July 03: Prosecco DOCG, the classic Prosecco from Le Colline del Prosecco di Conegliano e Valdobbiadene-the Prosecco Hills in North-eastern Italy sold a record number of 92 million bottles in 2019, when it was also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July, writes Subhash Arora who laments that Indian wine lovers have been missing out on the beauty of this region and the delicious sparklers due to lack of knowledge and appreciation
Several year ago, after visiting the region first in 2007, I penned down a few lines, inspired by the song Strawberry Fields forever sung by the Beatles in 1967 and still relevant:
Let me take you down
cause I am going to
where the bubbles are cool
and plenty to look around
Prosecco ..Hills are... forever!
This became even more relevant last year as the Prosecco Hills- Le Colline del Prosecco di Conegliano e Valdobbiadene, the meandering mountainous 27 kms stretch between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene in Italy where Prosecco docg has been produced since 2009 (earlier it used to be mostly Prosecco DOC area) was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July last year. It was reported in delWine:
As if rewarded by Bacchus, God of Wine, the UNESCO-recognised Prosecco docg region produced and sold in 2019 a record number of 92 million bottles, the largest number since the creation of the DOC Denomination in 1969 and eventual upgradation to DOCG in 2009.
The total number of bottles sold of sparkling Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. corresponds to just under 50 million, with a value of around €296 million for sales in the Italian market (56.3 percent), and almost 39 million bottles, with a value of about 202 million Euro, for exports (43.7 percent). The balance small quantity was of non- docg wines.
Exports of DOCG wines are growing steadily due to the producers’ desire and ability to reach new markets where demand is increasing, whereas consumption within Italy is contracting slightly due to the commercial strategy of targeting the more quality-led on- premise channel rather than the price conscious retail.
Traditionally, Prosecco DOCG are slightly more expensive than the ubiquitous DOC wines which are produced in more flat areas, that churned out 486 million bottles, thus totalling about 580 million bottles, marginally lower than the estimated 600 million bottles in their previous year. Average cost of these bottles was €5.70 which is about 25-30% higher than that of the Prosecco DOC.
Prosecco has been demarcated into 2 zones since 2009 when DOC was produced primarily in these Hills and IGT from the rest of the defined area in Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia in the Northeast of Italy. Besides the area in Prosecco Hills, the area defined for DOC has been in territories falling within 4 provinces of Friuli Venezia Giulia (Gorizia, Pordenone, Trieste and Udine) and 5 provinces of Veneto (Belluno, Padua, Treviso, Venice, Vicenza).
Trieste and Treviso have played such a fundamental role in the history of Prosecco production that if harvesting, wine-making and bottling all take place entirely within these provinces, special titles of Prosecco DOC Treviso and Prosecco DOC Trieste may be used. Approximately 1200 wineries including a few mega-sized wineries like Zonin and co-operatives produce over 20-25 million bottles of Prosecco DOC.
The production zone for DOCG bubblies includes 15 municipal areas: Conegliano, San Vendemiano, Colle Umberto, Vittorio Veneto, Tarzo, Cison di Valmarino, San Pietro di Feletto, Refrontolo, Susegana, Pieve di Soligo, Farra di Soligo, Follina, Miane, Vidor, and Valdobbiadene. It has its own independent Consortium headed currently by Innocente Nardi.
Production of Prosecco DOCG is limited due to the difficulty in expanding production in the very steep hills where harvest and viticulture is all done by hands and the area available is limited, unlike in the relatively plain area of Prosecco DOC where cost or production is also much lower.
Today, every established importer in India distributes at least one Prosecco- Brindco and Aspri have more than one. With about 20-30% growth annually, this is the fastest growing segment of the imported wine market. Unfortunately, due to lack of education and the cost difference, there is hardly any import of DOCG wines-even Carpene Malvolti has shifted to DOC wines because of cost difference. One cannot fathom the import of Superiore di Cartizze DOCG which is the epitome of high quality and fetches almost double the price of a DOCG at around €12 a bottle, with a higher sugar level of 17-28 gms of sugar/liter.
The region could give Tuscany a run for its money in terms of beauty and touristic charm with several wayside restaurants and agriturismos (B & B in the vineyards). I had first travelled to this region in 2007 when I really fell in love with it and highly recommended it for the Indian market because of high taxes making Champagne more expensive. I even wrote about a few of the wineries I had visited. I strongly urged the Consortium of Prosecco Producers to conduct road shows in India to popularise the drink and make more people aware of the bubbly but could not convince them to participate due to their tight budgets.
UK (12.7 m), Germany (6.7 m) and Switzerland (5.2 m) are the biggest markets, followed by the US, Benelux, Austria and Canada.
Prosecco was granted the DOC status in 1969 for wines from this region. Wines from outside the region were given the IGT status only. But with the unprecedented growth in demand throughout the world and shortage of wine from the DOC area and with many copycats springing up, the original DOC area was elevated as Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG (or Superiore) in August 2009. The IGT status was changed to the DOC status by a governmental decree. This area has increased the supply significantly-many entry level wines from this area have now found their way in the world at much lesser prices.
Prosecco Hills designated UNESCO World Heritage Site
Prosecco Superiore is Superior to Prosecco
Say ‘Chak de Phatte’ with Prosecco This Festive Season
Wine Travels: Passing through Prosecco land
Wine Feature: Say Prost with Prosecco
Hopefully, we will have some connoisseurs in India trading up during the next few years and demand Prosecco DOCG wines, and will be willing to pay a higher price for better quality. If you believe beyond what’s in the glass and appreciate the history, geography and the sociology behind the beautiful region of Prosecco Hills, you would love to have a glass or two of this delicious wine as you sing along:
Let me take you down
cause I am going to,
where the bubbles are cool
and plenty to look around,
Prosecco Hills are... forever!