Last month I had an opportunity to spend two days in the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene region of the Veneto and experience Prosecco Superiore DOCG first hand. It was everything I didn’t expect: a gorgeous, rural landscape dotted with small villages and with vineyards so steep it was if we were in the middle Mosel. What also quickly became apparent was the monumental gap between worlds of simple Prosecco DOC and Prosecco Superiore which was elevated to DOCG status in 2009. The scale of production makes that immediately apparent with the DOC zone comprised of over 31,000 acres and producing over 128 million bottles annually. By comparison, the DOCG is less than half the size at 14,600 acres centered in the area’s two major villages of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene as well as the other DOCG village of Colli Asolani. Annual production hovers around 65 million bottles coming from the areas 3,000 vine growers and 166 bottling companies.
Vineyards in Conegliano
To understand Prosecco Superiore it’s helpful to have a timeline:
Production for Prosecco Superiore is 90% frizzante and 10% still wine, which is locally called tranquillo. We did have a chance to taste the latter and I found it to be a gentle aromatic white.
Prosecco Superiore is produced from a minimum of 85% Glera with a maximum of 15% other local grapes that include Verdiso, Perera, Bianchetta, and Glera Lunga. A maximum of 15% of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir can also be legally used but only for the frizzante wines.
Glera: a vigorous variety and yields must be kept low.
Verdiso: first documented in the 15th century; it adds high natural acidity and aromatic complexity
Bianchetta: first documented in the 16th century; it adds body and richness to wines in less ripe vintages
Glera Lunga: gives firmness and structure
What was the most surprising impression (shocking, to be precise) of Conegliano- Valdobbiadene region was the topography which is completely different from the endless sea of flatland vineyards that make up the DOC region. The vineyard aspect is somewhere between the middle Mosel and the Douro Valley. In many places, most notably the Cartizze, the region’s gem, the aspect of the vines are easily beyond a black diamond ski slope. One immediately makes the connection to the necessity of endless hours of hand labor and a new sense of value in the wines.
Generally the Prosecco Superiore region has a mild climate with an average mean temperature of 54 degrees F. and the average rainfall at 49 inches. Conegliano tends to be warmer and drier making for richer wines. Valdobbiadene has wider diurnals with the wines displaying racier acidity.
Soil types for the Conegliano area are primarily comprised of clay and limestone with a mix of alluvial and glacial. The soils of Valdobbiadene consist of moraines, sandstone and clay.
The Prosecco Hierarchy of Quality
The base appellation for Prosecco wine made in the region of Treviso.
The “classico” region comprised of the three villages of Conegliano, Valdobbiadene and Asolo. The latter produces a much smaller quantity of wine than the other two.
Prosecco Rive can only be applied to sparkling wines. The term “Rive” in local dialect translates as “vineyards planted on steep land” and applies to wines made from one of 43 specific single vineyards in the Coneglio-Valdobiaddene district. Wines designated as Rive must list the name of the village as well as the vintage on the label.
The subzone of Cartizze is considered the “grand cru” of Prosecco. It was officially recognized in 1969 when the DOC zone was established. Cartizze is comprised of 106 hectares (164 acres) of remarkably steep vineyards in the Valdobbiadene communes of San Pietro di Barbozza, Santo Stefano, and Saccol. This small area is a perfect combination of mild climate, aspect and soils. It’s also among the most expensive vineyard real estate on the planet with a single hectare valued at over one million Euros.
Vineyards in Cartizze
The harvest takes place in mid-September to early October and practically all the vineyards are hand harvested as the steep terrain simply doesn’t allow for machine harvesting. Generally, the vineyards of Conegliano are harvested first with those in Valdobbiadene typically later. Yields for the entire region are set at a maximum of 13.5 tonnes per hectare.
By law a maximum of 70 liters of must can be extracted from 100 K grapes. After pressing the must is allowed to settle and clarify at 41-50 degrees F. Primary fermentation takes place in stainless steel over the course of 15-20 days at temperatures between 64-68 degrees F. After primary fermentation the base wines are blended into cuvée. The secondary fermentation takes place over 25-60 days with temperatures ranging between 59 and 64 degrees F. At end the temperature is taken down to 32 degrees F. to leave some residual sugar in the wine. Before bottling the new wines undergo a tasting exam by a Consorzio panel. The new wine can legally be released for sale 30-40 days after bottling and the addition of the DOCG seal, which lists an individual number for each bottle that can be tracked back to the winery.
Styles of Prosecco Superiore
Prosecco Superiore is made in three different styles designated by residual sugar content: Brut, Extra Dry and Dry. Residual sweetness ranges from up to 12 grams per liter for Brut, 12-17 grams for Extra Dry and more than 17 grams for Dry. I found the dryness/sweetness levels of Brut and Extra Dry similar to that of Champagnes labeled the same. Dry Prosecco Superiore reminds me of Moscato di Asti in style.
Giancarlo Vettorello, director of the Consorzio, told us the wines from Conegliano tend to have more structure while wines from Valdobbiadene have more perfumed aromatics. Generally I found that to be true but regardless found the overall quality to be outstanding and the wines fresh, vibrant and delicious. Here are some of my favorites:
1. NV Conte Collalto Brut: quite dry for Prosecco with very good structure and length
2. 2010 Zardetto Brut Tre Venti Rive di Ogliano: very floral and pretty on the nose with a lot of intensity and minerality on the palate. Very good.
3. NV Cantine Maschio Brut, Rive di Colbertaldo: fresh, grapey, and even tropical nose. Brut style with a delicious balance of fruit and acid, and the right touch of residual sweetness.
4. 2010 Sorelle Bronca Brut Particella 68: aromatic floral nose with notes of Asian pear, Kiwi and almond. Wonderful structure and length on the plate.
5. 2010 Astoria Extra Dry: tart apple and Asian pear with white flowers and a touch spice. Juicy and vibrant on the palate.
6. NV Furlan Extra Dry; very floral with spice and almond notes. A delicious touch of residual on the palate; like bottled springtime.
7. NV La Farra Extra Dry: green fruits, fennel bulb and anise. Delicious balance between fruit, acid and residual sweetness.
8. NV Spagnol Extra Dry: floral and fennel/smoke notes on the nose with pronounced mineral on the palate.
9. NV Consorzio Cartizze Dry: the most concentrated wine of the flight. Orange citrus, ginger spice and lots of white flowers.
Master Gaise, this first hand document immensely helped me to understand the current scope of Prosecco region. I have been to both Douro and Mosel so I could really appreciate your comparison to these regions.
Enjoyed this perspective Tim, thanks for the report!
Great post, Tim. We all travel and usaully keep the secrets to ourselves. I was there in 2000 before all the new DOC changes. It was so old, timeless, rustic, and honest. Great wine with history and little appreciation even within the wine trade. I loved the symetrical domed-shaped hills of Cartizzze (with the chalk soil), the real Asiago cheese, and even the still prosecco that is seldom seen, but taken by the ombra in Venice. One winemaker, 90+ years old in perfect health, served us a luncheon. When one of us was about about to drink a galss of water, he said "No water, Prosecco!" and stuck two of his fingers in the person's glass of water, precluding consumption. Nice guy who demonstrated his secrets to old age!
Port Ewen, NY
Well structured information and a great insight thank you
Hi William, great question. Cartizze is about as steep at Erdener Treppchen or Ürziger Würzgarten --and literally hundreds of feet above the valley floor. Not sure how long it would take to climb it would be a complicated process. As for the tranquillo wines, I've never seen any bottlings in the U.S. but will ask.