B.C. wine buyers put fizz in Italian bubbly sales

Prosecco sales soar 143% in four years in lead-up to Italy being theme country for Vancouver International Wine Festival

Vancouver International Wine Festival executive director Harry Hertscheg has tried to use the festival to educate attendees that sparkling wine can be part of everyday dining | Chung Chow

If soaring sales in B.C. for Italian sparkling wine are any indication, many of the 25,000 or so people who attend the 38th annual Vancouver International Wine Festival (VIWF) this week will expect lots of bubbly from wine producers from the theme country, Italy.

Long considered the home of robust, full-bodied red wine, Italy has diversified its wine exports, and sparkling wines now make up a growing proportion of the Italian wines on B.C. shelves.

Sales for all Italian sparkling wine increased 132.5% between 2011 and 2015, to 857,397 litres, according to British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch figures.

Italian red wine sales in B.C., in contrast, saw a comparatively modest 10.3% gain, to 2.37 million litres, during the same four-year span.

Part of the explanation for the spike in sales for Italian sparkling wine is that sparkling wine sales overall have been rising.

Consumers bought 2,507,595 litres of sparkling wine in B.C. in 2015, or 6.85% more than the year before. That pales in comparison, however, to the 17.62% spike in Italian sparkling wine sales.

Interest in Italian sparkling wine is led by prosecco, which, like French champagne and Spanish cava, must be from a specific region, made from specific grape varieties and made using certain production standards.

While champagne ferments in the bottle, for example, prosecco is fermented in tanks before it is poured into bottles.

Less expensive than champagne, prosecco enjoys sales in B.C. that are many times that of its French counterpart by volume and that have been rising faster than all other Italian sparkling wine – 143% since 2011.

“You open a bottle of champagne to celebrate,” said Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill owner Pino Posteraro, who is from Italy. “You open a bottle of prosecco to enjoy life.”

Increasingly, he said, his customers order a glass of sparkling wine to begin a meal.

(Photo: Customers at Pino Posteraro' Cioppino's Meditteranean Grill are increasingly ordering Prosecco | Rob Kruyt)

“In Italy, it is common to say, ‘Hey, let’s go to the bar and have a glass of prosecco before dinner,’” Posteraro said. “Now, it’s becoming a bit like that here.”

VIWF executive director Harry Hertscheg agreed, saying that getting across the message that sparkling wine is not exclusively for special occasions was one of the aims of his festival when bubbly was the festival’s theme wine style in February 2014.

Promotion related to that festival might have contributed to what was a 14.7% sales spike in all bubbly sales in B.C. in 2014 – the strongest sales growth for many years.

“We’re promoting sparkling wine again this year, although not under the banner of being the global focus or theme style,” he said.

One event, on February 23, for example, is called Spumante and Co. and features mostly sparkling wines.

This is the first year in decades that the festival has not had a theme style of wine in addition to a regional focus, such as Italy.

Indeed, diversity itself could be said to be the theme.

“There will be more than 50 different grape varieties from Italy and probably more than 100 different grape varieties throughout the tasting room,” Hertscheg said.

Those large main tastings will be at the Vancouver Convention Centre February 25, 26 and 27.

“We will have more Italian wine producers than ever before: 60,” Hertscheg said. “The last time we featured Italy as the theme country, in 2008, we had 50 Italian wineries represented.”•