After my previous article about the sparklers of Franciacorta, it was a nice coincidence to receive samples of those other well-known Italian bubbles : Prosecco. It’s been a very long time since I had Prosecco at home, probably for the baby shower of my son, so 11 years ago by now. The reason why I never re-visited Prosecco is because its increasing popularity over the years resulted in a flood of cheap and anonymous Prosecco. In Belgium, for long that place was occupied by cheap Spanish Cava. The Netherlands, as usual, were faster to jump on the Prosecco bandwagon. Even France seems to have fallen for Prosecco, as I witnessed during my holidays in France last summer. Quite a few French bars and restaurants offered Prosecco as a a cheap alternative for Champagne. Perhaps quite predictably so, the few I tried as “apéro” were not of the kind that made me yearn for more.
So I was happy that I was given the chance to taste the Proseccos of a serious producer. Le Colture is a winery led by the Ruggeri family and based in Santo Stefano di Valdobbiadene, about 80km north of Venice. Cesare Ruggeri already grew grapes before he founded the winery, but decided in 1983 to start making his own sparkling wine. Today Le Colture has 45 hectares of vineyards spread over several zones, such as Santo Stefano, where the winery is located, but also a small portion on the Cartizze hill, the “cru” of Prosecco, up until the plateau of San Pietro di Feletto, just behind the historic town of Conegliano.
The samples I received triggered my attention already for the mere fact that not one was an Extra Dry Prosecco. That is the traditional style that is mostly drunk in Italy itself and it is slightly sweeter than a brut. Those Proseccos tend to be easy-going and fruity, mainly with ripe pear and sometimes a bit of florality. Instead, I received a Brut and even an Extra Brut. While Brut Prosecco is quite commonly made for the Western European market, “Extra Brut” was only allowed in the DOCG regulations in 2019 to “respond to the contemporary taste of customers”.
Fagher – Brut, Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG
Very light in color. Pear , jasmin, a bit yeasty. This is a fun nose that screams summer sipping. The ripe fruit might trick you into thinking that this Prosecco is sweet or off-dry, but it is completely dry, with very fine bubbles, and a slight hint of bitterness in the finish. This is a frivolous sparkler which goes down very easily. Dangerous stuff!
Gerardo – Extra Brut, Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG
The wine is named after the grandfather, Gerardo Ruggeri, and is made of grapes that come from old and very steep vineyards. Some of them are recognized as subzones, called “Rive”. This one is from the Rive di Santo Stefano. As mentioned before, the Extra Brut is a new category since 2019, with residual sugar being below 6g/l.
It is not as expressive as the Fagher. The nose is not about fruit, but totally about freshness. There is a strong linearity on the palate. Structure is the central concept of this wine, with a dynamic spiral of bubbles built around it. To people who are used to drinking sweeter versions, this must be a big shock, but I find it quite exciting actually. I wish I had tried it with oysters.
This is not a standard Prosecco, but a Col Fondo, which literally means “with the sediment”. Whereas Prosecco is normally made with a second fermentation in large tanks (also called the Charmat method or Martinotti method), the Col Fondo is made by adding yeast to the still wine in the bottle, inducing a second fermentation. For Franciacorta or Champagne the dead yeast cells are taken out to obtain a clear sparkling wine. As the word suggests, Col Fondo means the yeast is left inside the bottle. This gives a different style of Prosecco, slightly cloudy and with more yeasty aromas. The pressure is also lower than a normal sparkling wine, which gives a softer structure. In fact, this is the method that was used to make Prosecco by many small wineries before they had the technology and equipment to use the Charmat method that became ubiquitous in the 80s. The Col Fondos are easily recognizable by the crown cap that is used to close off the bottle.
Le Colture’s version of the Col Fondo unmistakably has different aromatics, with yeasty notes, white fruit, and a hint of almonds. It is bone dry on the palate with a luscious stream of soft bubbles. The almonds come back in the finish and emphasize the dryness of this sparkling wine. Incalmo is dynamic and surprising, it has absolutely nothing to do with mainstream Prosecco. Despite the fact that this wine is completely dry, it does not lack accessibility. Lovely and original apéritif!
Cartizze, Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG
Cartizze is sometimes called the “Grand Cru” of Prosecco. In fact this is rather confusing as it is a different style of Prosecco altogether. Bar a few dry ones, Cartizze is normally a sweet sparkling wine. The grapes on the Cartizze hill are picked in October to obtain very ripe grapes. There are about 150 people who own vineyards on Cartizze, which is more than the number of wineries that produce it.
I am normally not keen on sweet sparkling wine, so I had looked for a few pastries to accompany the Cartizze. I figured that drinking this wine with a dessert would do more justice to it. Surprisingly, however, it did not come across as sweet as I expected it. The nose was delicately yeasty, with subtle aromas of pear. I found this Cartizze really attractive in fact, because of its restrained and delicate character. I paired it with pastry with whipped cream and rhubarb pie, which worked, but the dessert really shouldn’t have been any sweeter than this. Much to my surprise, I genuinely liked this wine!
In conclusion, I am very happy to have tried such a diversity of Proseccos. Not only were they of a consistently high level, they also showed that Prosecco has a bright future ahead of itself. With the Col Fondo attracting the attention of younger wine drinkers, and Extra Brut luring those with a taste for bone dry sparkling wine, these are quite exciting times for Prosecco.