Italian sparkling wines, the trends

Author: Marco Negro

The consumption of sparkling wines is associated as much with moments of conviviality as with occasions of celebration. In these weeks, in which the catering sector is finally starting to plan the return to drinking outside home (the so-called “On-Trade business”), I have decided to analyse the sales of Italian sparkling wines. It is a real market analysis that crosses authoritative statistical data with the feelings of our collaborators, who experience first-hand the distribution reality in Russia, China, Korea and all of South East Asia.

wine experts tasting Alta Langa Docg

The sparkling wine is defined as “the most modern of wines”: the production in large quantities was possible thanks to the method of controlled refermentation, patented in Asti by Federico Martinotti in 1895. For this production it is necessary to have autoclaves and large refrigeration capacities for the conservation of wines and musts. Everything is easier than a sparkling wine production with the Classic Method, with the refermentation taking place inside the bottle. The two types of sparkling wine make up a production of 750 million bottles in Italy. What is the situation of this important part of “made in Italy”?

A little bit of statistics

In 2020 the equivalent of 750 million bottles were produced, including all Italian sparkling wines, from those with DOC and DOCG denomination of origin to “varietal” and common ones. Recent data from the “UIV Wine Observatory” show that 58% of the sparkling wines produced in Italy last year belong to a single denomination: Prosecco Doc. Another data is that 24% of the production was referred to sparkling wines with Docg and only 14% to sparkling wines without designation of origin (including sparkling wines from aromatic vines and common sparkling wines).

Glera, from which the Prosecco
Credits : photo Cantina Miotto

Which Italian regions produce the most sparkling wines? Inevitably the large area between Veneto and Friuli (7 provinces), which hosts the Glera vineyards, from which Prosecco Doc is produced. Piedmont follows, where many Moscato-based sparkling wines are produced, not only Asti Docg but also varietal sparkling wines.

Which grape for the production of sparkling wines is mostly grown in Italy? The Glera grape, from which both Prosecco Doc and other more noble Prosecco Docg sparkling wines are obtained.

Sparkling wines with the DOCG denomination represent a still growing reality: among these we remember the approximately 90 million bottles of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Docg, the 54 million bottles of Asti Docg, and the approximately 18 million bottles of Asolo Prosecco Docg.

There were about 29 million bottles of Italian Classic Method sparkling wine, disgorged and packaged in 2020: the different productions of Franciacorta Docg, Trento Doc, Alta Langa Docg and Oltrepo ‘Pavese Metodo Classico Docg add up. For this article, the Legami Team re-tasted one of the Alta Langa Docg sparkling wines of the Tosti1820 winery.

Alta Langa Docg “Giulio I”
Vintage 2014
Dégorgement November 2020
The foam is creamy. A very fine perlage, bubbles persistent.
The color is golden yellow, very bright.
The bouquet is floral in the beginning, suddenly evolving into bread crust scents and finally hints of dried fruit.
In the mouth, fresh and velvety, with a pleasant sapidity.
Long and persistent.

The interpretation of some data

Statistics could provide even more detailed information. However, I want to give a reading and an interpretation, also trying to understand who consumed these Italian sparkling wines. The pandemic, with the consequent change in shopping and socializing habits, has reshuffled the cards for everyone. Losses of sparkling wine consumption in restaurants were counterbalanced by the increase in household consumption. Italian sparkling wines, especially Prosecco Doc, arrived in consumers’ homes primarily through purchases in distribution chains, the Off-Trade channel. Online commerce, through the tireless work of courier drivers, has also delivered many bottles of Italian sparkling wines!

The most recent IRI data illustrates what is happening on the domestic market, by comparing the marketing statistics of the first quarter of the last few years. The increase in sparkling wine sales between 2018 and 2020 was 43%. Going into the category details, it can be seen that the increase in consumption of dry sparkling wines is double that of sweet sparkling wines. Another fact to think about: between 2018 and 2020 the sales of Classic Method sparkling wines in supermarkets doubled. In practice, the Italian consumer is buying more and more bottles of sparkling wine of a certain value and price in the wine department of supermarkets, choosing above all Franciacorta Docg and Trento Doc.

off-trade sales are growing fast

A look at the world

How did exports of Italian sparkling wines go over the past year? The wine segment that suffered the greatest impact in the world during the pandemic was that of sparkling wines. Perhaps that Russian importer is right who told us “people buy fewer sparkling wines! … what is there to celebrate? ” He reminds us of the fact that sparkling wines continue to have the greatest moment of consumption in conviviality. A period is coming to an end in which the restaurants have been closed for many months all over the world; even the social occasions were reduced! The decline was more than justified, albeit limited. The modest losses in exports of Prosecco Doc and Asti Docg mitigated the more conspicuous loss of other Italian sparkling wines. The global decline, compared to 2019, was 6.5%. Losses are moderate, especially when compared to those suffered by Spanish sparkling wines Cava Do and French Champagne Aoc.

The leading markets for Prosecco Doc continue to be the United Kingdom and the United States. There is an unexpected liveliness of Asti Docg exports to the United States and Germany. The latter are the traditional “sweet-tasting” markets, although unfortunately this growth is due to the phenomenon of private label of large-scale distribution. Further news are expected from the data for the next few months, when it will be possible to understand the positioning on the markets of the new Prosecco Doc Rosé. We already know that last year, the first in which the production of the pink variant of Prosecco was authorized, the number of Italian rosé sparkling wines bottled jumped from 8 to 25 million bottles.

Seeing new trends

In recent years, the strong growth of Italian sparkling wines, both in internal consumption and in exports, has led many producers to try the adventure of “bubbles” with the most diverse varieties. The results have not always been excellent for all grape varieties! These sparkling wines remained for a short time in the commercial range: we call them “meteors”. Among some search and other novelties, however, we can identify future protagonists.

Summer 2021 is the first real consumption season of Prosecco Doc Rosé. The data for the coming months, the Italian ones, and those of the new sales, will tell us if the new sparkling wine will keep the expectations: those of creating a new market segment.

first summer for the new Prosecco Doc Rosé

There are also other innovations that will be monitored in the coming years. One in Piedmont, the cradle of Italian sparkling wine; this is the geographical term “Marengo” which can be claimed by a Piedmont Cortese Doc sparkling wine. It is clear the intention to launch a “typical Piedmont sparkling wine” for the production of a very easy to drink sparkling wine, suitable for multiple consumption occasions . The other proposal comes from Friuli, where the characteristics of the Ribolla Gialla grape have prompted many wineries to put forward the sparkling version of this native grape. There are 1.2 million bottles of Ribolla Gialla sparkling wine. The Legami Team tried the Ribolla Gialla sparkling wine produced on the Friulian Riviera by Modeano winery.

Friuli Doc, Ribolla Gialla Spumante “Avril”
Vintage 2020
A creamy foam and a moderate fine perlage.
The color is a light straw yellow.
The bouquet is delicate, with a floral fragrance.
A medium structured sparkling wine, characterized by a marked acidity and a slight sapidity.

In Piedmont, several wineries are also producing rosé sparkling wines from Nebbiolo grapes with fermentation in autoclave.

Finally, few winemakers are carrying out a project called “Nebbione”. They have decided to cut the tips of the Nebbiolo bunches before full ripeness is complete. These “peaks” are transformed into sparkling wine, while the “lightened” bunches go on until full ripeness which will turn them into noble red wines.

let’s toast to a sparkling summer 2021

The so-called “bubbles”, whether from noble vines or from the more popular ones, will continue to brighten our social moments, especially in this summer 2021, when we hope to finally have some reason to celebrate!

31st May 2021,

Marco Negro

Picture of Marco Negro
Marco Negro
Expert of communication of Italian wine. He has a knack for connecting people.
Picture of Marco Negro
Marco Negro
Expert of communication of Italian wine. He has a knack for connecting people.

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