On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe examine how Prosecco grew in popularity over the last decade. Compared to other sparkling wines, Prosecco has a reputation for being price accessible, versatile, and approachable.
There are many reasons for this, from successful marketing campaigns to long-term brand loyalty. Does this ring true for one of the best-selling bottles in the U.S. today? Our hosts discuss these questions and more, before tasting one of the most popular Proseccos on the market. Tune in to learn more.
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Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Joanna Sciarrino: And I’m Joanna Sciarrino
Zach Geballe: In Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is the Friday “VinePair Podcast.” I kind of like that I throw in that it’s the Friday “VinePair.” I like to remind people of that.
J: I think you’re reminding yourself.
A: I’m reminding everybody. I just don’t want anyone to think, ” Oh, is this accidentally Monday?” Do you know what I mean?
J: It’s going to be extra fun when it’s Friday.
A: I mean, I’m going to be extra, extra. So on this Friday’s episode, we’re talking about bubbles. One bubble, specifically. Not like there’s only one bubble. How did the bubbles get made? I don’t know. Maybe you should listen to “Wine 101” if you need to learn that, hosted by VinePair’s tastings director Keith Beavers. He has a great episode on Prosecco. But we’re going to talk instead about the just rapid and dominant rise of this wine. I feel like Prosecco is just f*cking everywhere.
J: When did it first become very popular?
A: Oh God, at least 10 years ago.
Z: It’s been about a decade, yeah.
A: But it’s really interesting because I definitely remember very clearly, the shift post-2010, when people went from calling it Champagne to actually knowing it was Prosecco.
Z: Even starker for me was, people stopped calling every sparkling wine Champagne and would call things that were not Prosecco, Prosecco. That was a mind f*ck.
A: Zach, as someone who’s worked the floor, what do you think is the appeal? What has caused such a massive appeal of Prosecco, specifically? Because there’s lots of sparkling wine; almost every wine region in the world makes a sparkling wine. But Prosecco has really taken off in a way that no other sparkling wine really has besides Champagne. And Champagne is at such a different price point and is viewed so differently by wine connoisseurs. It’s more nuanced, it’s more intense, there’s more labor that goes into it. So yes, they’re both bubbly, but that’s basically where they end. So I’m curious what’s caused Prosecco to be just so dominant?
Z: A couple of answers here, but they’re all in one way or another tied to availability and price. The first of them is that Prosecco across the board, whether you’re looking at your absolute least expensive Prosecco up to your premium Proseccos, is just so much less expensive than Champagne. And we track the rise of this. It’s not a surprise that Prosecco’s big boom started in a period of economic turmoil, the Great Recession. That’s when it first starts really picking up. People are like, “I want to drink bubbles, but I’m not drinking Champagne when the stock market’s in the sh*tter.” I can’t do that, right? I mean, some people could and did still. But a lot of people either had to shift their purchasing habits or felt compelled to. That goes for individuals, and it certainly goes for restaurants and stuff like that. You started to see the glass-pour list — to hearken back to Monday’s episode — shift from the glass-pour sparkling wine default for restaurants being Champagne, to being Prosecco. It was a very different landscape in that period of time, right? Prosecco was cheaper, you could offer a glass of sparkling wine for $10. You didn’t have to charge $16 or $17. You didn’t think your clientele was willing to do it. So that’s one piece. The second piece is that Prosecco, especially the big brands, are ubiquitous wines in the U.S. these days. They’re widely available. They’re very consistent. People know exactly what they’re getting, and that really appealed to people in a way that even the big Champagne houses couldn’t. Adam or Joanna you can correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think there’s anyone who could match, in terms of scale, the biggest Prosecco producers in terms of volume available. There are a couple of Cava producers or others who produce a similar amount of liquid, and that allows for that ubiquity. It means that you can find these Proseccos that you might like in every grocery store in the country, if you want. And that’s a big thing for people, too. They see a label they recognize. They see a wine they recognize. They go, “I like this.” It’s $11, $13, or $9. I’m going to grab it. I’m going to be happy with it.” The last piece of this, I think this is really important too, and it’s something that I want to come back to later in this conversation is, Prosecco didn’t carry the Champagne baggage. It didn’t feel stuffy. It didn’t feel only for celebratory occasions. It’s a brunch wine. You could pour orange juice in it, and no one’s going be like, “Are you a f*cking monster? What are you doing?”
A: Who are you?
Z: Exactly. It’s however you want to drink it. You want to put ice cubes in it? You want to put juice in it? You want to put up a liqueur in it? It does it all, it doesn’t give a sh*t. No one’s going to look at you askance for doing that. And that has allowed it to capture this huge amount of market and mindshare for people, because Prosecco is fun in a way that Champagne wishes it could be.
A: I think that’s 100 percent true. Prosecco is fun in the way that Champagne wishes it could be. If you get to a level of net worth, Champagnes are a lot of fun and you get to have it all the time. But if you don’t, Champagne is still, even for the majority of Americans, just a special-occasion wine. It’s either special because you’re having friends over for dinner and it’s one of those bottles you’ve been saving. It’s a holiday, it’s a promotion. It’s an engagement. It’s an anniversary. It’s not just f*cking Friday. I would love to be at the level of my life where just f*cking Friday meant f*cking Champagne, but it doesn’t. I enjoy that you can have that with Prosecco. That’s really what, I think, has caused explosive growth. On the marketing side, the big brands that have really built the category — and we’re going to try one of them — have done a really good job of subtly teasing their colors towards other luxury brands. If you look at the La Marca bottle, for example, what does that blue look like to you besides La Marca? It looks like Tiffany.
J: Oh, I was like another bottle?
A: It looks like Tiffany. It’s not Tiffany blue, because it can’t be, because they would be sued. But that light blue means luxury. You look at the Mionetto bottle, right? That looks a little bit like a very famous Champagne brand. But it also looks like a very well-known luxury clothing brand. They use those colors. If you look at some of the other brands out there, like Zonin is now bringing red in, and that looks a lot like Ferrari and things like that. There’s an ideal color scheme that people are using that signal luxury, but then you still have the price point that’s accessible. That’s very unique to Prosecco, whereas a lot of Champagne still have the crests and the baggage — unless they are Champagnes and brands that everyone knows. Everyone knows what Veuve looks like because it’s Veuve, or what Dom Pérignon or Krug looks like. But that is really interesting about Prosecco, and these brands have just done an amazing job with that. They’ve done an amazing job with the design of the bottles, the colors they’re using, and the ways that they are popping up in the displays that just signal accessible luxury to people. It’s what we’ve talked about as the millennial “high-low.” It’s the accessible luxury of modern life, and that’s what Prosecco really is.
J: I think a factor that plays into this as well is that for a lot of people, Prosecco is the first alcohol you’re drinking. For young people who are going to brunch, they’re ordering Prosecco. So it’s an affordable celebration for them as well. And then that’s something that they continue to carry with them for the rest of their lives. Again with the brand loyalty, among the sea of Proseccos, they know that bottle is a good one and they can get it and it’s $13 or $15. And for the younger generation, that’s just a very consistent thing that they can have.
A: Yeah, 100 percent.
Z: I also think there’s a flavor component that’s important to note here, too. Prosecco is fun and cheaper and so therefore you can kind of throw stuff at it and you’re not going to feel like a jerk for doing so. Prosecco as a whole is markedly sweeter than Champagne is. It’s more analogous to what Champagne used to be, to my understanding. Champagne used to be a beverage with detectable sweetness to it. And it was made that way and in large part because that’s what the consumer preference was. That’s what balanced out the acidity. Prosecco has, with some exceptions, not really moved away from slightly off-dry style, which people really like. Whether it’s in that brunch setting, whether it’s that happy hour setting or whatever it is, a little bit of sweetness may not be perceived super clearly. Prosecco, like all sparkling wine, has a high level of acidity and the carbonation adds to the acidity, so it doesn’t come off as cloying at all. But there is a sweetness of the initial palate impression, and that makes a big difference to people. It makes the beverage more accessible. As Joanna said, for a lot of people, it’s something they encounter when they’re very young. It’s one of their first alcoholic beverages, maybe one of their first wines that they consume either legally or illegally. That element of sweetness is hugely important for getting people attached to it. That is something that Champagne, in its sort of zeal for brut nature, no dosage, totally bone dry as the benchmark for the category, might be wise to think about. Whether or not that is, in fact, serving them in the long run.
A: That’s interesting.
J: Does Champagne care, though?
A: No, especially with their numbers recently. In the U.S., Champagne just outsold Great Britain for the first time. So at least for right now, I think they’re doing just fine. As we discussed before when we were producing our Champagne list for this last year, producers would say, “We’re really sorry, we can’t submit samples, we literally don’t have anything in stock.” So they’re doing just fine recently. But I do agree with your point there, Zach. I think that’s what has hooked Prosecco into the hearts of so many people, it’s that accessibility when you first have it.
J: And it’s very versatile, too.
A: It’s a lot of fresh fruit, and it’s very refreshing. You’re not trying to understand the brioche. You’re not sitting here being like, “Do I understand this? Do I appreciate it?” There’s a lot of secondary aromas and flavors with Champagne that you just don’t get with Prosecco. But the other thing that I’m interested about with Prosecco is that the other thing we’ve seen in the last few years is that it has been extremely dominant, but now you see a lot of these brands branching out with higher premium cuvées or these DOCG cuvées and things like that. I’m wondering if they are going to be able to get the consumer to trade up. Because what the consumer likes, I think, is this very solid, quality, normal Prosecco. The consumer is not looking for the premium Prosecco. I think the consumer is looking for the Prosecco that is accessible at the price point of under $20. They’re not looking for a $30 Prosecco, because once Prosecco starts playing in that price point, then it’s competing against the lower-priced Champagnes and the lower-priced, high-quality Cavas and things like that. I think Prosecco would do very well to stay in that under $20-$25 price point. The second it gets more, it really will lose the appeal that it has right now. That’s what I personally believe, but I’m curious what both of you think?
J: I think that makes sense to me because of the lower range for Champagnes. But I also think that some people, if they’re going somewhere, don’t want to bring a $15 bottle of Prosecco to a party. They want to bring…
A: The higher-end Prosecco. That’s true, I guess I could see that. Everyone uses Wine-Searcher; people want to know what people pay.
A: We’re like, “Oh, so you brought the premium cuvée; thank you for spending.”
Z: Even as you move into those higher-end bottlings, whether they’re the DOCG bottlings or whatnot, you are seeing a marked difference. Prosecco is not, at its higher level, trying to be just like Champagne. There are other regions in Italy that are intentionally centered around this idea of, “We’re going to try and make wine as close to Champagne as possible, but in Italy.” Prosecco, and I think to its credit, has said we’re sticking with Glera, which is the grape. Or now there’s a little bit of Pinot Noir if you’re making a rosé Prosecco, which we haven’t talked about but probably should. We’re going to emphasize in a lot of these cases that we’re pulling from a specific hillside, or “rive,” as they’re called in the classic Prosecco region of Conegliano Valdobbiadene. Those are selling points to a subset of Prosecco consumers, whether it’s for a special occasion or for a gift or whatever, are still brand loyal to Prosecco at large. But they recognize, “Hey, maybe I don’t want to give a bottle of Mionetto or LaMarca to someone or I don’t want to bring it to a dinner party.” Even if it’s one I might bring to a brunch or what I might drink on a regular basis. I want to find something that feels a little more special, a little bit more premium. And I disagree with you, Adam. I think it’s good for Prosecco to have options for people in those categories, because they exist for sure. I’m not saying that all these producers are going to say, “Actually, f*ck our DOC Prosecco, we’re just going to shift over to producing $35 bottles of single-rive Prosecco DOCG.” That’s not happening and it won’t happen. It shouldn’t happen. But it’s a product that is recognizable to people, that carries some of that element of fun and frivolity that Prosecco has so tapped into but gives someone what feels like more of an elevated experience from time to time, which is probably a wise strategic move.
A: OK, I stand corrected. This is very fair, thank you.
Z: And I would encourage people, if you have not tried some of those premium Proseccos, you should. They’re really good.
A: They are really good.
J: I mean, we have a nice list of them on the site.
A: We do have a nice list of them on the site. They are really good and there’s some really interesting ones. It’s just such a phenomenon. You always wonder when something like this is so explosive, how much of it is flavor profile, how much of it is price, and how much of it is design? Maybe it’s all of it, right? But I do agree, it is a nice thing. The brands that you’ve talked about, like Mionetto and LaMarca, have been very smart. They have introduced premium offerings, which people are now also gravitating towards. I’m not going to bring you LaMarca, I’m going to bring you Luminore, their high-end one. Maybe that has an all-organic green bottle. It’s that same kind of idea. You have to think they’ve done market research to figure that out and understand the use cases for those.
Z: Can I ask one last question for you guys before we taste? How much of this is just because people like Italy better than France?
A: I mean, I like Italy better than France.
A: Oh, f*ck, yeah.
J: Interesting. Just like their wines or?
A: Everything about it.
J: OK, I’ll take it. As an Italian-American, I’ll take this.
A: The wines, the people, the culture, the food. They’re just the best people. They’re the warmest, This is a total aside, but you’ve asked the question so I will tell you. Before having anything to do with VinePair, when I was in Italy and you go taste with someone there, they treat you like you’re the most important person whether or not you’re in wine. Now I’m in VinePair, and it’s the same f*cking treatment, and that is a compliment. I have not had the same treatment in other countries that maybe make Brie. It’s just not the same. France is a great country. I love the cuisine, but the snobbery is just way too f*cking much. Italy is just an incredible country.
Z: I think that even for people who haven’t traveled there or who haven’t experienced that, ambiently and culturally, French things have an air of snobbery. I think that helps Champagne in its own way. There are ways in which it benefits producers in various places. France has this air of sophistication that I think Italy can match, but isn’t as integral to our American ideas of these countries. Italy is the fun place, right?
J: It’s more approachable.
Z: Yeah, there’s no French equivalent of Olive Garden. No one would conceive of a French-themed restaurant where, if you’re here, you’re family. That sh*t resonates with people, I think.
A: There’s an honesty to it, to the wines and the people. There’s an earnestness. Look, I love Champagne. We all know that I love Burgundy and Bordeaux. I love these wines, too. But there’s something about Italy that feels like a hug.
Z: Sometimes a hug that goes on too long, but definitely a hug.
A: It’s Friday, so yeah. Maybe it’s a long hug.
J: Is it too long?
A: I mean, maybe. I think that’s why, again, Prosecco has done so well. It’s this approachability. In our culture, there is something about “la dolce vita.” I think the reason that the Italian wines that do well, do well, is the total difference in the cultures. We’re talking from a marketing perspective on what we believe. France is all about haute couture, beauty, premium, high end. In Italy, there is that, but it’s almost more of an effortless style. Great clothes come from Italy, great cars come from Italy. But then there’s an accessibility to that. I think Americans have always struggled with the attainability of France. If you read some of the fashion articles, it’s like, what is it about French people that they look so high-end and we can’t match that? With Italy, they look high-end, but I could also do. They make it look easier. It’s just a white shirt and a nice pair of pants, right? That’s a difference that exists culturally. The wines, I think, cause people to feel they can gravitate more to them, especially when it comes to Prosecco. The thing that Italy struggles with, that France has on them, is that France has taught everyone about their grapes and how to pronounce them, and Italy hasn’t. That’s then where Italy is always going to struggle. They just have so many more native varietals. They have so many more wine regions to figure out and understand and place names. Whereas everyone’s like, “I know Bordeaux, I know Burgundy, I know Pinot Noir. I know Cabernet.” But Prosecco is what Italy hopes will happen with every single one of its regions. It’s just a boom. And with that, let’s try a Prosecco. This is the No. 2-selling Prosecco in America after LaMarca. It’s been a while since I’ve had this, it’s Mionetto. The orange that I was obviously thinking of is the company that makes the Birkin bag.
J: Speaking of French.
A: It’s that Hermés orange. I don’t own any Hermés, so this is my closest.
J: I have a scarf.
A: You have an Hermés scarf? Nice. Again, this is what we’re talking about. It’s this connection to a different luxury product. It’s giving that signal, this orange looks very regal. When’s the last time that either of you had Mionetto?
Z: I have had it before, but it’s been a while.
A: You can’t not have ever had it. Have you ever had an Aperol Spritz?
Z: I’ve had it for sure.
J: Recently. My sister-in-law and I like to drink Prosecco sometimes on the weekend. This is a bottle we always get, because we know it.
A: I don’t know if they still do, because Campari now has their own Prosecco, but for a while, they had a strategic partnership with Aperol. So you would see them in marketing campaigns together, but I think that also helped the brand a lot.
Z: The label’s also that Aperol Spritz color. So that Spritz color helps, too. It’s exactly what you want.
A: Ours isn’t even in our glass yet.
Z: Oh, sorry. Well, I got started early. It’s Friday, man. What do you want?
A: It’s been a really long time since I’ve had Mionetto. Let’s try this.
Z: The suspense is killing me, Adam.
J: This is very easy-drinking.
A: It’s a solid Prosecco. Everything about this is why people like Prosecco. It’s light, it’s crisp, it’s a little fruity. It has that little bit of sweetness, like you talked about, except it’s not cloyingly sweet. It’s not like we’re drinking a demi-sec. I can see why people love these wines.
Z: If it came to your table at a restaurant with a carafe of orange juice, you would not have one moment’s hesitation to dump orange juice in. That’s such a huge thing for this. People feel permissed to drink it however the f*ck they want. They’re not worried that someone’s going to be like, “Oh my God.” And that, I think, is a big deal for people. So many wines come with so many expectations and people’s fears that they’re doing it wrong. Prosecco is a wine where you almost can’t do it wrong. There is no context in which people are going to feel shamed for how they drink it, and I think that has really helped it become such a behemoth.
A: To close this out, there’s definitely been other wines and wine regions that we’ve worked with in the past on the marketing side at VinePair that have gotten very angry whenever someone on our integrated marketing team has suggested a campaign that involves using their wine in any kind of cocktail or anything that would be not just their wine as their wine. Brands like Mionetto and others — most Proseccos — have been really smart to say, “F*ck it, we’re fine with you doing it that way.” As you’re saying, this alliance with Aperol and the Aperol Spritz shows that. We’re fine with that, we celebrate that. You’re right, Zach, that it then makes people feel way more comfortable with the wine. If I want to take this and mix it with orange juice, that’s totally cool. It’s awesome. Well, happy Friday, guys.
J: Happy Friday!
A: I hope you have great weekends, everybody out there. If you have a favorite Prosecco, let us know. Hit us up at [email protected]. I will talk to you both on Monday.
J: See you then!
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all of this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team, who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.