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Third Grade is Tough
Sometimes it’s too easy. Last week you could have tricked me as easily as a second grader with 52 card pick-up or a third grader with the Pen 15 club. Maybe today’s kids are smarter (*shakes fist*) but back in the day, it was tough on the mean streets of suburban Michigan. You had to be ready.

Grape Confusion
But last week you could have tricked me. “What grape is in Prosecco?” Hmmmm… ummm… not really sure, maybe, some obscure Italian one? Bzzzz – wrong. Turns out Prosecco is made from… (wait for it)… Prosecco. Color me incredulous but wow, that’s just too easy.

Italy’s Bubbly
The Prosecco I thought I knew was this bubbly Italian wine that’s cheaper than Champagne, more straight-laced than Cava and loads up on the bite for winos (like me) who love the green apple tart. Prosecco’s the ultimate party gift – tasteful in every large gathering of humans (except the funeral). Even then, maybe you read the obituary with great pleasure. Sneak in a flask.

Señores Zapatos
Come last week though, it was birthday time. And the Señores Zapatos indulged, bringing with them a bottle of this obscure, never before known grape called — Prosecco. Sadly, we drank it almost before the sun left the balcony and another bottle is the one featured above.

Joan “Prosecco” Rivers
But about Prosecco and the fizzy, citrus-intense wine it produces. Up until 2009, you could go around calling the grape “Prosecco” to your hearts content and Europeans wouldn’t mind – they’d just think you were talking to yourself. Today, they mind. In 2009, Prosecco got a make-over in the Joan Rivers kinda way, going from a lovely classic figure to a mildly frightening Joker. Now, Europeans call it Glera, something more akin to paint thinner than a white grape that makes terrific bubbly wines.

Pen 15 Club
Fortunately, this blog isn’t subject to the whims of the EU or cosmetic beauty, and Prosecco still reigns as the name of the grape as it has since last Saturday when this wino discovered that the Pen 15 club is not an exclusive third grade club. In fact, 52% of the world at birth belongs to this “exclusive” club. Knowledge is power Reading Rainbow followers – Prosecco, Italy’s Pen 15 club.

Clean, crisp, green apples, white flowers – pretty much what you’re expecting when you head into a store looking for a Prosecco for your next wedding/birthday/Tuesday/Thanksgiving/quinceañera. Ok, don’t bring it to the quinceañera – even the kids know that uncle’s not cool.

Detail Up!
Dom Bertiol Prosecco from Treviso in Veneto, Italy

Google Randoms:
* Age Prosecco and shame yourself – this wine’s for drinking and drinking young.
* One bottle for $20 or two bottles for $10 – those are your choices when drinking Prosecco.
* Bellini? Mimosa? You’re drinking Prosecco. Only the chef gets champagne in her Mimosa. Nobody gets champagne in a Bellini – that one’s always Prosecco.

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Sparkling Red Wine
Lambrusco is a wine that I should like but don’t. It’s red, it’s bubbly and it’s just different. It’s the original red bubbly. Australia has started churning out full-on bubbly red in recent years (as opposed to the Italian semi-bubbly frizzante of Lambrusco), but finding a bubbly red is still very rare. Hence, the appeal of wine shops recommended Lambrusco even when it’s bad.

Styles, according to me
Lambrusco comes in two styles – sickly sweet and drinkable – both of which have some basic characteristics. They’re red wine served chilled, slightly bubbly in that frizzante Italian way, and the alcohol’s on the lighter side (8-11%). Every Lambrusco I’d had until yesterday fit into that mawkish first category of sickly sweet, where the wine was often mistaken for a fizzy liquid lollipop. Apparently, this style caught on during the 1970s, right at the time of the Bee Gees and disco. Clearly a lost decade.

The second style – drinkable – is becoming more popular and includes yesterday’s wine above. Dry, still fruity (but not egotistically so) and actually drinkable, it’s a wine for cold cuts, movie pizza and rainy Sunday afternoons. Thanks to its low alcohol content, any scintillating film critiques you share with your rainy-day couch companion will be understood in real-time.

Lambrusco is a grape and not a grape. It’s the von Trapp family of wine. There’s a whole lot of individuals but nobody outside the family can distinguish very well between all those kids in the middle so they go by the collective “von Trapp” name. Same thing for Lambrusco. Ampelographers (wiki word of the day) know of at least 60 varieties of Lambrusco and yet “Lambrusco” is what you’ll find on the bottle.

Italy has Lambrusco stamped all over its boot, and this applies historically as well as geographically. Cato the Elder enjoyed this wine back in the Roman days and (despite his puissant name) he wasn’t the first. The Etruscans were drinking Lambrusco long before Romulus found his wolf teat and started building all roads to Rome.

Taste of Lambrusco
Pretty dry but still good middle-of-the-road fruit (strawberry?), enough fizz, and a slightly bitter finish. Better than any Lambrusco I’ve had (low benchmark) and actually worth having in the fridge.

Detail Up!
2009 Francesco Vezzelli Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro Rive Dei Ciliegi

Google Randoms
* Sickly Sweet Lambrusco Wine provided by Riunite – “top of the list of the 25 most influential italian wines of the last 25 years”
* Lambrusco’s 6 principal von Trapp family members discussed by WSJ’s Lettie Teague
* Balsamic Vinegar comes from the same town as the Lambrusco stronghold in Emilia-Romagna.

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Moscato d’Asti is a semi-fizzy dessert wine if wine shops and their 15% off sales on “dessert wines” are to be believed. In my opinion, it barely qualifies as either. The wine is barely fizzy, although it has a few bubbles that sneak to the top of the glass like rogue spies. Perhaps they call it a dessert wine since it’s a sweet wine, and yes, it is sweet. But when I think of dessert wines, I think of high levels of alcohol to kick the night into full gear and well out of second gear. This wine, clocking in at 5.5% alcohol, puts that pre-gaming rush into the pitstop. This should be a pre-dinner wine for chocolate and sweet lovers who are easing into their meal, not the last stop before $1 pizza cravings kick in.

Even with my gripe on the misnomer, this wine delivers in all kinds of ways. There’s the bit of fizz that’s barely noticeable in the deadly flirty way that hands touch hands in movie theaters, and there’s the taste of moderate, refined flavors. Peach, rose and pear sprout in the nose, then there’s a whole lychee swimming pool that shows up in your mouth and some sage and herbs sprout after the lychee lagoon drains away. None are too overpowering, they’re just really different flavors that somehow pull together into a wine that defines its “dessert wine” label.

Think of Moscato (or Muscat) as the Abraham of wines. Pretty much all wines started with Abraham and then branched off from there (Ur being Piedmont, apparently) into all kinds of crazy Muscat-type wines. This particular wine is Moscato d’Asti (Muscat from Asti, up in Piedmont), which is made from the grape Moscato Bianco (“White Muscat”). I’m confused myself with all these Muscat names, but looking at the color of this wine (white) and where it’s from (Asti), the names are starting to make sense. Anyway, there are all kinds of wines that come from this Jacob-branch of the family, even other sparkling wines made from Moscato Bianco like Asti Spumante. Plenty of other Muscats exist on the Esau-side of the vini-family tree but it’s best to leave them for another day. Today’s all about Jacob and his Moscato Bianco.

Detail Up!
Moscato d’Asti 2009 Vigna Senza Nome

Random Googles
* “Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains” is French for “Moscato Bianco.” It goes by at least 10 other names, the best of which is “Muskateller.”
* Moscato Bianco is the oldest grape in Piedmont (that hambone chunk in the NW that bumps into France and Switzerland).
* Moscato d’Asti – first made by a wine-loving jeweler in the 1500s. Fact.

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Ortrugo must truly be an obscure grape, and I can prove it. First point, there are no good pictures of it on the internet, meaning it barely exists in the Web 2.0 world. Second point, the restaurant had only bottle of this stuff and said that it’s only grown in Piacenza, which is really far west in that shaded map above (seriously, no good pics). Third and most damning point, wikipedia had the name wrong (ortruga) on the Colli Piacentini page (“hills of piacenza”) that mentioned the various grapes grown in the region, of which only Ortrugo did not have a wikipage. If I’m the one fixing the wikipage, it’s really the apocalypse of the internet.

The restaurant wasn’t lying when they said it’s only around Piacenza. All the blogs that talk about Ortrugo grape discuss a foreigner stumbling across Ortrugo in bucolic Italy, discovering its slightly fizzy zest and having their (presumbly sun-drenched) afternoon be completed like Jerry McGuire in the elevator. My experience couldn’t have been more different. Restaurant called Uva on the UES, freezing cold outside, after work in a suit, sitting at the bar alone, waiting for a friend. Find the romance in that one, Italy. All mawkish-ness aside, this Kyle Phillips guy wrote one informative post on Ortrugo and he’d have made the RSS feed if his last post wasn’t from July 2010. Well-worth the read (ed. note: for those who read the link while it lasted), especially if you like getting an actual description of how the different types of Ortrugo taste.


At the basic level, Ortrugo can be semi-fizzy or still (frizzante or tranquilo, in what I presume is Italian). It can be straight (like all good alcoholic beverages) or blended (usually with Malvasia). My particular wine was fizzy and unblended, like a champagne gone right. I was thinking flowers and tart apple, maybe with a bit of rounder fruit like a peach, but mostly apple. Little fizzy, lot of tart, lot of apple and, not too rounded – this is definitely my style of wine. Not sure where you find this wine other than Uva.

Detail Up!
Cantine bonelli Ortrugo Fizzante

Random Googles

* Colli Piacentini wins the “Wine for Dummies” award for Emilia’s “most renowned wine district” (no really, it’s in the “Wine for Dummies” book)
* Trebbianino Val Trebbia is an important wine that only Italian wikiusers care about. It has Ortrugo and comes from Piacenza.
* Known aliases of Ortrugo include: Trebbiano Romagnolo, Altrugo, Barbesino and Vernesino Bianco.

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This week is full of grapes that won’t register in my brain if they were listed together on a sheet of paper. Macabeo is one grape that’s instrumental in every teenager’s life at the discovery of Cava but still manages to stay under the radar since it’s almost never on the label. “Cava” shows up quite a bit on the label (or the cork in this case), even though this wine isn’t a true Cava. It’s a vino de aguja aka a petullant aka a frizzante aka a fizzy wine. Not really a fully bubbly but a half bubbly, this wine has bubbles that hang around together at the surface of the wine but don’t follow the beads of bubbles that a fully fizzy wine like Champagne or a true Cava has. This one has bubbles that randomly swagger to the surface instead of following ant-like the trail of their effervescent cousins.


Enough about fizzy wine though, this Blanc Pescador wine actually has 3 grapes. The only one with 50% power is the Macabeo since the other two place around in that 25% range and won’t be mentioned. The smell on this wine isn’t the typical acidic nose of a seafood wine, which is curious with a name like “White Fisherman” (the translation of Blanc Pescador). This wine smells a lot more like peaches and full bodied fruit, even though it’s taste is that fresh and constant taste you’d want in a wine that stacks up to shellfish (PEI mussels in my case). How they managed to stuff nectarines and yuzu into this wine and keep it looking clean as a light yellow gemstone I have no idea. Nevertheless, they succeeded with this wine and even after an hour of pouring a glass there are a few bubbles undulating up to the surface. Weird.


There’s really nothing I’ve said about the grape other than it’s part of Cava but there is a fair amount about Macabeo. Like it’s name isn’t Macabeo outside of Spain – it’s Viura (scallop in Spanish, which is perhaps why they called it something else, despite it pairing well with scallops). They grow it along the southern un-trendy part of France in Languedoc-Roussillon, in the Rioja region and south of Barcelona where the Cava fields bubble happily in the sun (at least that’s how I imagine it).

Detail Up!
Blanc Pescador by Castillo Perelada

Google Randoms
* The hottest lady in wine crushes on this “cinderella wine” in her spare time.
* This is the white wine they mostly plant in northern Spain so if you’ve ever had a White Rioja, chances are you’ve had this
* This Blanc Pescador wine made the Top 16 list of Best Vinos de Aguja. No idea who decided Top 16 was better than Top 10 or Top 20. Top 16 Wines – catchy.

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