Prosecco 101: Everything you need to know about Italian sparkling wines

The best DOCG wines come from 43 specific Italian 'rive' (slopes).
The best DOCG wines come from 43 specific Italian 'rive' (slopes). Photo: iStock

 Wine labels can be confusing, especially when they hail from faraway lands. I couldn't pronounce Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG, let alone get my head around what it meant, until visiting north-eastern Italy recently.

The mission was simple: to visit the place where prosecco began. That place is Valdobbiadene, 50 kilometres from Venice. The landscape is jaw-dropping – a patchwork of green so steep in places that grape-picking must be done by hand.

Here, for more than three centuries, locals have grown glera grapes, used to make Prosecco Superiore. It is also home to Italy's first School of Winemaking, founded in 1876.

In parts of Conegliano, in Italy's north-east, the slopes are so steep that grapes must be harvested by hand.
In parts of Conegliano, in Italy's north-east, the slopes are so steep that grapes must be harvested by hand.  Photo: Arcangelo Piai

In Australia, prosecco cops a bit a bit of flak for being cheap, sweet fizz. But if you taste Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG, you'll understand why it's considered the cream of the crop.

In a nutshell, DOCG means Controlled and Guaranteed Denomination of Origin. It guarantees that the winemaking process followed a strict set of rules. 

The grapes must be hand-picked from 15 communes in the region, more than 800 hours have been spent tending the vineyards each year, and the Italian or Charmat Method must be used to create the sparkling wine, which involves refermenting the wine in large tanks to produce silky bubbles. 

To round it all off, the resulting wine is tested by a committee that guarantees its quality and geographic authenticity.

How to choose Italian prosecco

The good news is that some of these wines are making their way to Australia.

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When choosing your sparkling ("Spumate") prosecco, take style into consideration. There's extra brut, brut, extra dry, dry and brut nature to choose from.

  • Extra brut is dry and intense on the palate and has less than six grams of residual sugar per litre. 
  • Brut has between 0 and 12 grams of residual sugar and is delightfully fresh.
  • Confusingly, extra dry is not dry at all. With between 12 and 17 grams of residual sugar, it's sweet.
  • Dry is unashamedly sweet (between 17 and 32 grams). It should be served very cold and tends to go well with spicy food.
  • And finally, brut nature is aged on lees ("sui lieviti"), an ancient technique that results in a cloudy, bone-dry sparking wine – embrace the sediment!

Pro tip Want the best of the best? The Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Rive DOCG wines come from 43 specific "rive" (slopes), while the grand cru of prosecco are the Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG wines, made using fruit from the steep 108-hectare Cartizze subzone, where vineyards fetch up to $2.5 million a hectare.

Two to try

Perlage Canah Brut Prosecco Superiore DOCG NV. Franc about Wine (francaboutwine.com) imports drops by this family-owned organic and biodynamic producer (the first to receive organic certification in the region) whose focus on the environment is admirable. It's stunning stuff. 11.5 per cent alcohol. $38. Find it at restaurants and online at cuveewine.com.au

La Gioiosa Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Spumante Extra Dry. An amazingly good quality, approachable wine. Bright across the palate, approachable and, despite having 17 grams of residual sugar, is super balanced. 11 per cent alcohol. $20, crowncellarandco.com.au