Prosecco has led the charge for sparkling wine around the world, according to a report from The IWSR and just-drinks

Prosecco has led the charge for sparkling wine around the world, according to a report from The IWSR and just-drinks

Growth in sparkling wine of the non-Champagne variety has been a somewhat unheralded success story of the global wines and spirits market during the past ten years, and the product which typifies the sector's progress - and the star performer to boot - is the northern Italian fizz, Prosecco.

According to a new report from The IWSR and just-drinks, between 2002 and 2012, global shipments of non-Champagne sparkling wine shipments increased by 42.5m nine-litre cases to reach just under 181m cases. This represents a 2.5% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2006 and 2011. The report also forecasts that global sales will reach 202.57m nine-litre cases by 2016.

However, The IWSR and just-drinks' 'Global Market Review of Sparkling Wine – Forecasts to 2016' singles out Prosecco, a light-bodied and fruity sparkling wine produced in Italy’s north-eastern Veneto region, as "very much the star of the show".

The IWSR attributes the growth in sparkling wine over the past ten years to a number of factors, and Prosecco's particular success may be in no small part due to the fact that it ticks more than one of those boxes. 

Product innovation, which brings new consumers to sparkling wine, has without doubt been a key growth driver. Prosecco has a very different character from Champagne, and is therefore different from many other sparkling wines on the market which aim to emulate the world's most successful sparkler. It not only has a lower alcohol level, usually 11% abv or below, which in today's market may also be an advantage, but is also less acidic and has softer bubbles. 

One common feature shared by all of the largest sparkling wine markets, such as France, Germany, northern Italy and Catalonia, is that consumers tend to consume sparkling wine on an everyday basis rather than in a celebratory role. One of the catalysts behind the strong growth in recent years is that this style of consumption is becoming the norm in other countries such as the US, UK and Australia. "In these markets, sparkling wine has moved from its celebratory role towards more of an aperitif style of usage," the report states.

This trend has undoubtedly favoured Prosecco, which is described in the report as being "a quality, everyday wine at an affordable price". It is generally regarded as a versatile, easy-to-drink wine.

In addition to the trend in many markets towards enjoying sparkling wine as an everyday drink and as an aperitif, the sparkling wine boom has also been aided by the growing popularity of cocktails, as bartenders have looked to give their cocktails an effervescent quality through the addition of a sparkling wine. Once again, this has benefited Prosecco.

The use of Prosecco within a mixed cocktail called the Aperol Spritz has been a key growth driver in Italy, Austria, Switzerland and the US.

Interestingly, up to the 1960s, Prosecco was a sweet wine, more like Asti Spumante than the crisper sparkling wines that are most popular today. However, since then high-quality dry Proseccos have emerged which has undoubtedly created a more marketable product.

By 2009, exports of Prosecco overtook domestic consumption for the first time, and today Germany, the US and the UK are its largest markets. However, the Prosecco boom has extended well beyond these principal markets, as Massimo Tuzzi, export director of Veneto wine group Zonin, explains. 

"The global Prosecco market has been growing in a significant and consistent way for the last six years. Whereas a few years ago it was more concentrated in a few countries, this is now a worldwide trend."

The production area for Prosecco has been expanded as demand has increased. Total production capacity was only around 5m bottles in the 1970s but had risen to 195.5m bottles by 2010, with some 533 bottling producers. The potential vineyard area is 19,500 hectares and producers aim to increase production further, to some 240m bottles in the coming years. 

Prosecco's success has undoubtedly been underpinned by the wine's excellent price-quality ratio. However. producers are keen to build the wine's image with the aim of raising prices and increasing profits. Indeed, as the IWSR/just-drinks report points out, this is the primary challenge for Prosecco, as it is for many of the sparkling wines which have seen their volumes increase over the past ten years.

Developments regarding the geographical denomination of Prosecco have helped towards this end. Italian wine authorities gave Prosecco the status of a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC). Under the terms of the DOC, only grapes grown in north-eastern Italy can be used to make the wine called Prosecco.

In a further move that could provide just the sort of image-building effect producers have in mind, a higher denomination of origin, known as a DOCG, was conferred on Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, the small area in the region where traditionally the highest quality Proseccos have been produced.

These developments are seen as a way of building the wine's image, the report states. The first wines from the new DOC hit the market in April 2010.

However, the process of raising Prosecco's image and the prices it can command is naturally a delicate one, given that its price-quality ratio has been so key to its success. As the report warns: "With grape and other raw material prices rising, the challenge for Prosecco will be to maintain that critical price-to-quality ratio."

Since 2009, grape prices have increased by almost 70%, though retail prices have certainly not kept pace with that rate of increase. Worries over maintaining the kind of retail price-point on which Prosecco's success has been built is leading to some tensions between growers and producers, some of whom believe Prosecco is trying to climb the price ladder too quickly.

“There is growing tension on the price of the grapes, but I hope sanity will prevail and everyone will understand how important is to be competitive and to deliver value in today’s market," says Mionetto USA managing director Enore Ceola Mionetto. "Prosecco is a category in its infancy outside Italy and, like a child, we have to be protective and nurturing to make sure it grows healthily."