When we think of Prosecco, what comes to mind is the easy-drinking, cheerful, bubbly, white wine that is made throughout the Veneto and Friuli regions of Northern Italy. Lovers of Prosecco can’t seem to get enough. And thankfully, there’s plenty to go around. In fact, an estimated one billion bottles are produced annually to meet the continuing demand. This also means there are differences in quality from one to the next. In a sea of bubbles, where do we begin?
One way is to start is by understanding the difference between Prosecco DOC and Prosecco DOCG. Italian wine labels around the bottle’s neck indicate these letters. DOC means designation of controlled origin, while DOCG means designation of controlled origin and guaranteed. The DOCG level is more difficult to achieve based on higher production standards, for example, and therefore, in principle, better quality.
“Not that Prosecco DOC is bad, it’s just that DOCG is different,” says Ian D’Agata, author of Native Grapes of Italy. “Prosecco DOC wines are made on the sands of Venice, the fertile inland zones, stony areas of Friuli Grave and so on – across 556 communes. To quote Gertrude Stein, ‘There is no there there.’ The DOCG area of Prosecco is made up of only 15 communes.”
This narrows Prosecco’s selection down to a specific area, which in essence allows wine drinkers to get a little more intimate with this famous sparkling wine. To do this, it’s best to go right to the heart of the region. Thankfully, the label will tell you if you’re there with the name of two towns where these exceptional wines (of place) are produced: Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. This DOCG territory resides in the province of Treviso just an hour north of Venice and below the Alps.
The enchanting landscape is resplendent with ever-changing hues. Its extraordinary beauty is formed in mounds of conical hills tightly packed with vines. The unique mix of thick woodlands, meandering waterways, gurgling streams and sunny farming countryside has created a rural tapestry devoted to viticulture that has been respectfully tended for centuries. Here is where the best Prosecco is found in and around the 15 townships between Conegliano in the eastern section of the DOCG and Valdobbiadene in the western portion of the denomination.
Much of the Prosecco Superiore DOCG, also known as Prosecco Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOCG (it’s a mouthful, but worth remembering), is limited to hillside country that is so precipitous that terracing is often a must. Grapes are picked by hand, and many farmers employ the use of buckets and pulleys to transport the fruit up and down the steep hills.
“The people, the grape, the climate, the topography will give you very different and unique terroir expressions in the glass,” says D’Agata.
Generally speaking, the Eastern part around the town of Conegliano is dominated by clay soils where big structured wines that are less perfumed are produced. To the western part of the DOCG, Valdobbiadene has soils of marl and wines from here are more elegant and fragrant. And historically, wines from these two areas were blended for these distinct characteristics.
Vines have been present in the region since ancient times. Steep hillsides and stony soils with alpine and marine breezes create a moderating effect to promote ideal growing conditions for Prosecco’s star grape, Glera. These are the reasons why the lightly aromatic grape grows most famously in the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene zone. Producers are required to include a minimum of 85% Glera grapes, with the remaining percentage option to include other indigenous vintage varieties, such as Verdiso and Bianchetta Trevigiana.
Prosecco DOCG can be made in the Martinotti (Charmat) method, where secondary fermentation occurs in a pressurized tank or autoclave. It can also be made in the classic method, the way Champagne is made where bubbles develop in the bottle. Either way, the bubbles for Prosecco DOCG strive to be soft and creamy, lively, and fresh.
To get even more closer to these bubbles, look for site-specificity by identifying the word “Rive” on the label. In the local dialect, the word refers to hillsides that are characteristic of the zone. This is not without coincidence, as most vineyards that bear the Rive name are located on the slopes of the hills between the towns of Valdobbiadene and Conegliano.
This category of wine is based on soils of the area and highlights the diverse expressions of Conegliano Valdobbiadene. Grapes are often obtained from the most precipitous, high-quality vineyards in a single commune or area thereof, thus underlining the characteristics that a particular terroir gives to the wine. In all there are 43 Rive, each one expressing a distinctive combination of soil, exposure and microclimate, thus underlining the characteristics that a particular terroir gives to the wine. In the Rive, yields are reduced to 13 tons of grapes per hectare, the grapes are picked exclusively by hand, and the vintage is always shown on the label.
Offered below are highlights of a few producers and their wines from specific Rive. The map below shows the locations of all 43 Rive.
Recognized as a benchmark Prosecco producer, Abele Adami created Italy’s first commercial “cru” Prosecco in 1933 from a single vineyard bottling from his Vigneto Giardino site. It is still made today.*
Adami owns vineyards and has well-established relationships with the best vineyard sites across the Prosecco region, especially in the hilly DOCG zone, where the varying expositions and microclimates create conditions for complex wines. In the cellar, Adami works to showcase the unique terroirs of each site. Before secondary fermentation, Adami’s still base wines are aged with extended lees contact. This extra step results in sparkling wines with a fuller, richer body, and more complex fruit flavors. Additionally, Adami does not employ the common Prosecco production process wherein secondary fermentation takes place shortly after harvest in one large batch. Instead, Franco Adami completes his secondary fermentations in over 100 small batches throughout the year (almost two a week!), which allows the winery to deliver the freshest possible wines to the market.
Adami Vigneto Giardino Valdobbiadene DOCG Rive di Colbertaldo Asciutto, 2018*
Vigneto Giardino (“vineyard garden”) is the Adami family’s first vineyard, purchased in 1920. In 1933, Abele Adami shared a single vineyard bottling of Vigneto Giardino at a showcase of Italian wines, the first single-vineyard Prosecco ever made. The soils at Adami’s Rive di Colbertaldo are clay over calcareous rock. They are low-nutrient, fairly shallow, and well-drained. On the south-facing steep hills, vines contour the slope, forming an amphitheater. I had a chance to taste this bottling twice, the first time in May of 2019 in Conegliano Valdobbiadene. Fruity on the palate – reminding of fruit salad – the nose was infused with fresh spring blossoms and pear. The wine had bright acidity with persistent and creamy bubbles. The second time I tasted it was in 2020 – a little more refined character, less fruity but still an easy and lively one to drink, especially for those who like a bit of sugar, as it has 19-21 grams of sugar/L.
Adami Col Credas Valdobbiadene DOCG Rive di Farra di Soligo Extra Brut, 2019
Fruit for this wine comes from the Col Credas vineyard. Col Credas is the name that is given to Credazzo, the most hilly town of Farra di Soligo, where the soils are characterized by the intense presence of clay (“creda” in the local dialect) from the steep slopes. Pale yellow in color with generous foam and fine bubbles, the nose boasts delicate notes of wisteria, white flowers, lemon curd, field herbs, and ocean spray. The palate evolves toward greater complexity with salinity straight through to the clean refreshing bone-dry finish (4 grams of residual sugar) with a hint of key lime pith.
Operated by brother and sister team Elena and Enrico Moschetta, they manage vineyards located in three different areas: Conegliano, San Pietro di Feletto, and Soligo, some of which have been tended by several generations of their family. Enrico tries to bring forth the beauty and true representation of the Glera grape, using tradition in the vineyards and modern technology in the cellar to bring harmony to every bubble.
Bianca Vigna Prosecco Brut Superiore Conegliano Valdobbiadene Rive di Soligo DOCG 2019
BiancaVigna’s Rive di Soligo vineyard has a 70% slope, making vineyard work particularly laborious. From these clay, sub-alkaline, rocky soils come a remarkable “Cru” Prosecco with a bright straw-green color and an inviting nose where minerals and mint complement green apple and orchard peach. The palate is rich and creamy, with notes of stone fruit and delicate floral notes. This is an elegant wine and dry at 2g/L sugar.
BiancaVigna Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut Nature Rive di Ogliano Millesimato 2017
From the reddish rocky clay and limestone hills of Rive di Ogliano, this truly enjoyable radiant dry sparkler ( 1.5g/L sugar) has fresh and lively aromas of blossoms, vanilla, and citrus. Creamy bubbles dance on the palate with lemon and crunchy farm apples to a soft silky persistent finish.
The Collaltos carry on a family legacy as owners and tenants of 3,200 acres of land north of Venice given to their family over one thousand years ago. The signs of history, culture and nature co-exist with farming practices that fully respect what a centuries-long tradition passed down by the Collalto family is. 160 acres of farmland are given over to vineyards for the production of Borgoluce wines and sparkling wines. The wine stays with the lees for five months to give more structure and elegance, then secondary fermentation takes place for approximately 60 days for the finest pelage.
On the slopes of the Collalto hills where the grapes are harvested by hand, Borgoluce Rive di Collato’s soils are of morainic origin and clay with a high concentration of calcium carbonate. From here the best micro-lots become the most fragrant, harmonious spumante.
Borgoluce Rive di Collalto Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Brut 2018
Energetic, playful, dry, and crisp, this elegant sparkler has delicate scents of springtime flowers, white stone fruit, and a whiff of wild herb garden. The bright creamy palate boasts yellow apple, almond, and pear alongside a fine and silky perlage before a dry finish. (3g/L Sugar)
Borgoluce Rive di Collalto Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Brut 2017
The wine offers complexity and freshness after a warm year with little rain. White flowers and stone fruit take center stage in this full, rich, intense, and delicious sparkler.
Stunning and complex, Prosecco Superiore DOCG is made in the most artisanal manner from a very specific place. The hills of Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a true cultural landscape, rich in the labor of tireless vine-growers who contribute toward creating the place that is absolutely unique and the home of the very best Prosecco.