Italian sparkles take over French Champagne

Thu Dec 23, 2010 10:32am EST
 
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MILAN (Reuters Life!) - The 2010 vintage will be long remembered among Italian winemakers as the year they finally took over French bubbles and their prized Champagne.

Helped by a roaring economic crisis, this year's production of the so called "bollicine' -- mostly Spumante and Prosecco -- will hit a sparkling 380 million bottles, overtaking France's more expensive Champagne by 10 million bottles, forecasts by Italy's wine experts association Assoenologi show.

"We are talking about the number of bottles produced," said Giuseppe Martelli, General Director of Assoenologi. "If we were to look at the amount of sparkling wine produced in terms of value, we would still be far behind French Champagne."

Rivalry between the world's two top wine producers has always been hot, with France flaunting its superior wine quality against Italy's higher volumes.

In general, toasting with Italian sparkles is cheaper.

The price of a medium- to high-quality bottle of Spumante ranges from 8.5 euros to 18 euros, whereas special reserves would set you back 45 euros a bottle, less than half their Champagne equivalent.

The price factor was an advantage for Italian wine in the crisis. Exports of spumante and prosecco rose 17 percent in the first nine months of 2010, according to the Italian farmer association Coldiretti. Russia in particular saw Italian fizzy wine imports soaring a hefty 166 percent.

Following the trend, Vinitaly - a fair that promotes Italian wine worldwide - will put the bollicine in the spotlight at its 2011 edition.

"We have several indicators that point to a growing success of our bubbles, but we still have a very long way to go before reaching the likes of Champagne," says Giovanni Mantovani, Vinitaly's General Director.

"However, we can see how some products in this field are starting to turn into a brand," he said referring to the Franciacorta, Asti and Prosecco di Valdobbiadene strands.

(Reporting by Valentina Rusconi)