Prosecco Superiore DOCG vs. Prosecco DOC
How to Distinguish Good from Great Prosecco
Prosecco is today the world’s most popular sparkling wine, but contrary to what most people think, not all Prosecco is created equal. The most obvious distinction is between the higher-quality Prosecco Superiore DOCG and the simple, entry-level Prosecco DOC. Even within the Prosecco Superiore category, additional top-quality tiers exist that are worth knowing as they may point consumers towards some of the most exciting Prosecco wines on the market.
DOC vs. DOCG
Most of the Prosecco found on the shelf is Prosecco DOC, accounting for more than 80% of all Prosecco production, with over 500 million bottles produced in 2020. The volume of Prosecco Superiore DOCG is significantly smaller, with around 90 million bottles produced every year. Unfortunately, most consumers are unaware of the quality difference between the two Prosecco categories and may even be puzzled by the higher price paid for Prosecco Superiore.
Flatland vs. Hillside
Both wines are produced from the same grape (Glera) and made with the same production process (tank method) but come from totally different areas. Prosecco DOC is produced on the fertile flatlands of northeast Italy, in an extensive area that includes the regions of Veneto and Friuli. Prosecco Superiore DOCG, on the other hand, comes from a smaller, specific hilly area of Veneto between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. Although commonly referred to as Prosecco Superiore, the official (and rather cumbersome) name of the appellation is Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG.
Prosecco Superiore DOCG embodies the true historical heartland of Prosecco. These sparkling wines have been produced on these steep hills since the second half of the 19th century and represent the best expression of the Glera grape. To distinguish the origin and highlight the superior quality of these wines, in 2009, the Prosecco from Conegliano Valdobbiadene was designed ‘Superiore’ (superior) and awarded the DOCG status, Italy’s highest official quality designation. The rest of the Prosecco production falls under the large appellation Prosecco DOC.
The hills of Conegliano Valdobbiadene
Quality, Style & Food Pairing
All Proseccos share the typical fresh, fruity character, but the two categories occupy different positions in the Prosecco quality pyramid and provide a different tasting experience. The simple, frothy, uncomplicated Prosecco DOC represents the entry-level category in terms of quality and price point (~8-15 $).
In contrast, Prosecco Superiore DOCG is the prime Prosecco designation and offers a step up in quality and character. Although Prosecco Superiore is a little more expensive than Prosecco DOC (~18-25 $), it still provides excellent value. The best examples of Prosecco Superiore possess layers of aromatic complexity ranging from floral (lilac, honeysuckle, acacia, blossom) and fruity flavors (pear, ripe peach, and hints of exotic fruit) to herbs, mineral, and saline notes combined with creamy-soft mousse, and a tangy finish.
The higher complexity and concentration of Prosecco Superiore DOCG makes it also more versatile at the table. It pairs well with a range of dishes, from appetizers to cold cuts, fried fish, smoked salmon, seafood-based pasta, and risotto. As Prosecco DOC, Prosecco Superiore is often produced in an off-dry style (labeled as ‘extra dry’). The light sweetness makes it also ideal with spicy food.
The diversity of Prosecco Superiore is further demonstrated by the existence of two distinct, superior quality designations within the DOCG, Cartizze, and Rive. Both are considered the authentic and most distinctive expression of the Prosecco Superiore.
Cartizze is a legendary sub-zone of Conegliano Valdobbiadene that includes the steepest south-facing vineyards in the appellation. It is historically considered the Grand Cru area of Prosecco and produces the appellation’s best and most distinctive wines. Traditionally, most Cartizze is produced in a lightly sweet style (labeled as ‘dry’). Compared to the rest of Prosecco Superiore, Cartizze shows more complexity and a higher concentration of fruit. The high crisp acidity nicely balances the residual sugar.
Rive are village-based designations, a sort of ‘cru’ designation, to distinguish some of the best vineyards in the Conegliano Valdobbiadene area. There are 43 villages entitled to the Rive designation, and they produce some of the best-quality Prosecco in the DOCG. They are considered second only to Cartizze in prestige.
Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG
The Prosecco Superiore DOCG designation is not limited only to the area of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. There is a smaller, lesser-known area located just to the south of Valdobbiadene, around the small town of Asolo, that is entitled to its own appellation, Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG. The volume of wine produced in Asolo is considerably smaller than Conegliano Valdobbiadene, and the wines are produced in a similar style.