Soaring demand for Prosecco in the wake of the recession, when UK sales overtook the upmarket – and more pricey – champagne as people tried to save cash, has meant French wine merchants are being extra-cautious about how they release their limited stock to the market – and prices are set to rise by as much as 50 per cent.
Wet weather last summer meant that crops of the grape were not as bountiful as usual, creating a knock-on effect to this year’s production.
Robert Cremonese, the export manager of Prosecco brand Bisol, said at the London Wine Fair that the merchants – known in the trade as the négociants – may have completely run out of the product. He also said that the could be capitalising on the expected shortage by holding back the product to create demand.
“We’ll find out how big the problem is in August when the brokers release their stock,” he said. “At the moment we don’t know how much Prosecco they’re holding on to. The négociants hold the power at the moment as they bought all of the stock. It might turn out that some of them have no fizz left, but we’ll wait and see.”
In 2014, 28 million bottles of Prosecco were bought, compared with just 2.3 million five years ago. The amount spent on Prosecco overtook that spent on Champagne for the first time, sales of the Italian wine reaching £181.8 million in 2014 compared with £141.3m of its French counterpart. Meanwhile, sales of cava and Champagne combined reached just 17.3 million bottles.
The average cost of a bottle of prosecco is £6.49, compared with £16.23 for Champagne – more than 60 per cent cheaper.
The harvest of grapes used in making the wine was hit by bad weather last year.
While the Prosecco DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita or controlled designation of origin guaranteed) area of Valdobbiadene escaped the 2014 harvest relatively unscathed, grapes grown in the DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata or controlled designation of origin) flatlands were hit by the rainy weather in Italy last summer.
It is thought that the sweet taste of Prosecco compared to Champagne has fuelled its popularity.
“The recession definitely helped, but there is more to the boom than that as it didn’t have the same effect on cava,” said Mr Cremonese. “People love Prosecco because it’s uncomplicated and quaffable. You should never take it too seriously.”
“Prosecco is like driving around London in a Mini not a Ferrari – you don’t need a reason to pop a cork.”
David Henderson, owner of Henderson Wines in Edinburgh, said that Prosecco had rocketed in popularity over the past five years.
“I would think the sellers of Spanish cava would be rubbing their hands in the case of a shortage,” he said. “Prosecco is one of my most popular products – we sell bucket loads of the stuff and a shortage would be disastrous.”