Great prosecco: not an oxymoron


Prosecco was a cheap Italian thrill that turned into a global cliché, but Karen Krizanovich has found hidden depths in the shallowest of fizz

Great prosecco: not an oxymoron

Hen nights, cheap dates, schmancy cocktails and parties where everyone’s already hammered? You know what to bring: the cheaper, funner, dumber cousin of champagne. Millions of bottles are still shipped into the UK, slightly fewer than in 2017 when 217m bottles of were sold compared to 13.3m of champagne. The most popular girl in class then, it was in our hampers, hands and hangovers. I could drink it in Italy – and enjoy it – but not in the UK, where it left me feeling rotten after one glass. But people keep serving it at parties.

I could drink it in Italy – and enjoy it – but not in the UK, where it left me feeling rotten after one glass. But people keep serving it at parties

So, how do I solve a problem like prosecco? By attending a Rive and Zone of Conegliano Valdobbiadene virtual tasting with MW Sarah Abbott and Professor Diego Tomasi, that’s how. Starting at the thigh above Italy’s boot – a newly designated UNESCO World Heritage Site – Professor Tomasi talked about terroir: in an area a fifth of the size of Champagne Prosecco Superiore is made. “Extreme mountain wine, all cool, floral and airy. And the taste isn’t supposed to be hen party sweet,” says Abbott. “The taste of good prosecco – Prosecco Superiore in particular – is more like a fine blade cutting through blossoms, whereas champagne is from low, flat vineyards and is forceful and savoury – more like a sword impaling a truckload of croissants.”

For years, UK importers focussed on the entry-level sector prosecco, selling it by the lorryload. The new wave of smaller specialist importers are here to save us from that sweet, fluffy, fat-faced stuff. But some of the best of the best isn’t labelled prosecco. “The finest, most revered class of prosecco is called Cartizze,” says Abbott. “This is prosecco from the original high, tiny, heart of the region. It’s mentioned in the diaries of Venetian nobles from the 17th century. It’s the wine that Italians drink at smart weddings. The Prosecco Superiore Consorzio have been working for about three years on exports and sales to the UK doubled in 2019, so we know that UK consumers are keen to trade up – if only they have the chance.”

Prosecco Superiore

I tasted six Prosecco Superiores, most with the appellation Conegliano Valdobbiandene DOCG, each with a distinctive identity. Val D’oca Rive di San Petro di Barbozza is an organic multi-award winner. Blended from 85% glera to 15% pinot and chardonnay, it is cheerful and light, with cherry, apricot and grapefuit tones; very soft in the mouth but not terribly dry. Conte Collato “Isabella” Brut – Rive di Collatlto Millesimato 2018 (stockist Thorman Hunt) is straw-yellow, clear and clean, a bright pear with floral notes and pin-pointy bubbles. It is sophisticated and exactly the opposite of what you think of as common prosecco. Like a firm brut, L’Antica Quercia “Matiù” Brut – Rive di Scomigo 2019 – Organic Wine (no stockist) is dry and citrus tart but longer in taste, with a lemon zest and mineral after notes, drinking well with cheese or meats.

Ruggeri Cartizze Brut (Enotria & Coe) arrived in a wider, more champagney-shaped dark bottle and it is a dinner party favourite, especially if the cook is particular. Straw-coloured with a touch of spring green hue, it tastes all white petals and wild herbs with underlying pear and mineral notes. Bottled in a squat dark shape, Bepin De Eto Extra Brut – Rive di Rua di Feletto 2019 (Divine Importers) smells of fresh bread and fruit, then citrus and spring flowers. It’s deceptive simplicity pairs well with fresh seafood. The slender shaped bottle of Siro Merotto Brut – Rive de Col San Martino 2018 brought a heady swirl of flavours – toasted brioche, green apple, gorgeous minerality with a long finish. Sometimes I wonder at my tasting notes (“adorable dryness”) but this pushed my ability to translate the pleasure it gave me. At this tasting, this was my pick. Unfortunately, it has no UK importer. Only 4000 bottles are made a year. After learning that, I felt panicky. Every bottle is like a tiny life. You drink it and it’s gone.

The vineyards of Conegliano Valdobbiadene prosecco

Terroir is a great excuse to travel. I asked Abbott to suggest a great prosecco destination. “Rolle – it’s the most beautiful valley I have ever seen. The locals say that Rolle is “a postcard from God” to show you what it’s like in heaven. It’s a tiny village set on the edge of a dramatic and beautiful intersection of hill ranges. There are a few houses, a tiny old church, an amazing restaurant serving local dishes and its own Prosecco Superiore (they make a few thousand bottles a year), and vineyards all around. All you hear is the church bell and the munching of sheep that graze the grass in the vineyards below you.

“It’s on the Strada del Vino, and is part of the UNESCO world heritage site of the Prosecco Hills,” she says, with a sigh. “I think that most people in the UK have no idea what good prosecco really tastes like – because they haven’t experienced it. Until last year, around two-thirds of Prosecco Superiore, which represents the top wines of the region, were consumed in Italy.” The Italians were enjoying the best stuff themselves – until now. C