It's a truth universally acknowledged... that a chilled bottle of Prosecco must be in want of a drinker. But must it be true that all Prosecco is equally cheap and cheerful?
Dear reader, today I will try to convince you in favour of spending a smidgen more in pursuit of higher quality. I put it to you that Prosecco Superiore is not only a delicious wine, but that it's worthy of your respect and interest.
Prosecco is made in an area of Italy called Conegliano Valdobbiadene, in the Veneto region in the northeast of Italy. Perhaps you've heard it's a hilly place where the vineyards are so steep they have to be harvested by hand, as no tractor would survive the slopes, but I think this picture says it best:
There are two towns which give the region its name: Conegliano (home of the famous oenology school) and Valdobbiadene. There are 15 communes in this area, and you may see the name of one of 43 individual sites, or Rive ("ree-vay") on your bottle, in addition to the words Prosecco Superiore DOCG.
The most famous subzone within the DOCG area is called Cartizze ("car-teet-zay"), a tiny 107 hectares that is known for some very special bubbles. One trick I learned from a winemaker is that Cartizze often has the scent of wisteria blooms, which is very romantic, as is the touch of sweetness found on the palate.
So what sets Prosecco DOCG apart? It's these steep, steep slopes, which make the best home for quality sparkling made from the Glera grape = the best aspect, the best soils, the best ripening (ps: Glera's a distinctive creature: it has a delicate floral aroma, peaches too, especially white peach, plus green apple).
Wines made from the best steep sites have a definite brightness and lift that is utterly refreshing, and yes, you can taste the difference in a blind test. By law, the grapes must be picked by hand. Non-DOCG wines have a huge demarcated area, including the lesser regarded valley floors.
Aren't you curious to try more of the wines produced in these hills? I know I am.
Here's where things get a little confusing: the residual sugar content. There are three levels you'll see on the label: Brut, which is the driest (0-12 grams/litre), Extra Dry is the traditional style in the middle (12-17 g/l), and the sweetest is called, wait for it... Dry (17-32 g/l). So, easy to remember: just think the reverse of dry is Dry!
Other terms you might see are: Millesimato, which is the vintage the grapes were harvested. Spumante means sparkling. Frizzante, which is semi-sparkling and aged on the lees in a traditional style, and Tranquilo, which means 'still' (the rules are that Frizzante and Tranquilo wines aren't labelled with Superiore). Demi-long refers to the wine sitting on lees for at least six months, and Long is for at least one year.
Most Prosecco is made using the Martinotti (also known as Charmat or autoclave) method, which helps glorify the Glera perfume, although interestingly there are some wines being produced in the Traditional (or Champagne) method.
Notable Prosecco DOCG Wines to buy:
Bisol Superiore di Cartizze DOCG Dry 2014: Meyer lemon meets purple floral, and sweet red apple, lightly spiced with ginger. Creamy bubbles, luxurious.
Colvendra' Prosecco Superiore Millesimato Brut DOCG 2015: Soft candied pear, white honeysuckle, refreshing acidity with harmonious mineral and green apple palate. Summery. Melon kissed with grapefruit zest.
Sorelle Bronca Particella 68 Prosecco Superiore DOCG: Delicate green melon, leesy, creamy, yet vibrant. A stony mineral core with lilac top notes.
Terre Di San Venanzio Fortunato Valdobbiadene Brut DOCG: Luscious bubbles, fuller bodied. Notes of pear drop, green apple, and floral.
Val D'Oca Le Rive Di Colbertaldo Prosecco Superiore Extra Dry DOCG 2015: Full of green apple and crisp fresh pear. Orange peel citrus, green melon. Mineral for miles. Acidity balances plush residual sugar. Notably creamy mousse. Pair with delicate foods.
Villa Sandi Valdobbiadene Superiore Di Cartizze Vigna La Rivetta Brut DOCG: Lilac and fresh bloomed purple wisteria. Leesy complexity meets red apple on the palate. A treat.
I hope I've piqued your curiosity and you'll give these wines a try. Let me know, what's your favourite Prosecco?
Cheers & Cin Cin,
Photos courtesy of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Consorzio