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Italian Sparkling Wines overtake Champagne

Posted: Wednesday, 05 January 2011 15:58

Italian Sparkling Wines overtake Champagne

The world economic crisis that affected the sales and production of champagne has helped the cheaper sparkling wines from Italy, especially Prosecco to offer a more  palatable alternative for the pocket to the bubbly lovers, helping the sparkling wine production, selling around 380 million globally, overtake that in Champagne by 10 million bottles.

Photos By:: Adil Arora

Assoenologi, the Italian winemakers’ association has estimated that by the end of 2010, Bollicine – the Italian bubblies, would have recorded a sale of around 380 million bottles worldwide – around 10 million more than sparkling wine from the French region of Champagne which was reportedly obliged to cut back on the production by 30% last year due to bad harvest and the sale volumes remaining lower than in 2008.

The crisis in the sales of champagnes started in 2008 with a shift away from ostensibly the world’s most delicious, favourite and expensive sparkling wine with more stories than the fine bubbles in the bottle, primarily on the ground of higher costs which became unaffordable for a significant number of drinkers. A bottle of decent quality  Champagne costs more than $50 while the Italian counterparts can be purchased for as low as a fifth of the price. The Prestige Cuvees, and Vintage Champagnes may cost upwards of $120, whereas the best of Italian sparkling wines made with the similar grapes and process (Method Traditionelle-like in India) might cost a maximum of a third of the price.

With the world economy looking brighter, champagne may be looking at higher sales but the consumer preference for affordable sparkling has continued to grow. Italian exports  rose 17 per cent in the first nine months of 2010, according to Coldiretti, the  Italian farmers  association. The growth had been even higher-at 22% for the first six months of the year, primarily due to explosive demand from the US.

Italy's main competitive advantage is price, with the bulk of the country's sales coming from Prosecco, relatively cheap and affordable bubbly made from the cheaper Charmat method. But most people drink sparkling wine as an aperitif or making cocktails and are not too worried about the quality and this is where the US market has been ‘discovering’ Prosecco and consuming more and more every year.

"We are talking about the number of bottles produced," says Giuseppe Martelli, Director General of Assoenologi, the Italian Sommeliers Association and chairman of the jury at the international wine competition (Concorso) at Vinitaly every year. "If we look at the amount of sparkling wine produced in terms of value, we would still be far behind French Champagne."

There are other areas/appellations like Piemonte, Oltrepo Pavese, Lombardia and Asti where the sparkling wines are produced from different grapes. In fact, at a dinner hosted by the Italian Ambassador at his residence last night a slightly off-dry sparkling wine- a Colli Bolognesi DOC from Emilia Romagna, from Tizzano winery, made from Pignoletto grape was very impressive. Most regions produce and export some type of sparkling wine which has unique character due to the grape variety used.

But there are areas where the quality can be as good or even better than some of the champagnes. Ferrari Winery in Trentino which I visited about 5 years ago and is owned by the Lunelli family for instance, produced its first sparkling wine in 1902 after its founder getting training in champagne and using similar grapes at higher and cooler clime of Trento, similar to Champagne. Appellations like Trentino DCO, Oltrepò Pavese, and Franciacorta have implemented strict production standards as applicable in making champagne.

This heated competition might bring out better quality from the Italian producers and might continue to put the heat on the champagne producers. Russia where the czars drank champagne as a preferred drink have taken to the French bubbly like never before and yet Italian exports of the fizz recorded a 166% increase over the last year, according to Coldiretti.

This by no means spells a death knell for Champagne though. As Martelli, Lunelli and most Italian wine connoisseurs would admit that no matter how good there sparkling wines are, Champagne will remain Champagne- unless it is cheap champagne.

And the war seems to be between the nation of Italy as a whole and Champagne which is only one of the regions of France. Other regions like Loire Valley, Burgundy and Alsace also produce significant quantities of sparkling wines-generally categorized under Crémant. These are not included in the statistics and France remains the king of bubblies.

In India, Champagne still rules the roost though there other French sparklers, Spanish Cava have made efforts to take a chunk of the market. Some Italian Prosecco producers have also attempted to enter the market- the latest offering from Ammirato is priced at an extremely affordable and competitive price of under Rs.1100 in Bangalore whereas in Gurgaon it can be purchased at around Rs.1300, if purchased in a case. It remains locked away from Delhi due to the excise duties.

Undoubtedly, if the Italian producers zero in on this market, they may achieve the kind of sales growth they have in Russia, albeit at a much lower current base-without denting the champagne market much

Subhash Arora



Leonardo Visconti di Modrone . Says:

I certainly share your favourable comments over the Italian sparkling wine PIGNOLETTO DI TIZZANO. The Italian Ambassador in Delhi is a real connaisseur! Leonardo Visconti di Modrone Italian Ambassador in Madrid

Posted @ January 10, 2011 12:08


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