Are the Prosecco Police Stepping Out of Line?
This is a headline you really couldn’t make up, the Italian authorities have employed a crack team of wine police to patrol bars and restaurants. Led by wine expert Andrea Battistella, this team isn’t on the lookout for boozy revellers, it is fighting back against sub-standard wine.
Battistella has been dubbed “007 Prosecco” by the Italian media, and is tasked with making sure that customers are served the original sparkling wine, not a cheap imitation. Rather ironic for a wine many people consider to be a cheap imitation of champagne.
Joking aside, this is serious business, any restaurant found offending faces a €20,000 fine. So what is all the fuss about?
Firstly, as many of us know, Prosecco is not cheap champagne, with an entirely different production process, it has a taste and character of its own. The sparkling wine was first produced in the 19th century and is restricted to Italy’s north-eastern extremes of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
Just down the Adriatic coast though, lies the Croatian region of Dalmatia, surprisingly, there is also a rich winemaking history to be found here. As well as spotty dogs, Dalmatia is renowned for a wine called Prošek.
In the age of trademarking and copyright law, it’s not difficult to see how this has become an disputed topic. As Croatia was preparing to enter the EU, former Italian agriculture minister, Luca Zaia, stated unequivocally that Croatia must stop production of Prošek as a condition of its membership.
To maintain standards, Italian law states that Prosecco can only be served from a bottle. To stamp out bait-and-switch scams where cheaper wines are sold as Prosecco, Andrea Battistella has been given public security agent powers to catch out anyone selling from a tap or carafe.
The 28 year old oenology graduate claims that similar fizzy wines from emerging regions like Brazil are a huge threat to Italy’s winemaking status. Brazilian wine however, is the product of Italian wine, produced by decedents of Italian emigrants, they use techniques that would be instantly recognised in Veneto.
That’s where the Italian argument runs out of fizz, winemaking is a constantly evolving science, you can’t put a stop to progress. Moreover, to suggest that Prošek is a cheap imitation is just narrow minded, almost as narrow minded as calling Prosecco cheap champagne.
The Italian media has done their best to escalate the rivalry, but a quick scan of the two bottles suggests they are pointing the finger in the wrong direction. Compared the crisp dry white of Prosecco, Prošek is syrupy, sweet with a rose colour.
Bars badging one brand as the other is fraud, we cannot argue that. If you ordered a Grey Goose and got Smirnoff you would quite rightly be annoyed, although you may not notice after adding a mixer. To an educated customer though it would be very difficult for a barman to pass Prošek off as Prosecco.
The Italian authorities have been battling with imitation wine for years. Prošek though, seems to have been made a foreign scapegoat for what is essentially an internal problem. Battistella is right to be doing this job, but Italian politicians and media have used him to further smear their neighbours.
We need education, not subjugation, if consumers knew the difference then they could make their own decisions.
About the Author
Joe Errington is a blogger who writes about food and drink for Juicy Grape Wines.
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