Once in a while all the wines show really well

Once in a while all the wines show really well
Once in a while all the wines show really well

It is not very often that I write about tasting I have tutored or masterclasses presented. However, once in a while all the wines show really well, and the participants are truly amazed by the quality and individuality of the wines shown. Such were the reactions to my presentation for COMETS at The Civil Service Club in London on 25th January. The wines shown were not Grand Cru Classé Bordeaux, nor the fine domaines of Burgundy, but..........Proseccos, with a focus on the DOCG Superiore wines.

Once in a while all the wines show really well

I have written about Prosecco many times, but it is appropriate to remind ourselves that this is a sparkling wine that has come to the fore in the last couple of decades. Champagne, that always saw itself as the king of wines and the wine of kings, never saw Prosecco coming. The Crémants, from elsewhere in France, were largely seen as poor substitutes. And there was, of course, Cava, which managed to embed itself with a cheap, low quality image largely due to heavy discounting in supermarkets. But Prosecco is different, and it marketed itself cleverly. It is fun, it is girly, it is hedonistic, it is entertainment, it doesn't break the bank (even the finest Prosecco Superiore 'Cartizze' sells for the price of a bog standard Champagne), and above all it is accessible.

Now, I do love Champagne when it is high quality, but the producers, and the ruling body the CIVC, believed it had the God-given right to lead the market. Indeed trade students attended lectures entitled 'Champagne and Other Sparkling Wines'. The consumer was led to believe that it was a privilege to buy Champagne, and especially to visit the region. The wine lover was indoctrinated into considering that nowhere-else in the world could high quality fizz be produced: it was all about the terroir. You had to know the region's geology: seventy million year ago the see that covered the region dried up, laying down the chalk beds, comprising the remains of Belemnite marine creatures. Twenty million years ago there was an earthquake that raised up the land and broke up the chalk and infused minerals. Ten million years ago there was another earthquake of great intensity, epicentred on Epernay, that created the hills and valleys of the region The soil was unique: Belemnmita quadrata the key to giving wines of such quality. All very convincing, if somewhat heavy for the consumer.

What was not said was that similar soils exist elsewhere, eg. Southern England, now also famed for producing top-quality sparkling wines that equal, or sometimes surpass that of many Champagnes. The outlying districts to the south, particularly the Côte des Bars, now the source of nearly 25% of the Champagne crop, were little discussed. The soils here are Kimmeridgian marl and Portlandian limestone, very similar to those found in Chablis - the district is, in fact, nearer to Chablis than it is to Epernay. I wonder where Kimmeridge and Portland are?

But what about Prosecco? Of course it is a very different wine to Champagne - Prosecco abounds with primary and secondary aromas, whilst Champagne is built upon the tertiary notes of autolysis. The Prosecco DOC wines come from two regions: Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia located in north-eastern Italy - specifically from the provinces of Treviso, Venice, Vicenza, Padua, Belluno, Gorizia, Pordenone, Trieste and Udine. The Superiore DOCG wines, come from delimited areas approximately 50 km north of Venice: Asolo DOCG and Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG. These vineyards are on hills, whilst the DOC vineyards are on flatlands. Hillside viticulture is extreme and expensive, requiring some 6 times the labour hours as those on the flat. The vineyards are, without doubt, amongst the most beautiful in the world, and wine tourists will find a warm welcome at the producers cellars.

The Prosecco DOC area covers approximately 28,000 hectares of vineyards and produces around 640 million bottles a year. By way of comparison, Champagne shipments in 2023 fell by 8% to just under 300 million bottles. Over 80% of this is exported. There are approximately 8,200 hectares for Prosecco Superiore Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG and 2,000 hectares for Prosecco Superiore Asolo DOCG. The terroirs are well researched, and every bit as distinctive and the basis for fine wine making as those of the heart of Champagne.

Once in a while all the wines show really well

Vineyards in Conegliano Valdobbiadene

One thing Prosecco has in common with Champagne is that the imitators are always waiting around the corner, and sometimes even in plain sight. For example, Australia is fighting hard to retain the name 'Prosecco' for wines produced there from the Glera variety, which it still calls Prosecco. I must get my Turkish-Cypriot colleague to market the wine we make from vines on red soils at Kayalar as 'Coonawarrra!

It goes without saying that Prosecco must be bottled in the region of origin. However, fake product abounds, and some people even think that Prosecco is available on draught, dispensed from kegs. To combat this in December 2023 the Consorzio Tutela Prosecco DOC launched 'This is not Prosecco 'marketing campaign in the UK, depicting kegs and cans on posters and other media. Brilliant. Of course, those with vested interests in marketing bulk wines crawled out from under their stones, and attacked the campaign as negative, and spouted the 'Generation Z' is not drinking wine' and the usual 'carbon-footprint' hype. In fact Prosecco is one of the very few wines in the world to have growing sales, a 'young' market, and the region is one of the 'greenest' in terms of production practices and sustainability.

Now back to the tutored tasting for COMETS at the Civil Service Club in Great Scotland Yard, London. I tutor an annual event here, for a mature and knowledgeable group of wine loving members. Let me start at the end: the participants were amazed by the diversity of the range, and quality of the wines shown. Every wine showed well, and some were truly exceptional, and will briefly comment on these.

We began with a 2022 Villa Sandi Prosecco DOC Rosé Millesimato 'Il Fresco' Brut. Rosé is a relatively new style of Prosecco, only being authorised from the 2000 Vintage. Glera and Pinot Noir are the only varieties permitted. The colour comes from the Pinot Noir - 10-15% is allowed. It must be a 'Millesimato ' (vintage) wine.

This was was an fantastic opening wine. Everybody loved the vibrant, rose petal aromas and lifted strawberry fruit. Perfectly balanced: a joy to taste, and even more joy to drink! The heart of the estate, and depicted on the label is the Villa, a Palladian-style masterpiece which dates back to 1622. Under the direction of Giancarlo Moretti Polegato, Villa Sandi has become a legend in the region: the top wine is The Villa Sandi Vigna La Rivetta Cartizze, which lies in the heart of this 108 hectares of this spectacular vineyard.

Once in a while all the wines show really well

The 2022 Antonio Facchin Prosecco Treviso DOC Millesimato Extra Dry (13.6 g/l residual sugar) was a classic, fresh Prosecco, that makes a delightful aperitif. Lime and lemon were to the fore on the nose, with pear and white peach flavours filling the palate. Antonio Facchin states their mission to be 'Producing the best value for money wines representative of our territory with the passion of a family that has been doing it for generations'. I'll endorse that

So to the DOCG wines. I have long had a soft spot for Asolo - see my article Asolo - Prosecco that Knows its Place. The area accounts for less than 5% of all Prosecco production. The Asolo vineyards are on hills formed with the debris from melting glaciers.

One of the stars of the evening was Giusti Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Brut By Graziana Grassini. Ermenegildo Giusti is truly remarkable: after returning to his homeland from Canada he created 10 wine estates, all situated in Montello and along the Destra Piave plain. He began with just 2 hectares - his family now owns 125 hectares of immaculate vineyards, with a total investment of over €100 million.

The wine shows a wonderful, creamy mousse. The nose exudes orange blossom, May flower, white peach, Bosc pear and Egremont Russet apple, with a hint pf crushed ferns. The palate is classic Asolo: dry, crisp, and angular with a marked salinity - there are notes of apricot and honey, and almonds which continue through the long finish.

The Glera grapes for this wine are grown at Tenuta Aria Valentina on clay soils rich in iron oxide. It is the brainchild of Graziana Grassini, a famed Tuscan oenologist who Ermenegildo Giusti persuaded to work at his estates at Nervesa della Battaglia. "I chose Graziana because she is the right mix of feminine grace, Tuscan resolution and international sensibility," he says. "My dream is making this little corner of Heaven, Montello, known worldwide. I decided to concentrate my investments in a single municipality because I wanted to make a concrete contribution to changing the mentality of the place......My goal was to bring a new model of environmental care and widespread beauty that could inspire my neighbours. When I arrived, the banks were uncultivated and beautiful monuments were in a state of neglect, but today things have changed" See: Giusti

Once in a while all the wines show really well

Bival Costante 08 Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG - Brut Nature Sui Lieviti really got everybody talking. The participants had been totally unaware that this 'sui lieviti' (on the lees) style of wine, fermented in the bottle and produced without riddling and disgorging existed. In fact, it was only introduced as an official category in 2019, although the production method dates back centuries. Of course it is slightly cloudy in the glass. The bubbles are incredibly fine, and rise like strings of pearls from the bottom of the glass. The nose of this wine explodes with brioche and yeast aromas, together with lemon and lime. It is subtle. It is loud. It is bone dry. It is class!

Bisol 1542 is based in still managed by the Bisol family, who have had a presence in the heart of the Prosecco country, specifically the site known as 'Chartice' (the present-day Cartizze vineyard). The quality of the wines today owes much to Desiderio Bisol who, following in his father's and grandfather's footsteps, in the years following the Second World War, rode around the Valdobbiadene and Conegliano hills on his red Moto Guzzi motorbike, searching for the best plots of land to purchase. Bisol 1542 now have some very fine holdings in Valdobbiadiene, retaining a plot in the magical Cartizze. The Company is now part of the Lunelli Group, who own several fabulous wine estates including Tenuta Podernovo in Tuscany, but are perhaps most famous for producing the acclaimed Ferrari Trento sparkling wines.

The wine shown this evening was 2021 Bisol 1542 Valdobbiadene Superiore Prosecco DOCG Brut "I Gondolieri". The glass exuded an array of wild flowers, inviting you to nose the wine again and again. On the palate there was a compote of fleshy apples and ripe pears culminating in a clean, stony finish.

Once in a while all the wines show really well

There are so many styles of Prosecco it is impossible to do the region justice in one tutored tasting. I would have loved to have shown a wine from each of the 43 'Rive' sites. 'Rive' translates to steep slope and the individual vineyards planted on them are true expressions of terroir. The production from all the Rive vineyards accounts for less than 3% of Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG!

The final wine of the 'Superiore' flight was from the jewel of entire region: Cartizze. This site of 108 hectares, with 100 owners, is unbelievably steep, and viticulture here is truly heroic. Cartizze was first designated back in 1969. It is considered to be amongst the most valued, and expensive vineyard land in Italy and possible the world. Plots hardly every change hands, but €2 million per hectare is a guide price! The name 'Prosecco' does not appear on the label of Cartizze wines.

Traditionally, Carizze wines were produced in the 'Dry' style, which is anything but dry having a residual sugar between 17 and 32 g/l. However, the move in the last decade or so has been to less sweetness, and the wine shown this evening was Ruggeri Valdobbiadene Superiore Di Cartizze DOCG Brut. Simply (but with so much complexity) a delightful wine to conclude this tasting!

Once in a while all the wines show really well

Acknowledgements: Sarah Abbott, Silvia Baratta, Linda Bison, Emily Davies, Gildo Giusti, David Johnston, Neil Phillips, Madeleine Waters, Consorzio di Tutela del Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG, Consorzio Tutela Prosecco DOC, Casa Prosecco UK, and the Staff at the Civil Service Club.

Once in a while all the wines show really well