Updated: Jul 3, 2019
Just as Prosecco is not Champagne, Champagne is not Prosecco!
Why? First, Prosecco is made primarily of the Glera grape while Champagne is made of mainly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The beauty of Champagne is about the complexity of flavours of toast and brioche gained from the time of the wine spent on lees (the dead yeast cells) which undergo autolysis after the second fermentation within the bottle.
In Prosecco, Glera is a semi-aromatic variety, meaning the focus is on the purity of fruit and the delicate floral fragrance, which simply should not be masked by heavy lees ageing characters. So, Prosecco is ideally made by the Charmat process (or the “tank method”), in which the wine undergoes a second fermentation in pressurised tanks rather than bottles. This method is less costly than the traditional Champagne method, but it doesn’t mean Prosecco is inferior to Champagne. It is a matter of different styles.
Well! If you really have to compare Prosecco with Champagne, please do not match those Les Grandes Marques that you are used to with the ordinary level Prosecco. It is rather unfair. There is indeed a large volume of ordinary level Prosecco made from grapes grown at fairly high yields over an extensive area under the quantitatively important appellation Prosecco DOC. This is the inexpensive version, most examples of which showing a simple fruity flavour and an appealing bitter edge, that has risen to the party bubbles of choice. This is what virtually every bar in Venice pours glass after glass in every late afternoon when the New Yorkers voiced solidarity with.
A big step up in quality are those made from the best Glera grapes grown in the original Prosecco Superiore zone, just north of Venice, in the smaller, hilly area between the villages of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. The spumante wines produced from this area may be labelled as Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG (incorporating both towns) or simply carry one of the two town names (Conegliano Prosecco Superiore DOCG or Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG).
The typography of this area makes the top-quality DOCG wines stand apart from the rest. Positioned between the Alps and the Adriatic sea, Conegliano Valdobbiadene is made up of a series of hills extending from east to west. The vineyards are principally south-facing and rise from 50m to 500m above sea level. The combination of altitude and exposure helps Glera retain fresh acidity while achieving sufficient ripeness. Along with sunshine, rain is equally abundant, which suits drought-intolerant Glera just fine. Though thin-skinned and sensitive to mildew, it benefits from alpine and marine breezes.
One more thing: Prosecco is surprisingly versatile and pairs well with a wide range of cuisines. A lunch at Popinjoy at The Murray Hong Kong showed how different styles of Prosecco can go well with all courses in a meal.
We had Brut Fagher Valdobbiadene DOCG Spumante Brut as the aperitif. It gave heady citrus and floral aromas and vegetable sweetness, with the undertones of some freshly-baked bread. Everyone got refreshed at once!
We went on with this Brut Fagher with our appetiser, Burratina Cheese with Philiobon sweet melon, tomato salsa and balsamic dressing. I felt like dining at an orchard!
Next came Rive di Santo Stefano brut Gerardo Valdobbiadene DOCG Spumante Brut. “Rive” (the local dialect for “very steep slopes”), just like crus in France, means a further step up from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG. They come from 43 top communes/villages in Conegliano Valdobbiadene that producers can append the name of the commune/village to the DOCG name on the wine labels.
These Proseccos highlight the characteristics of each single site. This Brut we had was the fruit of the oldest vineyards (35-40 years old) in Santo Stefano. It offered inviting fragrances of pear, apple and peach and fresh garden vegetables, alongside with some subtle notes of yeast, then a vibrant crispness in the mouth. The soft creamy mousse rendered a long persistence of flavours and a refreshing palate. We had it with the potato soup with echoing creaminess. Delicious!
Then, we kept climbing up to the top of the Prosecco quality pyramid. Here came Le Colture Valdobbiadene DOCG Spumante Superiore di Cartizze. “Cartizze” is a micro-region of just 265 acres and the only official sub-zone of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG, lying to the east of Valdobbiadene between the highest and steepest hills of Santo Stefano, San Pietro di Barbozza and Saccol. They form a natural amphitheatre ensuring that the Glera grapes almost achieve over-ripeness, and thus develop an inimitable concentration of aromas. The resulting sparkling wine, though it retains all the crispness of a Prosecco Superiore, takes on a slight sweetness and exhibits a dense complex of fragrances. Cartizze is commonly considered to be one of the finest terroirs for Prosecco in the world. At our table, this Cartizze went hand in hand fantastically with the main course: Arctic char fillet, with baby spinach and roquette salad and 3-basil butter sauce.
With residual sugar of 23g/L, this traditional-recipe Cartizze also wonderfully worked with our last course - Fromage blanc and ricotta cream with fresh peppermint and crisp green apple. What a happy ending, making this summertime lunch so complete and satisfying!