Thursday, February 14, 2013

Part IV -- Production zones: The definitive comparison of Champagne, Franciacorta, Prosecco, and Cava

This is the fourth installment in a series designed to compare the attributes and merits of four of the world's leading sparkling wines. Whereas my last post examined the physical characteristics of the individual environments at a global level, this post seeks to become increasingly granular by drilling down through sub-regions, communes, and vineyards.


Both the Champagne and Prosecco zones are further subdivided into sub-zones; Franciacorta and Cava DO are not. Because Champagne is a wine region, its subdivisions are geographic in nature.  Montagne de Reims is a forested plateau south of Reims that is known for rich, full-bodied Champagnes and the dominance of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Vallée de la Marne has Epernay at its center as it hugs the banks of the River Marne. The soil here is a limestone topsoil overlaying layers of Belemnite and Micraster chalk. Chardonnay is dominant here as it is in the Côte des Blancs and Côte de Bar. The soil in the Côte de Bar is Portlandian cap rock overlaying Kimmeridgian soil, a geologic profile that is much closer to Chablis than to the rest of Champagne.


Within the broader Prosecco DOC, there are two sub-zones: DOC Treviso Prosecco and Prosecco di Trieste. These sub-zones cover Prosecco made within these two provinces and wines made therein can so indicate on their labels. Prosecco wines made in other provinces cannot carry the province name on the labels. There are two separate Prosecco DOCG zones, both falling within the borders of the province of Treviso. The first, and having the greatest repute, is Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene. This zone is approximately 50 km from Venice and 100 km from the Dolomites. It runs east to west from the plains to the foot of the Alps and incorporates the 15 hill communities that lie between Conegliano and Valdiobbadene. The second DOCG zone is Colli Asolani/Asolo and is located in the Montello e Colli Asolani wine region. It encompasses a 5-mile-long ridge of gently rolling hills running between the towns of Cornuda and Asolo. The best vineyards are found on south-facing slopes where the gentle gradients and loose soil combine for excellent drainage and optimal sunlight exposure.

Vineyards Distribution and Aspect

There are 32,900 hectares of vineyards in Champagne (3.4% of France's vineyard total) distributed across 319 communities (357 after the most recent revisions are adopted). The best Champagne vineyards are planted on slopes at elevations falling between 90 and 200 meters. Such locations situate the vineyard high enough to be clear of the frost and low enough to avoid extreme weather. This siting also places these vineyards smack dab in the middle of the Belemnite formations that are slope-located. The vineyards are predominantly located on south-, east-, and southeast-facing slopes which average 12% but can be as high as 60% in areas. Franciacorta -- located in the "gentle" hills in the area of Brescia -- lies in an amphitheater which was carved out by a falling glacier and encompasses all or part of 19 Brescian municipalities. The zone is approximately 18,000 hectares in size with 2665 hectares under vine. Cava is produced in 159 municipalities spread across Catalonia (Barcelona, 63; Tarragona, 52; Lleida, 12; Gerona, 5), Aragon (2), Alava (3), Navarra (2), Rioja (18), Badajoz (1), and Valencia (1) but fully 95% of that production originates in Catalonia's Penedès, a wine region located about 40 kilometers southwest of Barcelona. Elevation in Penedès range between 0 and 800 meters.

Vineyards Classification

Of the sparklers under consideration, only Champagne and Prosecco have vineyard-classification schemes. Unlike the Burgundy wine region, the Grand/Premier Cru designation for a Champagne vineyard is not necessarily an indication of a vineyard's quality. Rather, the designation -- Échelle des crus (ladder of growths) -- is an index of price based on the quality of grapes from classified vineyards. Grapes from Deuxieme Cru vineyards can be assigned scores of between 80% and 89%, grapes from Premier Cru vineyards can be assigned scores between 90% and 99%, while Grand Cru grapes are assigned scores of 100%. As formulated, the score that a grape-lot is assigned within a specific season is an indication of the price that the Champagne House is willing to pay in relation to the pricing for Grand Cru grapes in the season. The Champagne vineyards with Grand Cru designation are shown in the table below.

Within the Valdobbiadene area, the steep hills around the villages of San Pietro di Barbozza, Santo Stefano, and Saccol were considered the Grand Cru of the DOCG. This 106-ha area, called Cartizze, has a mild microclimate and a varied soil to include moraine, sandstone, and clay components. The vineyards are positioned on south-facing slopes and have excellent drainage. Another cru-style called Rive has been added where 43 localities with steep hills in the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene region are allowed to so designate their wines. The requirements for a Rive are : (i) it must be so designated; (ii) production is limited to 14.3 tons/ha; (iii) the grapes must be harvested annually; and (iv) the vintage must be indicated on the label.


The production zones of the subject wines can be thusly summarized:

Click below to read earlier posts in the series.

Part I
Part II
Part III

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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