Prosecco: Brand On The Run?

Prosecco popcorn

Whether it’s a drink that makes you thirst or curse, there’s no denying that the biggest sparkling wine success of the last ten years has been the surge in popularity for Prosecco.  Majestic recently stated that it was selling ten times more bottles than the well-established Champagne brands.

This wasn’t always the case though and as recently as ten years ago Spain must have felt fairly safe in the knowledge that they had the ‘sparkling-alternative-to-Champagne’ market sewn up with Cava.  Made in a similar style to Champagne, but without the prestige of Moét-level brand recognition, they were able to produce fairly similar results at significantly lower prices.

Whilst also a sparkling wine, outside of artisan producers emulating the Champagne style, Prosecco isn’t made in the same way.  The bubbles are added by a carbonation process similar to soft drinks, worlds away from the traditional labour intensive Champagne processes.  Instead of fermentation (sugars turning to alcohol) within the bottle itself, Prosecco is made in large tanks and siphoned off to each bottle individually.

Without time resting on its yeasty deposits, the creamy richness found in Champagne is lost, but gives Prosecco its youthful and vibrant quality, expressly intended for immediate drinking.  This unfussy immediacy, as well as the reduced pricing through simpler production, has proved incredibly popular with the ever cost-conscious buying public.

This is all good for the here-and-now but to ensure a successful future Prosecco needs to side-step the stigma of simply being a cheaper alternative.  Adopted by many a girls night out, will the effortless effervescence shortly become a victim of its own success?

For all its perceived snobbery, Champagne has actually done a massive amount to protect its brand and, outside of Champagne truffles and the Champagne named sub-regions of Cognac, you literally can’t label anything as ‘Champagne’ unless it comes from the region.

This makes perfect sense as, when you buy Champagne, you’re buying in to the limited prestige.  Prosecco brand preservation seems to have been somewhat side-lined and there is arguably little ongoing value with it being associated with such retail oddments as popcorn, teabags, crisps or nail varnish.  Innocently browsing in a bookshop this very week I spotted a Prosecco cookbook – 100 ways to cook with Prosecco.  This is a serious brand devaluation.

prosecco cookbook

Price-point is another major consideration.  Despite such obvious Brexit factors meaning that we import European goods at a higher price, and the fact that the more popular a brand is the more a producer will charge for it, late spring frosts and an inconsistent summer means that recent crops were severely curtailed or variably-ripened.

Global wine production in 2017 slumped to a 56 year low and there is simply less to go around.  Experts estimate that for affected regions, including Prosecco, prices could rise by as much as 30%.

There’s no denying that Prosecco is still very popular but when a brand scales up so quickly there is almost always a quick deflation to follow.  Can Prosecco sustain such price rises, lack of availability, and over-exposure through tacky 3rd party products?  Is Prosecco now a brand on the run?

Cheers!

This article was originally published in the May 2018 edition of The Ocelot.  For more of my articles, please click here.
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A World Of Variety

The old saying goes “never judge a book by its cover”, but in the case of ‘Wine Grapes: A complete guide to 1,368 vine varieties’, the plain sleeve and scope couldn’t be much clearer.

1368 Varieties

Putting each and every known wine grape variety under the microscope and giving the appropriate cultural history and factual DNA make-up, this comprehensive pool of information is accessible to both the scholar and the interested novice.

The novice reader might, however, question where they’re going wrong.  Akin to a poorly titled mystery, the biggest surprise of the book has already been given away by the title highlighting that there are an amazing 1,368 different grape varieties out there to try.

A recent survey showed that of the varieties available, only the top 12 (so, less than 1%) were responsible for more than half of the worlds planted vines. That’s an extraordinary statistic; over half of the vine-planted world is given over to less than 1% of the available vine varieties.

Our hit-list contains such favourites as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Grenache, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir and Syrah (aka Shiraz) for your reds and Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Muscat Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris for your white.  Any one of these varieties is now in the official ‘comfort zone’.

Clearly there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with any one of the above varieties, which are well-known, successful, highly adaptable and able to give consistent high-yielding results.  The point is, there is much mileage beyond.

Readers may now be starting to wonder if they could have been more inventive the last time they reached for another bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, but the blame isn’t entirely on your shoulders.  People do indeed go with what they know more often than not, but this is something that supermarkets are well-oiled towards.  They don’t want to take too many chances when it comes to the profits.  Familiarity is safety.

Wine producing countries new to the game (so, any since the late 70’s/early 80’s) are also well aware of trends and plant their vineyards accordingly.  They only want to produce the well-recognised international varieties that will guarantee sales.

This commerce comes at the expense of tradition.  Grape varieties adapt to their surroundings and the unknown indigenous varieties that have thrived forever are the ones that truly speak of the history and diversity of the country.  Spanish producer Torres is one going to amazing lengths to bring back long-lost varieties from extinction.

On the flip-side, the consumer also needs to have a little more interest when it comes to seeking out what is beyond the obvious.  If you can get past the funny and sometimes vaguely un-pronounceable names, there are absolute treasures to be found.

ASDA Wine Atlas

A good range that celebrates this diversity is the Wine Atlas range from Asda.  Dressed up in gorgeous labels evocative of the heyday of early 20th century travel, this is your ideal chance to try the lesser spotted Feteasca Neagra, Negroamaro, Grillo or Bobal.

If you’re feeling really competitive you may like to apply to the Wine Century Club.  Try 100 or more varieties, Google the club, fill in the entry form, and a nifty certificate will be on its way to you letting you know how unique such a feat is.

100 Club

This article was originally published in the April 2018 edition of The Ocelot.  For more of my articles, please click here.