When the Real Thing Isn't

Italy's Prosecco Consortium Approves Bottle Seal to Protect Retailers and Consumers Against Fraud

By Scott Carpenter and Laura Carpenter December 1, 2011
In a move to guarantee that prosecco buyers and consumers are "getting the real thing," the Prosecco D.O.C. of Italy (Consorzio Tutela) has approved adding seals on prosecco bottle tops as a guarantee that what's inside the bottle is indeed Italian prosecco.

The seals will be added to prosecco bottles coming from Italy starting January 1, 2012.

Concerns over the legitimacy of whether a prosecco is really a prosecco are directed mostly at the private brand markets created in other countries and the United States.

"People will take a white wine with frizzante and call it prosecco, and no one has any way of knowing what it is until they taste it," says Fulvio Brunetta, Presidente Consorzio Tutela Prosecco DOC. "The stamps seal over the closure and will serve as a guarantee that prosecco is inside the bottle." The seals will vary in color and content depending on the bottle size.

Brunetta says the problem begins when an importer in the U.S. and other countries want to sell a wine at a lower price than usual, say around $7 or $8 dollars per bottle. They may buy bulk white sparkling wine from Italy, bottle it, and label it under their own private label. The photo to the left shows a "Secco" label that implies that the contents are prosecco, but the word "Prosecco" isn't found on the bottle. In this case, the importer is using a removable label, known as a "necker," to misidentify the wine as prosecco.

A wine shop operator in New York, who didn't want his name to appear in this story, said the representative from the importer-distributor told him the wine wasn't prosecco, but the company hoped to lure customers with the prosecco name on the removable necker. Simone International, importers of the non-prosecco "prosecco," did not respond to our inquiry.

"I think that the sparkling category is still a bit confusing to the American palates in general," says Cindy Busi, wine buyer for Hard Rock Cafe. "There are several great Champagnes, California sparklers, cavas and prosecco out in the market, but the average person really only knows the name 'Champagne," says Busi. "I think it is very confusing to the consumer for a brand to call itself "Secco" if it is not prosecco in the bottle - then it is misleading to the consumer."

"Since Italy started modeling their labeling process after the French, they have much improved the quality of wines," says Brett Lindstrom of Morrell & Co. in NYC. "It's helped to protect the regions and quality of their wines." Lindstrom says that when it comes to prosecco, authenticity hasn't really been a big concern of his customers.

Tyler Field, buyer for Morton's Steakhouse, compared the stamp to the Chianti region. "You know you're not getting sangiovese from that region if the little red rooster isn't there," says Field. "Other regions are doing it, why not prosecco?"
Bob Calamia, sparkling wine buyer for Binny's Beverage Depot in the Chicago area, agrees with Tyler. "It says the region is getting serious about the wine grape. I think the customer will see it as the seal insuring a level of quality is in each bottle."

"I like it because it will give new confidence to the customer when buying a prosecco," says Anthony Nizzardo, wine buyer for Stew Leonards in Connecticut. "Besides, it draws attention to the wine; it's a kind of validation."

Brunetta says that while the stamps will be required on all bottles of prosecco leaving Italy, the consortium has agreed to allow distributors and retail to sell whatever remaining "stampless" inventory they have. A media campaign will also begin in early 2012.

Scott Carpenter and Laura Carpenter

Scott Carpenter is a host, reporter, journalist, and founder of ESC MEDIA, contributing to traditional and social media world-wide. Current credits include: CNN, CBS, FOX, and major beverage industry trades, to name a few. Twitter at scotcarp. THEeverydaywineguy.com