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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Monday, 31 May 2010 11:33

Vino in Villa: Prosecco- the 44G of Italy

The 13th International Festival of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore hel at Castello di San Salvatore in Susegana in Veneto was an event organised to celebrate the granting of the DOCG status to Prosecco wines, the 44th such status granted, writes John Salvi MW who was present for the event.

The Vino in Villa Festival this year was a resounding celebration and a huge success for a variety of reasons.  Perhaps the first and foremost of these was the joyous celebration due to the promotion to DOCG status of COONEGLIANO VALDOBBIADENE, on 1st April 2010, just over 2 months ago, which had been plain DOC since 1969.  The very first bottle, labelled with vintage 2009, signed by numerous dignitaries, was opened at Vinitaly on that date.  More about all this below.

Allied with this celebration were amazing meals proposing and demonstrating a new Italian philosophy of gastronomy – “The One Act Meal”.  In other words a composite single dish made up of several different components.  This was termed “The single act according to Alma”, Alma being the famous International School of Italian Cuisine.  The first of a series of three gastronomic repasts was attended by the famous Michelin 3-star chef Gualtiero Marchesi, who resuscitated for the occasion a sort of Italian version of sushi that he had invented some 30 years ago.  Other well known chefs were Luciano Tona, Simone Salvini, Adelo Sironi, Carlo Cracco, Ernesto Kram and Laura Torresin. 

Then there were two magnificent and major tastings in two wings of the splendiferous, but ruined castle, about which more below.  The first of these was truly remarkable.  Again, to celebrate its promotion to DOCG status, Vino in Villa had organised a tasting of every single one of all the DOCGs from all over Italy.  There were 44 of them (48 wines in all) and some of them were magnificent wines – a real pleasure to taste.  This was a great idea and hugely appreciated, especially by us professional international journalists and wine writers.  The other tasting was a comprehensive and enormous tasting of the entire range of Prosecco wines, CONEGLIANO VALDOBBIADENE PROSECCO SUPERIORE, by 76 producers, big and small, from the 101 hillsides.  Nearly 300 wines in total were there to taste, with all the 2009s, fizzing gently and nestling in their ice buckets. 

Making of Prosecco

All Prosecco is made by the “Charmat” method, which has been perfected at the Oenological School of Conegliano.  Apart from the Prosecco grape, also known as Glera, which must comprise 85% minimum of the wine, the other 15% may comprise Verdiso, Perera, Bianchetta and Glera Lunga.  DOCG exists in three styles: Brut 0-12 grams sugar/litre, Extra Dry 12-17 grams and Dry 17-32 grams. The “Spumante” version may use the Pinot and Chardonnay varieties to the maximum of 15%. The DOCG has a maximum permitted yield of 13.5 Tons/Hectare and Spumante 13.0 Tons/Hectare, whilst the great Cartizze is only allowed 12 Tons/Hectare.

A few statistics about CONEGLIANO VALDOBBIADENE PROSECCO SUPERIORE.  The production area is limited to the 15 communes between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene.  This comprises 6,100 hectares of vineyards, with the super special Cartizze covering 106.  There are over 3,000 viticulturists, 1,500 Winemaking Professionals and 250 oenologists.  There are 166 producers of Sparkling Wine.  The 2009 production was 60,840,000 bottles of which 51,656,000 were Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG.  Cartizze produced 1,299,000 bottles.  Finally the total number of bottles of CONEGLIANO VALDOBBIADENE PROSECCO SUPERIORE exported was 52,955,000 bottles and the total retail value of the product 380 million Euros;

Fortunately we had three days in which to taste and to visit any properties that we desired.  It was not too much but it was enough.  I tasted 120 CONEGLIANO VALDOBBIADENE PROSECCO SUPERIORE and all 44 DOCGs, as well as visiting 7 vineyards.

In addition to all this, close by in Conegliano some 5 kilometres distant, was a sensational art exhibition of the artist CIMA’s works, a 16th Century Master from Conegliano itself.  This was organised by Artematica at the Palazzo Sarcinelli and was breathtaking in its beauty.


What is DOCG and what is the difference between this and DOC, especially as this is what we were celebrating?  It is not simple but I will try to make it so.  Prosecco dates from 1876, when the first Oenological School in Italy was founded in Conegliano. There are over 360 DOCs throughout Italy.  Prosecco was given DOC status in 1969 and, as said above, promoted to DOCG status on 1st April 2010.  The original Prosecco wine, from the Prosecco grape, has been produced for over 300 years in those hills of the CONEGLIANO VALDOBBIADENE. 

Fifteen communes lying between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene are allowed this appellation.  At the heart of them lies Cartizze, a hill with 106 hectares of vines, that is right at the top of the quality pyramid. The wine that currently carries the appellation IGT from 9 provinces (Treviso, Belluno, Venice, Padua, Vicenza, Udine, Pardenone, Trieste, and Gorizia) will become Prosecco DOC.  Thus, under the new law, Prosecco will become entirely synonymous with a wine carrying a Denominazione di Origine (DOC) and NOBODY outside the delimited areas may use the name Prosecco.  Prosecco today has become world famous as a wine rather than as a grape.  For this reason, although the CONEGLIANO VALDOBBIADENE producers would have liked to drop it and use their CONEGLIANO VALDOBBIADENE appellation only, they are not doing so for the moment for fear of losing sales. 

Rules for DOCG

DOCG wines are subject to draconian rules and restrictions, much more so than DOCs.  The wine MUST be bottled INSIDE the delimited zone of production and all bottles MUST be approved and carry the Italian State Strip across the neck of the bottle.  Furthermore all these strips are numbered and it will be impossible to sell false CONEGLIANO VALDOBBIADENE PROSECCO SUPERIORE in future.  As of now the hierarchy will be: DOCG Valdobbiadene Superiore de Cartizze (from that one hill); DOCG CONEGLIANO VALDOBBIADENE PROSECCO SUPERIORE (from the 15 communes) and Colli Asolani Prosecco Superiore (an associated region of production); DOC Prosecco (from the 9 provinces stated above). 

The setting for the entire event was the magnificent, 13th century, fortified but ruined, castle of San Salvatore, belonging to the 5 daughters of Prince Collalto.  The title of Prince lapsed on the death of their father 5 years ago, since there was no male heir.  The 5 daughters are therefore Countesses.  I spent a delightful afternoon with the Countess, who runs the 1,300 hectare estate together with one of her brothers in law.  Since one sister went alone with all the 150 hectares of vineyards, she has planted 60 of her own and her Pinot Grigio is delicious. 

She farms cows, pigs and 120 water buffalo.  She butchers her own cattle, sells her own meat and salami and makes delicious mozzarella from the water buffalo milk.  The estate may be ancient but the countess is resolutely modern and transforms the buffalo waste product (manure) into biogas, which is then transformed into electricity and sold to the Italian National Grid.  13th century the castle may be, but the farming is resolutely 21st!  The Collalto family also owns another even older castle across the valley dating from the 11th century.  Both castles were ruined after the massive 1917 bombing and today she lives in a house on the property, converted from one of the old ones inhabited by the former vassals of the family. 

The entire event was superlatively well organised by Silvia Baratta of Gheusis SRL. Unipersonale (who also manages Nebbiolo Prima) and Giulia Pussini from the Consorzio per la Tutela del Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG.  They, and their entire team, together with the chefs, sommeliers and numerous willing assistants, are to be warmly congratulated on a fabulously successful event, and deeply thanked for their warm hospitality, generosity, friendliness, kindness, efficiency and charm.  NOBODY who was there can ever forget that CONEGLIANO VALDOBBIADENE PROSECCO SUPERIORE is now Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita.  Thank you everybody!  This is an event that MUST continue.   

John Salvi, Master of Wine 


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