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The great Prosecco confusion

Published:  30 June, 2016

Somehow, Prosecco has managed to embed itself in the public imagination with an image as clear and as crisp as a summer's day.

Somehow, Prosecco has managed to embed itself in the public's imagination with an image as clear and as crisp as a summer's day.

It is the go to wine of choice for supermarket buyers heading to soirees and the obligatory drink at weddings.


But its phenomenal gains and ability to eschew wine's often intimidating image are even more impressive when a closer look is taken at how complicated the Prosecco system has become, with an increasingly complex hierarchy of categories and subcategories aiming to delineate quality and expression.

Near the very top of the pyramid is the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG region, an area known for its steep slopes and an army of 3000 small-scale growers tending 6585 hectares.

But despite its proximity to all things Prosecco, Walter Speller - Italian specialist for - says the differences in taste couldn't be more different.

"It's like an island within a sea of Prosecco. The two don't really relate to each other," he says.

One of the most recent of these demarcations is Rive, subzones which highlight the different microclimates and distinct terroirs found throughout the growing zone.

Since 2011, 43 have lived up to the Rive criteria, and are characterised by small yields, steep slopes and are often family-owned, single estate vineyards.

Of course, this system of increasingly complexity is in response to the growing desire of producers to establish differences in region and quality.

Speller explained: "The financial crisis in 2008 was like wind in the sails of Prosecco as everyone saw it as a cheap alternative to Champagne. It triggered an enormous amount of planting. Since then, the regulations in Conegliano Valdobbiadene have become more and more strict to protect price point and quality."

To further complicate matters, Prosecco was originally the name of the grape variety before it was changed to Glera to avoid confusion.

In addition, the boundaries of Prosecco as a winemaking region were expanded to Friuli to include the village also named Prosecco.

"You can no longer think of Prosseco as a grape variety - it's an area," says Speller. "The irony is that for the general public, the image of Prosecco hasn't changed. Their view of it is that it is very static and uncomplicated."

The challenge is of course to get this ever more complicated process of demarcation through to the consumer.

As well as Conegliano Valdobbiadene, Prosecco Superiore takes pride of place on labels, for obvious reasons - tongue-twisters which mean nothing to the average consumer does nothing for sales.

Because despite the UK being the third biggest export market for this DOCG - the others are Germany and Switerland - understanding among UK consumers of this demarcation is limited.

But it's worth noting, says Speller.

Because of their elevated terroir, wines from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene region can achieve higher natural ripeness and produce more fruit-driven wine without added sugar after the secondary fermentation for Extra Dry and Dry (and potentially brut), which can lead to a "medicinal" taste.

If you want to go one higher, Carizze currently sits at the very top of the pyramid.

It is currently the most expensive wine in Italy costing an estimated million Euros per hectare.

"But this is hypothetical because the never come onto the market," Speller says.