Should NV Prosecco Be Date Stamped?

This go-to Italian sparkling wine is best when fresh, but there are no regulations to inform consumers about how long it’s been in the bottle.
Prosecco at Stew Leonard's wine store, photo by Bernard Kenner

Prosecco at Stew Leonard’s wine store, photo by Bernard Kenner

There is something about Prosecco that has bothered me for years – there is nothing to indicate when a bottle was filled. It has nothing to do with the product itself, but rather a way to better inform the consumer about what they can expect from bottles they purchase. I believe there is a simple remedy, but first some background information for context.

The Prosecco DOC/DOCG

Prosecco has become the sparkler of choice for many, as evidenced by the widely promoted statistics mentioned in a flood of recent press releases and articles. This is due to good marketing and promotion of a very friendly, moderately priced, value wine, with festive bubbles as a bonus. As reported in a Wall Street Journal article, citing numbers also echoed during dinner at Eataly NYC a few years ago by Stefano Zanette, President of the Prosecco consortium:

Though Champagne sales have been climbing since 2009, the real pop in the sparkling wine industry is coming from Prosecco. Sales of the sweeter and less expensive Italian-made cousin of Champagne rose 32 percent in a 12-month period ending December 6 (2015). …Prosecco is by far the hottest segment in sparkling wine, and you could make a case that Proseccos are one of the biggest factors in the wine business’ impressive growth.

To keep up with the demand, thousands of additional hectares are being added to the protected zone in the next few years. The DOC was created in 2009 and extends over nine provinces. The DOCG/Superiore classification had been the original Prosecco designated area, centered north of Venice in Valdobbiadene and Conigliano, additionally including Asolo and the premiere Cartizze designation

Name recognition and popularity for Prosecco has become so great that even non Italian producers are trying to muscle in on the action, even though it is a protected designation. As reported by Wine Meridian Newsletter (1/16/15), the use of the term “House Prosecco” has been used for an Okanagen wine served in Vancouver; other examples abound.

To be completely honest, the rules establishing the DOC/DOCG Prosecco created in 2009, were mostly to control the use of the term in Italy, where “prosecco” was being produced in places that were not Prosecco (neither DOC nor IGT). Prior to that, the DOC was limited to what is now the hillier DOCG; the former IGT is now DOC. The grape had historically been called “prosecco” (same as the geographic zone) as well, but as of 2009 the grape is called “glera,” so that similar wines from other Italian places can be “sparkling glera”, but not Prosecco.

A Few to Try

Carpene Malvolti “1868” DOC Prosecco Superiore Extra Dry NV, gold medal winner in the 2016 NY International Wine Competition

Montellini DOC Prosecco NV, silver medal 2016 NYIWC

Astoria Vini Prosecco DOC Treviso Extra Dry NV

Cantina Beato Bartolomeo Da Breganze Rosa di Sera Spumante Extra Dry NV

Villa Degli Olmi Spumante DOC Extra Dry NV

Whether you select the lower altitude wines from Prosecco DOC, or the higher Prosecco Superiore DOCG, the general rules remain the same. All these wines are at least 85% glera and produced using the bulk Charmat method. They have historically been blends of several years and are bottled “non vintage”, as needed for orders throughout the year, though there has been a recent increase in vintage or “millesimato” wine.

Why is bottle date labeling important?

Part of their charm is their youth; the consortium recommends consumption in the first year after bottling. They remain vibrant, fresh, fruity with apple/pear notes, which gives them great appeal on their own, matching well with so many foods. There is a range of sweetness from very dry to sweet (Brut, Extra Dry and Dry is the sequence) to fit most palates and pairings. The sweetness is on the label, along with the carbonation level, but there is difficulty in determining when the juice was bottled. This is troubling.

While changes in the DOC and DOCG Prosecco regulations have increased quality and reliability of what is in the bottle, helping to fuel the aforementioned growth, there is still that missing information about which I spoke to Stefano at Eataly. Since all but special bottlings are non vintage, it would be useful to know when a wine was bottled, especially if the youthful charm is what you are looking for. I suggested that the year of bottling, at minimum, or month and year would be useful to have on the label. He listened, but was non committal. It wasn’t in the regulations.

This lack of enthusiasm for the idea was repeated again at Eataly on December 14, 2016, by Tanja Barattin, who was representing the consortium at another event. She agreed that youthful Prosecco is better and patiently pointed out that there are often lot numbers that you could look up on many producers sites if you wanted that information. Most folks wouldn’t take the time to do that. As a matter of fact, I tried to look up a La Marca DOC Prosecco Extra Dry that was opened on New Year’s, but the information was nowhere to be found. Wouldn’t a simpler solution be to put the date on the label where the lot number is, or just following it?

As a comparison, even some NV Champagne producers think having a bottling/disgorgement date important to the consumer for the same reasons, as discussed here:

At a pinot noir tasting event, I spoke with Jeff Hellman, owner of Transatlantic Bubbles, a grower Champagne importer. Without hesitation, he agreed that having disgorgement date information, and even which vintage supplied the majority of the juice in an NV bottle, was useful to the consumer, and many of his wines not only carry this information, but even more about the juice in the bottle. Information is good.

Lot number on a Prosecco label, photo by Bernard Kenner

Lot number on a Prosecco label, photo by Bernard Kenner

Due to high demand and being bottled/shipped on a continuous basis, chances are that the Prosecco you purchase these days will be current release and “fresh”. Nevertheless, it remains a good idea to have an easy to decipher bottling date on the label.

Keeping all this in mind, my simple suggestion is that the Consorzio Prosecco producers adopt a uniform method of giving consumers bottling information for their NV wines. If youth and freshness of Prosecco are key to its attraction with bottling throughout the year, then the best way to ensure that the consumer gets what he expects is to have the information easily found on the label. It also helps protect the Prosecco DOC and DOCG standards, making it a classic “win/win” situation in my book. Any vintage dated wines would not need this information, though it would not hurt to have it to give consumers an idea of pre and post bottling age.

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