Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene
A hugely successful category, but Prosecco’s geography-based labelling can make the best quality wines hard to spot. Andy Howard MW explains where to look for the best value
87 wines tasted Consistent quality and character in these premium Italian sparklers – it’s worth spending a little extra
T his vintage it is forecast that 500 million bottles of Prosecco will be produced. The startling growth of Prosecco has been one of the most significant developments in the wine world during the past two decades, and today it is by far the largest sparkling category. Earlier this year, the Financial Times reported that Prosecco sales in the UK have increased by more than 6,000% since 2008. UK consumers clearly enjoy Prosecco, consuming 85m bottles in the last year. But, the latest figures show that sales in the UK have fallen for the first time in a decade.
Prosecco is made in the northern Italian regions of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Although the core, DOCG version is produced in the hillside areas around the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadane, the wider area of production runs all the way to the Slovenian border in the east. Glera is the key variety and must account for at least 85% of the blend. Most Prosecco has a floral fragrance, with light body, soft mousse, restrained flavours of white peach, and a sweetness from a frequently higher dosage. Drinking enjoyment is the key.
Prosecco is nearly always produced by the Charmat (‘tank’) method. Italy has a long tradition using this process, with large, refrigerated stainless-steel tanks used to conduct the secondary fermentation in a more industrial way. The major advantage of Charmat production is speed – the second fermentation can take as little as four weeks. There are also benefits in terms of consistency, the ability to react better to the market, and consequentially lower production costs.
However, critics are quick to point out that it’s difficult to reach the quality levels of the best traditional-method wines. The latter will usually have some years of ageing on the lees, encouraging a fine mousse to develop and enhancing flavour complexity.
Although Charmat wines are capable of high quality, many Prosecco wines can be less interesting to taste. This does not appear to concern millions of consumers, though, who appreciate Prosecco’s lighter, uncomplicated and sweeter style.
Proseccos from newly planted areas to the northeast of Venice carry the DOC designation and can be made in spumante, frizzante (lightly sparkling) and tranquillo (still) versions. DOCG Prosecco Superiore is nearly always spumante and comes from the hillside vineyards around Conegliano and Valdobbiadane, or the separate area of Asolo. The emerging DOCG designation Rive is restricted to 43 special sites with special terroir characteristics. DOCG Prosecco Superiore should be very consistent, of good quality and a distinct step up from DOC. Bottles carrying the Rive classification should show additional terroir interest.
For this tasting, the panel’s expectations were of a solid, rather than exciting line-up. So, were these expectations met?...
‘Prosecco Superiore should be consistent, of good quality and a step up from DOC’