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.