Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. – Special Feature

Veneto’s next generation elevates the quality, elegance and finesse of the original Italian method sparkling
by Michael Godel

This article was commissioned by Consorzio Tutela del Vino Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco

In June of 2018 the Italian Trade Commission of Canada acted as official sponsor of the Italian Contemporary Film Festival and the film Finche’ c’e’ Prosecco c’e’ Speranza (The Last Prosecco) was screened. The film follows a police inspector who is investigating the suicide of Count Ancilloto, a man who was proud of his family’s heritage of making the finest Prosecco. The film is a giallo comedy, directed and co-written by Antonio Padovan and is an adaptation of the 2010 Italian novel Finché c’è Prosecco c’è Speranza by co-screenwriter Fulvio Ervas. The title may also be translated as “As Long as There is Prosecco,” a sentiment that many of us feel on a daily basis. I would add the acronym D.O.C.G. to that idea, because only the best will do.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. is the full name of the sparkling wine and must be recognized this way, not for a moment shortened, truncated or abridged. Prosecco alone is nice enough but it fails to tell a complete story and co-commits to an absurdly and seemingly never ending growing area from where millions upon millions of sparkling wines can be made. The integrity of the appellation Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore reminds all who are paying attention that shortening to “Prosecco” (or #Prosecco) is simply not acceptable. That is why the entirety of the expression Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore must be uttered and written, to separate and sequester these special wines, along with their profound sense of belonging and place. The bottle reveals and communicates the D.O.C.G. seal of recognition and if absent then it is not an example of the quality found in the top wines of the region. It bears repeating that if you want the highest standards from the vineyard and the wineries you need to look for Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. The constancy of spirit and consistency of tradition lays within the producers whose eligibility allows them to use the entirety of the declaration on their labels.

What’s in an appellation?

According to the Conzorzio for DOC Prosecco, the 2020 vintage yielded more than 3,700,000 hl of certifiable wine from the 23,000 hectares of vineyards in the region, more than three and a half times the number of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. Quantity aside, the quality of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. is unaffected to the imperfections, shortcomings and peccadillo of many overtly commercial producers. If quality in the D.O.C.G. ranks had already begun to be impressive over the last decade then these last two or three years have seen the greatest distancing from the pack. “Prosecco” grows and extrapolates at what can only be described as an alarming if uncontrolled rate, well beyond the bounds of checks or balances. Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. wines on the other hand cut no corners, increases its focus and the latest data shows that the 2020 harvest had 8,088 ha under vine and produced 91,425,957 bottles.

Targets, goals and characteristics

The Consorzio di Tutela del Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. is the private body, founded in 1962, that guarantees and controls adherence to the production regulations for Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. The sparkling wines produced on the hillsides between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, in the Province of Treviso, obtained Denominazione di Origine Controllata status in 1969 and the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita in 2009. The production zone includes 15 municipal areas: Conegliano, San Vendemiano, Colle Umberto, Vittorio Veneto, Tarzo, Cison di Valmarino, San Pietro di Feletto, Refrontolo, Susegana, Pieve di Soligo, Farra di Soligo, Follina, Miane, Vidor and Valdobbiadene.

The objective of the Consortium for Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. is to broadcast, market and distribute knowledge of the denomination on behalf of all members. While the individual producers are the rising constituent tide parts that float all boats, the message is spread collectively, all for one and one for all. Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. is ancient yet contemporary and of an area which, though agricultural, is cited among the most efficient “industrial districts” in Italy. The complexity of the world of Prosecco and the positioning of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. within it calls for a brief but systematic summary that underlines its distinguishing characteristics.

Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

Valdobbiadenne’s hills have generally produced off-dry, plump, fragrant, frothy, creamy and easy-drinking sparkling wines of sweet fruit flavours with mild effervescence. This modern, golden age of Superiore D.O.C.G. is seeing more and more of a dry style. Of great forward thinking importance is the observation that wines are presenting from lower pH levels and with higher acidities, increasingly rearing their teeth and gaining traction, especially when a balance is struck with the tenets of rich and concentrated. The barely off-dry impression and chalky notation help to increase the curiosity factor and gather the masses to enjoy what pleasures Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. has to offer. If the bottle says Prosecco Superiore the consumer can be sure it has been sourced from the hills between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene for sparkling wines that are juicy, explosive and blessed with an impressive depth of flavour.

These last several years have seen a transformational time and an increase in quality across Valdobbiadene. A change of the guard and an ushering in of a new generation is surely responsible for the change. Many estates have now been handed down from a parent to their sons and daughters whose new Prosecco marries Valdobbiadene estate glera fruit with that of local growers. The examples of Brut dosage, in and around 10 g/L of residual sugar show developed and added complexity. They are sharp, steely and exciting, platinum Prosecco, by hue yes but more so a mineral clarity and a no lo so that goes beyond, or better yet, elevates affordable Italian method sparkling wine. They can be herbal as well, with notes like thyme and sage, always creamy on the palate, truly settled and fulsome Prosecco. Proper Prosecco if you will. These wines are fine departures from reliable if simple DOC wines, moving away from the utilitarian towards more intensity, complexity and separating from the commercial point.

There too are from Belcanto that show greater gregarious character offering increased commercial appeal. These carry more sweetness, aromatically out of the bottle and then on the palate in the form of apples and sugary plum. They are consistently complex and yet sweeter than some, unabashedly so. They also exhibit clean, fresh, fragrant and perfumed qualities so perfectly correct for the regional style, featuring lots of flavour. Notes like tart lemon and lime, green apple and bosc pear, always on an off-dry frame. Bright acids help develop the flavours while length and breadth are always strong. This is the marketable advantage of these wines, unlike any other worldwide, above average in quality, solid and reliable for Prosecco DOCG in the sweeter, extra-dry style.

Regulations, levels of quality and a sense of place

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. must be produced from a minimum 85 per cent glera, the local grape variety grown extensively for sparkling wine and no more than 15 per cent of the following local varieties; verdiso, biaornchetta, perera and glera lunga. The demination’s wines are obtained almost exclusively by the Italian Method (with a second fermentation in pressurized vats), a technique that was further perfected by Professor Tullio de Rosa of the School of Winemaking in Conegliano. Some producers like to refer to it as the “Metodo Conegliano Valdobbiadene.”

At the base of the quality pyramid sits the most ubiquitous of wine denominations, the Prosecco DOC. One step up is Prosecco DOC Treviso followed by Asolo Prosecco DOCG. At the pinnacle is the presence of highest quality and importance; Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. represents the heart and the ideal. The central production zone is found an hour or so north of Venezia in a hilly amphitheatre spread 40 kilometres apart between the villages of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. The flatter, clay-rich glacial, alluvial and morainic soils of Conegliano are in great contrast to the more hilly, ancient seabeds of moraine and sandstone found in Valdobbiadene. Valdobbiadene is also home to older vines and greater genetic diversity, especially when it comes to the most important grape variety glera.

In the hills of Conegliano Valdobbiadene the highest and most precipitous areas in the region require a great amount of work, dedication and determination from farmers. These are considered the “heroic vineyards” where grapes are picked for Rive wines. The Rive (steep hillsides in the local dialect) are a collection of vineyards identified as a source for the highest quality grapes which are picked by hand. The highest of the quality pyramid is found in these 43 single vineyards or crus whose name comes from the Venetian for “steep slopes.” These special parcels have been given elevated status within the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. zone, often located on the steepest and highest quality hillsides. By rule these crus are subject to lower yields, hand harvesting and must be vintage dated. Some are shared between producers, others are monopoles.

A sense of place is celebrated in the crus and single-vineyard wines, most succinct, singular and expressive when bottled as vintage dated Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G.  These are the children raised, cared for and nurtured in the small locales of the denomination’s ancient vineyards. Places kept alive by custodians whose passion is to protect and perpetuate old vines often walled in by a clos. The expositions and slopes of these crus contribute to elevating glera to a higher calling. Remember that most Prosecco are produced upon demand and not obtained from 100 per cent glera grapes, nor from just one fermentation in specialized pressurized cuve close tanks for forty days. It is the single-motive sparklers that do share bread-yeasty, toasty, oxidative and verdant-balmy notes with the French Champenoise. They are the benchmark for Italian method bubbles and so worth checking out if you are lucky enough to find them, on shelves, through their agents or just to be offered a sip.

Le Cartizze

Also new but at the same time very old are the Rive or Rivette, single vineyard expressions, often from a single hillside. At the apex of such an ideal are the Cartizze, prized vineyard sparkling wines predicated on texture above all else, duly noted by the fine crema of mousse and emulsified Valdobbiadene air. The Italian word Cartizze is derived from the dialectal gardiz which is the reed mat on which grape clusters are placed to dry. The sub-denomination lies within the commune of Valdobbiadene and is a small zone with fewer than 110 hectares of vines on the steepest Valdobbiadene hills; Santo Stefano, Saccol and around the parish of San Pietro di Barbossa north of the Piave River and west of Farra di Soligo. Soils of sandstone and clay marl provide for a glera requiem and necessity to acquiesce over-ripeness and as a result a singular concentration of aromas. It bears reminding that the Superiore di Cartizze and the Rive are never going to commercialize as mass market wines because picking requires a mano heroism and the yields are really low.

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Prosecco is one thing and Le Cartizze are another, ultra-premium Prosecco DOCG that offer full palate distraction, leaving thoughts on other aspects few and far between. When nothing else matters the savour of feel and flavour takes care of everything. In Le Cartizze the producers take what the vineyard gives and find a way deep into the palate’s heart.  There is no sacrifice to the crispness and croccante qualities of Prosecco Superiore but if Prosecco might be judged as sweet then the sparkling wines of Le Cartizze hold even greater sweetness. No matter because all other parts are also elevated to find great balance and harmony in the wines.

Harvest 2021 and new methodolgies

The Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG Consorzio recently announced its results of the 2021 harvest. It began in mid-September in the Conegliano area and moved westward towards the “heroic” territories around Valdobbiadene around the end of September, concluding on October 3rd. More than 64 million bottles have been certified to date in 2021 and “given the reduced yields of 2020, now the region is back to normalizing the production quantities laid out in the regulations.”

“We are really pleased with the positive results that the denomination has achieved both at the close of 2020 and in 2021,” stated Elvira Bortolomiol, President of the Consorzio di Tutela. “The analysis of the fruit in the vineyard assures us of a vintage that we will remember for its quality. We are proud of the work that all the winegrowers have achieved again this year. Our commitment shows not only our passion for wine but also for the land, which is our most precious asset.” As a reminder, after a ten-year long nomination process, in 2019 Prosecco Hills of Conegliano Valdobbiadene was awarded UNESCO recognition as a World Heritage Site due to its unique and ancient cultivation and landscape.

Since the 2019 harvest, the new production regulation passed to allow for two new categories. Sui Lieviti, which means on the lees or yeasts, are sparkling wines that have been re-fermented in bottle, also known as the Ancestral Method, while the Extra Brut labelling refers to wines with residual sugar numbers between zero and six grams per litre. Many producers continue moving towards this mineral-driven, lean and intense style. 

Glyphosate Ban and viticultural protocol

Since 2019, Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. has banned the use of the glyphosate herbicide. This well-known weed killer also wipes out insects that can be important for the pollination of food crops and is suspected by specialists to cause cancer in humans. The Denomination becomes the largest wine zone in Europe to forbid the use of this herbicide.

The protocol is a guide considered the cornerstone of the sustainability program of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco. Since it was first drawn up in 2011, its main objective has been to gradually eliminate practices and chemicals that are considered to have a great impact on the environment and promote instead types of agriculture that are as non-invasive as possible.

S.Q.N.P.I Certification

The National Quality System for Integrated Production (S.Q.N.P.I) is a system that aims to reduce the use of synthetic chemicals in the fertilization of crops and takes into consideration all equipment and techniques used in the production of Prosecco Superiore. In 2019, 35 grape producers in the Consortium of Valdobbiadene Prosecco were able to get the certification and in 2020, the number grew to 117. This demonstrates the growing interest of Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G producers to find the best compromise between their environmental and economic needs.

Thank you for taking the time to read about this next chapter for Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. Until next time,

Good to go!

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This article was commissioned by Consorzio Tutela del Vino Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco. As a regular feature, WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery or region. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the profile. Wineries and regions pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, and its content, is entirely up to WineAlign.