So what's the difference between Prosecco DOC and Prosecco Superiore DOCG sparkling wines? Location, location, location. And a few more production details.
The Prosecco DOC classification zone is broader, covering about 44,000 acres under vine in the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions around Treviso.
Prosecco Superiore DOCG zone is much smaller -- only 17,000 acres -- and runs from Valdobbiadene in the west to Conegliano in the east. This small zone has the steepest hillsides, which form an embroidered network of sloping vineyards.
Fagher Valdobbiadene Le Colture Brut -- The Belluno Prealps to the north creates an amphitheater effect to shield vineyards from harsh winter weather, while the Venetian Lagoons and Adriatic Sea provide cooling breezes during hot summers. This is the heart of the Prosecco zone. The soils are unique -- clay, schist, some limestone, stony (galestro) -- and Glera, Prosecco's primary grape, reaches its expressive peak here.
There are 15 communes in this special DOCG zone, including Cartizze, which is considered the best of the best for producing Prosecco. Here the hillsides are the steepest. Grapes must be hand-harvested, and production yields are kept purposely low.
Under DOCG rules, Prosecco Superiore must be 85 percent Glera, with the balance of Verdiso, Pevera, Bianchetta Trevigiana and Glera Lungha. Generally, Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco possesses floral aromas and fruity notes of pear, apple and stone fruit. There's a distinctive, freshly baked bread trait, too.
Adami's Bosco di Gica Prosecco Superiore Brut -- Like Champagne, Prosecco undergoes two fermentations to develop its frizzante (fizzy) or spumante styles, the latter being the most popular version. But whereas Champagne's second fermentation is in a bottle, Prosecco's is in an autoclave (enclosed) stainless-steel tank in which carbon dioxide is captured and pressurized. In 1876, Carpené Malvolti founded the famous Conegliano School of Enology, where he developed the modern tank method.
Prosecco Superiore DOCG comes in three levels of sweetness -- Brut (driest); Extra Dry (semisweet) and Dry (sweetest). The wines come in nonvintage and vintage (millesimato) dated.
Here are my tasting notes on four Prosecco Superiore DOCG sparkling wines selling for less than $25. My thanks to Colangelo & Partners for providing the samples, which are available in New Hampshire State Liquor outlets and many fine wine stores in Massachusetts. (Hint: Prosecco Superiore DOCG wines carry a gold label on the top of the bottle denoting the highest quality classification. "Cartizze" and "Valdobiaddene Conegliano" sparklers are synonymous with Prosecco and often do not even mention the word on the bottle.)
n Malibran Ruio Superiore Brut, $18.99: The "Ruio" on the bottle carries a special distinction. It is one of 43 rive, or prestigious DOCG vineyards, that can be so noted. Malibran's Glera grapes are handpicked and meticulously placed in small containers to guard from bruising the fruit. They are gently pressed before undergoing two fermentations. A Decanter World Wine Awards winner with a 95-point rating, Malibran lives up to its elegance with a consistent effervescence that glows in the glass. Nice apple and peach flavors highlight a dry, lingering aftertaste.
n Mionetto Cartizze Dry: This top-of-the line spumante costs less than $25, exhibits all the sparkle and silkiness of $100 Champagne. It's 100 percent Glera, creamy, and issues a steady stream of beady starbursts of citrusy, honeyed and nutty flavors. Deserves the Gold Medal earned at the 2016 International Wine & Spirits Competition.
n Adami Bosco di Gica Prosecco Superiore, $21: Bosco di Gica is a special place in the commune of Colbertaldo that first showed up in historical records in the 15th century. The vineyards date back to 1920, and many vines are 30-35 years old. This is a luxurious sparkling wine. The mouthfeel is full, soft and dreamy. There's a tinge more sweetness to the fruit, making this a great sparkler for spicier foods like chicken teriyaki and Asian dishes.
n Le Colture Fagher Prosecco Superiore Brut, $17.99: The Ruggeri family's vineyards share a border with the famous Cartizze subzone, and the proximity comes through in an impeccably dry, superbly luxuriant sparkler. The freshly baked bread note is a subtle reminder of Le Colture' top class, while flavors of citrus, apple and slightly bitter almond pour forth on tiny, luminous beads. It's got a long, dry finish.