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Prosecco drinkers ‘don’t care’ if it’s DOC or DOCG

During a masterclass in London last month, Stefano Ferrante, head winemaker at leading Italian sparkling wine producer Zonin1821, told attendees that most Prosecco drinkers ‘don’t care’ if the fizz is DOC or DOCG.

Zonin’s Stefano Ferrante, who oversees the production of approx 60m bottles of Italian fizz each year, admitted that for most consumers ‘Prosecco is Prosecco’ – they aren’t interested in whether it comes from the slopes of the DOCG or the larger and less hilly area of the DOC

He was referring to the difference between the much larger DOC area of Prosecco – which accounts for around 80% of production – and the smaller, hilly DOCG towns of Conegliano, Valdobbiadene and Asolo, where the landscape and rules tend to yield a superior and pricier product.

While he said that Prosecco DOCG (standing for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) was important for Italian consumers, and for “top restaurants”, he commented that “for the rest of the world, Prosecco is Prosecco, and nobody cares about DOC or DOCG.”

Continuing, he acknowledged the special nature of the historical DOCG home of Prosecco production, but also said that the commercial success of this Italian fizz had been fuelled by the much larger DOC area.

“The DOCG is a wonderful place and it is very hard to grow vines there and it’s a very nice region and that’s why the prices are higher than the DOC,” he said.

However, he then commented, “The boom of Prosecco is very related to the growth of DOC area, because Prosecco is a technological wine – you need a very well-equipped winery to produce Prosecco, and in the traditional area [of the DOCG] there are a lot of producers that are small who don’t have this technology – so the success of Prosecco is very related to the DOC area.”

In other words, clean, youthful aromatic Prosecco on a large scale is more easily created in modern wineries using Glera grapes (the dominant variety in all Prosecco) grown in the large DOC area – which covers the northeast Italian territories of Treviso, Venice, Vicenza, Padua and Belluno in the Veneto; and Gorizia, Pordenone, Trieste and Udine in Friuli Venezia Giulia.

Meanwhile, Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG is a more fragmented and topographically extreme area covering the Treviso province of Veneto, on the hills between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, while there is also the smaller Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG, produced near the town of Asolo.

In terms of scale, DOC Prosecco DOC totals approximately 23,000 hectares, and is expected to produce as much as 493.3 million bottles from 2018’s high-yielding harvest.

In contrast, although exact quantities have yet to be revealed, it is expected that the DOCG area for Prosecco Superiore – which totals around 5,000 hectares – should yield more than 100m bottles of certified fizz.

As for assessing the difference in quality between the two areas, the annual Prosecco Masters by db is the only large-scale Prosecco blind-tasting, and has, over the past five years, seen more top scoring results awarded to DOCG samples.

Indeed, in the most recent competition, which was held in March this year, the step up in general standard once we moved into the DOCG Proseccos was notable.

In broad terms, the samples sourced from the best sites in the region, be they Conegliano, Valdobbiadene or Asolo, tended to have purer, more intense fruit, and often with ripe peach alongside the traditional pear flavour.

Complexity was also evident in some samples, with a touch of citrus zest, and a gently chalky taste and sensation on the finish (and for the full results from the 2018 competition, see the May edition of the drinks business).

Ferrante was in London to launch a new range of Proseccos under the labels ‘Black’, ‘Grey’ and ‘White’

With Prosecco DOCG generally pricier than DOC labels, and, as shown in our Prosecco Masters, producing more Gold medals – along with our ultimate accolade of Master – one can understand why more Prosecco DOCG producers are trying to distance themselves from cheaper big-brand Prosecco DOC (much of which is sold in large retailers under exclusive or private label).

Indeed, it is noticeable that some premium DOCG brands have decided to take the word Prosecco off their front label, choosing to simply state the source area.

By way of example, Cristian Maddalena, who is export manager at top-end Prosecco DOCG producer Andreola, told db at Vinitaly this year that he was headlining Valdobbiadene on his packaging, seeing this protected area of production as a more sustainable message, and less susceptible to the potential problem of Prosecco suffering from a cheapened image as the supply continues to rise.

“The fashionability of Prosecco could damage its long term success, and that’s why everything we are doing is linked to the area, we are a Valdobbiadene producer first and foremost,” he said – when asked why there was no mention of ‘Prosecco’ on the bottle of Andreola sparkling wines.

Stefano Ferrante, head winemaker at Zonin1861, oversees the production of 60m bottles annually, managing the fizz-making along the full length of Italy, from Prosecco down to Sicily – where he is creating both tank and traditional method sparklings from Nero d’Avola.

He has just launched a new range of Proseccos under the labels ‘Black’, ‘Grey’ and ‘White’, created by Zonin through the blending of Glera with 15% Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco respectively.

Interestingly, Zonin1821 has chosen to add diversity to the Prosecco category using different blends of grapes, rather than taking the regional route, and highlighting different source areas.

By law, Prosecco DOC must be made with 85% Glera, with 15% of certain other grapes – such as these mentioned above from the Pinot family – allowed to make up the final blend.

As recently reported by db, the Prosecco DOC is considering allowing the production of pink Prosecco, made by the addition of Pinot Noir red wines to the fizz.

However, the controlling body for the Prosecco DOCG has made it clear to db that it will not be authorising the creation of a rosé version from its protected region, which covers Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, stating that such a product would not be in keeping with the history of the area, nor the style of wine it is famous for.

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