Northeastern Italy – particularly the Veneto region – has become a veritable myth to Italians: il nordest and its miracolo economico. After WWII, the Venetians’ industrious, pragmatic nature, their strong family and community spirit, have brought about an “economic miracle” that took the region from rags to riches over two generations. All this, without defacing its unique, verdant landscape; on the other hand, enhancing its terroir and heritage.
One of the most precious of Venetian traditions is Prosecco, a wonderfully fragrant, zesty native white whose origin is rather mysterious, though many believe it to descend from the ancient Puxinum or Puccino that was much in demand in imperial Rome. The modern-day name was traced back to a document of 1800: in all likelihood, it derives from the village of Prosecco, near Trieste. An alternative name is Glera. At the time of writing, the DOC map of this highly successful grape is being redesigned by the Italian authorities: Prosecco fizzy and sparkling wines are now so sought after that non-typical areas have been producing numberless poor imitations, exploiting the hard work of Prosecco pioneers like the Canella family – and placing the wine’s reputation at risk.
In order to safeguard true Prosecco, as of August 1st, 2009, wines may only be labelled Prosecco if they have been produced in specific zones of northeastern Italy and if they carry the newborn Prosecco DOC. As for the historic core areas of Prosecco (Conegliano-Valdobbiadene and Colli Asolani), they will be upgraded to DOCGs. (What happens to Prosecco grapes grown outside the DOC/G confines? They will not be able to carry the Prosecco name, and will have to switch to the alternative denomination, Glera.)
Back to the Canellas, Prosecco pioneers and brilliant examples of Venetian creativity and entrepreneurial spirit (with a tight-knit family feel). The brand and family of Canella come from the heart of the Conegliano appellation, now Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, and have become almost synonymous with Prosecco itself. Their story began with Luciano Canella in 1947. In the beginning was the family restaurant: Luciano’s father had died when his only son was 10 years old, leaving wife Giovanna and four children. Luciano and his sisters had to learn fast and work hard to help their mother with the numerous patrons of Osteria Dalla Giovanna, in the heart of San Donà di Piave – thriving in spite of the difficulties of wartime. One of the reasons for Giovanna’s success, in fact, was precisely… Luciano. The enterprising teenager was blessed with a keen palate and a dynamic, creative disposition. First he scoured the countryside, hunting for the best wines to match Giovanna’s cuisine. Then he thought of creating his own label and setting up a state-of-the-art winery. Finally, he specialized in a wine that was as joyfully effervescent as Luciano himself. As it turned out, Luciano Canella had the vision and foresight to invest in what would become Italy’s best-selling spumante.
The winery founded by Luciano Canella was ideally located near the appellation’s historical nucleus, Conegliano. The Canella vineyards were – and still are – at the precise medium altitude where grape-ripening is more gradual, the resulting fragrance more intense and the natural fruit acidity (malic acid) at its distinctive best. In recent years, Luciano and wife Renata have kept a low profile while their charming children – Alessandra, Lorenzo, Nicoletta & Monica – took the winery and its growing spectrum of brands from strength to strength.
The Veneto is a region with enormous potential and ranks from year to year in the top 3 of Italy’s largest producers, along with Sicily and Apulia. And while the potential for high quality wines exist, much of the region has been driven by cooperatives that have developed large export markets. Yet it is hard to generalize the region as there are many small, proud producers making world-class wines from native varieties. In the hills and provinces surrounding Verona, there are 2 very important movements. Soave is the most popular of Italian whites and has just earned the DOCG status. Yet, controversy exists as many artisan producers feel the rules governing the DOCG do not go far enough insuring the quality standards that Soave can aspire too. As a result, some growers have opted to retain the DOC as they feel the DOCG is not strong enough to protect the integrity of what Soave can and should be in regards to excellence. Much like Soave, the red wines from Valpolicella have long been associated with major cooperatives producing bulk wines. But here too one finds small, family producers focused on quality. And like the debate found within the Soave DOCG, many top producers feel the DOC for Valpolicella and Amarone do not go far enough to insure first-rate wines. While the debate regarding the rules for each category continues, the strides made by various, independent producers demonstrates the merit for elevating the standards for each zone. For several more dollars, one can experience a far superior wine, which in turn makes it hard to understand spending money for the lesser wines produced by the coops. Just as Amarone and Soave are traditional wines made with native varieties, Prosecco is a lightly sparkling wine produced with indigenous grapes from the hills north of Venice. It is a wine usually made in the Charmat method, the best examples hail from the vineyards around Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. Prosecco is growing in popularity in North America and makes a wonderful aperitif or wine for enjoying with a group of friends—no special occasion needed!