This article was originally published in June 2019 and has since been updated.
The UK seems to be as obsessed with Prosecco as ever. Sales are reportedly strong post-lockdown as consumers look to celebrate modestly via the ubiquitous Italian fizz. But as the country marks National Prosecco Day, what marks Prosecco out from other sparkling wines – and how can you find more elevated, complex renditions of what is often a fairly unobtrusive wine?
Made in Veneto from the Glera grape variety – better known by most people as the Prosecco grape – Prosecco is produced via the Charmat method, also known as Tank or ‘Cuve Close’. Unlike the traditional (or Champagne) method where the second fermentation takes place in the bottle, with Prosecco, the second fermentation takes place in a pressure-resistant stainless-steel tank where the base wines are mixed with sugar and yeast. The CO2 released during the second fermentation cannot escape, resulting in the formation of bubbles. The sparkling wine is then filtered and dosed according to the sweetness level sought, from brut (up to 12 grams per litre) to dry (up to 32). More recently, we have been seeing Prosecco with zero dosage, no added sweetness.
So far, so good? Well this is where it gets complicated. Prosecco has the most complex hierarchy, which is intended to differentiate between style and quality levels. At the bottom of the pyramid, the sweet, cheap and cheerful Prosecco – the most hashtagged, poured and drunk – is the straightforward DOC Prosecco, made in the Veneto but also in Friuli. Then there is its little brother, the Prosecco DOC Treviso, which is made from grapes from the Province of Treviso in Veneto.
The next rung on the ladder is the Prosecco DOCG. This category may only bear an extra G from the previous category (it stands for ‘Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin’) but it represents a big step-up in terms of quality. Prosecco DOCG is split into two categories: the Asolo Prosecco DOCG, named after the small area also known as “The pearl of the province of Treviso”, and the tongue-twisting Conegliano Valdobbiadene.
If you’re still following me, now’s where the fun starts. If Prosecco DOC is the equivalent to French Cremant (in an abstract kind of way as they don’t have much in common style-wise), Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG is what Champagne is to France. Conegliano Valdobbiadene is one of the most sought-after vineyards in Veneto, with the cost of the land not far off that of a hectare in Champagne. The hill of Conegliano Valdobbiadene has also been recognised as a Unesco World Heritage site, just like Champagne. Prosecco coming from this area is less of an everyday tipple and more a serious and sophisticated glass of sparkling – yet one that still offers excellent value for money.
To further add to the complication, Conegliano Valdobbiadene, which forms the top of the pyramid, is split into three sub-categories. The first level is Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG, which includes 15 communes. The next is the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore Rive DOCG, and represents Prosecco made from specific communes or vineyards within the area (at present 43 communes can be labelled as such). And finally, the top of the pyramid is Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG, a subzone of 107 hectares that is considered to have the finest terroirs.
To my eyes, the pyramid is as clear as mud, making it very difficult for consumers to differentiate the categories and style. This may explain why sales of the premium styles of Prosecco are not as strong as they could be. The Conegliano Valdobbiadene website has a very good graphic of the quality level pyramid, but as an easy-to-remember buying tip, the longer and more complicated the quality denomination on the label, the better the quality.
Our experts tasted over 120 Prosecco at last year's IWSC, and we have hand-picked a selection from the top of the Prosecco pyramid that our experts particularly enjoyed, including some relatively unknown producers that are looking to find a new home on the shelves or on restaurant wine lists. The wines were tasted blind by panels of four experts, led by our Panel Chairs including: Nick Bielak, Vinexus’ Managing Director; Sarah Knowles, Italian buyer for the Wine Society; and Sergio de Luca, Italian Wine Buyer for Enotria. The panels were also overseen by members of our Wine Judging Committee Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW and Philip Goodband MW.
Each wine was tasted individually then discussed by the panellists, with wines scoring 90 and above re-tasted by the Wine Judging Committee for final endorsement, and to ensure consistency across the panels.
There is a fine, delicate mousse here. The nose is very complex, showing bready, floral, nutty, spicy elements that all combine wonderfully in the complex and refreshing palate. There is great concentration and beautiful texture to the vibrant finish. 96 points. 11.5%
Superbly elegant Prosecco. This is delicate yet well structured, with a beautiful texture. Open and very pretty; the fresh and clean apple, grapefruit, pear and lemon characters combine seamlessly. Good complexity. 95 points. 11.5%
Available in the UK £14.20
Colesel, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze, Zero Dosage 2018
Available in Italy
Fresh example, with orange and mandarin fruits and a lovely minerality. There is complexity and a lightness of touch in this delicate, elegant example. 92 points. 11.5%
Very inviting nose of stone fruit and pears. Great concentration with a lovely texture in the mouth. Characterful, vibrant and serious Prosecco. 92 points. 11%
Available in the UK from Waitrose, £9.99
Lovely depth and some richness to the elegant palate. The wine opens up and develops in the mouth, coming through very strongly on the finish. Lovely now and will improve. 92 points. 11.5%
Very perfumed with citrus blossom and panettone notes. Good complexity. This a pretty wine with some lovely subtlety and complexity on the finish. 91 points. 12%
Available from Asda, £8
There is generous and complex fruit on the palate, ranging from citrus to riper sweet peach notes. Floral characters add to the complexity. The palate is well textured, with a long, fresh finish. 91 points. 11.5%
Nice mousse and gentle fizz. Peach and apricot fruits lead on the plate but there are floral notes in the background that add complexity. Long finish and a good fresh style. 91 points. 11.5%
Bright apple and citrus are supported by a pleasing creamy texture with toasty and buttery elements and a fresh and zesty finish. 91 points. 11%
Available from Ocado, £15.99
A beautifully scented nose and vibrant mousse lead to a delicious, sweet melon- and lemon-fruited palate. Good body and ripeness of fruit, with an elegant finish. 91 points. 11.5 %
There is great substance to this well-balanced, clean, zippy Prosecco. Gentle, mellow and complex, it adds herb, apple and bitter lemon notes to the elegant finish. 90 points. 11.5%
Lemon, bitter lemon and pear fruits dominate the flavour profile on entry. The palate is long and broad, with mineral and almond notes to the finish. Pretty and well made. 90 points. 11.5%
Lovely aromatic nose with citrus and white peach. There is great elegance and purity of fruit in this light, delicate and gentle example. 90 points. 11%
Fine and persistent bubbles. Fresh fruits on the nose lead to a lovely minerality, with fresh pear and floral notes. Light and restrained, with a long zesty finish. 90 points. 11.5%
The complex lemon, ripe apple and pears fruits here are supported by good acidity and great minerality. Linear finish. This is a very well-balanced, good example. 90 points. 11.5%
Delicate aromas of spring flowers lead onto the ripe fruited palate. The good concentration of peach, apricot and pear is well balanced and long. 90 points. 11.5%
The delicate fizz leads to a floral led palate featuring elderflower, and rose petal. Tropical fruits and honeyed elements add support and there is a zingy finish. 90 points. 11%
Vivid mousse. Lovely tropical and aromatic on the palate with tangerine blossom, ample texture and some sweetness. Very well made and pleasing to drink. 90 points. 11%
Intense apple crumble, pear, apple, greengage and lemon notes give good complexity to both the nose and palate. Classic and refreshing, with good body and fresh acidity. 90 points. 11%
Not available in the UK
Photo copyright: Consorzio Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore