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How rosé Prosecco is taking the wine market by storm

A new Prosecco variety looks set to capitalise on the growing popularity that both sparkling and rosé wines have seen among UK drinkers in recent years. 

Following a change to the Prosecco DOC (denominazione di origine controllata) in 2020, winemakers are now allowed to produce a rosé version. Whereas any drink bearing the 'Prosecco' name previously had to contain 100 per cent Glera grapes, producers may now add a small proportion (up to 15 per cent) of Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir).

The first rosé Prosecco brands entered the UK market in November 2020 and have so far proved remarkably popular with consumers; according to The Drinks Business, Lidl sold one million bottles of the product in the run-up to Christmas 2020 and M&S was close behind with 840,000 bottles sold. Other retailers including Waitrose, Co-op and Sainsbury's also have varities on their shelves.

It follows a period of sustained growth for both rosé and sparkling wines. Figures from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) show that sparkling wine sales in the UK hit £1.3 billion in 2020, equating to 135 million bottles, despite a significant blow to sales from on-trade shutdowns. Meanwhile, rosé wine was one of the biggest winners of the Covid-19 lockdowns; the WSTA said more than 113 million bottles were sold in 2020, up by 22 per cent in volume since 2019 and a six-fold increase since 2016.

The confluence of these trends, sparkling rosé wine, is a fast-growing category with products from Spain, England and Italy already on the scene before rosé Prosecco made its debut.

UK-based wine producer and importer Kingsland Drinks brought a rosé Prosecco to the off-trade late last year from producer Borgo Molino. Kingsland has been working with the Italian winemaker for a number of years and distributes its Borgo Molino Proseccos primarily into the on-trade and its Corte Molino Proseccos into the off-trade.

David Gill, specialists sector controller at Kingsland Drinks, explained that so far Corte Molino Prosecco Rosé has proved a success. "This is affordable fizz, but a slightly more premium product than some people may normally buy," he said. "With the DOC for Prosecco rosé people can have confidence in the provenance but also the production. Pink fizz has always been a way behind the rest of the fizz market, but I think it [Prosecco rosé] could bring more people into the pink fizz sector."

Jo Taylorson, Kingsland's head of marketing and product management, echoed this thought. "Prosecco is a name that people are comfortable with," she said. 

Gill and Taylorson predict that the introduction of rosé Prosecco could help to lift the base standards of the whole Prosecco category. Previously, it was not possible to call anything 'Prosecco rosé', so Glera could be replaced by any other white base variety of grape. Now that Prosecco rosé is an officially registered DOC, more Glera grapes are needed between white and rosé versions. They say it should increase the demand for Glera grapes overall as well as raising demand for the proportion of Pinot Nero needed. This will lend a small competitive advantage to vineyards selling Glera grapes to Prosecco producers. The premium status of Prosecco rosé - which must use grapes from one vintage, not a blend - could also help growers demand a higher price for their grapes. 

"Prosecco rosé has a job to do for the consumers, retailers and producers," Gill said. "A lot of Prosecco has been commoditised, using the lowest price to attract the biggest number of consumers. As Prosecco rosé uses the same Glera grapes, it offers producers the chance to level up to protect their margins... It could raise the basic price of Prosecco over time."

According to Gill, Prosecco made a solid proposition to wine drinkers when it first hit the mainstream UK market, with a higher residual sugar content, bubblier texture and lower ABV than most Champagnes. "It was the every-man or every-woman's sparkling wine," he quipped.

But Taylorson says its popularity has led to 'commoditisation' and exploitation by some. "White Prosecco has been used by a lot of retailers as a driver of trade. They will not have been making any money, but they were doing it to drive people to store and I think that will become less common as rosé Prosecco starts to bring the category up," she said.

"We believe rosé Prosecco is here to stay and the way that it works, with it being quite strongly regulated, all of that has been done to make sure it has longevity."

Gill says Prosecco rosé is a versatile drink and recommends it as a partner for summer barbeques and picnics. He predicts an influx of new brands coming to market in the on-trade over the summer with the reopening of hospitality venues. In terms of what to look for when buying a rosé Prosecco, he said: “If you are looking at smaller, good-quality family producers like Borgo Molino you are not going to go far wrong. They are being made with a specific quality in mind.”

Corte Molino Rosé Prosecco (11% ABV) is available from Co-op stores nationwide in the UK.

24 June 2021 - Bethany Whymark