Prosecco for the Five Percent

A Bisol family son crafts bubbles “with meaning”

Prosecco for the Five Percent
Matteo Bisol believes that the traditional col fondo method is the way to craft ageable Proseccos that show the character of their site. (Robert Camuto)
Dec 8, 2022

Idealism isn’t something generally associated with Prosecco—the world’s most widely sold sparkler.

But Matteo Bisol, 35, from the pioneering Bisol Prosecco family, has broken out with his own line of edgy, small-production, artisanal wines, explaining, “I wanted to do something with meaning.”

What? Meaning? Prosecco?

“I love this area, and I think it needs more courage in the production area,” says Bisol, who has lived his whole life in prime Prosecco territory: the hills around Valdobbiadene, in northeastern Italy’s Veneto region. “Everything here is very successful. Everybody is getting richer, but I don’t easily find wines I like.”

That’s understandable. A lot of Prosecco—made primarily from the Glera grape—is thin, anonymous fizz that comes from a vast swath of northeastern Italy. Hearing that from the lips of a Bisol reinforces the point.

But there are delicious Proseccos of character and depth, including fantastic single-vineyard bottlings that reflect their terroirs. Some of these are made using the Charmat (or Martinotti) method, in which the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in pressurized steel tanks, or autoclaves, to create the bubbles. Others are made via the metodo classico—the Italian term for the method used in Champagne, in which the wine is refermented in the bottles—or via Italy’s traditional col fondo style, in which the wines are also bottle-fermented, but the resulting lees are not removed (disgorged) before the wine is sold.

Bisol, inspired by other winemakers of his generation, has become an advocate of the latter style, which literally means “with the bottom.”

“For me, the best expression of Prosecco is col fondo,” says Bisol, wearing a white T-shirt and baggy jeans as we walk through the 15 acres of organically farmed land he leases outside Conegliano. From this site, mostly planted with 50-year-old Glera vines, he launched his Monban wine label in 2020, producing a col fondo, a still Glera and a red from the Marzemino variety at his father’s and uncle’s fermentation facility in Valdobbiadene.

 Col fondo–producing peers Martino Tormena (left), Christian Zago (center) and Matteo Bisol toasting with Prosecco at a picnic table overlooking terraced vineyards in the Prosecco Superiore DOCG
Col fondo Prosecco–producing peers Martino Tormena (left), Christian Zago (center) and Matteo Bisol. (Robert Camuto)

Some of the best Proseccos—col fondo and otherwise—come from Bisol’s home turf in the Prosecco Superiore DOCG, around the steep terraced hills of Valdobbiadene (which produces more elegant, minerally versions) and Conegliano (which produces wines with more body). Here, Bisol says, he found inspiration from veteran producer Loris Follador of Casa Coste Piane, as well as from two winemakers in their 30s: Christian Zago of Ca’ dei Zago and Martino Tormena of Mongarda.

Col fondo was the traditional Prosecco everyone drank at home,” Bisol explains later during a salumi and cheese lunch with Zago and Tormena, at a picnic table overlooking the dramatically steep, terraced vineyards in the hills of Col San Martino. In the post-war decades, the widespread use of autoclaves helped fuel the Prosecco boom, dwarfing col fondo, which is now less than 1 percent of total production.

“Our generation is the first that is proud of this tradition and wants to take it to the world,” Bisol enthuses.

Good col fondo Proseccos, like those made by this trio, have fewer bubbles, more body and greater yeasty character, tending to take on dried fruit and honey notes as they evolve over time. They also tend to be a deeper shade of gold than most Proseccos and slightly cloudy—factors that can cause problems in earning official appellation approval.

For example, in the 2021 vintage, Ca’ dei Zago’s yellow-gold wines were rejected by a Prosecco Superiore tasting committee for being too dark.

Zago responded by labeling them instead with the regional Colli Trevigiani IGT designation—also used by Bisol and Tormena, whose col fondos are excluded from the Prosecco Superiore DOCG because they are topped with verboten crown caps.

“Now, if you go to the coolest wine bars in New York and Milan, they will pour wines from the region that don’t mention Prosecco on the label,” Bisol says. “It is really a missed opportunity for the region.”

As a riff on that exclusion, Bisol calls his still Glera wine “Questo non è” (“This one isn’t”), while his Glera Colli Trevigiani IGT Col Fondo is named “Questo Neanche” (“Not even this one”).

I first met Bisol some years ago at Venissa, the quirky, extreme wine project his father, Gianluca, started in the Venetian Lagoon. While Bisol still oversees Venissa’s winemaking, he no longer runs its pair of restaurants and boutique hotel so that he has time to focus on Monban.

Unlike some of his col fondo–producing peers, Bisol studied business, not winemaking. Yet he has developed his own vision for making Prosecco. Like Zago and Tormena, he farms organically, ferments his base wine with indigenous yeasts and adds minimal sulfites.

But to kick off the secondary fermentation that produces the bubbles, he doesn’t add sugar, frozen grape must or yeast. Instead, he adds a dose of fresh Glera juice from the following year’s harvest.

Col fondo wines are, naturally, unfiltered. They also contain less fizz—a style Italians call frizzante (1 to 2.5 bars of atmospheric pressure)—compared with other forms of sparkling Prosecco and Champagne (at least 3.5 bars).

“Prosecco is a light wine, and it should be easy to drink,” says Bisol. “It doesn’t have the structure to support a high level of bubbles.”

Since Glera is relatively low in acidity, Bisol explains, the antioxidant-rich lees left in the bottle act as a natural preservative. “With normal Prosecco, after two years, you can have a problem,” he says. “High-quality col fondos can age much better: five or 10 years.”

“Our idea is not to make a vague Prosecco, but something with personality,” he adds. “We’re looking for the five percent of people who are wine lovers.”

Prosecco for wine lovers. Now there’s an idea. Prosecco-land take note.

People Sparkling Wines prosecco Italy

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