The Pinnacle of Prosecco: Conegliano Valdobbiadene

Prosecco recently has seen a tidal wave of change at every quality level. The popularity of the DOC wines has driven global markets for sparkling wines in recent years, making even Champagne sweat.

The lesser-known story, however, is the rise of the DOCG wines and vineyards. They make a tiny portion of Italy’s Glera-growing vineyards – just under 20% of the all wines bearing the name Prosecco Superiore.

The distinct but neighboring areas of Congeliano and Valdobbiadene, where DOCG wines are made, is truly special – for vini and for vistas. The dramatically steep and unusually trained vines – particularly in Valdobbiadene – are delightfully distinct from all others, and they have been nominated by the Italian National Commission to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you ever have a chance to visit, do. Valdobbiadene has one of the most dramatic vineyard-scapes in the world.

I recently tasted a selection of DOCG Prosecco (Superiore) worth writing about. One was a still Prosecco and the other three are “rive” bottlings. Non-sparkling Proseccos are novelties but have been around a long time. The rive wines, while also produced in small quantities, are relatively new – at least in terms of noting them on labels. “Rive” means “shore” or “bank” in Italian but refers to “hillside vineyards” in the local dialect. Rive wines can come from only 43 specified vineyards and make up a tiny portion of the already small DOCG area.

Bortolomiol 2015 Prosecco Valdobbiadene Canto Fermo Tranquillo 11.5%
This is a delightful wine in its freshness and light-heartedness, yet if you don’t understand what you are tasting, it would be understandable to be confused. The wine very clearly smells like Prosecco, but the palate has no bubbles. Hence its name is Canto Fermo, or “still song”. It is an exciting and intellectual look at the Glera grape. The beginning of a sip starts with a lightly sweet suppleness (it has 8 grams per liter of residual sugar), but thanks to a high total acidity of 6 g/L, the finish is almost raspily dry. The lovely white peach and pluot flavors are accented by spring flower tones. It’s worth seeking out this wine for the unusual experience. It’s all about the aromatics, so don’t hesitate to try any young bottle you come across.
Drink: Through 2017

Adriano Adami 2015 Prosecco Superiore Valdobbiadene Vigneto Giardino Rive di Colbertaldo DOCG 11%
Interestingly, the smallest words on the front label of this wine are “Prosecco Superiore”. (All sparkling wines from Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOCG include “Superiore” in the name.) The biggest font displayed the name of the wine’s vineyard, and that is precisely the idea with “Rive” wines. Give the nod to terroir, not to the grape or production. Soft, round, lightly sweet and spicy, this wine is extravagant in perfume and flavor. It favors aperitivo hour and succulent shellfish. Moderate plus in finish, it isn’t the most profound but it is still an excellent Valdobbiadene if with a sweeter style.
Drink: 2017-18

Masottina 2015 Prosecco Superiore Congeliano Valdobbiadene Millesimato Le Rive di Ogliano Extra Dry 11.5%
This is a surprisingly dry “Extra Dry” Prosecco. (Extra-Dry in sparkling wine parlance is confusing. It stems from days long ago when sparkling wines used to be supersweet. In those days, Extra Dry was technically drier than the most commonly sipped bubblies of the times. However, we drink much drier “Brut” wines today, and now “Extra Dry” is sweeter than most sparklers we drink. The name really should be changed today to avoid consumer confusion. NB Prosecco is the only category of bubblies today where you find a lot of Extra Dry wines. The sweeter style works to the advantage of the perfumed aromas of the Glera grape.) Vibrantly fresh and pure, this is a fine example of the rive style, especially thanks to its chiseled acidity that reins in this wine’s 16 g/L residual sugar. There are typical Prosecco aromas of peach skin and spring field flowers but none of the softness and caressing character of Prosecco until the finish, which still has a slight tackiness on the palate from its residual sugar. This minerally cuvée is best suited to sweeter types of shellfish. Its modest finish and forward character suggest this is for immediate – and enjoyable – drinking.
Drink: 2017-18

Bellenda 2014 Prosecco Superiore Conegliano Valdobbiadene Sei Uno Millesimato Rive di Carpescia 11.5%
This is a distinguished bottling in depth of flavor as well as its production method. Its second fermentation occurs in the bottle in which it was sold (metodo classico), not in a vat. The notch up in complexity, due in part to this labor-intensive process, is notable. Impressively dry on the palate, from attack to finish, this wine has very fine mousse and a refined flavor character, too. This wine has a saline touch to it with sea salted Spanish almonds, chicken broth and yeast tones predominant on the serious finish. However, the start has a familiar florality, reminding the sipper of its grape. Though only 11.5% in alcohol, it feels medium-ish in body due to its flavor heft. This is NOT your typical Prosecco by any means, and it deserves to be celebrated at the table rather than during aperitivo hour.
Drink: 2017-20