Meet Your Prosecco Maker: Stefano Gava of Villa Sandi + His Food Pairing Tips

Flickr user fifth grouper
Flickr user fifth grouper

Perhaps you stock up on Prosecco because it tends to be an inexpensive alternative to Champagne (thanks, Charmat method). And then there's the handy bonus that the easy drinking wine is quite adept at tiding over the cocktail hour masses before the main drink course is revealed. But in Italy's Veneto region (outside of Venice, but you knew that) where the sparkling wine is produced, winemaker Stefano Gava says Prosecco should definitely be a sit-down dinner affair.

The 28-year-old is one of a five person team of winemakers at Villa Sandi, one of the largest producers in the area, clocking in with more than two million bottles of sparkling wine annually. Gava is the sort of guy who clearly still gets a kick out of those Glera (formerly known as Prosecco) grapes, as he smiles every time he speaks about wine, particularly in reference to food. But it's best not mention that Prosecco is the stepchild of food-friendly wines in the U.S., and still one wine that's rarely served with the main course. "Prosecco is truly a wine... and for any time of day -- people forget that," he says, noting that Villa Sandi also makes several red wines such as Marinali Rosso, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Cab Franc blend.

Gava grew up among grapes (his father was a grower), so it was perhaps inevitable that he would attend an oenology program and become a winemaker. He says making Prosecco is harder than it looks, as the Glera grape is "delicate" compared to other grapes. Gava produces both the spumante ("fully" sparkling) and frizzante (lighter on the bubbles) styles of Prosecco. "Frizzantes are usually drier, spumantes a little sweeter," explains Gava, adding that many of Villa Sandi's frizzantes end up in Germany. "They like things a little drier there."

Food-wise, regional dishes like seafood risotto (and shellfish from nearby Venice) and radicchio pair particularly well with Prosecco. As for Gava, he says while seafood is great, weeknights he's more of a Prosecco and pasta kind of guy. "Pasta with herbs," he says, adding that a meat ragu is definitely not a wise idea. But salami is just fine. "Yes, salami, for a surprise -- well, I like it."

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