Prosecco: How It Gained It's Fame and Became the Most Popular Sparkling Wine in the World

Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine, is undoubtedly the world’s most popular fizzy drink, selling more bottles than French champagne and Spanish cava COMBINED. Interestingly enough, prosecco’s success story finds itself to be relatively recent.

Originally, "Prosecco" referred to a grape variety predominantly grown in northeastern Italy, especially in the Veneto region. This grape, believed to have Croatian origins, was also cultivated in the Balkans. The Conegliano-Valdobbiadene region, known for its steep, terraced vineyards, was the primary area for Prosecco production.

In the early 2000s, Prosecco wines started gaining popularity, aided by trends like the Aperol Spritz and celebrity endorsements, such as Paris Hilton’s launch of Rich Prosecco in 2006. As the demand for Prosecco-based wines soared, producers in Veneto sought to protect the Prosecco name from being used by others. However, European regulations initially prevented a grape name from becoming an appellation (DOC).

To navigate this, Italian authorities made a very strategic move. They renamed the grape "glera," and designated a small village called Prosecco in Veneto as the basis for the new DOC region, despite the village having no vineyards and being quite distant from the main production area. This rebranding allowed them to establish Prosecco as a geographic name, thus enabling the creation of a DOC Prosecco. Clever, no? 

This change, championed by Luca Zaia, then Minister of Agriculture and now President of the Veneto region, expanded the Prosecco DOC significantly. The new region extended from the Slovak border nearly to Verona, covering a much larger area than the original Conegliano-Valdobbiadene region.

Today, technically, Prosecco is legally recognized as a region rather than a grape variety. This shift has had significant implications, such as prohibiting the use of "Prosecco" as a grape name outside this region. The European Union actively protects this geographical denomination through trade agreements, impacting countries like New Zealand and potentially Australia.

Despite its commercial success, this expansion has raised concerns about quality dilution and the challenges faced by premium producers within the region. Some argue that the association with Prosecco might hinder the ability of regions like Conegliano-Valdobbiadene to command higher prices for their top-quality wines, drawing a parallel to the "beaujolais nouveau effect" where mass popularity can sometimes overshadow premium quality.

A key factor in Prosecco’s global rise to fame has been its friendlier price compared to champagne. While champagne is often reserved for special occasions due to its higher cost, Prosecco is another option that also offers high-quality and is a more budget-friendly alternative for people. This is mainly because the “Charmatprocess is used in making prosecco, which is more efficient and cost-effective than the bottle fermentation used for Champagne. All in all, prosecco offers a light, simple, and delicate flavour, making it an excellent option where you'll get great value for its price and an enjoyable experience.

Prosecco's rise from a grape name to a renowned wine region highlights strategic regulatory action and market dynamics. Understanding the history behind prosecco shows how the long-standing tradition and regulation of a wine can result in commercial success for companies in the wine industry. Prosecco’s journey highlights the importance of protecting regional identities while navigating the global market, a lesson that continues to shape and influences wine regulations today.