Pro Prosecco

Prior to the financial meltdown of 2007-08, weekend or dinner guests would often bring a celebratory bottle of Champagne to my house to get things started. 

Then the meltdown occurred and, by neediness or nervousness, houseguests switched to bringing Prosecco, which could be purchased for perhaps half the cost of Champagne.  I was never a big fan of Prosecco.  The citrusy and floral flavors were there but there was minimal length on the palate and the bubbles poofed like seafoam in my mouth. Its flavor and structure seemed to evaporate quickly. Then I met David Noto and he and his wines gave me a new awareness and appreciation of Prosecco.

Noto’s family, from Italy, has a long history of agriculture, growing oranges, olives and grapes in the south-central Calabrian region.  In the early 1900s, the family relocated to Genoa because David’s grandfather wanted his son to be more urban.  David’s father became an engineer and moved to the United States. David also became an engineer in the U.S. and in Italy and took a particular interest in the northeastern Italian town of Valdobbiadene, in the shadow of the Dolomite Mountains in the Italian Alps, the heart of the Prosecco region. Italy, like Spain, has rigorous rules for allowing labels indicating quality.  Each wine region of Italy offers DOC labels that are guarantees of the region and the grape.  The much more restrictive DOCG labels are found on better bottles produced in the epicenter of the particular region, from better vineyard plots and better producers. These bottles have been jury-tasted by local experts before the DOCG label is awarded.  All DOCG labels have numbers and QR codes, which savvy consumers can use to find a host of information about the wine, the vintage conditions, growing conditions, winemaking decisions and volume of production.  

Though he was born in the U.S., David has lived in Italy for extended periods. He wanted to bring a high- quality Prosecco to the market.  His boutique-style production methods begin in the vineyard, where by DOCG law and desire, the grape yields are limited so the remaining grapes show a more concentrated flavor.  David claims to have the best agronomist overseeing the vineyards, the best winemaker of the region and the best vineyard plots. Glera is the grape used for Prosecco but up to 15 percent of the volume can be composed of other varietals grown in the region. His wine is called Altaneve, (Alta NEH veh), which means “high snow,” the snow- capped peaks of the Dolomites being visible from the vineyards.  The vines are grown in hilly terrain, which makes automation impossible. All of Altaneve’s grapes are hand-harvested.

Champagne, like Prosecco, is both a region and a wine.  The main differences are the grapes used and the secondary fermentation method, responsible for the bubbles. Champagne employs a labor-intensive secondary fermentation in the bottle, which needs to be riddled, or adjusted incrementally, over weeks in special racks to concentrate the sediment in the neck, which then needs to be flash-frozen to disgorge the solid plug of dead yeast sediment.  Prosecco’s secondary fermentation occurs in a pressurized tank and is known as the Martinotti method in Italy and the Charmat method in France.  

I spent a day skiing with David recently (the guy can ski), talking on our lift rides about Prosecco and Altaneve.  He makes three wines — two Proseccos and one sparkling Rosé. The two Proseccos are wonderful, with citrus, green apple, finesse, structure and finish. The second Prosecco is sourced from an exceptional one-and-a-half-acre plot high in the hills.  Both Proseccos are made of 100 percent Glera grapes.  A few years ago, David visited stores in the Hamptons to market his wines.  Everyone trying them was suitably impressed. One store owner told him, “We sell a ton of sparkling Rosé here.  Can you make a sparkling Rosé for us”?  

So in April of 2014, David invited some colleagues with exceptional palates to lunch at l’escale restaurant bar in Greenwich — Theresa Rogers of Horseneck Wines & Liquors in Greenwich; David Fletcher, director of operations at l’escale; John Freitas, sommelier at l’escale; and Matthew Habdas, then wine director of Gabriele’s Italian Steakhouse in Greenwich.  They all agreed Altaneve Prosecco was top tier, certainly one of the finest Proseccos they had tried.  Theresa asked for some additional glasses for the table where she began blending Altaneve Prosecco with some Pinot Noir.  She tried several permutations and finally said, “Got it. This is it.” It was passed around for group approval and the Altaneve Rosé was born, made of 70 percent Pinot Noir or Pinot Nero in Italy, and 30 percent Glera and it is wonderful.  It shows all of the great characteristics of a well-crafted Prosecco, with the fresh fruit flavor and structure of a Pinot Noir. This is an Italian wine born in Greenwich.  Look for Altaneve wines in their graceful and attractive bottles. They bring Prosecco to a higher place.   

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