There’s more to prosecco than cheap froth, and both producers and venues need to make more of that diversity
A perception-shifting collection of samples arrived at my home a month or so ago. I admit, it took me a few weeks to get around to tasting them as they were from a wine region I rarely drink, yet should pay more attention to as it is one of our best-selling – prosecco.
Easy-drinking and high-margin, with quick stock turnover, it is understandably loved by the consumer and the ‘financial controller’. But the person serving it, whether waiter or sommelier, is at best indifferent to it, and at worst might even make unfavourable assumptions about the table that orders it.
Prosecco is not like other successful wine brands such as Pinot Grigio or Marlborough Sauvignon, which have widely available versions that any sommelier will happily serve and drink. For every 10 mass-produced bottles sold, there is Dog Point Sauvignon or Vie di Romans Pinot Grigio to be recommended.
Of course, there have always been alternatives to the easy-drinking narrative of prosecco. I remember, 15 years ago, being struck by the depth of flavour after tasting single-vineyard and aged vintage wines when visiting the cellars of Nino Franco in northern Italy. But beyond a few exceptions, these wines are not represented in the UK.
The samples on my doorstep, however, contained huge diversity: organic and biodynamic wines, bottle-fermented wines, bottle fermented and left on lees, regional and vintage wines, varying degrees of dryness and alternative grape varieties.
I did not like them all. Much as I have an issue with many zero-dosage champagnes, I found some of the very dry styles just a bit mean. However, they challenged my idea of what the wine is, and explored the possibilities of where it could go.
There is an argument that says leave a winning recipe alone. Prosecco is, after all, a success, with everyone in its supply chain happy and making money – a rare thing. But that ignores the dictates of fashion and changing tastes. In my wine lifetime, I have seen the decline of New World Chardonnay, while history shows us the once universal appeal of sherry, port and German Riesling.
At some point, prosecco will experience its own ABC (anything but Chardonnay) moment. When that happens, it’ll be important that it has made headway into many different market segments. This mitigates risk: as one style falls away in popularity, producers can concentrate on another that resonates with a different group of consumers. The alternative is a long, hard slog to reinvent the brand once sales decline.
It is early days. A number of those that I tried are not yet imported, while most wine lists still, despite the weight of sales, only list one style of prosecco. But the opportunity is there to add depth and broaden one of the best-selling, but often least thought about, sections of the wine list.