Forget cheap and cheerful fizz – Asoslo Prosecco is a quality artisan sparkling wine, made in various sophisticated styles. Tom Hyland introduces the leading producers and recommends bottles to try
Seeking out superior sparkle in Italy with Tom Hyland
ANYONE WHO HASN’T been living on another planet will know that Prosecco has enjoyed tremendous success in the marketplace over the past decade, becoming a go-to choice for the many wine drinkers looking for easy, moderately priced bubbles. And for those in search of something more complex than the majority of Prosecco bottles jostling for shelf space, Conegliano Valdobbiadene has achieved wide recognition as being a step up in quality.
Yet it’s not the only option. Only a few miles away, the artisans of the far less well-known Asolo Prosecco zone have also made great strides, and are today releasing some notable examples that are, in addition, among the most distinctive. The two areas are officially recognised as being superior. In 2009, the decision was made to elevate Prosecco to DOCG status for wines made in the hills of the Treviso province; other examples from Italy – including those from Friuli – would be labelled as DOC. Two wines were granted DOCG status: Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore and Asolo Prosecco Superiore. In addition, the word Prosecco would now only refer to the wine, and not the grape that served as the base of these products; that would be known as Glera, a former designation for this variety.
The Asolo Prosecco area lies directly south of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene zone, and is much smaller, comprising 1,600ha to the 6,500ha of the latter. Around 10 million bottles of Asolo Prosecco were produced in 2017, compared to 90 million of Conegliano Valdobbiadene. Being much smaller, Asolo has much work to do around raising awareness.
While marketing strategies change over time, the one constant producers can control is quality, which is quite good for the most part, although some inconsistencies emerge with certain wines. Extra Dry (between 12g and 20g of residual sugar) is the most popular category, and while there are some examples that truly shine (Pat del Colmèl’s version is stellar), far too often these wines display little personality, offering only a gentle sweetness with a modest aromatic profile.
Far better are the Extra Brut wines, as these are substantially drier (6g/l and less of residual sugar), and present a much more expressive aromatic profile – from melon, lemon rind and ginger to candied orange and acacia flowers – with notable complexity and greater persistence. For now, Asolo Prosecco is the only Prosecco that can be labelled as Extra Brut, which is a positive sales point, although this term will soon be allowed for Prosecco from Conegliano Valdobbiadene.
The most distinctive style made here is col fondo, made via refermentation in the bottle, and not in a tank, as with most examples of Prosecco (a small percentage of Conegliano Valdobbiadene production is also made in this style). Literally meaning ‘with sediment’, col fondo has sediment at the bottom of the bottle, as the wine is not disgorged; causing a cloudy appearance. Mirco Pozzobon, winemaker at Case Paolin, remarks that, ‘Col fondo has a long tradition due to the technical simplicity of production compared to the Charmat method, which requires more technology.’
So why make such a wine today, especially when people are so familiar with squeaky-clean Prosecco? ‘Lees protect the wine, so there’s no need to add sulphites,’ notes Paola Ferraro, co-owner at Bele Casel winery. ‘We’re very proud of this wine. It really speaks of the soil and the people who make it.’
Pozzobon explains that col fondo has been a great success for his winery, and that he is ‘especially surprised’ by the appreciation this wine has received in export markets such as the UK, the US, Denmark and even France. Bele Casel has enjoyed similar success, and often sells several vintages concurrently; tasting through five vintages at the winery revealed the impressive complexity of these wines, with notes of brewer’s yeast and lemon rind coming through in several examples. The 2009 displays beautiful freshness after more than eight years, while the 2014 combines excellent concentration with notable persistence; these wines show how distinctive Asolo Prosecco can truly be.
‘We’re a much smaller zone, so we’ve been able to better maintain the artisanal philosophy’ Simone Rech
Left: sunset over the hills of Asolo