Exploring Premium Prosecco
- By Jacky Blisson MW
- 11 Dec 2020
- 5 MIN
- Level 101
Conegliano Valdobbiadene is the historical centre and heartland of top-quality Prosecco production. The region lies just 50km due north of Venice, in the foothills of the Prealps. It is here, amid the rugged, hilly vineyards that join the lower lying town of Conegliano to steeper Valdobbiadene, that Prosecco takes on real elegance and finesse.
Prosecco Superiore DOCG
Prosecco’s highest quality tier is DOCG. This classification is reserved for wines from two sub-zones of the Treviso province in Veneto: Asolo and Conegliano Valdobbiadene. In the latter sub-zone, the term “Superiore” is appended to Prosecco to further drive home its stature, thus the official name is: Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG.
The white grape variety Glera must make up a minimum of 85% of blends. Martinotti-Charmat is the predominant sparkling production method, primarily making “spumante” style bubblies with 4 – 5 bars of pressure. While basic Prosecco can sometimes possess quite frothy, mouth-filling bubbles, the best Conegliano Valdobbiadene wines have a much finer, more persistent mousse. Wines produced in this DOCG must also meet stringent quality regulations, most notably concerning yield levels.
Evidence of viticulture in Conegliano Valdobbiadene dates back to antiquity. The region was once a favourite retreat for Venetian nobles eager to escape the muggy heat of summer in the city. In 1876, Italy’s first viticulture and oenology school, la Scuola Enologica G.B. Cerletti, was established in Conegliano. Due to its natural beauty and rich history, Conegliano Valdobbiadene was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019.
The Conegliano Valdobbiadene region boasts a mild, continental climate with ample rainfall. With over 7,000 hectares of vines planted, there is a wealth of diversity – from soil composition, to aspect, to microclimate – leading to important stylistic differences in the wines. This is made immediately clear when traveling along the picturesque Prosecco Superiore wine route from the relatively flat plains of Conegliano to the steep slopes surrounding Valdobbiadene.
The fertile, clay-rich soils surrounding Conegliano give firmly structured, fruity wines. A wide variety of soil types from ancient morainic, sandstone, and clay make up the higher altitude Valdobbiadene hillsides. The wines from this area are generally more elegant and floral, often with a subtle saline note on the finish.
For Prosecco DOCG, sweetness levels are largely based on the ripeness of fruit that can be achieved in different vineyard sites. Grapes from cooler areas, where ripening is marginal at best, are generally fashioned into crisp, light, very dry wines. The sunniest, warmest vineyards are traditionally reserved for the production of rich, heady sweet wines.
The precise terminology used on Prosecco labels is as follows: Extra Brut wines are bone dry (0 – 6g/l), Brut wines are dry (0 – 12g/l), Extra Dry wines are, in fact, semi-sweet (12 – 17g/l) and, finally, Dry wines are sweet (17 - 32g/l).
Rive: Single Vineyard Sites
While the DOCG status of the entire region testifies to its global high quality, certain vineyard sites within Conegliano Valdobbiadene have been singled out as being a cut above the rest. They are called “Rive”, followed by the name of the vineyard or hamlet. Rive sites are the equivalent to Burgundy’s Premier Crus. The wines produced here offer heightened complexity and concentration.
There are currently 43 Rive sites. The grapes must be manually harvested and the wines vintage dated. Yields cannot exceed 13 tons per hectare (vs. 13.5 tons for the rest of the region).
Cartizze: Prosecco’s “Grand Cru” Vineyard
At the highest point of the region, over 400m above sea level, lies the single Grand Cru hillside: “Cartizze”. A mere 107 hectares of vines are planted here. With more than 100 different growers, production volumes are tiny.
Cartizze is blessed with a special microclimate. The southern exposure and steep angles offer maximum sunshine during the day. The high altitude guarantees cool nights, allowing a long, slow ripening period. Most of the Prosecco Superiore produced from Cartizze is crafted in the “Dry” style, though their zesty acidity and rich, fruit-laden flavours make the sweetness almost imperceptible.