Prosecco Superiore DOCG: Quality Matters

  • Kevin 
Sparkling Wine Corks
Sparkling Wine Corks
Three Prosecco Superiore Conegliano Valdobbiadene Corks

Sometimes Prosecco gets a bad rap. In fact, it is a victim of its own success, to a great extent.

It is a sign of the commercial and brand success of this big little sparkling wine from the north of Italy that, to many consumers, the word “Prosecco” has become shorthand for “sparkling wine” – much to the horror of many producers in Champagne. Why would the Champagne producers be annoyed by this? Because Prosecco is often inexpensive, and it normally gets its bubbles from “Tank Method“, a different method than the one used in Champagne, which is a method emulated by fine sparkling wine producers the world over.

But the consumer is generally either unaware of, or not interested in, these differences. The price is right, the wines are fresh, fruity and effervescent, and they are available by the glass nearly everywhere. In fact, as demand for Prosecco increased, huge swathes of new vineyard land was added to the traditional heartland of the appellation. The newer territory is much lower in elevation, and much less hilly than that of Prosecco’s birthplace: Conegliano Valdobbiadene. The wines are made on a larger scale and sold at lower prices. They are generally cheap and cheerful. And they are labelled Prosecco DOC. Overall impressions about the quality of the wine compared to sparkling wines of other countries – or even other parts of Italy – have suffered as a result. This is a pity, because there is also high-quality Prosecco. And you can find it in Prosecco’s heartland: Conegliano Valdobbiadene.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

The appellation for Prosecco was established in 1969, so it is celebrating its golden anniversary this year. Added to this, there were many IGT wines made with Glera, the principal grape used for Prosecco, from outside the core zone. In 2009, however, there was a restructuring of the entire appellation, and Conegliano Valdobbiadene – along with Asolo – was elevated from DOC to DOCG status, the top tier of the Italian Denomination pyramid. Part of that restructuring resulted in a change of the official name of the main grape used to make the wines, which had, up until then, also been called Prosecco. Under EU law, this is no longer feasible: a product, such as fine wine, with a PDO (an EU “Protected Designation of Origin) cannot have the same name as a geographical location. So, either the appellation itself or the grape name had to change. An historical name for the grape was chosen: Glera.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene is named after two of the most significant of the 15 communes in the Veneto where this Prosecco Superiore can be made. The enological school in Conegliano is where the production of Prosecco was perfected, while Valdobbiadene is where most of the most beautiful, most vertiginous vineyards are found – and where the best-quality grapes come from.

Prosecco Quality Pyramid

What’s more, as of Sunday, July 7th, the ten-year effort to have this small zone recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site has been rewarded! The hills of Conegliano Valdobbiadene have been designated the 10th site worldwide under the “Cultural Landscape” category – and it is a fantastically beautiful, mountainous region whose landscape has been shaped by man and nature. Vines here are planted on steep, rocky slopes; vineyard work is done by hand.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene
A view of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Conegliano-Valdobbiadene – image by Arcangelo Piai, courtesy of the Consortium

Of Crus and Rives

Within this already small part of the zone, there is also a hierarchy of quality. There is a cru. Only one, in fact. It is called “Cartizze”, and if you find a wine from this site, the word will appear on the bottle. The cru area is 107 hectares, and is found in Valdobbiadene.

Then, there are a total of 43 different “Rive” sites. The word means “slope” in the local dialect, and wines containing the word “Rive” come from specially-designated steep parcels of vines in one of the permitted communes. The wines are always from a single vintage. On the bottle, you will see “Millesimato 2016”, for example, for a wine from 2016. This is unusual for Prosecco, which is normally a non-vintage wine.

All other wines from the zone are Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG – but it is worth knowing that, on the label, it is not required to put both place names; you might see only Conegliano or Valdobbiadene. Not to worry, this is totally legal and the wine is still a DOCG from the zone.

The Wines and the Pairings

The #ItalianFWT group has made July the month for Prosecco Superiore DOCG. Many of the members are writing articles on the subject, the links to all the others can be found below. This time most of us got some samples sent to us by the consortium – every writer got three bottles, no two bottles were the same.

I had the pleasure of receiving three different Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG , two of them Millesimato, from 2016 and 2017, and one non-vintage.

Pairing with Glera

The thing about Glera is, it is a delicately-flavoured grape with light aromatic intensity. Green apple, almond blossom, white peach, maybe some salt. Heavy, spicy dishes will defeat it easily. There is a reason why Prosecco is often drunk as an aperitif (aperitivo in Italian), and that just might be it. So I didn’t try to pair strong dishes with them. Well, I tried, but the pairing wasn’t successful.

My Wines

Three Delightful Sparklers

Pianer” Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry, Non-Vintage, from Le Colture

This wine is, somewhat illogically, the sweetest of the three. Soft, sapid and a bit salty, with creamy mousse and easy to understand. The wine was pure pleasure to drink, and it barely lasted long enough for me to even try to pair with food. Delightful. I happily drank this wine by itself, as did my wife. No food necessary.

Glass of Prosecco
Perfect aperitivo

Bosco di Fratta” Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut, Millesimato 2017, from Sanfeletto

Ah, this was interesting! Mor racy acidity, a bit of green herb to add to the peach and almond blossom. Good salty finish, and still very light on the palate. This was a wine with a bit more citric intensity, too, and it worked beautifully with my Turkey Salad. In fact, they complemented each other very well. The turkey is sautéed with salt and coriander, with a splash of lemon juice towards the end. The salad is mixed greens with cucumber and tomato. The dressing is white balsamic, lemon juice, maple syrup, seeded Dijon mustard and olive oil. It was a great match.

Prosecco and Turkey Salad
Best Combination

Sei Uno” Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut – Rive di Carpesica, Millesimato 2016, from Bellenda

This was almost grassy and fresh, with a fine mousse and more restrained stone fruit. A very unusual Prosecco for my taste buds. Light, well-balanced and with a nice freshness and mineral length, the wine was also made “metodo classico” , which is to say that it was re-fermented in bottle, instead of in tank. A very interesting wine. It worked with the turkey salad, but also stood up well with sautéed beef and vegetables. Lovely!

Sei Uno Prosecco Superiore Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG
Fine Vintage Prosecco Superiore from Conegliano Valdobbiadene

#ItalianFWT

And now check out the articles from my colleagues in the Italian Food Wine and Travel blogger group for more Prosecco Superiore goodness!

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