Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG – much as I love the Italian language (as a fan rather than a speaker) this is not a wine name that trips easily off the tongue. But when it comes to drinking it, no effort at all is required, as it is all about pleasure and enjoyment.
For two mornings this week, I and a group of fellow wine educators were “transported” to the heartland of Prosecco as part of a virtual tour of the region, The wines, I’m pleased to say, were very real. We were carried around the vineyards via the mobile phone of viticulturalist Roberto Merlo and given service and food matching tips from Beatrice Bessi, head sommelier at Chiltern Firehouse, while the clatter and chatter of a restaurant kitchen went on around her. It was immersive, in a way that Zoom can sometimes be: having pressed “Leave” , you’re suddenly back at your own kitchen table, shaking your head in a “What just happened?” way.
The highlights, of course, were the wines. I had a hazy understanding of Prosecco before I “went” – about the production method and the distinction between the larger DOC area and the much smaller DOCG. I can’t purport to be an expert now, but I certainly have much more appreciation of the notion of terroir in Prosecco DOCG, as well as the breadth and depth of the wine culture there.
So what is the difference between Prosecco DOC and Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG? The greater Prosecco DOC area produces around 500 million bottles a year (considerably more than Champagne), while the CV Prosecco Superiore DOCG (I have to abbreviate it somehow, or this post will take a month to write) accounts for 92 million bottles. Production costs in the DOCG are considerably higher than in the DOC – the vineyards are on terraced, steep hillsides which must be worked entirely by hand.
Those hills give excellent exposure to the sun in this northerly part of Italy (not far from Venice), helping to ripen the grapes but also, crucially, giving cooler nights which permit a longer ripening season which in turn helps the grapes develop more complex aromas.
While the standard production method – Charmat/tank or here known as Martinotti – calls for a minimum of 30 days for the second fermentation prior to bottling, producers will make a choice of how best to demonstrate their terroir and make the style of Prosecco they want, which sometimes involves several months on the lees before bottling.
Wine regions often talk about a mosaic of terroirs, and CV Prosecco Superiore DOCG is no exception. Within the area are a number of Rive, or hillsides, which are renowned for the high quality of their wines, with specific flavour characters (a bit like the named Côtes du Rhône villages). Tasting Proseccos from different Rive these nuances leap out at you. And the most famous of these renowned hills is Cartizze, whose wines have long been revered for their delicate intensity and gorgeous fruit.
There is an elephant in the room when you get a bunch of wine trade people tasting Prosecco – isn’t it all a bit sweet? It’s true that the most popular style in the UK is still Extra Dry – which is of course not dry, but distinctly off dry – I could explain, but you might never finish reading this. However, we tasted every level of sweetness, from bone dry Extra Brut, to no question about it sweet (labelled Dry, of course). There is a fruit forwardness to Prosecco, of any style, which gives it a sense of fruit sweetness, regardless of what it says on the label. And the Dry Prosecco we tried (Uvaggio Storico by Val d’Oca) was so sprightly and well balanced that the level of sweetness involved was entirely harmonious. But if residual sugar spooks you, there are plenty of Extra Brut and Brut bottlings to keep you happy.
Getting a takeaway
While there’s no real substitute for visiting a region in person, there’s no doubt that a virtual tour like this can do alot for your appreciation and understanding of a place and its wines. And when our final session finished, there I was, back in the kitchen, with no pesky travel involved. It could catch on…