When I was invited to an online tasting of wines from the Prosecco region with Studio Cru, of course, I said yes. I’m a sucker for bubbles, and I love this region. We visited a bit over a year ago, and it is stunning.
The winery was Bellenda. I didn’t know much about them, and with quick research, I learned that the place was owned by 4 Italian brothers. I’ll admit, I didn’t get overly excited about that. There are so many male-dominated wineries in Italy. But then I got a look at their webpage.
(The wines described in this post were received as media samples. All opinion are our own. No other compensation was recieved.)
The images are quirky and fun, and I was soon to discover so were the wines.
Umberto Cosmo joined us for the tasting with his trimmed white beard, blue checked shirt and suspenders, and the great giveaway, his round rose-colored spectacles! He was as fun and unstuffy as the photos. A deep dimple appeared on his cheek as he smiled, telling us about his wines.
The motto here is “think, believe, do.” They note their approach is “a combination of flair and concreteness.”
The winery was founded in 1987 by Umberto’s brother, Sergio. He and his brothers began this from a family vineyard. His Father and Grandfather had always sold the grapes to the local Coop. In fact, his Grandfather had founded the Coop, so he was not exceptionally happy when they started their own winery!
The Bellenda Estate Vineyards are north of Conegliano in Carpesica. In this small town, they have 35 hectares of vineyards, mostly planted to glera, and these are the grapes used for their sparkling wines.
We drove by the village on our drive through the region. You can see the Chiesa Parracchiale di San Daniele Profeta (the Church of Saint Daniel Prophet). The vineyards you see on the slope below the church are the Bellenda vineyards.
The Rive of Conegliano-Valdobbiadene
Within the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOC, there are the Rive. These are towns or small microzone, that contain a steeply sloped hill. There are 43 Rive in the region. The map shows the dots for each of them. Each will be different depending on their microclimate, but all require “heroic agriculture” as they are planted on steep slopes, where the labor of caring for the vines and harvesting are more intense.
The Carpesica Rive is one of 4 in the Vittorio Veneto Comune. Vittorio Veneto, the town itself, was the site of the final battle between Italy and Austria-Hungary in World War 1. At the time, in 1918, the region’s principal city was called Vittorio, after Victor Emmanuel II, but Vento was added to the name in 1923.
Sustainability at Bellenda
They very specifically work with no pesticides. Umberto tells us part of this is to look out for their yeast! Their first fermentation is done with indigenous yeast, and they worry about what the yeast has to eat! You are what you eat, and these precious yeasts will eat the sugars in these grapes to ferment their wines. They don’t want them also to be eating pesticides!
They farm with woods and bees in the vineyard. They don’t cut the grass between the rows so that they can keep a biodiversity of insects, birds, and animals in the vineyard. There are olive trees, and cover crops filling the vineyard rows.
They also use recycled glass for all their wines, with the exception of the Rosé.
They are also gradually replacing their roofs with green roofs to help capture the rainwater and avoid runoff. And they employ solar panels for their energy needs.
The Wines of Bellenda
Umberto spoke with us about 4 of the sparkling wines that they sent to us. I opted not to open and taste at that time. I love bubbles and couldn’t bear to open these bottles for just a morning sip (this was an early morning tasting for me). So, I took notes and planned a gathering to share these wines and get different impressions of them! This also allowed me to make a selection of small bites to pair with them!
Bellenda San Fermo Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore Brut
This was the first wine they produced in 1986, and it is still the most important to them in both the market and their hearts. This wine is called San Fermo for the small church next to the vineyard. The soils here are limestone and clay with morainic deposits. This comes from the Piave glacier that carved out the valley between Mount Pizzoc and Mount Visentin just north of here.
This wine is destemmed and pressed, then spends 3 months on the lees (the yeast). This wine does its second fermentation in the Martinotti Method (Charmant or tank).
While most producers of Prosecco encourage you to enjoy these wines right away, within the first year after release, Umberto believes Prosecco becomes better after the first year in bottle.
Umberto says that after 5 or 6 years, the wines develop a bit of petrol on the nose like you often get in Riesling. This develops into beautiful saffron notes as it ages further.
You get stone fruit, like white peaches and citrus, with a bit of floral. On the finish you might notice a note of almond.
11.6% abv – 6.5 g/L rs – € 13 from the winery (you can find it for around $22 in the US)
Bellenda Sei Uno Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore Extra Brut Rive di Carpesica
The grapes for this wine come from their vineyard in Carpesica, with soils matching those above.
This wine is made in the traditional method with the second fermentation in the bottle. Bellenda began making this wine over 20 years ago, and people thought they were crazy. They said this had never been done here before. Umberto did the research. Before tank fermentation, wines were in this area in the 1930s, but sparkling prosecco was made here before then, and the only way to do this was by bottle fermentation. So perhaps the history of the Metodo Classico (traditional method) goes back further than what people might think.
This method gives the wine more structure. Umberto feels this makes it better for pairing with food and wine, and food must go together, in their opinion.
11.6% abv – 2.04 g/L rs – €17 at the winery (you can find it for around $28 in the US)
Con Alti – Pet Nat 2022
This is their newest wine. Not a DOC or DOCG wine. This is a blend and does not contain the minimum 85% Glera that is needed for DOC or DOCG labeling. This wine is a blend of ancient local grapes from vineyards they found containing grapes like Verdiso, Bianchetto, Boschero, and Marzemino Bianco. These grapes are good for making sparkling wine. In fact, Umberto told us that before the 2nd World War, the local name for Marzemino Bianco was “Champagne.”
They add no sulfites to this wine. The juice ferments on the skin for about 20 days. They remove the skins and continue fermenting until they reach 15 to 20 g/L of residual sugar, then they bottle with the remaining lees (yeast), and fermentation is completed in the bottle, creating the fizz. This is the Ancestral method of making sparkling wine.
For Umberto, this calls back memories of wines in the 1960s that families made for their own consumption. At that time, the Veneto was a poor region, and people could not afford to buy sparkling wines for celebration, so these homemade ancestral method wines were often a bottle where they added a bit of sugar to kick off the 2nd fermentation and create the bubbles.
You will find flint on the nose of this wine, something Umberto remembers from these wines of his childhood. The soils of this area have this smell. They are rich in stones from the Piave Glacier that once covered this hill in Carpesica.
Con Alti is the name of the place, not even a town, just a few houses in the Northern part of Vittorio Veneto. Some of these vines are still cultivated, not as modern grapes are, but with trees in the vineyard.
Visually, this wine is lightly cloudy, like an egg white, due to the lees left in the bottle. The bubbles are fine. The nose is first savory with saline notes, followed by warm lemon pear and floral notes. In your mouth, it has delicious acidity that, along with the bubbles, tingle across your tongue in a delightful way. The tang and salinity linger.
For those unfamiliar with Pet-Nats, it might seem odd, but my guests, even those unacquainted with the style, took to it readily.
The wine is 55% glera; the rest is a blend of Verdiso, Bianchetto, Marzemino Bianco, a few vines of Dorona (he mentioned there were perhaps 4 vines of this grape), and a little bit of Boschero.
11.2% abv – trace sugars (due to secondary fermentation in the bottle) – € 12 from the winery
Bellenda Prosecco DOC Brut Rosé Millesimato 2022
Umberto likes rosé. In the past, he says they would produce this with Glera & Raboso, but when the appellation approved Rosé for the DOC, it required that the red wine used be Pinot Noir. They have a bit of Pinot Noir in their own vineyard for producing Metodo Classico wines, and they use about 10% Pinot Noir in this wine.
They are looking to make a pink Prosecco and not overpower the nose with Pinot Noir, but rather just a bit of cherry and small wild strawberry.
Most of their wines here at Bellenda are DOCG wines. This Rosé Brut is only a DOC because there is not a DOCG for Rosé Prosecco. Umberto is okay with this! There is no tradition of Rosé Prosecco in this region, so it makes no sense to have a DOCG for it.
The nose here has raspberry, wild strawberry, cherry, and a wonderful structure. (This was my friend RuBen’s favorite of the lineup).
11.5% abv – 8 g/L rs – € 12.5 at the winery ($18 in the US)
The party pairings:
We gathered a group of friends to taste these wines and pair some snacks.
We did a variety of meats, cheeses and fruits on a cheese board: dried apricots, honeycomb, clementines, Grano Padano cheese, grapes, Parmigiano Reggiano, pistachios, dried cranberries, Sopressato, Bresaolo, pear, Pecorino Romano, goat cheese with lemon and blueberries, gorgonzola, Marcona almonds, Castelvetrano olives and oranges slices.
Then, on the side, there were Caprese bites of ciliegine (small mozzarella balls), cherry tomatoes, and basil leaves, Baccala Mantecato (whipped salt cod with olive oil) with crostini, prosciutto wrapped melon, grilled polenta wedges and sardines, all to bring to mind the cicchetti of Venezia (small tapas style bites served during aperitivo in Venice).
Our guests each had their favorite on the wines. My friend RuBen loved the Rosé Brut, enjoying the structure that the Pinot Noir brought to the wine finding this wine, crisp, dry and smooth. My friend Renae, new to Pet-Nat, found she really enjoyed this, with the texture in the wine. People picked up grapefruit and citrus on this wine. Someone mentioned that it “had a bite” and felt “adventurous”. Someone else mentioned that it would be refreshing on a hiking trail!
All the wines paired beautifully with the foods, although several of my guests looked with a wary eye on the sardines and Baccala Mantecato (this type of fish isn’t for everyone). A couple of my world traveler friends did have their ears perk up a the mention of Baccala, remembering it fondly from time in Spain and Portugal.
These sparkling wines, sparked conversation. Bubbles do provide for bubbly conversation!
Reflecting on Commonalities. That 6 degrees of separation in the universe
As I was putting this piece together, I dug back through photos to see if we had passed this region on our drive through the prosecco region. Thanks to the mapping feature in LightRoom, I found a picture of Carpesica and, in fact, the Bellenda vineyards (those I shared with you above). I matched my photos with vineyard shots provided by the winery and dove into Google Maps to be sure of the buildings I was looking at.
Diving into maps is genuinely one of my great joys. It grounds me and informs my knowledge of the place. I often return from trips and map out exactly where I had been. I note streets and churches that I missed as we passed by and often find other details I had no idea I was catching. Such was the case here.
I had not made the connection with Bellenda that I had photos I had taken of the vineyard. I was just catching vineyards and countryside as we drove the region. I looked and found I had captured the hill of Carpesica and the Bellenda Vineyards. I looked deeper at the maps, discovering what I thought might be the Relais de Alice. While doing this, I noticed Le Vigne di Alice on the map beside it. Was that another of their labels? I looked it up, and the label was familiar to me. This was a wine I had received when I won the “Prosecco, My Style” contest last year by “All the Swirl.” I had a bottle of Le Vigne di Alice Doro Nature Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore. Were the wineries related? I dug deeper and found that I had read about both wineries (and Umberto) in Jason Wilson’s book “Godforsaken Grapes.” In the book, he has dinner with Umberto and his wife, Cinzia Canzian, who is the winemaker for Le Vigne di Alice. He speaks of the two as pushing the boundaries of Prosecco, each with their own winery. Yes, these two, with their separate wineries, are pushing glera and other indigenous grapes of the region to new limits.
I am always amazed at how connected the universe is. All these random photos, wines, maps, and books have coalesced into a greater understanding, no more than that, a depth of familiarity that feels like a luxury as I sit miles away from these vineyards. We sometimes curse our connected society, with the internet often keeping us from what is right in front of our noses. But it is a means of connection. For a researcher like myself, diving down into these rabbit holes (whoops, that was an unwitting reference), you find the tunnels bring you up in unexpected places. Coincidence? Kismet? I don’t know, but it brings me joy!
These wines are currently distributed in around 10 US states, imported by Specialty Cellars in California. Here in Nevada, these wines are distributed by Franco Wine & Spirits.
To add to the magical feel of these wines, you can book a stay at the Alice Relais in the vineyards, their late 19th-century cottage with an interior inspired by “Through the Looking Glass.” There is a great article here https://venetosecrets.com/en/unusual/alice-relais-nelle-vigne-vittorio-veneto/
Are you intrigued and packing your bags? Here is the site where you can book your adventure through the looking glass https://alice-relais.com/
More on Prosecco!
- Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG My Style (Extra Brut) with Cicchetti
- Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore and Venetian Inspired Pairings
- Prosecco: Bubbles from Northern Italy’s lush green hills
- Prosecco – joyful bubbles to “wring” out 2020 #ItalianFWT
- Day 7 Italy Albino Aramani Prosecco
- Terre di Bacco Prosecco – Day 1 of the 12 Days of Wine 2020
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.
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