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July 31, 2011

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Bubbles of love

MULTITUDES of lovers will celebrate Qixi Festival, or Chinese Valentine's Day, on the coming Saturday. There are two essentials for a romantic dinner; one is a date and the other a delicious wine. A dinner without wine is quite simply, not romantic. While many wine regions around the world make great wines and boast tales of everlasting love and romance, none can compete with the wines of Veneto, Italy. Why? Because located in the region of Veneto is the charming medieval city of Verona, the home of the world's most famous lovers, Romeo and Juliet. Like the Chinese tale of Niulang and Zhinu that lead to the Qixi Festival on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, the story of our Italian lovers, made most famous by William Shakespeare, is similarly heartbreaking and deserving of a heart-warming drink.

Veneto is an important agriculture and tourism region with resplendent beauty of rolling hills, snow-capped mountains, rivers, lakes and coastline along the Adriatic Sea. The two most important cities are Venice and Verona. The culinary treasures of Veneto are among the most acclaimed in Italy and include the classic prosciutto ham and tiramisu dessert. The region produces a multitude of white, rose, red and dessert wines, but perhaps the most romantic and fun of the wines is the sparkling wine Prosecco.


The Italian word Prosecco refers to the white wine grape that's grown in the eastern part of Veneto. This grape can be used to make still white wines but is most famous for making lively, crisp and fruity sparkling wines. Sometimes a little Pinot Blanco or Pinot Grigio is added to the Prosecco wines. These sparkling wines can be sweet or dry and be only slightly sparkling; we refer to these wines as "Frizzante;" or fully sparkling wines that are called "Spumante." Unlike Champagne that undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle, Prosecco sparkling wines are made using the Charmat method where the second fermentation is in pressurized stainless steel tanks. This process is quicker and less costly than the Champagne method and in Veneto results in wines that are delightfully fresh and best enjoyed young. In general, the best Prosecco wines come from the areas of Conegliano or Valdobbiadene, so if you see these names on the label of a bottle of Prosecco you're probably getting a pretty good sparkler.


Prosecco should always be served chilled, about 8 degrees Celsius, in a flute glass. When enjoyed as an aperitif before dinner, feel free to throw a strawberry or cherry in the glass to provide an added fruity and slightly sweet touch. Then as you finish the glass of Prosecco take the Prosecco-infused fruit and gently feed your lover by hand. If they reciprocate in kind, then your Chinese Valentine's Day meal is indeed off to a romantic start.

Prosecco is quite food friendly. From light appetizers, salads and seafood to white meats and soft to semi-hard cheeses Prosecco makes a fine companion. About the only food that Prosecco really doesn't go with is red meat. If your romantic menu includes steak or red meat then I suggest you have Prosecco as an aperitif, then pick a Valpolicella or Amarone red wine from Verona to savor with your red meat course.


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