When your love of prosecco bub­bles over, hit the road.

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY PAUL ABERCROMBIE Abercrombie is a writer in Tampa. travel@wash­post.com

When your fam­ily vis­its Venice for the third spring in a row, as mine re­cently did, you know you’re more than a lit­tle keen for the place. Or, as a pal put it less del­i­cately be­fore our trip, “You guys are Venice freaks.” Fair enough. But even for hard-core fans of Italy’s float­ing city, I found my­self, mid­way through our lat­est visit, crav­ing fresh adventure. Okay, I also wanted a break from this sea­son’s epi­demic of selfie sticks, ap­par­ently su­per­glued to the hands of ev­ery other tourist in town. We had been talk­ing for years about experiencing where and how one of our fa­vorite wines is made. So this March we fi­nally took a day trip just north of Venice, to the “Prosecco Road,” a nearly 20-mile stretch of steep-sloped vine­yards ded­i­cated al­most ex­clu­sively to mak­ing Italy’s most prized bub­bly.

By evening, I had a new geo­graphic crush.

Early that morn­ing, my wife, Gail, 12-year-old son, Ewan, and mother-in-law, Jane, caught a short ride on a va­poretto— wa­ter bus — to Venice’s train sta­tion. Less than an hour later, we ar­rived in the town of Conegliano. With Val­dob­bi­adene to the west, they book­end the famed wine­pro­duc­ing re­gion.

I typ­i­cally in­vent ex­cuses to drive in Italy. But for such a quick trip, I wor­ried we might spend more time at the car-rental shop than on the road. So we sprang for the ser­vices of driver and guide Ori­ana Bal­liana, a bois­ter­ous and charm­ing lady with seem­ingly en­cy­clo­pe­dic knowl­edge of lo­cal lore and wines alike.

With a train to catch back to Venice that evening, we set­tled on a man­age­able itin­er­ary that in­cluded vis­its to a larger and smaller prosecco pro­ducer, along with lunch and a chance to check out a few other lo­cal at­trac­tions.

First stop was Carpene Mal­volti. Only a few min­utes’ drive from the train sta­tion, it’s among the re­gion’s older and larger prosecco pro­duc­ers. Like most, it’s fam­ily-owned. Dur­ing a tour of the fa­cil­ity and tast­ing, Carpene Mal­volti Global Sales and Mar­ket­ing Direc­tor Domenico Sci­mone hit the high points of what makes prosecco, well, prosecco.

First, the grapes. To be called prosecco, it’s gotta be made mostly with in­dige­nous Glera grapes, for­merly also known as prosecco. Un­like cham­pagne, which gets its fizz from a sec­ond fer­men­ta­tion in the bot­tle, prosecco’s sparkle typ­i­cally hap­pens in larger fer­ment­ing tanks be­fore bot­tling. The bet­ter stuff, prosecco su­pe­ri­ore, is made in Conegliano Val­dob­bi­adene, as the re­gion’s called, but the best bub­bly comes from Le Car­tizze, a postage-stamp-size par­cel of land at the re­gion’s heart that’s so hilly its vines can be tended only by hand. Or, as I later re­al­ize, on hands and knees.

Un­like sparklers such as cham­pagne, prosecco is best drunk young. “Prosecco was born as a wine meant to be fresh,” Sci­mone said. “If you age it, you lose what makes it prosecco.” Prosecco also tends to be lower in al­co­hol. “It’s very easy to drink more than one glass,” he said with a laugh. Which helps ex­plain why prosecco is so popular around the world, and at our house. In­deed, I’ve al­ways thought of prosecco as cham­pagne’s younger, more care­free Ital­ian cousin. And with ex­cel­lent pros­ec­cos rarely top­ping $20 a bot­tle, it’s a lot lighter on your wal­let.

In Carpene Mal­volti’s grot­to­like tast­ing room, we sam­pled sev­eral pros­ec­cos. We started with ex­tra dry, which, de­spite its name, is a tad sweeter than the bone-dry brut we taste later. All were char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally fresh, lively wines. I’d set­tled on a brut as my fa­vorite un­til Sci­mone poured their Car­tizze. More com­plex, lightly per­fumed but still fresh, the Car­tizze was my new fave. “You can only un­der­stand the dif­fer­ence when you drink” the Car­tizze, he said. By the time we’d made a brief de­tour into their grap­pas — grape-based brandies — we were game to see a few lo­cal sights.

Head­ing west to­ward Val­dob­bi­adene, the hills be­came steeper. Skele­tal vines, a dozen or so days away from bud­ding, clung to about ev­ery avail­able patch of the area’s pre­cious dirt. From hill crests, we could see snow-capped Dolomites in the dis­tance. We stopped to ad­mire jig­saw-piece rem­nants of fres­coes at the thou­sand-year-old church San Pi­etro di Feletto and gawked at the idyl­lic Mo­linetto della Croda wa­ter mill in the mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Re­fron­tolo.

Only our hunger pulled us away. The area is home to dozens of ex­cel­lent restau­rants, some no big­ger than a few ta­bles. But I had a hard time imag­in­ing one more ideal than where Ori­ana took us. Perched atop a hill over­look­ing rolling vine-cov­ered land­scapes, Trat­to­ria Alla Cima (cima means sum­mit) has a menu that’s sort of a who’s-who of lo­cal dishes and in­gre­di­ents. As hooked as I amon Vene­tian seafood, I ea­gerly tucked into more ter­res­trial fare, in­clud­ing sliced beef­steak grilled over a fire. My son Ewan made quick work of a radic­chio risotto with pancetta and smoky scamorza cheese. Gail, Jane and I would have been happy to spend the af­ter­noon en­joy­ing the view and an­other bot­tle of house-made prosecco, but Ori­ana promised us our next stop would be a real treat.

A short drive north­east brought us to the vil­lage of Santo Ste­fano, ground zero for the re­gion’s most cel­e­brated pros­ec­cos. We stopped at Gar­bara, a Lil­liputian prosecco pro­ducer on about four acres of cov­eted Car­tizze hills. At a ta­ble over­look­ing vine­yards owned by his fam­ily for five gen­er­a­tions, pro­pri­etor Mirco Grotto shared sto­ries and his pros­ec­cos. A pair of small caves at the bot­tom of the thou­sand-foot­tall hill op­po­site ours was be­lieved to have been used to hide mu­ni­tions dur­ing World War II, Mirco said.

The set­ting and com­pany may have skewed our judg­ment, but Gar­bara’s pros­ec­cos were our clear fa­vorites that day. Mirco also broke out some rarer bot­tles, in­clud­ing a prosecco made with the cham­pagne method that was lovely and (I swear) faintly smoky. Be­cause Gar­bara’s wines aren’t avail­able in the United States, Mirco told us we’d have to visit again. “You have to come back in May,” Ori­ana said. “Ev­ery­thing is so green. It’s in­cred­i­ble.” Agreed.



Above, Santo Ste­fano vine­yards in the town of Val­dob­bi­adene. Italy’s fa­mous sparkling wine is made in a re­gion of pic­turesque rolling hills about an hour north of Venice. At left, per­form­ing the re­muage, a type of ro­ta­tion, on bot­tles in the cel­lars of CarpeneMal­volti in Conegliano.

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