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07.14.2007

The World's Best Prosecco: Tasting Conegliano Valdobbiadene

We Americans aren't deprived of much in the world when it comes to wine, but if there's one segment of the wine universe that remains highly unexplored by the average American wine drinker it's the world of non-Champagne sparkling wine. And I'm obviously not not talking about California wine. I'm talking about the hundreds of different types of sparkling wine made in dozens of countries around the world.

Thankfully, as more people begin to appreciate the pleasures of bubbly but can't always spring for the price tag of Champagne, there is an increasing demand for alternatives, such as Prosecco.

Prosecco is both the name of an Italian grape variety, as well as the name of the wine made from these clusters of light green berries that hang on precipitously steep hillsides north of Venice and the city of Treviso. The south facing hillsides farmed by hundreds of families in the Conegliano Valdobbiadene region are famous for their inclinesprosecco.jpg that have required (careful) hand harvesting for the nearly 200 years that the region has been producing its sparkling wine.

Rising steeply off the narrow two lane highways that run through the East-West oriented region strung between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, these hillsides would make excellent blue and black diamond ski runs, were they not packed with densely planted vines of mostly Prosecco grapes, but also occasionally the Verdiso, Perera, and Bianchetta varieties that are permitted into Prosecco wines in small quantities. In recent years the region has also seen plantings of Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, as well as even experimentation with red varieties, but for all intents and purposes everyone remains devoted to producing the delightful, fruity, uncomplicated spumante wine for which it has been known for centuries.

The region is farmed by perhaps thousands of small farmers, each of whom sell their grapes to larger producers, either large commercial wineries, or co-ops of various kinds. Increasingly there are also big wine estates being created that farm their own grapes amidst the family vineyards of the region. Additionally, Prosecco contains one specific DOC sub region known as Cartizze, which is a specific hill that is being marketed as a "Cru" or designated area of particularly high quality. While it is still unclear to me whether this area really is much different from the surrounding region, it is certainly true that those producers who source grapes from this area tend to treat them with the special care that winemakers usually offer their reserve or tete-du-cuvee wines.

Prosecco is made by first creating a still wine of generally very high acidity, and then adding sugar and yeast to ferment in the wine a second time from within large pressurized, temperature-controlled tanks, where it becomes effervescent before bottling. Though increasingly Prosecco is being made in a Brut style, which means it is fermented nearly dry with no added sweetness, it most traditionally receives varying amounts of dosage (usually a portion of sweet wine) before bottling, resulting in variations labeled Extra Dry (a little sweet), Dry (marked residual sugar), and an unlabeled version which tends to be quite sweet indeed. My favorite Proseccos tend to be of the Extra Dry or Brut variety. I find the Dry version a bit too sweet for my palate.

One of the fantastic things about Prosecco is its price, which only in the rarest bottlings climbs above $20. This makes it a great budget alternative to Champagne, and at its finest, Prosecco can even have some of the complexities of Champagne. One must be careful, however, not to ask too much of a $12 sparkling wine.

The best Proseccos, in my opinion, offer a clarity and freshness of fruit and flowers and a hint of minerality that make them incredibly easy to drink, especially when very cold, as I prefer them. The worst Proseccos can either be trying too hard for complexity and end up with yeasty, herbal notes that I don't care for, or can simply be one-dimensional syrupy fruit cocktails.

When I was in the region a few years ago, I was able to try perhaps thirty or forty wines (this was pre-Vinography, mind you) and found some that I really enjoyed, which subsequently proved impossible to find in the US. So when I heard that the Consorzio of the region's producers was hosting a tasting in San Francisco, I was excited to see which wines were on offer for the US market.

Below you'll find my tasting notes of the wines that were offered, most of which are available in the US, or will be soon. Some, however, are priced in Euros or marked "n/a" if they are not likely to be accessible to the consumer.

TASTING NOTES:

WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9 and 9.5
2004 Ruggeri & C. "Giustino B." Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $30.
NV Bellenda "San Fermo" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut. $18.
NV Bellenda "Miraval" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $18. Where to Buy?
2006 La Vigne de Alice Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut. $15.
NV Sorelle Bronca "Particella 68" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $20. Where to Buy?


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
NV Adami "Bosco di Gica" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut. $11
NV Adami "Dei Casel" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $11
NV Bellenda "Levis" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $19
NV Bellussi Spumanti Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $16
NV Bortolin Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Superiore di Cartizze Dry. $23
NV Bortolomiol "Banda Rossa" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $18
NV Bortolomiol Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Superiore di Cartizze. $22
NV Canella Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $??
NV Carpene' Malvolti "Cuvee" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $18
NV Drusian Francesco Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut. $18
NV Drusian Francesco Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $14
2006 La Vigne de Alice Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $15
2006 Malibran "Ruio" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut. $12
2006 Malibran "Gorio" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $12
NV Masottina Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $16
NV Sorelle Bronca Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $16


WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8.5 and 9
2006 Adami "Vigneto Giardino" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Dry. $16
NV Bellussi Spumanti "Belcanto" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $18
NV Bellussi Spumanti Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Dry. $16
NV Bortolin Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $16
NV Bortolin Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Dry. $17
NV Bortolomiol "Prior" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut. $15
2006 Cantina Produttori Di Valdobbiadene "Val d'Oca" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $15
NV Conte Collalto Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut. $18
2006 Drusian Francesco Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Dry. $30
NV Mionetto "Prestige" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $14
NV Mionetto Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Superiore di Cartizze Dry. $35


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
NV Bortolin Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut. $16
NV Cantina Colli Del Soligo Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut. $16
NV Cantina Produttori Di Valdobbiadene "Val d'Oca" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut. $15
NV Drusian Francesco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Superiore di Cartizze. $22
NV Masottina Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Dry. $16
NV Mionetto "Valdobbiadene doc" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $19
NV Ruggeri & C. "Gold Label" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $15
NV Serre Spumanti "Cuvee Valgres" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. 5 Euro
NV Valdo Spumanti "Cuvee del Fondatore" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut. 18 Euro


WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8 and 8.5
2006 Cantina Colli Del Soligo Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $23
NV Cantine U. Bortolotti Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $11
NV Carpene' Malvolti "Cuvee" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut. $23
NV Col Vetoraz Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut. $18
NV Col Vetoraz Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $16
NV La Marca Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $12
NV Le Colture "Fagher" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut. $15
NV Le Colture "Cruner" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Dry. $16
NV Le Colture Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Superiore di Cartizze. na
NV Serre Spumanti Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Superiore di Cartizze. 12 Euro
NV Valdo Spumanti "Cuvee de Boj" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut. $13
NV Valdo Spumanti "Cuvee Viviana" Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Superiore di Cartizze. $19
NV Vincola Serena Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $18


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND OR BELOW 8
NV Cantine U. Bortolotti "47" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $25
2006 Col Vetoraz Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Dry. $24
NV Col Vetoraz Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Superiore di Cartizze. $30
NV Conte Collalto Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $15
NV La Marca "Cuvee" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $14
NV Le Colture "Pianer" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. n/a
NV Masottina Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Superiore di Cartizze Dry. $20
NV Ruggeri & C. "Gentile" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Dry. $14
NV Serre Spumanti "Tribus" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut. 5 Euro
NV Serre Spumanti "Lovre" Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. 8 Euro
NV Toffoli Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Extra Dry. $16
NV Cantine U. Bortolotti Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut. $12
NV Cantine U. Bortolotti Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Superiore di Cartizze. $30
NV Toffoli Prosecco DOC di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Spumante Brut. $16

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