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Thursday, 11 November 2021

Prosecco - A Deeper Dive into Conegliano Valdobbiadene

A deeper dive into the "rive" of Conegliano Valdobbiadene

The story of Prosecco is, to some extent, that of a country wine that suddenly found itself in the world's spotlight.

The rise and rise of Prosecco has been pretty much universally A Good Thing; consumers have taken to it and increasing demand has allowed the winemakers of the area to experiment, take risks and generally show what the wine can do.

After last year's introduction to Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG, this masterclass looked in more detail at the terroir and the rive, the slopes that make some of the top Prosecco wines in the area.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene is a mountainous area of "hogsbacks" in the pre-Alps / Dolomites; the hills run, unusually, east-west giving a north-south aspect. Distinctive, beautiful and ancient, they are a patchwork of bio-cultural heritage that has been recognised by UNESCO.

The UK buys mostly DOC Prosecco, with sales of DOCG making up under 10% by volume; however, that amount is also the top 10% by quality.

Rive wines are an even smaller proportion, meaning that this is a specialist and limited area. However, with export markets growing, and wines that were historically consumed locally finding new audiences abroad, the UK is a key market.

Located in the Veneto region of Italy, between Venice and the Dolomites, this is a rich land where the aristocrats of the Venetian republic lived, bringing the wealth and power of La Serenissima. It is a land rich in history and culture as well as natural wealth.

The rive are the slopes of the region, rising sharply from around 50m to 500m above sea level; there are 43 named rive which vary in size and have stricture regulations, including lower yields. They are cool, bright and breezy with steep terrain.

The constant breezes with cool nights and mornings moderate the temperature, resulting in higher acidity and lower alcohol and endless geological variation.

The wines of Conegliano are from clay soils, giving structure and fruity aromas.

Valdobbiadene's ancient mixed soils give finesse, fruit and florality.

With high rain comes high vigour, so natural growth and plantings are used to maintain the ciglione terraces which are grassed rather than stony, requiring hand-harvesting and needing around 10 times the amount of labour to maintain vs the lower-lying, flatter DOC vineyards where large estates are able to use mechanised processes.

The UNESCO protection of Conegliano Valdobbiadene's hogsback terraces helps to preserve the artisan, small-producer approach against the incursion of Big Money from outside; this will always be a high-cost areas, so the wines are moving away from cellar-door sales to tourists from Austria and northern Italy to competing on a larger stage on quality, rather than on price.

The wines must be minimum 85% Glera, with up to 15% of other varieties allowed; local varieties are increasing, with international varieties declining.

Glyphosate was banned in 2019 further adding to the region's sustainable and artisan credentials..

This being Italy, Dry is in fact the sweetest style. Next comes Extra Dry which is the most common style, with the drier styles of Brut and Extra Brut growing the fastest.

Unlike dosage for Champagne, sweetness levels for Prosecco are set prior to secondary fermentation; the drier styles undergo a longer Charmat-method fermentation and are more food friendly as a result.

Drier styles also require, and are therefore reserved for, top-quality fruit to give more concentration, extract, balance and complexity.

Within the "quality pyramid" of  Prosecco, Cartizze sits at the very top and is Grand Cru-level; the oldest sites date back to the 1600s and it forms a beautiful natural amphitheatre with stony soils, high acidity and higher ripeness.

The wines were presented in flights and the tasting notes are from Sarah Abbott MW.

Flight #1 - steely rive wines: all extra Brut

These wines had more precision; Glera is an aromatic variety and expresses its terroir when handled carefully with high levels of attention to the base wine, using site selection, natural yeasts and clarification methods and lees aging after initial fermentation for extra complexity. In some cases, this aging can be for up to a year after fermentation; this gives texture to the wine rather than the biscuity autolytic character.

BORGO COL Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Brut Rive di Follina 2020 (Looking for importer)

very small producer, just 9ha, gentle with delicate fruit

ADAMI Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Brut Rive di Farra di Soligo “Col Credas” 2019 (Astrum Wine Cellars)

bracing with striking acidity, family producer, tangy and uncompromising from a stony, breezy area with delicate stony freshness

BORTOLOTTI Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Brut Rive di Santo Stefano “Vigna Montagnole” 2019 (Ellis of Richmond)

aged on the fine lees for 4 months, then a very slow, 7-month secondary fermentation; from a steep, tiny vineyard of extreme, rugged slopes; racy and crisp with green apple, a gentle saltiness and pumice minerality

CANEVEL Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Brut “Terre Del Faè” 2020 (Berkmann Wine Cellars)

from Refrontolo, nicknamed "a postcard from God" for its outstanding beauty; a larger 26ha site where sheep graze in the vineyards for vegetation management and the wines can be served throughout the meal, not just as an aperitif; a long 2nd fermentation with lots of work on the base wine to create texture, reduced clarification to maintain proteins, use of natural yeasts, lower sulphites and higher natural anti-oxidants

All these wines were very elegant, but there was a feeling that their subtlety could prove to be the greatest market challenge, as it could prove too easy simply to overlook their delicacy.

All these Extra Brut wines will match with local foods such as risotto; they open up and gain complexity even as the fizz decreases, and prove popular in the local upmarket on-trade as a food-friendly, fine-dining wine.

Flight #2 - cuvees: all Brut

These wines are all non-rive assemblages with a soft broadness 

CARPENÉ MALVOLTI Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut Rive di San Pietro di Barbozza 2020

delicate, floral, herbal and fresh; subtle and sensitive with a gentle mousse and acidity

MALIBRAN Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut “Ruio” 2020 (Vinhuset Nofra)

from gentle, rolling hills, a single-vineyard wine, even if not from the rive; broader with an almost exotic fruit character, almost peachy roundedness, salty; a classic Conegliano style, plumper and more mouthfilling

SOMMARIVA Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut 2020 (Symposium Wines)

complex, from a lower altitude and drier area; spends just 30 days on the lees for second fermentation; again has Conegliano's characteristic rounder, plusher richness

IL COLLE Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut Millesimato 2020 (Looking for importer)

family company dating back to Venetian traders, organically-farmed and uses a cut-the-cordon method for on-the-vine passito character; peachy and aromatic, floral and tropical with pear fruit; 

LE COLTURE Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut “Fagher” 2020 (Corney & Barrow) 

from 45yo vines; archetypal Valdobbiadene; vibrant, floral, aromatic with fine mousse, pretty and juicy with alluring fruit; overall, more refined

Flight #3 - cuvees with higher RS levels

These wines are not from the rive, but are cuvees sourced from within Valdobbiadene; their higher residual sugar content gives them a floral, cherry-blossom / Gardenia character; perfumed and aromatic, they are classy fun

BORTOLIN FRATELLI Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry “Rù” Millesimato 2020

18g/l  of residual sugar with fruit from both Conegliano and Valdobbiadene

RICCARDO Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Dry Millesimato (Looking for importer)

21.5 g/l with fruit only from Valdobbiadene

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