Prosecco—that affordable (okay, cheap) stand-in for Champagne—is a victim of its success. Brands like LaMarca, with its too-cute single-serve minis in search of a straw and a party, have helped brand the bubbly from northeast Italy as whimsical and low cost. Add to those approachable prices the fact that Prosecco is made in the Charmat method (where the second fermentation takes place under pressure in a tank instead of in the bottle, like Champagne), and almost no one takes it seriously.
But bottles from a small region within the region, about 30 miles north of Venice, deserve more respect. The region, Conegliano Valdobbiadene, has earned Italy’s stamp of highest quality—DOCG, as opposed to the more ubiquitous DOC—as well as recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Prosecco Superiore produced here offers intensity and complexity of flavors not to be found in more familiar bottles.
Enrico Valleferro, export manager for Adriano Adami, describes the distinction succinctly: The DOCG is hilly, the DOC flat and the number of hours per year that each hectare (roughly 2.5 acres) is worked is 400 to 700 vs. 120 to 150. “The DOCG has micro areas (Rive) that are unique and unrepeatable,” says Valleferro. “Elevation, exposition, soil, temperature swings can vary dramatically from Riva to Riva, mile after mile.” The Grand Cru of the region is Cartizze, where vineyards drape slopes so precipitous that even hand work seems life-risking.
Prosecco Superiore belies two perceptions—first, that tank fermentation (also called Metodo Martinotti or Italiano) is a subpar shortcut to bubbles. But for Prosecco, it’s an advantage: Avoiding contact with yeast in the bottle preserves the natural delicacy of the fruit and florals in the Glera grape most widely grown here. And second, that Prosecco is too sweet. It’s true that there’s a sweet tradition here (especially in Cartizze), but the trend is drier and when a sweeter style is chosen, it’s matched to the flavors and balanced with the acidity in the wines. The sweetness scale (confusing the world over) is your guide: Extra Brut (0 to 6 grams of residual sugar per liter), Brut (6 to 12), Extra Dry (12 to 17) and Dry (yep, the sweetest, 17 to 32).
There’s one more perception Prosecco Superiore defies—that interesting sparkling wine has to be expensive. Winemakers have utilized low yields and hand farming to coax nuance and complexity out of their great growing sites, creating delicious wines that are also screaming deals.
Sommariva Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut
This is a light-hearted celebration of fruit from Sommariva. Energetic bubbles carry honeysuckle and rose petals on the nose, with delicate fruit aromas joining in with apple, pear and stone fruit. Meyer lemon carries all that fruit across the palate, with satisfying fresh herb notes on the finish. This isn’t one to think about—just to sip by the pool.
Fagher Le Colture Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut
Even with 9 grams of residual sugar per liter, this brut from Fagher comes off as dry. A heady mix of earth, fruit and florals opens, with lemongrass leading to fresh herbs, grapefruit and green apple. Citrus flavors carry the vibrant palate too, with white peach joining lemon and grapefruit in a creamy but textured wrap-up. This one is a steal.
Andreola Col del Forno Rive di Refrontolo Valdobbiadene DOCG Brut
This mouthful of Glera (100 percent) from Andreola beautifully balances richness with vibrant tension that keeps the wine alive in spite of its weight. Perfumed floral aromas—spicy jasmine—overlays lovely orchard fruit. And a gamut of bright citrus flavors follow on the palate, from lime zest to grapefruit, with juicy apple and white nectarine leading to nice minerality.
Bisol Cartizze Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG Dry
In the “dry” range—that is to say, sweeter than brut—this top bottling from Bisol (100 percent Glera) offers more than a hint of sugar, but also proof that that isn’t a problem in a Cartizze. Its fresh nose opens with lovely wisteria wrapping around pear, apple and peach aromas. A full-bodied, intense palate continues that fruit, adding a savory side of herbal notes and staying bright throughout a lingering finish.
Colesel Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG Brut
In this 100 percent Glera Cartizze from Colesel, florals and fruit combine in rich, almost textured aromas; juicy apple and fuzzy peach are offset by pleasant salinity on the nose. Beautiful fruit follows on the palate—nectarine, pear, pink grapefruit and orange zest—that persists with fascinating tension through a long finish.
Adriano Adami Bosco di Gica Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut
Taking its name from a small wood on the property—named Bosco di Gica in 1490—this lovely brut from Adriano Adami combines 3 to 5 percent Chardonnay with its base of Glera. It’s beautifully balanced, with a vein of savory minerality offsetting a hint of sweetness and crisp acidity running through a gamut of fruit flavors—from pear and apple to peach and orangy citrus. A generous whiff of elderflower floats over it all.
Trevisiol 2019 Rive di Collalto Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry
This 100 percent Glera Rive di Collalto from Trevisiol (100 percent Glera) weighs in with a hint of sweetness, magnifying a mouth-filling character. But the wine maintains a lovely balance throughout with crushed-rock minerality and bright citrus. Honeysuckle aromas lead on the nose, with apple, pear and nectarine, with the flavors that follow dominated by stone fruit—peach and ripe apricot—joined by pink grapefruit and Meyer lemon. The finish is persistent and full of lovely textures.
Masottina 2018 Rive di Ogliano Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry
The sweetness in this Rive di Ogliano from Masottina is expertly balanced by vibrant acidity. A fresh hint of salinity opens, leading in spiced pear aromas swirling with hints of florals and a spritz of lemon. Lovely peach flavors carry the palate, with orange zest that gives the wine the quality of a Creamsicle bar. Crushed herbs and a citrus kick at the end make sure it finishes dry.