There is Prosecco and then there is Prosecco. Really serious, gorgeous, dry, elegant, aromatic Prosecco. Prosecco that can even fool a seasoned Champagne snob, or if not fool them, at least get them to enjoy drinking it and even – gasp! – pay it a compliment or two.
That Prosecco likely comes from within the 15 very small municipalities located in the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG zone just north of Venice, where glera grapes are grown in hillside vineyards prized for their mild microclimates. Because of the region’s location between the Dolomite mountains and Adriatic Sea, many soil types co-exist within it, ranging from sand to volcanic rock to clay and those rich in minerals. The area, which produces 20% of all Prosecco, was given DOC status in 1969 and elevated to DOCG in 2009, comprising only 7.549 hectares of total vine. Now in 2017, Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG is a contender for being named a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a long process, and, according to Alan Tardi, U.S. Regional Ambassador of Prosecco DOCG, even though papers were first submitted in 2010 and the candidacy approved this year, the next list might not be announced till 2018.
References to a lightly sparkling wine in this Veneto region date back to the 1100s, and it is home to Italy’s first school of winemaking, which opened in 1876. Here is where the French Charmat method, with secondary fermentation in pressurized tanks instead of the bottle, was first introduced in the country. This method ensures complete fermentation and a dryer, more elegant wine and is still used to produce much of the drier, more elegant sparkling styles Conegliano Valdobbiadene is known for.
“Recognition as a World Heritage Site,” says Tardi, “would have a major impact on the area both in practical and symbolic terms. Being placed on the UNESCO list will give the area international recognition and place it rightfully in the company of other extraordinary sites of cultural and natural significance throughout the world. Such recognition would serve to validate the importance of an area that few people are familiar with, despite the widespread popularity of the region’s principal product. Though most everyone in the wine-drinking world is familiar Prosecco, most people don’t know where it comes from and what goes into producing it, and UNESCO recognition will help rectify this while underscoring what makes Conegliano Valdobbiadene distinctly different from any other wine growing area and also encouraging more people to visit. Finally, while the delicate balance between humans and nature has been established here for centuries (if not millennia), and strict protocols of environmental sustainability have been imposed for decades, UNESCO recognition will both concretize and celebrate this unique synergy, and further support the protection and preservation of it.”
Prosecco has yet to be fully understood by the majority of consumers outside of Italy, or even the Veneto. However, that is slowly beginning to change. Comments Tardi, “…many consumers are still not able to differentiate one Prosecco appellation from the other, and in the absence of this awareness, many simply choose the least expensive and easiest to pronounce. At the same time, many people — consumers as well as wine professionals — have fixed preconceptions of what Prosecco is and isn’t. Given this widespread prejudice and lack of awareness about Prosecco, many importers are reluctant to bring in more interesting terroir-driven DOCGs because they don’t know whether there will be a market for them, and many are reluctant to bring in Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG at all, opting instead for a slightly less expensive DOC even from a DOCG producer. This, however, is slowly starting to change. As wine drinkers become increasingly savvy and discerning, more and more of them are looking for more interesting wines that express a particular place and viticultural tradition. At the same time many people who enjoy Prosecco are looking to step up to something beyond bubbles that has a bit more personality and character, and both of these tendencies benefit Conegliano Valdobbiadene.”
The other problem is, of course, availability. Tardi admits that many of the best wines are still not yet available in the US market. However, here are a few outstanding examples of these refined sparkling wines, all at affordable price points mostly under $35.
La Tordera Otreval Brut Zero Zuccheri Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG, Rive di Guia Brut: The grapes grown for this wine come from Otreval, the highest vineyard in the Rive di Giuia (“rive” denotes the steep hillside terrain). The grapes have a long hang time, with late ripening that achieves a balance of both natural sugar content and acidity. Fermentation is finished with 0 residual sugar, lending crisp green pear and apple notes set off with a pleasant yeastiness and crisp finish.
Conca D’Oro Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG Extra Dry: A silver medal winner in the 2017 NYIWC, this is the perfect sushi wine, matching both the fish and its tangy-spicy-salty components. Citrus and green apple tartness is balanced with a subtle perfume of lily of the valley. Its bubbles are soft and graceful.
Mionetto Luxury Collection Dry NV Cartizze Superiore DOCG.: Cartizze refers to the steepest hills within Valdobbiadene, and wines from these grapes are considered among the highest luxuries of Prosecco. Tiny beads of bubbles add further elegance to this sparkler, with fragrant notes of golden apple, ripe pear, lemon zest and faint honeysuckle. This was a real crowd pleaser at a Sunday lunch, matching effortlessly with lemon-caper chicken, roast potatoes and zucchini.
Amanda Schuster is the Senior Editor in Chief of Alcohol Professor and the author of NEW YORK COCKTAILs available from Cider Mill Press. Certified sommelier, former retail spirits and wine buyer - she likes to think of herself as "bi-spiritual." Please don't ever offer her a Pickleback. Complete bio here.