A few years ago, the majority of wine drinkers would simply ask for a ‘white’ or a ‘red’. Today we know better. Similarly, when it comes to Prosecco, its producers are on a mission to spread the word globally that this delightful bubbly beverage from north east Italy is far more complex and varied than many realise.
First things first. Prosecco per se does not actually exist. Neither the grape nor the drink. In 2009, when the drink formerly known as Prosecco received its DOC status (Controlled Designaion of Origin), the name of the grape was henceforth to be known as Glera and the drink as Prosecco DOC. The new status also meant that, whereas previously any fizz could be labelled ‘prosecco’, from then on Prosecco could only originate from a certain area in north east Italy.
In 2010, Prosecco DOC was joined by a ‘superior’ version, known as Conelgiano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG – with the G standing for quality ‘Guaranteed’. While the marketing team for DOCG may have been having an off day when it decided to lumber the Superiore with such a title, which most definitely does not trip off the tongue, the drink is an innocent victim that can nevertheless hold its head very high in the world of sparkling wines.
In 1962 a group of 11 prescient producers from the area - representing the principal vine-growers’ cooperatives and the major sparkling wine producing companies - founded the Consortium for the Protection of Prosecco from Conegliano Valdobbiadene, proposing a set of production regulations to safeguard the quality and image of the wine they made.
Today the Consortium boasts 3600 members (representing 97% of the growers, wine makers and bottlers) and – as a group – supervises not only all stages of production from planting to pruning, but also decides the date of harvesting before watching over vinification practices.
DOC versus DOCG
Having learnt that there are two fundamental types of Prosecco (not including the comparatively rare Cartizze that hails only from a tiny hillside area and consequently demands a significantly higher price point), the next step is to grasp the difference between DOC and DOCG.
Geographically, the DOC grapes grow in the plain while the DOCG vines can be seen adorning the hills spectacularly between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene – a clue as to how the brand got its name. These steep hills provide perfect growing conditions for the Glera grape – Prosecco DOCG must contain at least 85% Glera; other varieties permitted for the remaining 15% include the local Verdiso, Bianchetta and Perera grapes. The terrain enables the average rainfall of 49.2 inches to cascade down the slopes resulting in thirsty vines being well watered but not drowned. Moreover, while the breezes from the sea ensure summers do not become too hot for the budding vines, the terroir itself provides the ideal soil.
“DOCG brings elegance to the experience. You don’t taste such elegance in DOC,” says Enrico Martellozzo, owner of the Bellussi winery. “Prosecco DOCG is a ray of sunlight, captured by the hills of Valdobbiadene. People need to differentiate between different proseccos – as they have done with wines. In my opinion, once you have tasted Superiore DOCG, you will never return to simple Prosecco DOC.”
Due to the nature of the ground upon which the vines grow, DOC requires 150 working hours per hectare while its elegant sibling demands 650 hours per hectare with 80% of the grapes being harvested by hand – the slopes are too steep for mechanised picking.
“It is important for us that people all over the world comprehend the difference between DOC and DOCG, and understand just how special DOCG is,” says Elvira Maria Bortolomiol who, along with her three sisters, owns and runs the Bortolomiol vineyard and winery. “It is thanks to the skill of the generations that came before us that we are able to cultivate these steep slopes to create DOCG.”
Prosecco Superiore DOCG comes in three versions, determined by their residual sugar content
- Brut 0-12 grams per litre
- Extra Dry, the most traditional with 12-17 grams per litre
- Dry 17-32 grams per litre
2014 Prosecco Production
|79 million bottles||306 million bottles|
|6586 hectares||20,000 hectares|
|183 producers||304 producers|
|42% of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG was exported with 17% going to the UK.|
Prosecco bubbling up nicely says CGA Strategy’s Phil Montgomery
The GB on trade continues to evolve as licensees compete to drive footfall into their outlets.
One of the biggest recent success stories in the GB on trade has been the Sparkling Wine category and more precisely its Prosecco varietal. Buoyed by the increasing role of wine and Champagne in an outlet’s sales mix, especially among the new generations of food-led outlets (i.e. Casual Dining), Prosecco continues to march forward.
Current sales performance sees grape volume grow by +46% as availability continues to proliferate across the trade. The foundation of success for the varietal, and indeed Sparkling Wine more generally, has been its relationship to Champagne. Sitting in the same Fizz profile, but typically sold at a lower price point than Champagne, Sparkling – and by association Prosecco – has attracted consumers as it offers an ‘affordable premium experience’. Indeed, as the category and varietal maintain their trajectory, licensees are now destocking the lower priced end of their Champagne range and replacing with a sparkling option, primarily Prosecco.
The sky appears to be the limit for Prosecco, but the question arises, how far will the Prosecco category rise? Will the Prosecco trend go flat or continue to bubble?
There are signs that are certainly encouraging for the drink. Aside from gaining listings across GB, Prosecco is starting to move beyond its traditional bottle/glass serve and is being accessed by the consumer in many different formats. One of the key vehicles for Prosecco has been its inclusion in cocktails. From Blushing Bellinis to English Gardens and Aperol Spritz, there are a myriad cocktails with Prosecco at their core.
CGA’s Mixed Drinks report shows that 23% of on trade outlets now serve cocktails and this number is rising. Indeed, cocktails now represent 5% of all Spirits volume in GB. There is very definite scope for Prosecco to grow in the on trade as a result of this increasing popularity of Cocktails and its role within them.
Of course, there must be an element of caution in emphasising the growth potential of Prosecco. The wider category that is Sparkling is growing as well as Prosecco and the category’s popularity is moving at a pace. Moscato, Macabeo and others are growing in their own right and, as consumers’ knowledge improves, the desire for choice in an outlet’s Sparkling range will increase.
Licensees must be conscious that their future Sparkling Wine offering may have to consider the role of other grapes as well as Prosecco (Glera). www.cgastrategy.co.uk