Prosecco is a sparkling juggernaut. Imports to the U.S. increased by nearly 34 percent this year vs. the previous year, to a total of more than 3.8 million cases, according to the Prosecco Consortium. Prosecco hails from northeastern Italy, traditionally in the hilly area around Valdobbiadene and Conegliano. But demand for it got so high that the production zone was expanded in the late 2000s to encompass nine provinces and a lot of flat vineyard land. Although some Prosecco – which relies mostly on the glera grape — is semi-sparkling (frizzante) or even still, the vast majority is fully sparkling, or spumante, and is dry or slightly sweet. The bubbles are most often produced using the charmat method.
One reason for Prosecco’s immense popularity is price. Although there are expensive Proseccos, mainly from the hilly areas, most are in the $12-$14 range. Consumers, says Joanna Breslin, wine consultant for Binny’s Beverage Depot in Glencoe, Ill., a Chicago suburb, “are buying tons of Prosecco.” She adds that “$10-$14 is probably the sweet spot,” and she singled out La Marca and Mionetto as brands that sell well in her store.
La Marca, imported by Gallo, has experienced huge gains in the U.S. market; it’s now the No. 1 Prosecco brand in the U.S., with sales up nearly 28 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to The Beverage Information & Insights Group. Richard Kranzmann, vice president and general manager of Gallo’s Premium Business Unit, points to the introduction in 2014 of the 187ml “La Marca Minis” as being an important piece of the brand’s success, because the small format encourages consumers to give the wine a try.
“I think it is the quality-to-value ratio that Prosecco has to offer,” says Melissa Devore, vice president of wine buying for national chain Total Wine & More. “Customers have come to know that in Prosecco, they can get a consistent product at affordable prices.” She adds that volume is in the $10-$15 range.
It’s easy to find a bottle of Cava for less than $15, even though this Spanish bubbly is produced by the same traditional method as Champagne. That’s one thing that all wine labeled as Cava has in common. Beyond that, the rules can get confusing. Although Cava has denominacion de origen (D.O.) status, which usually refers to a geographic area, the wines can come from a number of diverse areas of Spain (Most, however, are produced in Catalonia). The main grape is xarello, with macabeo and parellada as supporting players, although international grapes like chardonnay and pinot noir are permitted, and still other red grapes can be added to make rosé. Like other sparkling wines, Cava can be made in a range of sweetness levels.
More than 1.5 million cases were exported to the U.S. in 2014, up about 2 percent, according to the Cava Regulatory Board. The market is dominated by two companies, Freixenet and Cordoniu, and Freixenet is the largest producer of traditional-method sparkling wine in the world. Much of the wine produced by both companies is inexpensive – think Freixenet’s Cordon Negro, in its distinctive black bottle. But even Freixenet has recently introduced a pricier cuvée called Casa Sala Gran Reserva, priced at $60. It’s an example of the Cava Regulatory Board’s new push toward quality, which also includes a new designation for single-vineyard wines, Cava de Paraje, expected to be finalized by year-end.
Still, most Cava is the less-expensive stuff, like Cordon Negro. And for that brand, Freixenet plans an “Everyone’s Invited” holiday promotion, with in-store displays and shelf talkers depicting a Cordon Negro-toting snowman, according to Danielle Fritz, brand manager for Freixenet USA.
Like Prosecco, says Total Wine’s Devore, Cava can over-deliver for the price. “We haven’t added a Cava yet that hasn’t sold,” she says.
K&L’s Westby sees Cava and Prosecco as great entrées into the sparkling wine category. “The people who are drinking the high-quality Cava and the high-quality Prosecco more often are always going to aspire to Champagne,” he says. BD
A Northern California resident, LAURIE DANIEL has written about wine for more than 20 years. Her wine column appears in several California newspapers, and her articles have appeared in magazines such as Wines & Vines, Food & Wine, Wine Country Living, Drinks and the Wine Enthusiast.