The Conegliano Valdobbiadene region in Prosecco in Italy has been named Europe’s city of wine for 2016. It’s the first time a region rather than a city has received the accolade. For publication in week starting 18 July 2016.
Italy’s oldest and most prestigious wine school, the Scuola Enologica, opened in the town of Conegliano in the Prosecco region of north-east Italy in 1876. Almost two decades later Federico Martinotti, a professor at the school, invented a way to make sparkling wine that we now call Prosecco.
Prosecco has become a global phenomenon since the 1980s: In 2013 it became the most popular sparkling wine in the world, overtaking champagne. Global sales have risen by double-digit percentages every year since 1998. About 307 million bottles were sold in 2013 (compared with 5 million in 1972). Last year sales topped 390 million against 312 million for champagne. Some in Prosecco are suggesting sales could reach 1,000 million bottles in two decades.
In 1907 a French engineer, Eugène Charmat, patented a new way to make prosecco. The world now uses the term “Charmat method” to describe the way prosecco is made. Professor Martinotti, born in Casale in Piemonte, is only remembered in parts of Italy, where his process is called “metodo Italiano” or “metodo Martinotti”.
Grape juice plus sugar and yeast are mixed in a special tank of stainless steel known as an autoclave designed to withstand the high pressures that build up when sugar is converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide. The base wine is obtained from gentle pressing of the Glera grape.
The duration of the fermentation affects wine quality: The longer the fermentation the more noticeable the wine’s aroma and the finer and more durable the bubbles. The key difference between prosecco and champagne is the secondary fermentation. With champagne it takes place in bottles rather than autoclaves.
Champagne is usually appreciated for its rich taste and complex secondary aromas while Prosecco is more concerned with primary tastes and aromas. In the mouth Prosecco tends to be acidic and crisp, with aromas of apple, pear, white peach and apricot, and sometimes almond and honey.
Until the 1960s Prosecco was generally sweet and similar to the Asti produced in Piemonte. But production methods have improved, leading to the dry wines produced today. Prosecco is designed to be consumed early, preferably within three years of its vintage, though high-quality Prosecco can sometimes be aged for up to seven years. Prosecco can be a sparkling or still wine, though most people think of it as a sparkling wine.
Prosecco Superiore originates from a small hilly area known as the Conegliano Valdobbiadene region, located between Venice and the Dolomites mountains. The hills between the main towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene contain 15 villages devoted to wine, and wine tourism is starting to flourish. A feature of the region is the beauty of the rolling scenery with many variations on the colour green. Earlier this year the region was named European city of wine, the first time an area rather than a city has received this accolade.
Prosecco Superiore comes in three forms depending on the amount of residual sugar. Brut is the driest style with 0 to 12 grams of sugar per litre. Extra Dry is the most traditional style and has 12 to 17 g/L while Dry has the highest level of sugar at 17 to 32 g/L. This third kind of wine pairs well with traditional desserts such as pastries, fruits or flans.
Wines differ in flavours depending on where they originate in the region because of the range of soil and climate types. “Rive” wines are produced from grapes grown in a single commune or district of a commune. Rive indicates that vineyards are planted on steep land and are hand harvested. Conegliano Valdobbiadene has 43 rives.
Most Prosecco DOC is grown in valleys. About 20,000 hectares are devoted to DOC, and another 6,500 to DOCG. Prosecco must contain a minimum of 85 per cent of Glera grapes. According to DOCG rules no more than 70 litres of wine can be obtained from 100 kg of grapes. Grapes that can be added to the blend include Verdiso, Bianchetta, Perera and Glera Lunga, and occasionally Chardonnay.
The highest quality of Prosecco DOCG known as Cartizze comes from a small subzone of 107 hectares near Valdobbiadene. Think of it as the grand cru of Prosecco. Land there is some of the most expensive in Italy, selling for about one million Euros a hectare in 2008 and upwards of two million euros by 2015. Cartizze is normally a Dry style. Grapes are grown on the steep hills around the villages of Saint Stefano, Saccol and Saint Pietro di Barbozza.
DOCG refers to the summit of the quality pyramid. A range of regulations define DOCG ahead of DOC wines which are the next level down the pyramid. For example, DOCG wines must be picked by hand. Prosecco received DOCG status from the 2009 vintage. Every bottle has a brown strip of paper around the cap with a unique identifying number signifying the wine as DOCG.
A DOCG Prosecco featured at the opening of “La Cité du Vin” in Bordeaux, the first museum in the world devoted to wine, which was inaugurated on May 31. It was the Le Colture Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore Cartizze. It is the only Cartizze on the wine list of the restaurants at the museum, which include 800 wines from more than 80 countries. About 20,000 bottles of this Le Colture sparkling are made each year.
Le Colture’s winemakers are Cesare Ruggeri and Cristian Agostinetto. Le Colture has been run by the same family since 1500. The estate makes about 750,000 bottles a year solely from its own vines. Agriculture is biodynamic. About three bottles in five are exported. Main export destinations include the USA, the UK, Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Video about the growth of Prosecco