Prosecco, Italy’s frothy, fun-loving sparkling wine, is booming. However, recent history in the wine trade has proved that not every boom is a boon. Whenever a wine category catches commercial fire, the wine trade strains every nerve to keep up with skyrocketing demand. But just as a rocket in the boost phase torches everything beneath it, a booming wine category can incinerate the reputation of the high-quality wine that provided a foundation for the initial lift-off.
That is exactly what booming--but often uninspiring--Prosecco DOC is threatening to do to the high-quality Prosecco DOCG grown on the steep hills in the Prosecco heartland around Valdobbiadene and Conegliano.
This is a new chapter in a story that has become all-too-familiar in recent years. Consider these cases in point: When Merlot boomed in the early 1990s, growers around the world planted the variety like mad, flooding markets with diluted renditions because anything labeled “Merlot” could sell on the fashionable force of that word alone. That particular party ended the moment that the character Miles in the film “Sideways” leveled his famous excoriation against Merlot, but the movie touched off an equally instant fad for Pinot Noir, one that also proved equally disastrous for quality in the category.
When demand for Pinot outstripped supply, producers rushed to plant vines or to buy juice from wherever they could get it. Almost overnight, famous California brands like Beaulieu Vineyard were selling Pinot that actually came from--get this--Corsica. The wine was not bad, but neither did it taste much like Pinot to experienced tasters. Nevertheless, experienced tasters were not the consumers driving the action, and selling Pinot from anyplace to new converts with no frame of reference was like shooting fish in a barrel.
“Sideways” was released in 2004, and by the spring of 2006, relatively inexpensive Pinot Noir had become the worst wine in its price category in the world. Not the worst-selling, mind you, but the worst in terms of quality and consistency--precisely because it was selling so well.
Then there’s the case of Yellow Tail, the line of inexpensive wines from Australia that proved so successful that it altered the USA market’s perception of Australian wine per se, and not for the better. You’ve heard the old expression about bad situations in which a tail is said to be “wagging the dog”? Well, Yellow Tail didn’t just wag the dog of the Australian wine industry--it damned near choked it to death.
Which brings us back to Prosecco. In light of the examples just considered, you might be thinking to yourself, “How could the Italians commit the same mistake?” In fact, the Prosecco problem is not quite the same, and those who made the decisions that created the current situation acted more from necessity than from greed, and were really playing defense more than offense.
Here’s the short version of the story: In the mid-2000s, Prosecco as a general sparklng wine category went fairly suddenly from being a big deal only in Europe to being a big deal around the world. At that point, a distinction was already in place to offer special recognition to wines sourced from the prime growing region around Valdobbiadene and Conegliano: Wines within a delimited area held DOC status as a controlled appellation, whereas lesser wines from the surrounding flatlands were entitled only to the less honorable IGT distinction.
So far, so good. Except that “Prosecco” was a word designating two distinct things at that point: A sparkling wine, but also the grape from which the wine was made. And since the wine was selling like crazy, why wouldn’t wineries in Brazil or Australia start planting the grape so they could sell wine bearing the booming name?
Before 2009, there was no negative answer to that question because “Prosecco” wasn’t legally protected as a product associated with a particular place. Think of it this way: You can’t plant vines in Brazil and sell the resulting wine as “Burgundy” (at least not if you want to get along with the European Union), but you are perfectly entitled to sell it as “Pinot Noir.” The only way to prevent what the Brazilians and Australians were doing was to grant DOC designation to virtually all Italian Prosecco in connection with a particular geographical area, and to change the name of the grape to something else.
So that’s what was done. The wines made from flatland vineyards were elevated from IGT to DOC status. Equally importantly, the grape variety’s name was changed from Prosecco to “Glera,” a designation that Jancis Robinson MW and her co-authors in the definitive reference volume Wine Grapes call “…both confusing and misleading.” They are correct about that, but there’s no point in detailing their reasons here, because the real reason for the change wasn't ampelographical accuracy but rather product protection.
These moves resulted in the intended consequences, plus one very significant unintended consequence. The good news, for starters, was that the Australians and Brazilians did indeed choose to continue getting along with the European Union, and accordingly stopped selling “Prosecco.” The bad news was--and remains--that elevating wines grown in the prime area around Valdobbiadene and Conegliano to DOCG status has largely failed to raise them above the rising tide of DOC Prosecco that threatens to drown them.
Before turning to the reason behind this, we should be clear about the facts: As a group, the DOCG wines clearly stand above the DOC ones in quality, just as the vineyards that source them tower over the surrounding DOC flatlands. The problem is one of perception--or rather mis-perception--on the part of consumers and even members of the wine trade.
Anyone who visits the prime region can see instantly why the two product categories are different, but how many consumers (or trade members or wine educators, for that matter) have ever done that? Ask most members of the wine trade to pinpoint Valdobbiadene on a map, and they’ll break into a cold sweat of incapability. But seeing is believing: The DOC-eligible land on one side of the roadway that marks the appellation border is flat as a pancake, whereas the other is so steep that the tops of the hills can't even be planted and must be surrendered to forest.
Similarly, how many consumers around the world really appreciate the distinction between DOC and DOCG-designated wines? The percentage is very low, but the fault doesn’t lie entirely with consumers. The Italians themselves have engaged in “grade-inflation” by awarding too many DOCG designations, thereby deflating every DOCG that is really needed. When regular Chianti gets to bear the same honorific as Chianti Classico, you know that DOCGs are being handed out like youth soccer trophies. Consumers can hardly be faulted for not gasping in admiration in the unlikely event that they notice “DOCG” on a bottle of Prosecco from Conegliano or Valdobbiadene.
The one word that sticks in the public mind as this category is expanding rapidly in commercial terms is "Prosecco." Period. The DOC / DOCG distinction is lost on almost everybody. Moreover, it is an exercise in futility to hope that consumers will spurn “Prosecco” when ordering in a restaurant or retail store and ask for, “Conegliano - Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG Superiore.” Research has shown that consumers won’t even say, “Gewurztraminer,” so there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that the long version is going to catch on, and even “Valdobbiadene” can only be pronounced with practice.
Clearly, then, the consortium of producers in the prime zone is wrestling with a very difficult problem. One factor in their favor is that their zone is so obviously different. Higher altitude and hillier topography translate directly into superior quality on the DOCG side. Hilly sites with poorer, quick-draining soils reduce yields and increase depth of flavor in the wine. A cooler climate preserves aroma and acidity in the grapes, and most DOCG wines are manifestly more expressively perfumed and more seriously structured with freshening acidity.
You might conclude from this that superior quality will inevitably prevail, and perhaps it will, but some producers in the DOCG zone may not survive long enough to see that happen. On the flat DOC side of the boundary, producers can use machines to prune and harvest, and can crank out high vineyard yields, theoretically without ever setting foot on the ground. By contrast, growers on the DOCG side must labor in vineyards so steep that most vines must be individually staked onto the slope, as in the Mosel and Côte Rôtie, with vastly lower yields and dramatically higher production costs.
This brings us to the key problem of the moment, which is that the product categories are still so little known that DOCG wines can fetch prices that are only marginally higher than DOC wines. That isn’t true on France’s Rhône Valley, where Côte Rôtie can sell for four times the prices that lesser Crozes-Hermitage wines sourced from the flats will bring. The present situation in Conegliano and Valdobbiadene is quite possibly unsustainable over the longer term for many growers and producers, as they have difficulty getting their wines to sell when offered at prices 50% higher than DOC Prosecco, rather than the 400% differential in our Côte Rôtie example.
I don’t know what the solution to this set of problems may be, but I do know my modest role in it, which is to review outstanding examples from the DOCG zone and prod you to try them. Below you will find reviews of the best wines that I tasted when working in the area last month, and the categories run from drier to sweeter as you scroll down, with particular wines listed alphabetically and by score within the categories.
All of the categories have virtues of their own, and all deserve to be tried: The drier Brut wines are very refreshing and food friendly, and they tend to show much more minerality than the sweeter versions. Richer, sweeter styles like Dry and Cartizze (from a single site, usually finished quite sweet) are wonderfully opulent, and their sweetness can work beautifully with Prosecco/Glera’s floral aromatics when there’s sufficient acidity to keep the wine in balance.
Prosecco is more than a commodity--it is also, at its best, a wine of place, one that is highly distinctive and indisputably delicious. The only problem is that you can only experience this if you get your Prosecco from the right place, which is off the steep slopes around Valdobbiadene and Conegliano. Taste the wines reviewed below and you’ll discover that altitude translates into cooler temperatures and greater diurnal swings between daytime and nighttime temperatures in the district's vineyards, which, in turn, translates into more expressive bouquets, brighter acidities, and more exciting interplay between fruit and structure:
Merotto, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut Rive di Col San Martino “Cuvée del Fondatore Graziano Merotto” Millesimato 2012: One of the three or four most striking wines made from Prosecco that I’ve ever tasted, this is made from a very steep, quick-draining site that imparts an unusually intense minerality that shows in the mid-palate and becomes even more prominent in the finish. A true brut that borders on what would be designated “ultra brut” in other regions, this was finished with only 7 grams per liter of sugar, and though the wine is consequently clean and reserved in terms of sweetness, it is not at all austere in fruit or flavor. Delicate floral aromas get it off to a great start, and the effervesence is not only texturally impressive but even visually so, as the glass holds a layer of fine foam for minutes on end in a perfectly cleaned glass (a phenomenon very rarely seen even in the most lavish Cuvée de Prestige Champagnes). The perlage is so fine-grained and delicate that there’s almost no textural sense of bubbles bursting on the tongue, and the sensation is literally rather than figuratively “creamy.” For all that, the wine is impeccably pure in character at the tail end of the long finish, with every sip inviting another. Go ahead and scoff at 94 points for a Prosecco--but only after you taste it for yourself. 94
Col Credas by Adami, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Rive di Farra di Soligo Brut 2012: This wine is somewhere close to as complex and interesting as Prosecco can be. Nearly water white in color, and finished with just 4 grams per liter of residual sugar, this might be a rather austere wine in theory, but it is certainly not that in practice. The aromas are actually quite expressive and the flavors are as well, with delicate perfume and delicious fruit recalling white peaches and green apples. The finish shows marked minerality and even a grippy quality that is very rare in Prosecco, lending a sense of special seriousness to this enduringly interesting wine. Sourced from an extremely steep site, this is an object lesson in how wonderful Prosecco DOCG can be, and what a striking value it can offer. 93
Nino Franco, Vino Spumante Grave di Stecca Brut Millesimato 2010: This wine is sourced from a single, limestone-rich site in which the vines are trained in cordon fashion and farmed sustainably. The appellation authorities found it too atypical to permit it designation under the DOCG, so you’ll find reference neither to Valdobbiadene nor Prosecco on the label (despite the fact that it is sourced from a prime site and made entirely from Glera). The authorities had a point, I suppose, as the wine is indeed highly atypical, but had I been in charge, I’d have decided in a millisecond to keep this associated with my appellation. In any case, this is a late-released, thrillingly mineral-driven wine from stem to stern, though delicate fruit is also present in the aromas, flavors and finish. Finished with just 7 grams per liter of sugar, this is close to as intricately complex as a Prosecco can be. Call it what you will, but for me, this is one of the most enduringly interesting wines I’ve ever tasted from this region and grape. And by the way, it can even hold up over time: I also tasted the 2008, which showed only positive oxidative characters and was every bit as good as the 2010, based on different strengths. 93
Sorelle Bronca, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut “Particella 68” NV: Made from a limestone-rich, low-yielding single site and typically finished with just 7 or 8 grams per liter of residual sugar, this is a highly complex Prosecco that show much more extract and minerality than sweet fruit, as almost all of the sweetness ends up being balanced out by the wine’s acidity. Serious and structured but neither hard nor austere, this is an immaculate wine but still a delicious one that never turns sour or dour. Extremely impressive. 93
Villa Sandi, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore di Cartizze Brut NV: The very existence of Cartizze in a Brut style such as this is remains a matter of controversy in the region (even within single families), as Cartizze is traditionally quite sweet. I’m often a defender of tradition, but not in this case, and there’s no denying the success after tasting this wine. The aromas are open and alluring, and the palate shows strikingly intense fruitiness despite the wine’s dryness, with notes of orange marmalade and ripe peaches that persist through the finish. There’s impressive substance and weight to the wine, which makes its squat bottle seem fitting, and yet the finish is impressively fresh thanks to excellent acidity and energetic effervescence. Completely convincing. 93
Ruggeri, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG “Vecchie Viti” Brut Millesimato 2012: This wine pushes the Prosecco envelope and will likely blow the minds even of experienced tasters with regard to their notions of how good sparklers from this grape and region can be. The oldest vines from multiple vineyard sites are selected and identified with a white cordon, and not all of the oldest vines are included--only the very best of them (as I observed in the vineyard when seeing identical-seeming vines adjacent to one another, some cordoned and some not). Only one tank has been made in each vintage since 2005, so don’t expect to find this just anyplace, but it is damned sure worth a search. The wine is marked by elegant aromas with a subtle floral topnote, followed by very precise flavors that are undergirded by an unusually prominent mineral note that persists through the long, symmetrical finish. 93
Sorelle Bronca, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut NV: Sorelle Bronca is an exemplary Prosecco producer, and this Brut bottling shows excellent quality and very tasteful styling. The flavors are fresh and focused, with a citrus character, but also a creamy texture from abundant but gentle, fine-grained effervescence. Few brut Proseccos combine freshness and generosity to this striking degree, and it makes the wine equally promising for use as an aperitif or a partner at the table for antipasti and a host of lighter dishes. 92
Spagnol, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut Reve di Solighetto NV: In my opinion this is the obvious standout wine in the lineup offered by this producer, with a wonderfully expressive floral bouquet. The effervescence is abundant but quite fine in grain and soft in texture, and the fruit and acidity are really perfectly symmetrical in both the mid-palate and finish. Although finished with just 10.5 grams per liter of sugar, this is generously and very persistently flavored, with terrific texture and balance. 92
Bisol, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut “Crede” NV: This is a very well made, highly expressive Prosecco that will never leave you craving any additional sweetness despite the fact that it is finished with only 7 grams per liter of residual sugar. Aromatic notes of wildflowers and green apple skin lead to focused, precise flavors and, ultimately, citrus notes and a very pleasant bitter undertone in the finish. 91
Bosco di Gica by Adami, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut NV: Although this wine is notably broader and softer in texture and feel than Adami’s striking Col Credas Brut, this wine remains very focused and fresh, with true brut dryness at 10 grams per liter of residual sugar. There’s plenty of fruit to allow the wine to seem satisfying to most tasters, and very pleasant floral aromas to lend complexity as well, and the fresh character of the wine will make it enduringly refreshing to taste. 91
Le Colture, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut “Fagher” NV: Among the best brut wines coming out of Valdobbiadene these days, this shows true brut style with just 9 grams per liter of residual sugar, yet there’s nothing hard, bitter or austere about the wine. It shows very attractive fruit that leans more toward citrus than stone fruit, though peachy notes gain prominence as the wine warms in the glass. The texture also shifts from edgy to creamy with time in the glass, and the floral aromatic notes come to the fore as well. Very well focused and integrated, this is a brut that can be enjoyed as an aperitif but is also very well suited to the table. 91
Drusian, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut NV: This is finished with just 8 grams per liter of residual sugar, which could lead one to believe that the wine would be restrained to the point of austerity, but that is definitely not the case. The aromas are open, soft, floral, fruity and inviting, and the palate impression is likewise quite juicy and generous, with a texture that is again surprisingly rounded for the modest level of sugar. The finish shows no harshness and no bitter edge, suggesting admirable work in the vineyard as well as the cellar. 91
La Farra, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut Millesimato 2011: This is a reserved, even stately wine that seems quite shy when first poured, but then blossoms with air and warming into something quite expressive and complex. In addition to standard notes of fresh flowers, orange blossoms and peach fruit, this also shows an unusually prominent minerality that lends a real sense of refinement. The finish is long and impressively complex. 91
Merotto, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Brut “Bareta” NV: A Prosecco brut of uncommon complexity and dimension, this holds 10 grams per liter of sugar but balances it effortlessly with refreshing acidity and expressive fruit. To say that the wine is “well balanced” really doesn’t do it justice: Better to indicate that it is perfectly proportioned and strikingly coherent. Very impressive juice. 91
Nino Franco, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Vignetto Della Riva di San Floriano Brut NV: Made from a steep site overlooking the town of Valdobbiadene, this shows a gorgeous delicacy in its bouquet as well as a very soft, creamy mouthfeel resulting from a full 3 months of contact with its gross lees after the first fermentation. Although it is designated as brut, you’ll find flavors recalling marmalade and candied orange peel, but the well-integrated acidity cleans up the finish beautifully. 91
Villa Sandi, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut Millesimato 2012: This is a complete wine regardless of the absence of overt sweetness, and a very powerful argument on behalf of DOCG Brut Prosecco. The aromas as expressively floral and fruity, followed by flavors that prove quite generous, and texture that is focused and structured but neither hard nor austere nor bitter. This may well be the leading style of the future for fine wines from Valdobbiadene, though there’s no telling how long that may take. 91
Nino Franco, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG “Rustico”
Brut NV: This is finished with 11 grams per liter of residual sugar, which places it at the sweeter end of the brut Prosecco spectrum, but the balance will work well even for those who favor dry sparklers. A delicate floral note gets this off to a good start aromatically, and the soft, pleasantly sweet mid-palate draws focus from fresh acidity in the finish. 90
Spagnol, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut “Col del Sas” 2012: Spagnol elects not to write “Millesimato” on the label of this wine but the year does appear, and this is a truly Brut wine, finished with only about 8 grams per liter of sugar. The aromas are rather muted, but the flavors are pure and fresh, showing a little underlying minerality and finishing with lip-smackingly bright acidity. 90
Spagnol, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Vino Frizzante DOCG “Lo Spago” NV: Wines finished at the lower, Frizzante level of effervescent pressure than spumante seem to becoming more rare these days, but this one provides an object lesson in the viability of the category. It is quite dry, with only about 10 grams per liter of residual sugar, though it isn’t explicitly designated as Brut. Despite the lower-than-usual effervescence, it is really quite vigorous on the palate, with a clean, bright finish. 90
Toffoli, Conegliano - Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut Millesimato 2012: With 11 grams per liter of residual sugar, this isn’t the driest Brut, but it certainly doesn’t seem overtly sweet, and makes up for any lack of cut with lots of open, peachy fruit. The effervescence is quite energetic if not ultra-fine in texture, and in any case is well matched to the wine’s juicy, expressive fruit. Sadly, Toffoli’s importer in the USA elects not to take this wine or the Vino Spumante Blanco “7 Millesimato” Extra Brut, despite the fact that these are the wineries two best products. To my way of thinking, this is an excellent reason to find a new importer…though that’s easy for me to say, having no commercial stake in the matter. 90
Drusian, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry: Finished with just 12 or 13 grams of residual sugar rather than the 17 or so that is conventional for Extra Dry wines from the DOCG district, this is an exemplary wine that achieves something very rare: A level of generosity and even luxuriousness generally found only in overtly sweet Cartizze bottlings, but with a much lower level of sugar that makes this far more broadly useful as an aperitif or a partner for foods. A cold, slow second fermentation seems important as an explanatory factor behind the wine’s unusual character, which is marked texturally and even visually by exceptionally fine-grained bubbles. This delicate, creamy effervescence lends an opulent character to the wine without the confining sweetness that other producers often employ to achieve a similar effect. Although there’s a similarity between the two styles, they are not the same, with the key difference that a drier wine like this will prove more enduringly interesting and far less tiring to drink over time. 92
Sorelle Bronca, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry NV:
Rarely do I admire a producer’s Extra Dry Prosecco as much as the Brut
offering, but at Sorelle Bronca, I could not find any quality difference
between the two--despite a definite difference in character and style.
Of the two, this is vastly more opulent, with soaring floral perfume, a
texture that seems both fluffy and creamy, and big, persistent flavors
recalling ripe peaches. All of this would be a bit too much except for a
forceful undercurrent of acidity that keeps the wine seeming fresh
through the last flicker of the finishing flavors. 92
Ruggeri, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG “Giustino B” Extra Dry Millesimato 2012: Finished with 16 grams of residual sugar per liter but still perfectly balanced, this is a luxurious wine in multiple respects. The aromas are opulently floral but still not obvious or overbearing, and the flavors are both deep and lasting. Most noteworthy, however, is the wine’s texture, which is broad and soft and creamy, with wonderful richness and depth from the combination of fruity sweetness and abundant effervesence. My personal taste in high-end Prosecco runs toward drier wines, but this is completely convincing, and I’d serve it with pride to anyone. Next time I see her, this is what I’ll be pouring for the Queen. 91
La Farra, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry NV: Although this is quite notably sweet like all Extra Dry bottlings of Prosecco, this bottling is unusual in character, with more delicate mouthfeel than usual (Extra Dry renditions tend to be intensely frothy, for better or worse depending on one’s preferences) and considerably more grip in the finish than one typically finds in this style. The flavors ride atop the creamy effervescence through the long, admirably clean finish. 90
Villa Sandi, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry NV: Although I am a big believer in DOCG Prosecco Bruts, there’s no question that well-made Extra Dry versions with effective balancing acidity offer an opulence that Bruts just can’t match. This is true not only regarding the flavor of the wines, which is obviously boosted by the presence of residual sugar in the mix, but even the texture and effervescence, which is more luxurious in the better Extra Dry renditions, such as this one. Although I believe that Bruts will become much more prominent in the future than they are now, here’s a reality check on the present: Villa Sandi makes six times as much of this as their comparable bottling of Brut. 90
La Farra, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry Rive di Farra di Soligo Millesimato 2012: Finished with evident sweetness but still--surprisingly--soil inflected and mineral-driven, this is a striking wine. The sweetness comes across almost entirely as fruit flavor rather than sugar, and the fruit is seamlessly integrated with the subtle earthy notes and the crisp acidity. You’d never guess that the wine held 18 grams of residual sugar per liter if I didn’t tell you, so imagine that you’ve got one of those forget flash thingies from Men in Black. 92
Nino Franco, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Dry “Primo Franco” Millesimato 2012: I lean pretty strongly toward the dry (meaning, Brut) side of the Prosecco continuum, but this wine is so irresistibly delicious that neither I nor anyone else could fault it on grounds of sweetness. The highly expressive aromas waft up from the glass with scents of spring flowers and ripe peaches, and the flavors recall the juices at the bottom of the bowl of the best fruit salad you ever enjoyed. This isn’t the most “serious” Prosecco you can find, but it is certainly among the most endearing. 92
Vigneto Giardino by Adami, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Rive di Colbertaldo Dry 2012: Sourced from a single, very steep site, this is a Prosecco that is almost overwhelming in its succulence and juiciness. If you think of the liquid that was left at the bottom of the bowl of the best fruit salad you’ve ever enjoyed, you’ll have the basic idea…though I’m not completely confident that you’ve ever tasted a fruit salad this delicious. Although the primary flavors in this wine are all about fruit, it also shows an unusual quanta of mineral extract which, along with fresh acidity, keep it enduringly interesting sip after sip. 92
Drusian, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Dry: Everything made at Drusian is notably drier than the norm, and in this instance the wine is finished with 18 grams per liter of residual sugar rather than the 22 that are commonly found in DOCG Dry Prosecco wines. Although the lower sweetness level is quite apparent to the senses, what is also evident is the positive presence of minerality and extract in the flavors, which would ordinarily be obscured by sugar. An excellent example of this category. 91
Merotto, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry “Collbelo” NV: A very high-quality Extra Dry Prosecco that derives an unusually high proportion of its flavor from fruit and extract rather than sugar, this is quite generous but also markedly energetic and fresh. The brut wines from this house are so complete that they prove that sugar isn’t needed here to make something compelling from Prosecco, yet the sweetness in this wine produces something that is equally meritorious in its own way. More opulently flavorful and foamy than the bruts if not quite as complex, this conveys a luxuriousness that is quite fetching, and the finish is surprisingly clean and lifted for a wine with 16 grams of sugar. Impressive. 91
Le Colture, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Dry “Cruner” NV: Go ahead, try not to like this wine, and while you’re at it, try to declare that it is too sweet. Good luck with that. Finished at 18 grams per liter of residual sugar, this is really no sweeter than many producers’ Extra Dry Prosecco bottlings, and is notably fresher and more lifted than most producers’ Dry renditions. Rounded and soft in texture, with luxuriously creamy mousse and a highly expressive bouquet, this very convincing stuff. 90
Merotto, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Dry Rive di Col San Martin “La Primavera du Barbara” Millesimato 2012: This is a very successful wine that doesn’t impress quite as much as the other top wines of this impressive house, but that’s more because the others are so good than because of notable shortcomings. Made from 90% Glera (a.k.a. Prosecco) plus 10% Perera, a local variety that contributes an intense floral character that purportedly comes through even when the grapes are sampled directly from the vine, this starts with alluring flowery aromas. The texture is broad and soft, as one would expect from this Dry category, but the sugar is really not overly evident, and one must almost “feel” for it in the wine’s finish, which is admirably clean and fresh. 90
Villa Sandi Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Dry “Cuvée Oris” NV: Although Villa Sandi makes a delicious bottling of Cartizze, I thought this wine was quite nearly as good--and at a much lower price. It is significantly less sweet than the Cartizze, yet arguably more versatile as a result, as the Cartizze is rather obviously a dessert wine that couldn’t really serve well as an aperitif, as this could clearly do. Abundant floral aromas are quite engaging, but the fun really starts on the palate, as this is lush and foamy and flavorful without ever quite turning obvious. 90
Bisol, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore di Cartizze DOCG “Private Cartizze” 2011: This remarkable wine is made by the traditional Champagne method, in which the second fermentation is performed in the bottle. One would expect this to accentuate complexity at some cost in terms of freshness, and also to confer upon the wine an added ability to improve with age, and all of those expectations do seem to have resulted from the process in the case of this wine (though time will tell on the ageing issue, as this is the first release). Very dry but still not austere, with lovely flavors and interesting complexities in the finish recalling slightly bitter almonds, this is an exceedingly serious Prosecco. 93
Drusian, Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG Prosecco NV: With a very extensive holding of four hectares in Cartizze, Drusian is well situated to make something special from this hallowed cru, and that is indeed what resulted in the release that I tasted. Finished with only 19 grams per liter of residual sugar, this is entirely delicious, with juicy, driving orange marmalade flavors and a big, expansive, billowing character on the palate with loads of persistent but fine-grained bubbles. The key point of distinction in this wine, however, is its focus and freshness for a Cartizze. Rarely would I come back to this type of wine for a second or third glass, but had other appointments not called me away from Drusian, I might well have gotten in trouble if left alone with a bottle of this. 93
Ruggeri, Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG NV: Cartizze is the prized growing site for Prosecco in the entire world, and the one and only cru with its own appellation. If you’re feeling flush, you might want to buy a hectare and move into the Cartizze aristocracy, which will only cost you 1.3 million Euros. Virtually everyone who has made Cartizze for the past 200 years has finished it sweet, mostly because they could: This ultra-steep, south-facing site yields ripeness levels and natural sugar volumes that are very rare in Prosecco, and naturally sweet wines were likewise very rare for generations, enabling those who could make them to charge prices much higher than those of ordinary wines. This gorgeous rendition is very notably sweet and actually marked by a subtle note of caramel, yet the balance is excellent thanks to fresh acidity (the producer picks his grapes about 6 days earlier than most others to preserve natural acidity) as well as a pleasant bitter edge to the finish that recalls almond skins. Highly prized in the Veneto, Cartizze is consumed almost entirely in the immediate production area, but if you’re not headed toward Venice anytime soon, you can pick this up in Russia or Kazakhstan. 92
Le Colture, Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG NV: Opulently sweet like most Prosecco wines from the Cartizze cru in Valdobbiadene, with 23 grams of residual sugar per liter, this nevertheless shows exceptionally fine balance thanks to zesty acidity and plenty of dry extract suggesting that the fruit was harvested at admirably low yield levels. Marked by delicacy as much as richness or power, this is a Cartizze that really calls for a second glass, whereas many counterpart wines prove tiring to drink for lack of comparable balance. 92
Merotto, Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG NV: Since there are many steep vineyard sites in the area in and around Valdobbiadene, one might expect that wines from the lone cru of Cartizze wouldn’t really stick out as being all that unique. Well, they do. And this does. Opulent aromas include scents of orange blossoms and wild honey, followed by very deep, broad flavors that are quite sweet but never cloying. The very fine mousse and precise flavors prove very persistent in the finish. 93