Prosecco's Identity

Is it an Italian thing? For most of the world, yes. Australia begs to differ

Prosecco's Identity
Would Prosecco by any other name sell so sweetly? Italians now call the grape variety Glera to distinguish it from the appellation, but Australian wineries still refer to it as Prosecco. (Stefano Mazzola/Awakening/Getty Images)
Sep 29, 2022

A typical story from the summer of 2022: I was trapped in an airport lounge, cooling my heels for six hours before I learned my flight was canceled.

As a result of all that free time, I allowed myself to get sucked into a Twitter feud. This one was about, of all the things going on in the world, Prosecco.

The spark was a relatively obscure news event: Under New Zealand’s recently signed trade agreement with Europe, Prosecco was included on a list of Old Continent appellations that the Kiwis agreed to protect.

The deal most notably edged out the young and booming Prosecco industry of Australia, whose principal export market is New Zealand. In five years, when that part of the agreement takes effect, New Zealand—like most of the Western world (and in the last year, China)—will only allow wines to be labeled “Prosecco” if they come from Italy’s Prosecco wine zone.

Though this might have normally been a snoozer of a story, it sounded alarms in a corner of wine-loving Twitter.

“Sad and infuriating news,” wrote one London-based “wine marketer” who works for a small quality import company there, “as now the Kiwis cave to … nonsense.”

“This is ridiculous,” echoed a British wine writer. “How have the Italians got away with this one?”

As an Italophile, my first reaction was to get defensive. Italian products are among the most copied in the world. Frankly, I wish Italy got a dime for every “Neapolitan” pizza, every ounce of fake “Parmesan” cheese, every bastardized “Caprese” salad or Tuscan or Sicilian this-and-that sold in the world. Then the country might be able to pay off its insurmountable debts!

Why all the fuss over Prosecco? Shouldn’t Prosecco producers stand up for their appellation in the same way that producers from Champagne to Chianti and Bordeaux to Barolo stand up for theirs?

The answer is “Yes*”—with an asterisk for Prosecco’s particular nuances.

Prosecco is the name of a white grape that has been grown in northeastern Italy for centuries, referred to by different names since antiquity. The term has also been associated with sparkling wine there since at least the 18th century.

In this century, it’s become the most sold (by volume) sparkling wine in the world.

With the worldwide boom, Prosecco producers sought to protect the name by creating, in 2009, the Prosecco DOC appellation, which covers vast swaths of the Veneto and Friuli/Venezia-Giulia regions, while at the same time changing the official name of the grape to its synonym Glera.

Australian producers cried foul, contending they already had an industry based on Prosecco—the grape.

Prosecco’s history in Australia is short, but it’s thriving. Beginning in 1999, the Italo-Australian Dal Zotto winemaking family planted their first 300 Prosecco grapevines in Australia’s King Valley. Five years later, they marketed their first Prosecco sparkling wine.

King Valley producers caught the international Prosecco wave. Australian Prosecco boomed and, in 2009, the Dal Zottos and other Prosecco producers created their own “Prosecco Road” tourist initiative. Prosecco production has spread to other regions, and the Prosecco/Glera grape has grown to become one of Australia’s most planted whites.

So, you have two countries with two success stories that share the same name.

I get that this is a headache for Australian producers, but face it: Jumping onto the Prosecco international express was a ride that was never going to last.

It’s simply not accurate to say in the 21st century that Prosecco is “just a grape variety” with no claim to place. The global wine market and consumers associate Prosecco with a range of styles of modestly priced bubbly—fun, easy and potentially great—developed in Italy as a counterpoint to pricier Champagne.

The situation isn’t worth sour grapes. Ultimately, it presents Australian Prosecco producers with a chance to give their sparkling wines a unique name.

Great wines are recognized first by the place they are grown and made—not the grape variety.

Australian producers can continue making the same bubbly they make now. There are just fewer and fewer places outside Australia where they can sell it as “Prosecco.” The name King Valley, as one example, has a regal sparkle of its own. I’d run with that. Ultimately it could mean more than “Prosecco.” What’s more, it belongs to those producers. It can’t be taken away.

Learn more about Prosecco and its evolution from contributing editor Robert Camuto and senior editor Alison Napjus:

The Coming of Pink Prosecco
Vintage Prosecco with a Maestro
Travel: Proseccoland Sparkles
Prosecco’s New Wave: Christian Zago
Prosecco Sunrise: Gianluca Bisol
Dignified Prosecco: Primo Franco
Video: The ABCs of Prosecco Superiore

Opinion Sparkling Wines prosecco Italy

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