This is a question that I am often asked and unfortunately the answer is not as simple as 'the price'.

You have to go back a few years, to 2009 to understand the context of how the classifications came about. Prior to 2009 the term Prosecco referred to a sparkling wine made in Veneto and other parts of north-east Italy. The term was less strictly controlled than it is now. In fact, you could have found Prosecco in Australia. Coinciding with the massive boom in sales and production, it was determined that the term and the wines should be tighter controlled.

At the time it was slightly confusing as the grape variety that Prosecco is made from, was called 'Prosecco'. In the first instance, the grape variety was renamed as 'Glera', so that the name Prosecco could be protected under DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) law.

Secondly, the historic area that Prosecco was made, between the villages of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, was elevated to the higher quality level of DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) and further to that the suffix 'Superiore' was created. The surrounding area, a much larger zone, was simply classified as Prosecco DOC. To put some numbers on it, Prosecco DOC is 25,000 hectares, whilst Superiore DOCG is 9,500.

What about the quality?

Like all the great wines in the world, quality begins with brilliant vineyards, in the right place, with the ideal soil types, and perfect climate. Prosecco Superiore is grown in the beautiful UNESCO protected hillsides of the pre-alps at the foot of Mount Cesen: a place of stunningly beautiful, steep-sided hillsides. Contrast this with Prosecco DOC, which is mostly grown on the fertile (counter-intuitively, fertile soils are less good for wine grapes) Italian plain.

Secondly, the maximum yield allowed for Superiore drops down to 13.5 tonnes per hectare, from the 18 tonnes of Prosecco DOC. This legislation ensures greater depth of flavours and aromatics.

Are they made the same way?

In a word, yes. Prosecco and Prosecco Superiore are not made like Champagne. The base wine is turned into a sparkling wine by using the method known as Martinotti (Charmat in French, or sometimes called cuve close) named after the inventor of the process. The secondary fermentation happens in a pressurised, sealed tank known as an autoclave, rather than in the bottle as in Champagne. The fermentation is much quicker and produces less CO2 resulting in bubbles that are softer and dissipate quicker. The new vintage is finished and ready for the market in the spring following the harvest.

Nino Franco Prosecco Superiore Valdobbiadene 'Rustico'

Can you get single-vineyard Prosecco Superiore?

Yes. This is where it gets really interesting, and a little more complicated. There is a classification that is higher up the hierarchy from Superiore and that is 'Rive'. This is the term used for the 43 single vineyard sites in Conegliano Valdobbiadene that yield top quality fruit, fetching a premium in price. Further up the hierarchy again is one particular zone in Valdobbiadene called 'Cartizze'. This zone produces a sweeter, richer stye of Prosecco that is drunk on special occasions with Italian cakes and biscotti.

Is there such a thing as Vintage Prosecco?

Yes. This is another aspect where Champagne and Prosecco vary greatly. The vast majority of Prosecco is made from one single vintage, more likely than not, the most recent one. However, most of the time it will not be annotated on the label. For more serious styles and those made by top producers, such as Nino Franco, there is occasionally a vintage on the label and even less frequently, they will be mature vintages.

Most of the time Prosecco is designed for drinking young when the fruit is vibrant and fresh. For a mature, complex style, there are wines such as Grave di Stecca.

Nino Franco 2015 Grave di Stecca

In Summary

The ascending quality hierarchy looks like this:

The DOCs
Prosecco DOC
Prosecco Treviso DOC

Prosecco Asolo DOCG
Prosecco Superiore DOCG - aka Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, Conegliano or Valdobbiadene
Prosecco Superiore Rive DOCG
Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze