December is traditionally the month when wine drinkers think about sparkling wine the most, whether to augment their holiday celebrations or to bring a bit of cheer to cold and dreary weather. However, the incredible range and diversity of sparkling wines now available in the United States make a strong argument to turn sparkling wine into an all-seasons beverage.
To kick of VinePair’s celebration of Bubbly Week, Adam Teeter and Zach Geballe are joined by guest host and VinePair staff writer Tim McKirdy to discuss some of their favorite offerings, why American sparklers are taking off in wine regions all over the country, and how Prosecco, just like Champagne, has turned itself into a luxury brand.
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Adam: From Brooklyn, New York, I’m Adam Teeter.
Tim: From Queens, New York, Tim McKirdy.
Zach: And in Seattle, Washington I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is the VinePair Podcast. And before we get into the podcast, a word from today’s sponsor. This podcast, and Bubbly Week, which is occurring this week, when this podcast is airing, and it’s all about bubbles, and it’s one of our favorite weeks of the year here at VinePair, is sponsored by Luminore by LaMarca, J Vineyards & Winery, and Otello Lambrusco. And with that, we’re on to the pod. So we’re going to talk about bubbly in a little bit, but before we jump into all things sparkling, Tim! You’re our guest host for this week. It’s great to have you, a staff writer at VinePair. Obviously, we’ve explained to you the rules of the game, so what have you been drinking recently?
T: Well, thank you guys for having me on. So, yeah. What have I been drinking recently?
A: Besides tea, obviously. Because I want to say this. I’ve noticed that in every British program I watch recently, there’s a lot of tea consumption. And do you guys really like tea, or is it just a ruse? Do you put it on for the tourists?
T: Well, I would say that’s better than your comment you made to me the other day about dentists and British people. I like tea, but if I’m drinking it for the purposes we normally have hot drinks, to get going in the morning or whatever, I prefer a coffee. But if I need something to warm me up in the afternoon, I will go for an Earl Grey. But I haven’t been drinking a lot of that recently. To return to your original question, as my 10 Instagram followers will know, I tend to drink a lot of Martinis, and I recently discovered a Japanese vermouth. It’s not actually technically a vermouth because it’s made with a sake base, but it’s Bermutto, and I thought that it’s the perfect pairing for some of the range of incredible Japanese gins that are out there these days. So, yeah, I’ve been using that for my Friday night Martini and will probably add a little bit more vermouth then I typically go for, just because the flavor is incredible. I’ll normally go like super dry, just a splash, but yeah, maybe even go up to a two to one.
A: Wait, where did you discover this sake-based vermouth?
T: So this was actually a product I’ve received as a sample and enjoyed, and it was sent to me as a gift by someone. So we were doing the huge vermouth roundup, and I was reaching out to try tons of different sweet vermouths for a different story that I was writing about Negronis, and the person that I was in contact with with like, “Well, you have to try this dry vermouth” because they actually happen to know that I’m a big Martini lover as well. So they sent that along, and it’s wonderful. And it’s hard to glean the name of the producer from the bottle. There’s not too much information on there, but if I get it, maybe we can add it to the show notes.
Z: Or you all can go follow Tim on Instagram, and we can make sure he posts a picture of the bottle there.
T: That’s what I was really aiming for there. You know, you’ve got to follow me now.
Z: Double that follower count for you. We’re going to go from 10 to 20.
A: Seriously Tim, come on, man.
T: It’s an incredible, a really wonderful Martini, and really highlights some of the amazing Japanese gins that are out there these days, too. So yeah, go out there and look for it, there can’t be too many on the market. So if you find one online, it’s probably the same one I’m drinking.
A: Well now I’m jealous, but that’s fine.
Z: Wasn’t that the point of this whole, this whole bit here, Adam?
A: It’s also not the first time I’ve been jealous of Tim, so it’s OK. Zach, what about you?
Z: To me, the most striking thing that I had this last week, I taught a class about Rioja this past weekend and opened the current vintage, or I guess they’ve just switched vintages, but the 2007 Reserva from López de Heredia, I think we’ve talked about him a little bit already on this podcast before honestly, their Vina Tondonia, which is one of their single vineyard Riojas. And two thoughts struck my mind. One is: I just adore those wines. They’re definitely not the thing that I want all the time. I have to be in the right kind of mood and place for them to work for me, whether it’s the reds or even the whites. But the other thing I’d say is, it reminded me in doing it for this class, it brought back all these memories I had of selling it as a sommelier and how much I had to fight with that wine in a restaurant setting, because it really needs like four or five hours in a decanter before it really is enjoyable. And for me at home, whatever, that’s fine, I’ll open it and then come back to it in the evening when I’m ready, and I actually encourage the people in my class to open it hours beforehand. But boy, it was a pain in the ass in restaurants, and I love the wines, and it’s not meant as a knock on them, but it was hard as a sommelier to explain to people that like, well, really, if you want to enjoy this wine, you should have ordered it four hours ago.
A: Oh my God. Yeah, I’ve only had their wine once or twice. I don’t remember how long it was decanted for.
Z: The white is a little bit more forgiving. The reds are just typically—
A: Oh, you had the red. I thought you had had the white.
Z: No, I have had both, although the red is the one I had the other day, and delicious with time to open, but you gotta plan ahead. It makes sense this past week of Thanksgiving, where all the food you prepare takes a long time to queue up. So it’s kinda like, the wine equivalent to making a turkey or something like that.
A: So can you just explain so what would it be like if you hadn’t given it time? Is it just incredibly tight and there’s nothing there?
Z: And maybe one day we’ll do a podcast topic about some of these wine terms that are hard to define, like “tight,” but basically to me, when I describe a wine that way, what I would say is that the overwhelming sensation of the wines are the structural elements. So the tannins and the acid, it’s kind of the equivalent experience you get sometimes if you have a white wine that’s too cold, where sometimes all you taste is the acidity in the wine and the fruit profile and the aromatics are really muted because the wine is too cold. With reds, serving temperature can affect that, but it’s more often just with wines like that that are aged for a very long time in barrel, and then for very long time in bottle, they just need that time in a decanter, or at least being open on your table or something to really fully start to express themselves. And so when you taste it just freshly opened, you taste nothing but really tart fruit and a lot of tannin and almost aggressively medicinal quality. And then when you come back to it, three, four, five hours later, the fruit is a little bit more generous, although still quite dry. And then you get much more of this savory, but not off-putting notes that you get when it’s just freshly open. So more of the leathery, wood, smoke notes that I really enjoy, but it takes a little while to come out of the wine when it’s just been opened.
A: Interesting. Interesting.
Z: What have you been drinking, Adam?
A: Oh gosh, a few things. Drinking a lot more wine lately, obviously, than cocktails. And beer, ‘cause I love beer. I drank a really great KCBC beer Kings County Brewers Collective, but I forgot the name of it. It was their seasonal this year, but just a delicious, hazy IPA. That was pretty tasty. But then on Saturday night I made fresh pasta with truffles, and I opened a bottle of Cogno Ravera Barolo that was dope. Really, really, really, really good. I think it was our No. 1 of the year two years ago on the VinePair list. And it was just a beautiful bottle. And again, the reason I was asking is because the same thing happened with the Barolo. I popped it and let it sit for like 45 minutes in the decanter, and when we first drank it, it was all tannins still. And then 30 minutes later, it had completely opened. So I guess basically an hour and 15 minutes sitting in the decanter, and then it was beautiful. But it was just crazy how that happens. So, yeah, that’s basically what I’ve been drinking recently.
T: Look at you guys, men of the people, popping out the decanters.
A: Shut up, Tim. Shut up Tim, usually —
Z: Why did you bring Tim on this podcast, again, Adam?
A: Because it’s fun.
T: Actually I saw that, Adam, I think I saw you posting it on Instagram and I was like, wow yeah, that’s the way to spend a Saturday night.
A: No, that was the second bottle. Remember, I texted you this, you messaged me on Instagram. And I was like, yeah, I made a mistake. Like we’re doing a Zoom with some people at 10 p.m. and it’s only 8:30, so I’m going to pop another one. And now that I’ve already had this bottle, I’m going to have another bottle, and continue watching my football game.
T: It’s a whole new meaning to the term double decanting.
Z: Oh my God.
A: Yeah, totally
Z: Tim with the fire today.
A: Always the fire, it’s the best. But it’s funny, ‘cause I really haven’t had a lot of cocktails recently. I love a Martini. Tim has inspired me, but I haven’t made one yet this season actually as it’s gotten cooler, I think I need to later this week. I don’t know if I’ll do it tonight.
Z: I mean, it’s a great week for it. We’re recording this obviously before Thanksgiving and is there a better couple of days to be drinking Martinis at 2 p.m. than on Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving week?
A: When you’re with your in-laws?
Z: Hmm, fair enough. I don’t know. You might need the Martini. I’m sure Naomi’s parents are lovely, lovely people.
T: I’d like to think of it like if New Year’s Eve is the Super Bowl of drinking, then Thanksgiving is the playoffs, right? You know, we’re leading in the season, we’re getting there. So, you know, mid-week Martini might be appropriate. Who knows?
A: I agree, Tim. I have another question for you before we jump into today’s podcast, how’s your storage unit doing?
T: My storage unit is brilliant. I wanted to come live from that, but this is maybe not a problem not all of our listeners have, but living in New York, having an incredibly small apartment and basically being confined to that apartment for gosh, eight months now, my girlfriend and I had the realization the other day of “why don’t we get a storage unit?” And it’s honestly a game changer. I got my wines in there that I want to age, you know, it’s temperature controlled. I say my “wines that I want to age,” there’s like 12 bottles, no illusion. But honestly, this is a game changer. If you live in New York, public storage, it’s wonderful. You get a great deal. I highly recommend it.
Z: Do you have a promo code for us, Tim? So we’ll save 10 percent off if they drop your name?
T: 10 pounds off with “McKirdy Martini”
Z: 10 pounds. Oh my goodness. That’s actually funny that you mention that, though. ‘Cause I actually, my wife and I, we rent a house here in Seattle, but with a child it became clear that with Covid and quarantine, it was not big enough. So we actually also rented a storage unit a couple of months ago, and it has also been a game changer in our house because now my wife and I don’t have to fight about how we’re going to find room for anything, any new toy for our son, because we put all the old toys in storage and yeah, I’m team storage locker, too.
T: Yeah, my girlfriend and I said, think of all the things that we can buy direct to storage. It’s brilliant.
A: I can’t. You two are too ridiculous. So let’s jump into bubbles, shall we? Always a fun time of year, always a fun topic. This is one of my favorite weeks of content we do every year. And it’s really awesome that for the past three years, it’s been sponsored by Luminore by LaMarca, J Vineyards & Winery, and now Otello Lambrusco. But it’s a celebration of all things bubbles. I didn’t drink as many bubbles in early Covid just because it didn’t feel like it was a celebratory time, but I’m really ready to drink bubbles now. And just of all kinds, do either of you drink bubbles regularly? And if you do, do you have one that’s a go-to or a kind of style as a go-to? And don’t say Champagnes, Zach. I know you’re a somm, but we don’t need to tell everyone else.
Z: I would say that I do drink sparkling wine, a lot, including Champagne. My wife is a big fan as am I, to be fair. I would say, though, that as far as go-tos, it’s been really interesting. That’s been something that I think has changed a lot for me over the last couple of years. If you had asked me this question a few years ago, I think I would have said Crémant and I would’ve just left it there, and I still drink a decent amount of Crémant. For those who are unfamiliar with Crémant there’s a range of different regional Crémant appellations throughout France that refer to basically wines made in the traditional or Champagne method, but not in Champagne itself. And they can often be really, really good. They’re not usually aged as long as Champagnes. Certainly not as long as vintage Champagnes, but even your standard Champagne bottlings typically spend more time aging than most Crémant, but they’re very good. They’re often very good. They’re serious wines. They’re taken very seriously by the producers in most cases. And they’re obviously significantly more affordable in many cases than Champagne, but for me, actually, I surprisingly, perhaps to myself, have found myself actually gravitating towards drinking a lot more Prosecco than I used to. It started by visiting the region a couple of years ago and having some Prosecco that was — let’s say it was just a different category of Prosecco than I was familiar with from just working as a sommelier and as a wine drinker here in the States. Fortunately, a lot of those wines have become more available in the U.S. over the last few years, or at least here in the Seattle market. And I find myself really enjoying a lot of the balance that you find in Prosecco that is actually sometimes harder to find in a lot of sparkling wines, because the Prosecco is typically not quite as acidic and typically has a little bit more residual sugar. And so it’s a little bit more balanced unto itself, whereas sparkling wine, especially Champagne and Crémant, is delicious and an awesome pairing with a lot of foods, but if I just want to have a glass by itself, I actually find myself more gravitating towards Prosecco and I think that’s something that’s been a broader trend in this country. And that people have realized that if they’re just going to have a glass of something sparkling, I think more than ever before, that thing is Prosecco. And I guess I’ve just caught up with the trend.
A: Interesting. Tim?
T: Yeah. I definitely am a lover of all sparkling wines. I think it’s probably up there with my favorite styles or go-to bottles. It’s something I definitely drink quite regularly. When it’s just a normal week, probably not during the week, but a normal weekend, I will be looking for something in the store that’s a little bit more budget-friendly. Like Zach says, I do tend to find a lot of value in Crémant wines from France. Tons of great American sparklers as our friend Keith Beavers likes to call them.
Z: And only Keith, let’s be clear.
A: Yeah, no, I think he’s onto something, people. I actually think “American Sparkler” is a great name for sparkling wine from the U.S.
T: Let’s make that happen.
A: Let’s make it happen. We’re making it happen.
T: I think Cava as well as is another style of sparkling wine that I think if you know where to look and spend just a couple of bucks extra, I think you can find some amazing wines in there, aged on lees, that are just fantastic.
A: Nice. I mean, it’s interesting. Yeah. I don’t drink as much sparkling wine as I would like to, but I do think I’ve found myself recently drinking a lot more American sparkling wine, like the stuff from, for example, Domaine Carneros, any of those kinds of producers like that are out in California. I think that there’s some people doing really interesting things. Also a lot of the Italian sparkling wine — not just Prosecco, but Franciacorta as well as the stuff coming from other areas that are just really interesting as well. I think that there’s a lot of delicious sparkling wine out there that also is more than just Champagne. And I think the reason I’m saying more than just Champagne is, I would love to drink it all the time. I think it’s absolutely delicious, but I just can’t afford that. For the Champagnes that I enjoy, they’re always well above 60 to 70 bucks a bottle. And it’s very rare that I drink reds or whites that I love that are above 60, 70 bucks a bottle. So to justify that in Champagne all the time is very, very difficult. So I don’t do it. But there’s bottles in the 20s and 30s that are from everywhere else that are equally delicious in the right moment.
T: To your point there, Adam, I think as well with domestic sparkling wine, you named Domaine Carneros. I’d say another go-to for me as well — you’ve mentioned it on the podcast before — but Gruet. I think you manage to capture that Champagne flavor profile. Some might argue that the nuance might not be there as with a $60 bottle of Champagne, but you capture that overall flavor profile. You can also find those wines practically everywhere, which I think is a huge plus. And they’re also budget-friendly. One of my favorite things to do in the “before times,” as we’re calling it these days. So living in Queens, some people might be familiar with some of the neighborhoods here. There’s a neighborhood close to me called Jackson Heights and they have the most amazing momo trucks. So what I would typically do is pick up a chilled bottle of Gruet, go down there, stick it in the larger size of the brown bag, and take along some cups and order some of those momos. And that pairing for me, it’s just one of the most incredible things. It’s something I would normally do to kick off Thanksgiving as well, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen this year, but that is a pairing that we might get onto pairings today, but that’s a pairing that isn’t very classical, but I want to put that one out there and claim it for myself, if I can.
A: Oh yeah. I read about that, that you do that in a publication called Eater, I think. There was an article written about how you do that, but I wasn’t sure if it was you because it mentioned a husband, so I’m not sure if it was you.
T: Well, what can I say? The quality of journalism and reporting these days, fact checking is not what it was.
Z: This is great, though, because I actually think Tim points to a really important story, whether it’s about the American sparklers or just sparkling wine more broadly, which is one of the cool things that we’ve seen emerge, at least I’ve seen I think, and it’s not exclusively the province of America, but I think you’ve seen it here a lot is this interesting approach to sparkling wine that that is there are producers that are making wines that are very much modeled intentionally after Champagne, in terms of the choice of varieties, the winemaking methodology. But you’ve also got producers who are working with almost every variety possible, whether it’s Germanic varieties like Riesling, and Gewürztraminer, and Müller-Thurgau and making sparkling wines from those, or making sparkling wines from other aromatic white varieties like Muscat and people making Pétillant-naturel or Pét-Nat wines here, there’s this incredible range of sparkling wines, and this kind of dovetails with the conversation, Adam, that you and I had with Keith a couple of weeks ago about American wine and some of the exciting places to look at. But one of the things that the U.S. has is a lot of these areas that are newer wine-producing regions that might not be quite suitable for big red-wine production. They’re cooler, they’re wetter, they have higher altitude, but they make for amazing potential spots for sparkling wine. And so this idea of expanding the idea of what sparkling wine means beyond this Champagne paradigm is really exciting to me. And I think those food pairings like the one that Tim discussed with the momos or the incredible range of cuisines that we see in this country. I mean, that is where sparkling wine shines. Besides just as a drink by itself, as I described at the beginning, but yeah as this incredible pairing tool, because sparkling wine itself is so diverse and can work with so many different flavors. And so I found incredible pairings at home with take-out Indian food and some interesting Pét-Nat Lemberger from here in Washington. That was a weird-a** pairing, but I thought it worked pretty well, especially with things like paneer cheese that work with a lot of different flavors. So yeah, the possibility space for those of us who are interested in drinking sparkling wine is really broad, and having a broader canvas of wines to work with is also super exciting.
A: Absolutely. And I think the thing that you’re picking up on that is really cool is just how delicious these wines are with a range of cuisines, and how well they go with a range of cuisines. I think a lot of people don’t think about that that often, right? I think we can blame movies and popular culture for this, but Champagne, or sparkling wine in general, but it all began with Champagne. Now it’s this celebratory drink, right? So you pop it at the beginning of a meal to cheers everyone. It’s the wedding drink when the bride and groom first come on and there’s the toast or whatever, but that there’s a lot more to these kinds of wines and they’re very complex. They have a lot of different flavors and aromas then other wines do that pair really well with even things like steak and roast chicken and stuff. That’s just delicious. You might be like, “Oh, I was feeling a red tonight.” Well actually like, you can do just a really delicious sparkling wine with lots of yeasty notes and a savory quality that makes it the perfect pairing for those kinds of things. I think, yeah, you’re right. The amount of fun that people are having with sparkling wine now is really interesting. I think that’s something that we’ve even seen in the re-emergence of Lambrusco. Like there’s this wine that got a really, really terrible rap in the ’70s and ’80s because the stuff coming over from Italy was just sickly sweet. But it’s a wine that comes from the same region as Parmesan cheese and prosciutto, right? And it’s made to go with those wines when it’s done really well. And it can be delicious and dry and easy to consume, obviously, cause it’s often lower alcohol, but then also just does beautifully with pizzas and does awesome with red meats and things like that and spice. And that’s been really fun to watch people discover that because it’s a great wine to have in your repertoire, along with, you know, whites and reds.
Z: Lambrusco is like the perfect wine for one of the few truly American foods, and that’s barbecue. And we’ve had, I guess we call it a spirited conversation about barbecue and what exactly that word means on this podcast, people can go back and listen to the barbecue wine podcast that we did over the summer to get more detail. I’m not going to reiterate everything that was said there, but I do think it’s important to point out that Lambrusco works really, really well with almost any variety of barbecue. And also is one of my absolute favorite pairings for a dish that I don’t personally have very often, because it’s not really what I do, but a very classic edition in December, which is a Christmas ham. Because as Adam mentioned, Lambrusco is from Emilia-Romagna, which is the salted pork capital of the world. So if you’re going to have salty pork, you should have Lambrusco.
A: It makes sense. It makes sense.
Z: And it is really like the capital of the world. I cannot overemphasize how much cured pork I had in my couple of days in Emilia-Romagna. It was — obscene isn’t even the right word. It was something beyond obscene.
A: I want to go to Emilia-Romagna.
Z: It’s very un-picturesque.
A: I just want to go there for the salted pork.
Z: And actually surprisingly also, and this is a thing that comes up in Italy, they have some of the best bread in Italy, which Italian bread is really hit or miss. Like just absolutely dreadful bread, uh, but Emilia-Romagna’s bread is good. Tim, I have a question for you, because we were talking about the culture and the context in which people drink sparkling wine here. And Adam made a dig about tea earlier, or at least hinted at it. But, I was going to say that I think there’s a perception in this country right or wrong that the Brits are more sophisticated when it comes to wine than Americans traditionally. Is the role of sparkling wine in England functionally different than what it is here? Is that something that’s changed, or what’s it classically like there? Or maybe in the modern day?
T: Yeah, that’s a great question. And I think, the simple answer is that, in my experience, I don’t think that British culture is in any way more sophisticated when it comes to wine or any other type of drinking, but I should add the caveat that I also grew up in Scotland, as well. So, that’s a whole different story. Just search for Buckfast and read about that. And if you’re not familiar with it, that will reveal some things about us as a nation. So I would say that sparkling wine, I don’t think it does have that connotation as only being for celebrations. It’s definitely present at the celebrations. Any occasion I can remember growing up, getting together as a family, there would always be Champagne there. But I’d say more in recent years, and this is even before I came of drinking age. I remember growing up and Cava being so huge in the U.K. And maybe there was some kind of breakout moment where we were told as a nation, “This is like Champagne, but it’s a lot cheaper.” And then at some point there was a shift. I want to say that it was probably about 12 years ago, maybe a little bit longer, where Cava changed to Prosecco. And you know, through the lens of, “Is sparkling wine only for celebration?” I would say absolutely not. Especially for the majority of the nation. It would stun me if Prosecco wasn’t the best-selling wine in the U.K. You know, maybe rosé or maybe something like Malbec might challenge it, but Prosecco is just so popular, and it’s everywhere, and it’s definitely not like the celebration wine. It’s wine for every day. It’s the wine for when my mum gets together with her friends, or when you go out to brunch with friends, or, I guess all the occasions that we have it here, as well, but it just always seems to be on the table.
A: It seemed to happen in the U.K. and in the U.S. around the same time for some reason. It just popped. Everyone, all of a sudden — obviously Prosecco was here for longer, but it feels like all of a sudden people were aware of it. And they knew it by name. And I think what’s become really interesting, now we’re getting onto the business side, is that yeah, during Covid right while Champagne sales slumped, Prosecco interest and sales continued to stay fairly high, and people were asking for Prosecco by name. So where they might call an American sparkler Champagne, they know now to call Prosecco “Prosecco.” It’s become this thing that is this just massive behemoth that people recognize as like the sparkling wine you can drink all the time. And yes, I mean, if you want to toast with it great, but also if you just want it on a Tuesday night with take-out, and then you want to watch Netflix, it’s a great wine to have, and it’s just been everywhere. And that, I think, has been really interesting. And the only thing I wonder about with Prosecco is like, how much more can it grow? Because it’s just grown so much, but it doesn’t really show a ton of signs of slowing. So, there definitely is still opportunity.
Z: Adam. I have a question for you and for Tim, of course, too, if he has thought about this. So, you mentioned the business side of it and the growth of Prosecco and the fact that it’s now a category distinct from Champagne, and then I guess sparkling wine more broadly. But what I wonder is the thing I haven’t seen a lot of, I’ve seen a little bit of it, but not a lot of it, is producers in the United States or other parts of the world really trying to go after Prosecco’s market share directly. So you see a lot of people pushing other kinds of traditional-method, fully sparkling wines as an alternative. Oh, you know, whether it’s Cava, whether it’s other Italian sparkling wines, whether it’s domestics, et cetera, but you don’t see people saying, “Hey, we’re going to try and make a wine that, flavor-profile-wise, is similar to Prosecco.” Now, maybe that’s because no one else is growing Glera. And so they’re not going to really make something that tastes exactly like it because they’re not growing the grape. But I think a lot of it is maybe that for whatever reason the success of Prosecco, no one has an explanation in the wine world. No one really understands it. They don’t know whether to credit it to the style of wine itself or just it’s relative affordability, and the fact that I guess the name resonates with people, it’s easy for people to pronounce and remember. That stuff matters, too. I don’t know. Do either of you have a read on why you’re not seeing more people making semi-sparkling, tank-method sparkling wines, and trying to push them as Prosecco alternatives?
A: I do. I think that sparkling wine, for the majority of consumers, is a lifestyle beverage. It’s much more similar to rosé than it is to other wines. And so when you’re talking about a lifestyle beverage, you’re talking about what else that wine represents, besides quality-to-price ratio, the grape it’s made from, whatever. Prosecco represents to most American consumers now a posh, Italian lifestyle. It represents this idea of Italy and Milan and what’s really funny is, and Venice, it represents everything. And I remember talking to a few French corporate producers about this last year at a conference. And they’re like, “But we are closer to Milan” and I’m like that’s fine. But we’re Americans, we don’t know where Omaha is compared to where New Orleans is. We don’t. We have a very weird idea about where things are in other countries. And so it’s like, wait, of course Prosecco is closer to Milan, and maybe Rome, too, but it just represents Italy as a whole. And in the same way that Champagne to people represents this posh French lifestyle. Which is why I think Crémant could never really unseat that in most Americans’ minds and make them aware of that. ‘Cause Champagne already represents that to them. So like “the budget-level Champagne from France,” I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in the lifestyle of high-end French culture and fashion and food, and that’s Champagne. Again, right now I don’t know what that could be for Cava. Can you tie that to Barcelona? It’s super close to Barcelona, but no one’s done that yet. No one’s really been able to figure out how to make you connect the culture of that sparkling wine to that lifestyle, because again, I think we’re still, as Americans, unsure of what Barcelona is as a lifestyle place. Whereas Italy and France, we really know. It’s fashion and food and all the things that we love. And that’s why I also think you don’t see American producers trying to copy it, because it’s hard. Like what are you copying? Yes, you can potentially copy the flavor profile and the price, but you can’t copy all the other things that it says about you. And I think sparkling wine is truly a product where Americans think a lot about what it says about them in the same way we think about the fashion brands we wear, or the kinds of furniture we choose to have in our homes or whatever. What’s the initial connection? The “brand-this-type-of-person” connection that people make to say, “Oh, well they drink these brands, they must be this kind of person.” And so it’s very hard to compete against. And like it’s interesting to me that it took the Italians this long to make it click, but they did. And now I think it’s just very strong.
Z: That’s fascinating, Adam. I know we’ve talked about that context or that idea in the context of Champagne specifically as a luxury brand item, but it had never occurred to me that it just is true in a different way for Prosecco — that’s super fascinating.
T: Yeah, I think you both raise really great points there about sparkling wine in general, and I guess certain sparkling wines becoming brands within themselves, right? Like Champagne, Prosecco, maybe Cava to a lesser extent, but I don’t feel like there are many others in the world, right? Like Corpinnat. That’s never gonna break out, or Franciacorta, sorry guys. I don’t think it ever is either. But looking at the business perspectives, Zach, I think there’s another interesting aspect here that someone mentioned to me recently, I can’t remember who I was speaking with. And they were talking about the fact that it was probably a very good idea that, as of late two thousands, the Glera grape was known as Prosecco. And then it was changed so that, when grown within Europe, it needs to be called Glera now. And I think that was a very savvy decision to protect the Prosecco brand, right? Because otherwise what could happen, you could have all these different producers in other countries where maybe they could make wine for cheaper and even undercut the price of Prosecco, use that grape and use it on the labels, and then that could create all kinds of problems for the Italians. So I think that’s an interesting thing to explore a little bit from the business side of things.
A: I don’t know. I think the other thing too, with the American styles, for whatever reason, they are just trying very hard to be either the Champagne equivalent or be so obvious that they’re not, that all I’ve ever seen in an American sparkling wine or in the majority of them — and I’m looking at a few of them on the floor of the room I’m in right now — they kind of copy the look of Champagne. The label, everything, and so you’re like ‘Oh, so this is the Champagne alternative.” And I always wonder, are they doing this in case the consumer doesn’t realize this isn’t Champagne? Or is this really what they’re going for? Or then they’re very modern, right? Ultra-modern-looking labels and things like that, which I also don’t think totally works. But again, it comes to that connection, right? I think if you had a sparkling wine region that was really close to New York, or really close to maybe L.A. or something else that we think of as being super posh, maybe you could have that tie into fashion and that tie into culture that would make it be a much stronger luxury product, but you don’t. And with Champagne or with Prosecco, you have that. And you look at how these packages are designed for both of those kinds of skews, and for the most part, they evoke other luxury brands. I mean, you look at Luminore by LaMarca and that blue, which is beautiful on the bottle, also definitely nods to Tiffany’s. It definitely does, we know that blue. You look at the Mionetto bottle, and it nods to Veuve Clicquot. You look at a lot of these different well-known brands on both the Prosecco and a Champagne market, and I think they just do a much better job than sparkling wine around the rest of the world at positioning themselves as what most consumers consider them to be, which is luxury products.
Z: And the last point I wanna make, ‘cause it ties all those things together in some sense to me, is that one thing I would encourage our listeners to think about is that Prosecco, Champagne, Crémant, Cava et cetera, these are only a slice of what’s possible in this sparkling wine realm. And I think that one of the encouraging things for me, as I mentioned before, is that producers and importers and distributors are starting to see the value in having a really wide breadth of sparkling wine options for people, whether that now includes things like Lambrusco, whether that includes Pét-Nat, whether that includes some other kinds of interesting wines. Whether it’s the variety, the methodology, whatever, sparkling wine is a really diverse category and it’s growing more diverse all the time. And while the classics and the tent-pole styles and icons are still delicious and worth investing in and worth checking out, I do think that one thing that will be exciting in Bubbly Weeks to come, hopefully, is discussing the incredible possibility space that’s still out there that we’re just starting to explore as a broader wine-drinking community.
A: Absolutely. Well, I hope everyone has a wonderful Bubbly Week and you drink lots of sparkling wine. I know I plan to. Tim, thanks for joining us as this week’s guest host. Always a pleasure to have you, sir.
T: Always a pleasure to be here. Thank you both for having me.
A: Yeah man. I mean, I don’t want to keep you away from your tea, so we’re gonna let you go. I’m sure you have a hot pot going with a little bit of a biscuits as well. Everyone, thanks for listening. Leave us a like, comment, review on iTunes, Spotify, wherever you get podcasts. It helps everyone discover the show. Zach, I’ll talk to you next week, man.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the VinePair Podcast. If you enjoy listening to us every week, please leave us a review or rating on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever it is that you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show. Now for the credits, VinePair produced by myself and Zach. It is also mixed and edited by him. Yeah, Zach, we know you do a lot. I’d also like to thank the entire VinePair team, including my co-founder, Josh, and our associate editor, Cat. Thanks so much for listening. See you next week.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.
Published: December 1, 2020