Did you know, for instance, that Prosecco is actually the name of a city? It's also called Prosek (in Slovenian) and it's about 9 km from Trieste, Friuli's main city, in the area known as Carso. During the Roman empire, it wasn't really a town yet: it was a sort of crossroad outpost where a lot of goods were stored, awaiting to be sent to their final destination. Among these goods, of course, there were a considerable amount of wines, and many of them were local wines...
But this is just one part of the story: in the XIV-XV century there was also a tower, near Trieste and facing the sea, known as Torre di Prosecco, surrounded by vineyards. And that's the second part completing the legend!
The making of a wine and... its DOC
First of all, one needs to know that Prosecco isn't the winegrapes' name: it's made mainly (up to 85%, more or less) from a white grape variety called Glera which has been cultivated for centuries in Friuli. Glera probably comes from there, most likely from the Carso area, and then spread through Veneto too.
The current World Heritage badge was given to the DOCG (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin) including only Veneto's cities in the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene area, for specific cultural, natural and historical reasons. But there's a much larger Prosecco DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin) established in 2009 including both regions, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto, and nine provinces, four of which are in Friuli: Trieste, Pordenone, Udine and Gorizia.
Actually a large number of Friulian winemakers produce Prosecco and a high quality one: being the landscape stretched between the Adriatic Sea and the Carso mountainous area, it acquires a very peculiar taste. Around the town of Prosecco still lay many vineyards, and you can go and taste a glass (also of many other local wines) in some wonderful osmiza, along with some delicious ham.
The making of a name through the centuries
And now, back to our legends! So how did “Glera” become... “Prosecco”? There are a lot of stories out there, and though none of it is for sure, still we can give a few hints.
The word literally means a “deforested area”, thus must have looked the place back then (maybe woods were chopped down to enable the land to be cultivated). And this name had nothing to do with the sparkling white wine we now appreciate, until very late in time.
The wine linked to the Prosecco town area was called in ancient time Pucino, as it is mentioned in the Roman writer Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia (Natural History). Pliny (23-79 AD) wrote about a wine, “pucinum”, which had incredible longevity qualities and was made near Trieste.
At the beginning of the XVI century, one of the first associations between “pucinum” and “Prosecco” was made by Pietro Bonomo, a humanist and diplomat born into a wealthy family from Trieste, who also became bishop of the city in 1502. His family owned some vineyards around the Castello di Moncolano, also known as Torre di Prosecco (Tower of Prosecco), on the Gulf of Trieste and so he began linking the wine made there to Pliny's elixir, by calling it Prosecco. It was also a deliberate choice aiming to distinguish Trieste's grown wines from those of the neighbouring areas.
Since then, more people started addressing that wine as Prosecco, like the English writer Fynes Moryson in its “An Itinerary” (written between 1591 and 1595) and, later, Valeriano Canati, an abbot from Vicenza and a scholar, who dedicated an entire book to his region's wines, “Il Roccolo Ditirambo”, a dithyramb poem published in Venice in 1754 under the nom de plume Aureliano Acanti. You can still find and read a copy of it in a beautiful, wine only-themed library in Vicenza, “La Vigna”.
That's how the story goes, so far... But if you'd really like to know more about it, you could purchase Fulvio Colombo's interesting book “Prosecco Patrimonio del Nordest”, published by Luglio Editore.
Cover photo of Prosecco's church taken from the website www.percorsiprovinciats.it