Sunday, February 04, 2018

Prosecco’s Epic Fail in the New Italian Hotspots in America

What has happened to Prosecco in America? Has it become but a mere commodity, aimed for a populist demographic, with the lowest price now being the main goal? How is it some of the most expensive real estate in the world (Cartizze), with generations of dedicated farmers and landholders, and in a time of the highest degree of popularity a wine has had (Prosecco), that some of the finest producers and winemakers cannot get their wines listed on the up-and-coming Italian wine lists in America? How is it that sparkling wines from Franciacorta, or Trentino, or Emilia Romagna can get those spots, but Prosecco has been relegated to the lower shelves of chain grocery stores? Has success spoiled Prosecco?

This latest round of hang-wringing was precipitated by a call from a journalist in New York, who wanted some info for an article she was doing on Prosecco. Along the way, she mentioned that Del Posto in New York, with a wine list that brings the Italophile to his (or her) knees, has no Prosecco on it. “How could that be?” I asked her. And I proceeded to look it up. Sure enough, according to the list online, there was no Prosecco. Not even the Bastianich house brand, Flor, by the glass. Niente. Nada. No way, Joe says?

So, I started trawling the internets, looking at wine lists around the country. and what I found bewildered me. It was as if not having a Prosecco on the wine list (or by the glass) was a badge of honor, in some of the hottest Italian spots in America.

Oh yeah, there was plenty of Franciacorta, and some Trentino sparklers. And even a nod or two to Emilia Romagna. And a whole lot of attention to Champagne. Del Posto, for example, has 15 (out of 181) pages of their wine list devoted to the classic French sparklers. I like Champagne as much as the Italians (who are reputed to be France’s second best customer) and this is in no way an indictment against Del Posto and the fine folks there, such as Jeff Porter, who have a huge passion for all things Italian.

But the Prosecco thing, who’s dropping the ball here? Does it fall on the Millennial wine hipsters, who follow all things trendy on the Delectable/Instagram platforms? Is it the wholesale/distribution channel, who have more daily fire drills and priorities than the average human can sort out? Is it the importers, who are constantly looking for new items, cheaper items, more profitable items, to build their portfolios into the powerhouse that large distributors salivate over? Or….is it closer to home? Does it start back in the Veneto, in Prosecco-land? Is the fault, dear Brutus, not in our stars, but in ourselves?

In a smattering of samples, I’ve looked in Atlanta, in Austin, in San Francisco, LA, NY, Chicago, Boulder, Philadelphia, Dallas, Portland and Seattle. And while this is in no way a comprehensive survey, it does indicate the trend for Prosecco, in the vanguard Italian dining halls of America, is foundering.

I surfed Eater, which looks for the hot, the trendy, the cutting-edge places (*) that are on the scene or on the rise. Some of the spots Eater touts are:
Bocca Al Lupo

Somewhere along the line, the story of Prosecco has been lost. The high-end wines are not being talked about, like Cartizze, not even the Asolo or the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG. Oh yeah, there is a little chatter about col fondo, from producers like Bel Casel and Ca dei Zago. But something’s missing. This would never happen to Dom Perignon or Roederer Cristal, to Krug or Salon. Again, this is not an indictment against any of the folks who fashioned these lists, but an observation of a drift in a different direction.

Are the wines just not any good? Is a Cartizze from Bisol or Bortolomiol a bygone from another time, like vintage Port or Sauternes? Is that all there is? It’s over before it even started?

I sense there is a lull in the momentum of Prosecco at the higher levels, especially when it comes down to cost. I saw on one of those lists that had so many Champagnes, an offering from a large Champagne cooperative. Surely there are producers of Prosecco who are making wine at a higher level. But are they not getting their foot in the door? Hey, we live in an upside-down world these days, and this is not a big issue in relation to world events. But someone has fumbled. Or, does the market for Prosecco, like Cava, have its limits?

In fairness, there are places in America, like Marea in NY (page 3 and 6) and Acquerello in SF (page 1 and 6), that offer good Prosecco, both by the glass and by the bottle, in accompaniment to their other offerings (Franciacorta, Champagne, even unconventional sparklers from Campania and Val d'Aosta). And places like Mille Lire, a brand sparkling new place in Dallas, showcases, with their Prosecco Bar, the different ways to utilize the Veneto sparkler in their dining experience.

Franciacorta has taken some of the fizzle away from Prosecco, and it’s not Franciacorta’s fault. But it seems Prosecco, in general, has become tired of its success. There doesn’t seem to be a will to strive for a higher plateau. It’s as if a “base camp is just fine” mentality has robbed the category, taken all the oxygen out of the tent. And that’s a shame.

Anyone who has gone to Valdobbiadene, and Cartizze, knows that this is a veritable Paradise on earth. The people that live here are living in one of the most beautiful places in the world. The food, the weather, the geography. The “access” to culture. It’s a best kept secret in Italy.

And with all the success of Prosecco in the world, the benchmark for the product is not their greatest benefit? Where in the pantheon of all things Italian is this the criterion? In fashion? In shoes? In cars? In art? In food? Like I said, this is an upside-down phenomenon.

Has Prosecco pimped itself out for the sake of the almighty dollar? Every day, another celebrity comes out with a new Prosecco, or a private label shows up on the shelves of the big box stores. Every day the prices go lower, now $11.99, now $9.99, now $7.99. How low will it go – until they bump into the moribund Cava? Meanwhile the stories, the people, the land, back in Valdobbiadene and Cartizze, they wait for their knights in shining armor, their ambassadors, to tell the real story about Prosecco. But will the world be listening, when they finally get around to it? Will they care? Or will they have just moved on to the next bright and shiny thing in the corner?

(*note: wine lists and by the glass offerings were pulled from the internet and may or may not reflect an accurate rendering of their offerings in real time)

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