After spending the night in the Dolomites during our Italian road trip, we continued on to Venice. We drove out of the mountains and into the valleys and, eventually, the flat coastal region. When I was researching things to do in Italy, I came upon an article in Conde Nast about the Prosecco Road. Say what?! Turns out, this road runs from Conegliano in the east to to Valdobbiadene in the west, through vineyards, dedicated almost solely to the production of Prosecco, terraced into the hills. Along the route are a number of wineries that, with a prior appointment, are open to the public. We were lucky enough that the one we stopped at opened and did a private tasting for us. I felt so fancy!
But first, the drive between where we stayed in the mountains and Conegliano was beautiful! We happened upon this really cool suspension bridge that just begged to be checked out. So we did. The benefits of a road trip - you can stop when you want!
Ok, back to the wine. Prosecco is much like champagne in that it is a sparkling wine. However, that's pretty much where the similarities end. Unlike champagne, prosecco has a slightly different process to produce it and is best drank when it is still "young." Prosecco is also much cheaper than champagne, meaning during the economic recession, it became very popular to drink. But, just because it's cheaper does not mean it's not of comparable quality! While most of the region is designated as Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC for short), the hills surrounding Valdobbiadene were recently granted status as the more prestigeous Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), a designation indicating the high quality of the wines produced. When this designation was granted, the value of the vineyards skyrocketed and are now some of the most expensive pieces of land in all of Italy. The Italian government issues special labels that are affixed to the neck of a bottle after being sealed indicating that a Prosecco (or other Italian wine) is from a DOC or DOCG region. A winery is only provided a certain number of these stickers, of which each one is uniquely serialized, to affix to the seal on their bottles and if they are lost, destroyed, or otherwise rendered unusable, they cannot get them reprinted.
We ended up stopping at the Bortolin Winery near Santo Stefano. They weren't exactly open (we didn't know about the call-ahead policy), but since we were looking to purchase, they graciously did a small tasting and allowed us to buy some bottles. Our host taught us about the different levels of prosecco from frizzante to spumante to superiore and were able to taste them. For those interested, frizzante has less bubbles than spumante (and our host also implied it wasn't quite as high quality as a spumante) and superiore is prosecco from the coveted DOCG region, as opposed to the DOC region that is most of the Prosecco Road. At their winery, they also produce a special type of Prosecco they called Fonduel. In this wine, the yeast is left to ferment in the bottle. As a result, the yeast is in constant contact with the wine and actually changes the flavor as time passes. We ended up purchasing 6 bottles in all - 5 of the Fonduel and a bottle of their brut (dry) spumante - all for less than 25 euro (!) which is kind of a steal. We gave a couple bottles of Fonduel away, but drank one later on in the week and it tasted significantly different than when we had it at the winery (although, in the interest of full disclosure, the fact that it was left in a warm car for a few days may have contributed to that). The last bottle was cracked on our last night in Germany. It was even drier and bready-er after a month. It would have been really interesting to see how the flavors changed over a year!
They also recommended a place for lunch not far from the winery. It was called Trattoria Ristoro Fos De Marai and had a covered porch with outside seating overlooking the hills lined with vineyards. It was a beautiful setting to enjoy traditional Italian fare, and of course a glass of local prosecco! I'm not kidding when I say that Italy ruined Italian food for me. Everything we had was absolutely delicious and now everything else can't even compare. If you decide to take a drive along the prosecco road for yourself, make sure to stop here for lunch!
This region of Italy isn't far from Venice, but has relatively few tourists (we didn't see any when we were there). There was some beautiful landscapes to see and drinking (and buying!) prosecco right where it is grown and made was quite an experience. There are a number of operators that coordinate day trips from Venice, which is less than an hour away, but for a more relaxed experience that you are free to enjoy at your own pace, you can rent a car and easily drive it yourself. But, if you do plan to imbibe, maybe a guided tour isn't a terrible idea :)