Friday, December 30, 2011

Is Serving Prosecco "Slumming It?"

My friend, Jenny Johnson, puts creative spins on classic desserts on her monthly blog, Vintage Sugarcube. This month, in her entry, Too Poor for Couture, she asks readers if they have, "Champagne taste on a Prosecco budget?"

The question took me back a bit. On the one hand, Prosecco DOES cost less than Champagne. A good Prosecco can be found for around $15 to $20 (Mionetto Il Proseco, Le Colture Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Brut, Le Colture Prosecco di Valdobbiadene NV, etc...), whereas it's easy to drop $50 on a bottle of Champagne Fleury Fleur de L'Europe Brut NV, or $80 on a single bottle of Vouette & Sorbee Fidele 2008. Therefore, the question as stated, is based on a fiscal reality.

Beneath that reality though, lies the supposition that Champagne is a superior wine variety to Prosecco. I'm not positive such a premise can be accepted as fact across the board. While it may be true that, before the 1960s, Proseccos had earned a reputation for being sweet wines which lacked complexity, most of today's offerings fall into the; Dry, Extra Dry, or Brut; categories.

Perhaps, the tight definition of Champagne has added to its air of exclusivity. In order to be labeled Champagne, a wine must be a sparkling white wine made from a blend of grapes, especially Chardonnay and Pinot, via the Méthode Champenoise, produced in the Champagne region of France. Meanwhile, Prosecco has historically been a sparkling white wine made from the Prosecco grape via the Charmat Method, produced anywhere in the world.

That changed on August 1st of 2009, when the EU renamed the Prosecco grape as the Glera grape and strictly redefined Prosecco wine as, "a sparkling white wine from the Veneto region of NE Italy, made from the Glera grape via the Charmat Method." Producers making sparkling wine, from the Glera grape, outside of the Veneto region, now have to use the alternative name for the grape, Glera, on their label instead of Prosecco.

With its label being as tightly regulated as Champagne's, and the boost in quality over the last 50 years, one has to wonder why the disparity in price, and perceived quality, still persists? Granted, the Méthode Champenoise is more labor intensive than the Charmat Method, which explains a portion of the difference.  Yet, demand tends to dictate price more than production costs do, these days.  This leads me to think the answer has to do with tradition, more than other factors.

Think about it.  We didn't grow up seeing James Bond and Maurice Chevalier popping corks on bottles of Prosecco. Randall Jarrell's poem, entitled "Losses" didn't talk about, "A toast to her in Prosecco from her slipper." To my knowledge, Fred Astaire never used a Prosecco bucket & stand as a dance partner. No, it was all Champagne, Champagne, Champagne.

As, Champagne became our mental template for sparkling wine, Italian Prosecco, Spanish Cava, German Sekt, and the semi-sparkling Moscato D'Asti became thought of as "not Champagne." "Not Champagne," came to mean "less than Champagne" in our collective unconscious, which kept demand, and thus prices, low. Since decreased demand for Prosecco and increased demand for Champagne are the results of popular perception, price can no longer be seen as a lone indicator of quality.

Toasting 2012 with a Prosecco won't mean you're slumming it. It'll simply show you're savvy enough to take advantage of market conditions by enjoyong a quality sparkling wine for a fraction of the price of many Champagnes.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!!!!!
No matter which sparkling wine you toast the New Year with, Jenny Meier's piece, Five Cheeses to Pair With Sparkling Wine, will help you choose a nice cheese to accompany your beverage.


  1. James! Loved your post. I knew Prosecco was the Italian version of sparkling wine, but didn't know all the history and facts. Kudos! And for the record, I LOVE prosecco. Wishing you a very happy New Year and much happiness and blessings in 2012.