The scent of simmering ragù wafted through the screen door to the back porch where I sat with Otto Dal Zotto. He popped a chilled bottle of prosecco, and after the requisite “Salute!” we gazed over rows of grapevines to distant gold and green hills – a scene reminiscent of northern Italy’s Veneto region.
“My wife, Elena, and I bought this place in 1986 because it reminded me of my home, Valdobbiadene,” Dal Zotto said, as if reading my mind. “And because it has the ideal Mediterranean climate for growing prosecco.” Two kangaroos chomping on grape clusters made it clear I was nowhere near Italy, but rather, in Australia’s King Valley, a scenic wine region three hours northeast of Melbourne.
Inspired by his Italian roots, Dal Zotto sourced hard-to-find cuttings and planted Australia’s first prosecco vines in 1999, thus becoming the country’s prosecco pioneer. His eldest son is now the winemaker at Dal Zotto Wines and produces numerous types of prosecco, among other varietals.
“When I was growing up, there was always a bottle of prosecco on the table, every table,” Dal Zotto said. “Planting prosecco in King Valley was important to me and my family legacy.”
Italian pride swirls up and down the 27-mile-long valley, where around two dozen family-owned vineyards have produced wine for three generations. With a reputation for generous hospitality and high-quality sangiovese, barbera, and nebbiolo, the region has earned its cred. But it’s the light and effervescent sparkler (and day-drinking favorite) that inspired other King Valley vineyards to jump on the bubbles bandwagon.
In 2011, five vintners collaborated to create the King Valley Prosecco Road, a food-and-wine trail that invites visitors to bask in King Valley and the prosecco lifestyle with tastings at cellar doors (as tasting rooms are known here), pasta-making classes, Italian food, and terraces designed for sipping in the sunshine. Here’s where to go.
If you’ve come to King Valley for prosecco, then you must raise a glass to Otto Dal Zotto, who planted his first vines (chardonnay, merlot, and cabernet) in the late 1980s. There’s a good chance you’ll meet a Dal Zotto family member working at the trattoria or in the tasting room, where you can sip six types of bubbles. Otto’s recommendation: “The one you share with family and friends is the best one.” The winery also rents e-bikes for two-wheel explorations of nearby cellar doors and cafés, and, on a select day during the harvest, the Dal Zottos offer visitors the opportunity to pick grapes with the family at an event called Pick Your Own Prosecco.
Sam Miranda’s sunny terrace packs a care-free party vibe with every pop of its award-winning NV prosecco and prosato (rosé prosecco). Kids and dogs can romp freely in the nearby meadow, making it easy to succumb to the winery’s prosecco style: “I make it the way I like it,” Miranda says. “Not too serious, and fun to drink.” Don’t miss his whimsical prosecco cocktails, made with fresh fruit and local cordials, and topped with “fairy floss” (cotton candy).
After planting their Italian varietals in 1986 (and adding prosecco vines in 2010), Alfredo and Katrina Pizzini now oversee a legacy that keeps their four children knee-deep in the family business. Katrina teaches pasta-making at the on-site cooking school, A Tavola!, while their son Joel, who took over as head winemaker in 2002, made the decision to plant prosecco vines. His collection of four Pizzini proseccos includes Il Soffio, a dry, citrusy bubbly introduced last year. “Our Italian heritage gave us the opportunity to do something different in King Valley,” Alfredo says. “There’s a strong sense of family tradition passed down into each of our wines.”
Jo and Arnie Pizzini (Alfredo Pizzini’s cousin) welcome visitors to their airy tasting room and ultramodern restaurant, which has racked up a few “best food” nods from regional and national magazines. Try dishes such as house-made ravioli stuffed with local goat cheese, and beef carpaccio drizzled in fresh fig dressing, or head to the 180-degree-view terrace made for prosecco sipping – a refreshing reward for Melburnians who make the drive. “Like our peaceful corner of Victoria, our prosecco is simple, celebratory, and well worth the journey,” says Arnie.
More than 130 years of winemaking stretch behind one of Australia’s oldest vineyards, where Katherine Brown – the founder’s great-granddaughter and the family’s first female winemaker – hopes a new generation comes to know her family history through prosecco. “Wine can be intimidating,” she says. “The Prosecco Road is a great way to introduce people to the region and invite them to learn more about our wines.” Girlfriend getaways don’t get much better than the reservation-only Prosecco Brunch for 2 to 12 guests, served on the winery’s private and relaxed patio.
Blog courtesy of Virtuoso
Written by Kimberley Lovato
Published: November 2, 2020