Prosecco for some means party. For others, it is simply a delightful drop to have on hand for a spontaneous toast or Friday night. For some, its reputation has been tarnished by those lesser drops that should go the way of wine coolers and Passion Pop. Or those cheap, hangover inducing (and appropriately named for some) Spumantes of the ’80s.
It is Prosecco that has made Italy the world’s largest sparkling wine producer. More than 600 million bottles are produced annually. Prosecco represents one-third of the world’s sparkling production. On wine lists from 5-star hotels to the local boozer, now might be the moment the favourite Italian fizz becomes a victim of its own success.
Traditionally, Prosecco was grown and produced in a small region in Italy’s north, with the Adriatic to the west and the towering Dolomites to the East. DOCG Conegliano Valdobbiadene is a small subzone of 8,700 hectares in the heart of the much larger Prosecco DOC. Its location ensures ample rainfall, a mild climate and the south-facing slopes altitude guarantee a good day-night temperature differential.
After the devastation of World 2, some winegrowers in the region banded together to form the Confraternita di Valdobbiadene. This Brotherhood had three main aims: to increase the technical and scientific development of Prosecco winemaking, promote the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene region, and showcase this signature wine from the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene valley.
This area was granted Denominazone di Origine Controllata status in 1969. It became Italy’s 44th D.O.C.G in 2009 and was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019. (D.O.C.G. under Italian wine law DOCG is the highest designation of quality among Italian wines).
The D.O.C.G recognises Prosecco Superiore as just that – superior. Prosecco’s DOC does not guarantee that quality. In 2009, the name became a mark of origin, while the grape primarily used returned to its ancient moniker – glera.
What is Prosecco?
Under the two designations – Prosecco and Prosecco Superiore is a sparkling wine produced with at least 85% glera grape. The balance can be made up of any combination of six different grapes. Glera is a Slovenian not Italian grape.
Picking is done exclusively by hand due to the steep hillside vineyards.
In the 19th century Prosecco was transformed from still to sparkling; firstly in the ancestral Col Fondo method, later the classic Methode Champenois and what is now the mandated method – Charmat/Martinotti. This means second fermentation in a stainless steel tank to emphasise the glera grapes aromatics.
This produces a fresh and aromatic wine, with lower production costs and is immediately ready to drink. It is generally held in bottle for one to three months before release.
Behind the fizz: The grape, the name and the controversy
But a storm is brewing in those picturesque, rolling hills. Firstly, the Brotherhood is pushing the EU to stop other winemakers (mostly in places like Australia) from using the name Prosecco to label their sparkling wine made from glera grapes. Unlike Champagne – a name of a region, Prosecco was the name of the grape and subsequently the wine made from it. But in 2009, sparkling wine’s sales were exploding across the world. When the EU registered part of the area as ‘Prosecco DOC’ the grape variety used to make this Prosecco returned to its original name – glera.
A full ten years before, Valdobbiadene native Otto Dal Zotto planted the first glera vines in Australia’s King Valley.
According to Wine Australia, there is 120ha of Prosecco planted across 11 Australian regions, producing about 20 million bottles. Australia’s Prosecco exports are worth A$60 million annually and are predicted to rise to A$500m over the next decade.
Since 2013, the EU has tried to prevent Australia and other new world producers from calling their wine Prosecco. It all comes down to the timing; The Italian region renamed glera a full ten years before the Dal Zotto’s first plantings.
Meanwhile in Croatia …
Croatian winemakers are petitioning the EU to reinstate the name of their traditional sweet, dessert wine Prošek. They claim they have been making the wine for over 2,000 years. Last month, the European Commission agreed to reconsider whether Prošek should be accorded a recognised protected label. The Italian winemakers are facing another protracted battle.
But what about wine?
Recently, Australia’s foremost sparkling wine authority Tyson Stelzer showcased the finest Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG.
The wines were surprising and delightful. Each and every one of the 17 wines presented offered something different. Each of the four types – DOCG, DOCG Rive, DOCG Cartizze and DOCG Sui Lieviti (on the lees) was showcased during the lunch masterclass. The wines ran the full range from Brut Nature (very dry), Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry to the sweetest Secco (17-32g dosage per litre).
The Bellenda Extra Brut Rive di Capesica Sei Uno Motodo Classico 2018 was savoury and complex, while the Le Vigne Di Alice Brut .G Millesimato Metodo Classico 2015 was deeper in colour and elegant on the nose.
Riva dei Frati Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Dosaggio Zero Sui Lieviti Nona Sinfonia 2019 is an unfiltered, unclarified wine with its second fermentation in the bottle. Not quite Provence rosé in colour, this wine was remarkably dry with about 1 gram per litre residual sugar. Something to savour at any time – occasion or not.
The different methods and slightly different terrors produce quite different wines. Some are fragrant and textured while others are creamy in some and surprisingly dry.
Ultimately, what we learned during this masterclass is that this tiny region produces distinctive quality wines. The world of Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG may be very small but the wines are immensely pleasurable.
Next time you’re in the bottle shop or buying online consider these wines – you won’t be disappointed.
Disclaimer: TML was hosted by Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG and Wine Events by Tyson Stelzer.