Today I want to talk about two subjects I’ve thought a bit about: Prosecco and rosé.
Actually, it’s one subject: The arrival of Prosecco rosé, which is set to splash onto the market in less than a year, on New Year’s Day 2021.
My immediate reaction was suspicion. Wasn’t this more evidence that the world was going to hell in a wine basket? Were my adopted countrymen, Italians, cravenly trying to cash in on two wine trends in order to feed our never-ending thirst for novelty?
But after some reflection and listening—actions once considered normal before Twitter—I am not so sure.
I mean, why not have Prosecco rosé? (Or as I’m dubbing it, “Rosécco.”) Personally, my heart still beats red, but when I look around, I see lots of pink wine and bubbles from everywhere.
True, there is already a lot of mediocre Prosecco—much of it splashed into cocktails like the popular Aperol spritz—among the nearly half-billion bottles produced in the Prosecco zone that spreads across northeastern Italy’s Veneto and Friuli regions.
But what if Prosecco rosé actually turned out to be good?
Consider the set of appellation rules approved by the Prosecco Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) consortium and awaiting a perfunctory stamp of approval from Italy’s ministry of agriculture:
- Prosecco rosé will be a blend of Prosecco’s native Glera grape (the workhorse of the DOC blends) with 10 to 15 percent Pinot Noir, which is the only red grape now allowed in Prosecco, fermented without its skins to make a white wine.
- All of it will be vintage-dated rather than allowing non-vintage bottlings.
- All of it will be labeled Prosecco DOC, leaving the prime Prosecco Superiore DOCGs (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita)—the hills of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, as well as Asolo—unaffected by the change in regulations.
The time required to vinify it in vat will be 60 days—double that of Prosecco.
- It can range in style from extremely dry (“brut nature”) to slightly sweet (“extra dry”).
- The color will be pale, lighter than most Italian pinks (a bit of appropriation of fashionable Provence rosé).
“It will have the taste of Prosecco—with freshness, floral notes and fruit,” explains Luca Giavi, executive director of the Prosecco DOC consortium. “But it will be important that you also taste Pinot Noir, with its strawberry flavor and tannins.”
One forward-thinking Prosecco producer, Desiderio Bisol & Figli president Gianluca Bisol calls the pinkening of Prosecco a “natural evolution.”
“From the beginning, we have been able to blend 15 percent Pinot Noir in Prosecco, so why use it only to make white wine?” he says. “It was strange that you could use Pinot Noir, but not the color of Pinot Noir.”
In contrast, Primo Franco, one of the pioneers of quality Prosecco from Valdobbiadene, is not impressed. “It’s pure business from the big industrial players. A way to be greedy. We don’t need this kind of message,” rails Franco, whose Nino Franco winery currently makes a non-DOC pink brut spumante called Faìve from Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
Franco and other skeptics told me that it would have made more sense for a Prosecco rosé to use an indigenous red variety like Raboso, named for the river that flows through the region.
Point taken. Why define an Italian appellation wine with an internationally grown French variety?
But Franco and other critics I spoke to do see one upside to creating a Prosecco rosé category: It could help clear up confusion.
For example, many American restaurants, wine shops and online wine retailers list some Italian sparkling pink wines as Prosecco rosé—even though there is no such thing yet. If it’s made by a producer of Prosecco, the logic seems to go, it’s got to be Prosecco.
“There is a lot of product that people are buying in the market thinking that it is Prosecco, but it’s made with other kinds of grapes, even from other parts of Italy,” says Giavi.
When the consortium did a study of American wine consumers two years ago, he says, “Forty-six percent of consumers thought they had already drunk Prosecco rosé!”
After a drinking joke or two, we’ll give a point to the wine bureaucracy: It should be clear to all what we are drinking. If it doesn’t say Prosecco rosé on the label, it’s not Prosecco rosé.
Now, at least some producers who have been making sparkling rosés outside of the constraints for Prosecco will be shifting production to take advantage of the new category.
Bisol—the first producer to plant Pinot Noir in the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOCG—used to make a higher-end, Champagne-style rosé with it. (It was discontinued in 2014 after Bisol was bought by the Lunelli Group, which already owned Cantine Ferrari, Italy’s most significant producer of metodo classic sparklers.) Next year, Bisol’s 20 acres of Pinot will go into recrafting the winery’s Jeio rosé, turning it from a generic spumante (now from Merlot and Pinot Noir) into Prosecco rosé.
Similarly, Veneto-based Zonin, a 2 million–case producer with 10 wineries across Italy, currently makes a pink spumante from Glera, Pinot Noir and Garganega. Zonin will shift much of the Pinot to Prosecco rosé production in 2021.
“When you think of Prosecco as an appellation, it makes sense. It’s another expression of the appellation and the terroir,” says Zonin vice president Francesco Zonin. “It probably won’t be a major sparkling category, but it’s interesting.”
For now, the Prosecco consortium and area producers expect to have somewhat limited quantities of rosé on the market, maybe less than 3 million cases for now. But eventually, they expect it to become—as rosé has in Champagne—about 10 percent of Prosecco production.
In the end, the fate of Prosecco rosé depends on how its producers treat it. Will it be a fine wine or a commodity? Top shelf or bargain bin? Class or crass?
Only thing that’s for sure: It’s coming.