Italy New Years Celebrations and Festivities: Prosecco or Champagne Toast?
New Years Eve in Italy is a day of family gatherings, celebration, and festivities filled with food, drink, and lots of music, dancing and singing among family and friends. From Milan to Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples, and all the town and villages in Italy you may hear the sound of fireworks and the pop of…Prosecco.
Although Champagne is the reigning king of the New Year’s Eve pop, Italy’s Prosecco makers from the Veneto region feel they have finally arrived to the party as well.
Prosecco arrived in the United States around 1984, and since then has enjoyed exponential growth. The United States has become the biggest importer of the sparking wine from steep-hilled villages surrounding Conegliano and Valdobbiadene in Italy’s Veneto region. Today, about 60 percent of all prosecco — some eight million cases — comes from producers outside the traditional prosecco-growing region of Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, a cluster of villages about a half-hour’s drive north of Venice. The newcomers are not held to the same strict production standards as the traditional producers, which are tightly governed under Italian wine laws.
With its fresh flavor, pleasing bubbles and gentle price tag — it typically sells for $10 to $20 a bottle — prosecco has gained many fans worldwide. Global sales have been growing by double-digit percentages for 10 years, to more than 150 million bottles last year. And with consumers in an economizing mood this holiday season, prosecco is an increasingly popular alternative to Champagne, which has been soaring in price.
A host of producers elsewhere in Italy and as far away as Brazil are trying to cash in on the drink’s newfound popularity. Because prosecco is the name of a grape, like chardonnay or cabernet, anyone can use the name.
The region’s turn of fortunes, though, is relatively recent. Although prosecco grapes have been cultivated here for three centuries, in the early days they were made mostly into still wine for local consumption. The vines shared the steep hillsides with more valuable cows and sheep.
It was only after a new method for producing sparkling wine became widespread in the mid-1900s that things began to change.
Champagne and other sparkling wines typically get their bubbles when they are fermented a second time, with added sugar and yeast. The yeast feeds on the sugar and converts into alcohol and carbon dioxide. When the bottle is opened, the escaping gas gives the wine its bubbles and characteristic “pop.”
Champagne re-ferments in bottles, an expensive and labor-intensive process. But the new production methods allowed prosecco makers to re-ferment their wine in large tanks, a process that kept prices down. That, and prosecco’s light, delicate flavor and low alcohol content, made it an especially versatile wine.
IN Italy, prosecco is enjoyed year-round — and practically around the clock. “The only moment we don’t drink it is for breakfast,” Mr. Giustiniani says.
That approachability has helped propel the popularity of prosecco — in the 1960s throughout Italy, in the ’80s in Germany and neighboring countries and in the ’90s in the United States, which today is prosecco’s No. 1 market outside of Italy.
THE threat of foreign-brand prosecco has prompted northern Italian producers, of both D.O.C. and I.G.T. prosecco, to work together to protect their turf. They say they believe that their proposal will raise quality and prevent others from calling their products prosecco.
The plan would create a broad new D.O.C. designation to govern the hundreds of I.G.T. prosecco producers that have sprung up across eight northern Italian provinces in the plains from Treviso to Trieste. The producers would have to comply with strict quality controls, including lower yields per hectare and stronger oversight.
The region of Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, meanwhile, would be elevated to Italy’s highest designation for wine regions, known as D.O.C.G.
The key is to link prosecco to its traditional home.
“We don’t want to end up with something like pinot grigio,” says Primo Franco, owner of the Nino Franco winery in Valdobbiadene, referring to another white wine grape from the Veneto region that today is grown around the world.
Because prosecco is also the name of a northern Italian village where the grape is believed to have originated, the consortium can make an argument, too, that prosecco is a place name that can be protected just like Chianti, Champagne and others.
By bringing all of northern Italy’s prosecco makers into the fold, the winemakers hope to do more than give prosecco a territorial identity. They also want the muscle power to meet growing demand and achieve their goal of matching or even besting Champagne, which today produces some 300 million bottles a year. About 150 million bottles of Italian prosecco are produced a year.
So this New Year’s Eve the happy people living around Conegliano-Valdobbiadene will be smiling and toasting the New Year and their new growth plans to double production to match and hopefully overtake Champagne’s 300 million bottles sold annually.