Prosecco: a sparkler of distinction

Eleanor Yates looks at how prosecco producers are working to differentiate their wines from other bubblies.

For those who may not be so clued up on the world of wine, it’s easy to make assumptions and group all sparkling wines into the main categories: prosecco, champagne and cava. Styles such as trentodoc, franciacorta and other specific types of sparkling are looking to be recognised as just that, rather than being grouped under the umbrella of prosecco, for example.

One of the most popular styles of sparkling wine, it’s no surprise prosecco didn’t fall victim to the pandemic like some of its other beverage alcohol counterparts. IWSR Drinks Market Analysis reported that sparkling wine “came out of the pandemic stronger than it went in”, continuing: “The lack of big, formal celebratory occasions led to prosecco and champagne, in particular, being drunk more informally at home, and consumers have reassessed their attitude to the category as a result. In the US and Canada, for example, sparkling wine is much more likely to be seen as suitable for informal consumption at home than it was pre-2020.”

The trends

The style hails from north eastern Italy, in areas around the small town of Prosecco in the province of Trieste, where the vines’ interaction with the soil and the tradition of winemaking in the region give the Prosecco DOC its distinct characteristics.

Sandro Bottega, president of Bottega Spa, says: “Prosecco has consolidated its appeal all over the world and has become the product leader in the sparkling wines category. Through 2023 we can say that premium prosecco continues to grow, while entry-level prosecco is instead recording a slowdown. In the first two quarters of the year, the category is performing well in the UK, Benelux and central Europe.”

The cocktail trend has also helped the growth and popularity of prosecco in Italy and in key markets. Bottega says: “The success of the different versions of Spritz contributed significantly. Organic prosecco is also an important trend and is particularly appreciated by the younger generations.”

Other brands such as Perlino are also seeing this growth and demand for the category. Elena Branda, of Perlino’s export marketing office, says: “Perlino prosecco is performing well and the brand has continued its growth. In 2022, in the category’s top-selling markets, with France at the top thanks to the distribution through our mother company La Martiniquaise Bardinet, Perlino has consolidated its position in the three bestselling proseccos and, more recently, has entered new markets such as Cameroon, Thailand, Burkina Faso, Mali, Haiti, Guatemala, as well as Austria and Moldova.”

The styles

As Bottega says, prosecco is “a sparkling wine of great appeal, which owes its success to quality and freshness, faithfully proposing the characteristics of the original grape”. When looking at the different styles of sparkling wine, it’s important to have a clear distinction, and make that obvious for consumers too.

Set between the Dolomites and Venice, Bisol 1542 is a prosecco superiore winery that aims to tell the different nuances of the appellation. The vineyards have a limited yield per hectare and are housed on steep locations that have to be worked by hand. Visiting the vineyard, Gianluca Bisol, president of Bisol 1542, says he thinks a divide between higher and lower prosecco is natural and “it’s important to promote the historical area of Prosecco. There are many ideas on how to call it, some don’t want to call it prosecco but you have to see your word (or category name) in the eye of the customer, who may not have any idea. We have to use the word prosecco because we are the original one. We use ‘superiore’ because it is international and translates to everyone.”

Many producers are making a point to clarify their different styles and highlight these among the trade and consumers. Bottega adds that when making clear the differences in styles of sparklings, such as prosecco and champagne, “champagne is a complex and structured sparkling wine, which is enriched in the cellar with an aromatic range of great organoleptic suggestion. The trade should better explain the difference between them, suggesting to consumers the best food pairings. It is also important to offer some free tastings directly in stores”.

Branda adds that the Prosecco Consortium organises activities and events in some ‘prosecco-emerging' countries, which Perlino regularly participates in, as well as in the historical countries for prosecco consumers. “We think this is one of the best ways to affirm the prosecco category, and distinguish it from the rest of the sparkling wines.”

Ferrari Trento is one brand that is prominent in the sparkling wine category. Hailing from Trento in northern Italy, the wine is a trentodoc style and currently the official toast of F1, being used to celebrate race wins on the podium. It is the first non-French brand to be the toast, stepping away from the tradition in the sport of it commonly being champagne.

Matteo Lunelli, chief executive and president of Ferrari Trento, says: “Great sparkling wine is generally deemed as only champagne, with champagne as a reference for high-end sparkling wine. But the world of sparkling in the high end has changed to be more than that.”

Looking at building awareness for the different sparkling wines, Ferrari Trento has a balance in Italy between the on and off-trade, but outside of the domestic market there is more of an on-premise focus. “You build a brand in the on-premise because people easily learn about it. When it becomes more well known then it makes sense to go into retail as the market understands the background. It's a brand that needs to be explained, which is why on-premise is so important, then we will try to expand into retail. The awareness of the brand with F1 is starting to plant the seed for retail and have us entering into that market,” says Lunelli.

With a limit to the amount it can make, Ferrari Trento is having to move some of Italy’s allocation to other markets in order to be a more international brand, as Lunelli adds the brand can “only grow as much as we have high-end and high-quality grapes”.

With the F1 partnership, Lunelli adds that many people assume when seeing the Ferrari name that the car and wine brands are related, but this isn’t the case. Therefore, when seeing a non-Ferrari team member celebrate with a bottle that has the name, it creates more interest around the brand and sparks a conversation. "Why not enter into a world where Ferrari cars are the protagonist and have someone such as Lewis Hamilton, a driver for Mercedes, celebrating with Ferrari Trento? It sparks intrigue and interest,” Lunelli adds. In the world of sparkling, Lunelli says it “is a galaxy of stars and champagne is one, but Trento and the other styles are comparable and still have a presence in that space”.

Staying in the high-end space is an “important challenge for all prosecco producers”, adds Bottega. “Bottega started this process from the beginning with a careful selection of the grapes and with attention to each step of the vinification. Our prosecco has a shelf life of over five years and nobody else can guarantee this. The selection of specific vineyards and lands make our grapes have cultivation costs higher than champagne. We have also contributed to premiumisation with the introduction of our original and exclusive metallic bottles. Bottega Gold Prosecco DOC is now appreciated all over the world as a symbol of the Italian taste.”

With all inhabitants of the sparkling wine arena, be they prosecco, champagne or cava, looking to be recognised more commonly in their own right, it is important for that distinction to be clear in all aspects of the trade. With McLaren driver Lando Norris’s classic ‘champagne’ pour at F1 being celebrated and shared online under that label, even though it is now done with Ferrari Trento, the day will hopefully come when it’s called a sparkling or wine pour instead.