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Turn off the Tap: the War of Prosecco

Turn off the Tap: the War of Prosecco

In 2014 UK sales increased by 75%: prosecco on tap is now a reality in the consumption lifestyles, but Italian producers disagree with this trend. Here's why.

By FDL on

How would you react if they offered you a can of champagne? And how would you feel if, instead of opening a bottle, they pulled you a pint of prosecco? Whilst our eyes and taste buds have fortunately been spared the cans of champagne so far, prosecco on tap is now a reality in the consumption lifestyles of millions of British consumers, who lap it up. Let there be no doubt about it: the tap version is not authentic prosecco. In most cases, it is a passable sparkling wine, Italian if you are lucky. No relation at all to the wine protected by the Designation of Origin Trademark, the wine which, for the first time ever in 2014, sold more bottles worldwide than its even nobler and, above all, highly reputed French cousin: champagne.

In the United States, its sales have soared by 30%, exceeding one million crates (10 million bottles), amounting to a value of 150 million dollars. But Prosecco’s main export market is actually the United Kingdom: in 2014 UK sales increased by 75%, for an estimated value of one billion British pounds. Bubbles with an excellent price-quality ratio (a bottle can cost under 10 pounds, less than half the price of the most economical champagne), which have seduced the British middle classes: a little luxury sparkling wine to be enjoyed as an everyday treat, or even to replace still wine at mealtimes with the less demanding vivacity of its bubbles.

A love story with a happy ending, at least so long as the love affair remained safely inside the transparent sides of a bottle. But cheating, they say, is part of human nature, and even a divinity in the shape of an excellent wine has no chance without a cork to guarantee its authenticity. The bubble that spilled the glass was a hashtag, that of #proseccoontap. The enthusiastic comments of the new fan club of prosecco on tap, from seedy Soho restaurants to rough Waterloo pubs, reached the horrified ears of the wineries of Valdobbiadene, the most renowned production area of prosecco DOCG, a trademark carrying a twofold guarantee.

All hell broke loose among the gentle hills of that part of north eastern Italy, which provide ample shelter from the northerly winds to its vineyards. The “pint of prosecco” definitely did not go down well with the producers of this wine which brims over with fruity and floral notes, but is no less solid than an oak, at least when it comes to defending its dignity. A wine which has already been put sorely to the test down through the years: the Brazilian “Prosecco Garibaldi”, “Prosecco Vintage” from Australia, Croatian “Prošek “ etcetera, all imitations which led the producers of this sparkling wine - made from the glera varietal in an area of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia according to the Charmat method – to join forces to safeguard their creature by placing it under the protective wing of the DOC designation.

But now the threat comes from the United Kingdom and from one of its most venerated institutions, the British pub. And to think that it was an English gentleman, explorer and writer Fynes Moryson, who first recorded, in 1593, the new name of the celebrated local wine, one of the best in Italy, “now called Prosecho”. The outcome of the row is that prosecco on tap is considered to be fraud by Italy, Europe and Britain. The producers’ Consortium, backed up by Rome, has warned the UK’s Food Standards Agency and Intellectual Property Office that they risk legal prosecution if the illicit trade in “pseudo-wine pumped with carbon dioxide” and sold as prosecco is not stopped. And there was nothing Her Majesty’s subjects could do but admit defeat and turn the tap off.

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