The Prosecco market here in the United States continues to evolve rapidly. Prosecco has surged in only a few years from a little-known type of Italian sparkling wine to the phenomenon we see today. Amazing!
Once upon a time what Prosecco that you might find on store shelves was pretty basic stuff — or it seemed that way at the time. I remember recommending Prosecco to my university students for their commencement celebrations — they’re all good, I’d tell them, you don’t have to spend more than you can afford.
They are all pretty much still good, but Prosecco is more nuanced now and I encourage friends to explore the Prosecco Pyramid, starting with DOC wines at the base, moving up to DOCG and the Rive wines, and topping out with wines from the magic mountain of Cartizze. The amazing thing is that top-tier Prosecco often costs less than baseline Champagne — something that students (and many others) can appreciate.
This year has seen the birth of Rosé Prosecco DOC — a pink blend of Glera and Pinot Nero grapes — which adds another facet of Prosecco to think about and enjoy. Recently we’ve received three sample shipments that show how the market for Italian sparklers is evolving. Here is my report.
The Prosecco Battlefield Expands
Chances are that there are many different Prosecco brands available on the shelves of your local wine shop or upscale supermarket, but odds are very good that you will find La Marca and Mionetto. They are top sellers in part because consumer enjoy the wines, but also because they are easy to find.
La Marca is an interesting case because its great success is powered by production scale and distribution muscle. We drove by the big La Marca factory a few years ago when I was giving some lectures at the famous Conegliano wine school and were suitably impressed.
La Marca is a second-level cooperative, we were told — a cooperative of cooperatives. I could be wrong but think that the smaller cooperatives make and supply the base wines, which then undergo secondary fermentation in La Marca’s big autoclaves. The result is the popular sparkling wine in the familiar bottle with the sky-blue label.
You see La Marca everywhere here in the US because it has a distribution partnership with Gallo, the world’s largest wine producer. How do I know this? Well, Gallo is so big that it has its own UPC “zip code.” Look at the UPC on the back of a bottle of La Marca and you’ll see that it begins with 85000. That’s Gallo-ville’s neighborhood. Any wine with that kind of UPC is either made by or distributed by Gallo.
La Marca and Gallo are a tough competitors, so I am interested to see how a new contestant fares in the Prosecco battleground: Ca’ Furlan Prosecco DOC. The wines are the result of a partnership between winemaker Alessandro Furlan and U.S. wine firm Regal Wine Imports. Priced at $11.99 for both the Ca’ Furlan DOC Extra Dry Cuvée Beatrice and the Ca’ Furlan Prosecco DOC Rosê Cuvée Mariana, the wines are intended to compete head-to-head with La Marca, Mionetto, and other market leaders. Plans are to import about 70,000 cases of the Prosecco and 7500 cases of the Prosecco Rosé.
We were impressed by the Cuvée Beatrice when we paired it with duck rice for dinner recently. Sue especially enjoyed the peach notes that emerged as the wine warmed up a little. Is there room in the mainstream market for another attractive Prosecco brand? Well, the market is growing so I’d say there is still time to join the party. But it is a very competitive environment — wines need to have quality, value, and strong distribution to succeed.
Celebrity Prosecco (and the No Carb Option)
Celebrity wine is a thing (a big thing, actually), so it is no surprise to discover the wine shown at the top of this column, Bellissima Prosecco DOC Brut, the new Christie Brinkley project.
The celebrity connection is modest on the bottle label (“Con Amore, Christie Brinkley”) but it is unavoidable elsewhere. “Bellissima by Christie Brinkley” proclaims the QVC.com offer, “sip and savor these pours from the celebrated model, actress, & entrepreneur.”
Shopping channels like QVC have become big time wine outlets. A search for “wine” on the QVC website brings up celebrity offerings from Christie Brinkley and Martha Stewart, a couple of Food Network celebrity chefs, and a variety of Vintage Wine Estates packages including some from Shark Tank star Kevin O’Leary a.k.a. Mister Wonderful.
I try to have an open mind about celebrity wines. Sometimes the link to a famous person is more than just vino-exploitation. When NFL great Drew Bledsoe started his eponymous winery in Walla Walla, for example, it seemed to be a sincere effort to connect with the town where he grew up and much of the wine community rallied around him and his project. The wines were really good right from the start and Bledsoe has made good on his commitment to help the region grow.
So sometimes the stars align such that a celebrity wine makes good and makes sense. But this doesn’t happen all the time, so there is always a nagging suspicion that, as Kevin O’Leary might say, it’s really all about cashing in for the m-o-n-e-y.
The Bellissima line-up includes Prosecco DOC Brut and Prosecco Rosé DOC, both made with organic grapes, and white and pink “zero sugar” sparkling wines, the white made with organic Glera grapes and the pink with Pinot Grigio grapes. Organic, vegan, zero-sugar, zero-carbs, celebrity endorsement — lots of boxed ticked here and online comments suggest that some diabetic drinkers are happy to find a wine with the carb numbers they are looking for.
That got me thinking — how does a zero (less than 0.5 g/l residual sugar) wine compare with Prosecco? A typical Prosecco Extra Dry product has about 12-15 grams per liter residual sugar which translates into less than 2 grams per glass. The Bellissima Brut has 6-7 g/l or less that 1 gram of residual sugar per glass, which means a lot fewer carbs than a glass of fruit juice, for example, and only a little more than the zero-sugar products. All the Bellissima wines come in at 11.5% abv.
Our tasting team did a comparison tasting of the Brut and Zero-Sugar sparkling white and we found both very drinkable. The Prosecco Brut was softer with more fruit, the Zero-Sugar was happiest paired with a charcuterie plate Sue prepared. Both seemed like they could stand on their own in the market even without a celebrity or wellness connection. Although I guess it defeats the idea of zero-sugar, I think I might like the zero-sugar wine best in a Bellini cocktail.
Italy Beyond Prosecco
If you are a fan of Formula One auto racing you will have seen that the victory celebrations now feature drivers slurping from huge bottles labeled “Ferrari.” You might assume that this is wine from the famous Ferrari racing team, but you would be wrong. Ferrari Trento is an important producer of sparkling wines in the Italian north-east and this is a reminder that there is much more to Italian sparkling wines than Prosecco.
While Prosecco is made from Glera grapes using the method of secondary fermentation in autoclaves, Trento DOC wines and Franciacorta feature familiar Chardonnay and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) grapes and classic secondary fermentation in the bottle.
We recently sampled Cantine Monfort Cuvée ’85 Trento DOC Brut, for example. A blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Nero secondary fermentation using the classic method, it is a different animal from Prosecco and a reminder that Italy’s treasure house of wine includes a wealth of sparklers worth exploring.
Gosh, this is a delicious wine. Makes me realize I need to pay more attention in the Trento DOC wines and the other great sparkling wines Italy has to offer.
Here is an Entertainment Tonight segment about Christie Brinkley’s Prosecco. BTW I know many readers will associate Brinkley with swimsuits, so I wonder if you think the wine label, which refers to Botticelli’s famous painting of Venus, is somehow swimsuit-inspired? What do you think?