Prosecco - isn't that Italian "champagne"?
No, no, please don't mention the C-word when you talk about Prosecco. One of the best things about the straw-coloured wine is that it doesn't pretend to be French fizz. It is a star in its own right, with its own sparkling personality.
This sounds like product placement - is this a sponsored Grail Trail?
I'm serious - the British seem to have got stuck with Champagne snobbery, and as a result pay over the odds for mediocre bubbly when there are some fabulous alternatives out there.
But we're flooded with sparkling wines, and some of them are dire.
All the more reason to go in search of an authentic brew. Let me take you to Prosecco country.
And where is that?
North-east Italy, in the province of Treviso. Just an hour's drive from Venice, in the foothills of the Dolomites, you will find the perfect home for the Prosecco grape - south-facing slopes at the ideal altitude, a regular supply of water from the mountains and warm air wafting up from the Adriatic.
Sounds promising. Where shall we start?
Conveniently, Italy's first wine route, the 25-mile Strada del Prosecco, runs through the area and provides a stunning introduction. It runs west from the commercial centre of Conegliano and winds up in the true heart of the wine area, the elegant town of Valdobbiadene.
That's a bit of a mouthful.
Don't worry, after a few glasses of their sparkling juice you will be surprised just how easily Val-do-be-ad-en-ay rolls off the tongue.
Ok, let's get down to a little tasting.
Indeed. There's plenty to choose from, with 40 cantinas or wine-makers offering samples at the cellar door. You can turn up unannounced at a few of them, but most prefer you to ring ahead to make an appointment. The tourist office in Valdobbiadene provides a wine map that contains a stack of information including all the important telephone numbers.
So how do I spot a good Prosecco?
The initial encounter should be a fresh kiss of tiny bubbles, followed by full fruitiness and then a dry, almost bitter, finish. Getting the balance right in this three-part harmony is the key to making good-quality Prosecco. The wine-makers that have perfected this party piece are the ones we should be tracking down.
Where's that map? This is my sort of mission.
Well, it is not as simple as it sounds because at each of the cantinas there is a whole drinks trolley of styles to sample. They range from the steely brut favoured by foreigners weaned on cava and Champagne to the more traditional extra dry, which in the eccentric world of spumante labelling is actually a touch sweet. Then there is the dry, which is even sweeter, and even a tasty Prosecco Tranquillo - which, as the name suggests, has been spared the secondary fermentation and has no bubbles.
I'm already confused.
Don't worry, you can get back to basics with the rustic frizzante or semi-sparkling Prosecco, which is very easy to spot - it is usually sealed with a notched cork tied down with string. All you have to do is home in on good quality.
Can't you give me a few clues? Forty is a heck of a lot to get through.
Well, within this select area there is a handkerchief of land that produces an even more prestigious style of Prosecco. It's called Superiore di Cartizze, and is made from grapes grown on the steepest hills surrounding the villages of Santo Stefano, Saccol and San Pietro di Barbozza. The tiny patch of land has a gentle microclimate and perfect cocktail of soils that make it a VIP lounge for vines. The precious land has been subdivided again and again so that now there are hundreds of tiny vineyards that sell their modest harvest to the larger wineries.
Your best bet is to make the pilgrimage to any of the cantinas that lie within the Cartizze boundaries. It is here that you will find your holy grail. There is a simple satisfaction in sipping a glass of perfect Prosecco while surveying the hills that produced it. I tried to explain this sense of contentment to Giancarlo, my host at the small winery of Il Follo at the heart of Cartizze. He smiled knowingly and poured me a second glass. I came away with two cases of his magic brew. Other wineries that are blessed with good Cartizze and views of the hills are Le Colture, Bisol, Col Vettoraz, Fratelli Bortolin and the supremely hospitable Ruggeri.
I presume all this exclusivity makes Cartizze terribly expensive?
The cellar-door price is about 10 euros (£6.80) a bottle, roughly three times the cost of the normal extra dry. Still, it's a bargain when compared to Champagne.
But is it worth it?
Well, it is made with a limited supply of hand-picked grapes and a bountiful supply of historical expertise. It is produced almost exclusively in the dry style, and as a result can perform perfect duets with local desserts. It certainly can have more complex flavours and nuances than run-of-the-mill Prosecco. But before you go searching too deeply for hints of glazed fruit, acacia and measuring acidity levels remember that it is traditionally a wine of celebration and that, unlike Champagne, Prosecco doesn't get better with age. In fact it has a maximum shelf life of about two years - so forget the earthly euros, open that case and start celebrating something.