dishes come into play. These wines work well with savoury flavours – they’re terrific partners for creamy patés and salty blue cheeses as well as shellfish and dim sum – but they can take on lighter desserts on their own terms and win through. For best results stick to tangy fruit-based flavours – think tart lemon tartlets, deep-fried beignets with tiny spoonful of apple puree at their heart or bowls full of summer berries (preferably topped with a zabaglione made from a cupful of Prosecco).

So next time you open a bottle of Prosecco, think beyond a bowlful of salted nuts or green olives and explore the universe that opens up when these wines are paired with a world’s worth of flavours.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene’s “Prosecco Hills” become a UNESCO world heritage site

UNESCO was in Baku, Azerbaijan, last week for a major assembly, and the much-anticipated announcements on the latest rare and singular corners of our world and culture to be awarded World Heritage status.

A quick read through the list of new World Heritage sites would give anyone wander lust, and wonder. Some are remote, in time and place, such as the sacred Buddhist site at Bagan, Mayanmar.

Bagan, Mayanmar. Image: UNESCO.

Others reveal lesser-known and still vital aspects of otherwise familiar European culture and history, such as the long-established Kladruby Horse breeding and training ground in Czechia.

National Stud Farm at Kladruby nad Labem, Czechia. Image: National Stud Farm.

But others are more familiar. The “Prosecco Hills of Conegliano Valdobbiadene” was officially announced as a new World Heritage site at the UNESCO assembly on the 7th July. Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG joins a small but growing number of historic wine appellations and regions recognised as “Cultural Landscapes” by UNESCO for their unique and time-carved interaction between human agricultural endeavour and challenging rural landscapes. Fellow wine-related Cultural Landscapes are a roll-call of the revered, beautiful and visited, including Saint-Emilion, Burgundy and Champagne in France, the Alto Douro in Portugal, and the Langhe Roero and Monferrato in Italy.

Prosecco Hills of Conegliano Valdobbiadene, at Farra di Soligo. Image: Copyright Piai Arcangelo

The news is (of course) being picked up by the mainstream British press as a triumph for “Prosecco”, whose consumer-led success has been the UK wine market phenomenon of the decade. In fact, wines from the newly UNESCO-recognised vineyards make up less than 10% of all the Prosecco consumed by Brits, and take some seeking out here. While interest, and sales, of this premium, hand-picked, crafted side of Prosecco is growing, mass-market attention (whether friendly or snide) is fixed on the accessible ‘gateway wines’ of Prosecco DOC. This much younger denomination is entirely separate to Conegliano Valdobbiadene, and covers a much larger area of low undulating vineyards as easy and gentle as the wines they produce.

Venerable wine regions are the beauty queens of agricultural landscapes. Nobody goes to marvel at fields of turnips (apologies to enthusiasts of Turnip Monthly). Wine growers in regions such as Conegliano Valdobbiadene embrace rural environments that are marginal in their viability. This intersection of difficulty, ingenuity, stewardship and livelihood is not exclusive to historic wine landscapes, but it is uniquely inevitable.

In awarding the status of Cultural Landscape to Conegliano Valdobbiadene, the UNESCO committee noted the centuries-long adaptation to the landscape by vine-growers, and the patchwork of vineyards, forests, streams, hamlets closely intertwined, as well as the distinctive viticultural techniques developed to counter erosion and the vertiginous slopes that characterise the region:

“The landscape is characterized by ‘hogback’ hills, ciglioni – small plots of vines on narrow grassy terraces – forests, small villages and farmland. For centuries, this rugged terrain has been shaped and adapted by man. Since the 17th century, the use of ciglioni has created a particular chequerboard landscape consisting of rows of vines parallel and vertical to the slopes. In the 19th century, the bellussera technique of training the vines contributed to the aesthetic characteristics of the landscape.” UNESCO

This beautiful region is dotted with hundreds of producers offering tastings and wine boutiques (many top wines are sold at the cellar door to well-heeled Italians, Austrians and Swiss), churches, nature parks, rural bed and breakfasts, and exquisite boutique hotels.  One of Italy’s first “wine routes”, the Strada del Prosecco, offers contacts and resources to independent travellers organising their own tour of Conegliano Valdobbiadene. Despite its proximity to Venice, tourism and eno-tourism have always been elegantly, surprisingly, low key. This is starting to change, and a key objective of the UNESCO mission is to ensure the sensitive and sustainable development of growing tourism and eno-tourism in the territory. Research suggests that World Heritage status can have a major socio economic impact and stimulate in-coming tourism.

Independent guides and small-scale tour operators already offer scheduled and bespoke tours of Conegliano Valdobbiadene, incorporating all the joys the Prosecco Hills have to offer, from wine tasting, hiking, fresco-hunting, fine-dining, and more. These specialist tour guides are notable for their passion, and focus on visiting top quality producers. Their delicious stony, airy, blossomy Prosecco Superiore answers the question that anyone, panting their way through a walk in those vertiginous vineyards is tempted to ask: “Why here?”

Companies offering tours in the UNESCO Prosecco Hills of Conegliano Valdobbiadene include:

Other useful links:

Click here for the link to the Strada del Prosecco.

And here for the link to the official UNESCO statement.

Download the official Press Release from the Consorzio of Conegliano Valdobbiadene:

Press Release – Prosecco Hills Conegliano Valdobbiadene UNESCO

Degrees of separation