UK Pubs Are Treating Prosecco Like Beer, and Italy Is Pissed

A consortium of Prosecco producers based in northern Italy are saying that Britain's love affair with on-tap Prosecco is nothing less than illegal.

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Jan 8 2015, 11:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Courtney Boyd Myers

For those of us who can't tell much of a difference between high-end Champagne and a run-of-the-mill sparkler, relatively inexpensive Prosecco has long stood as a sort of Designer Imposter of the wine world: It gets the job done for a fraction of the cost of the French stuff. Who wants to spend $30 on a Bellini at brunch?

But, as the number-one market for Prosecco, Britain has embraced it perhaps a little too casually, with a number of pubs and restaurants forgoing the wine's shapely glass bottle for the more service-friendly draught.

Problem is, that's not exactly kosher with Prosecco winemakers.

You might imagine Italians being peeved at the general garishness of their fine(ish) wine being served from the egalitarian tap rather than the aristocratic bottle, but a consortium of Prosecco producers based in northern Italy are saying that on-tap Prosecco is nothing less than illegal.

Since 2009, Prosecco has been protected under EU law, which regulates how the wine may be sold across Europe. According to its DOC appellation, pouring Prosecco like a pint of warm beer is on par with pitching a packet of yeast into a bottle of pinot grigio and calling it Champagne. I.e., not cool.

Michele Anzaldi, an Italian Parliament member who serves on the country's agriculture commission, called on his fellow politicians "to act immediately with the EU against the UK" to save the soul of Prosecco from the keg, even if it contains the exact same product as a DOC-stickered bottle. "It's one thing to drink Prosecco, a protected brand, but quite another to drink pseudo-wine pumped with carbon dioxide, as seems to be served in some British pubs," Anzaldi told The Telegraph.

Speaking to Decanter, the Prosecco consortium echoed Anzaldi. "This is illegal and it represents counterfeiting for both the Italian producer and British consumers," it said.

In addition to the fact that Prosecco can't be called Prosecco if it's poured from anything but a traditional glass bottle, the frizzante Prosecco often served in UK pubs isn't suited for the tap because it's apparently not fizzy enough. "It's not possible to get the right degree of pressurization," consortium director Luca Giavi told The Independent. "My advice to British customers is to always go for a bottle," he said.

Just imagine these Italian producers' horror when they learned of Frizzenti, which operates a "mobile Prosecco bar" housed in a Citroën van that dispenses Italian wine on tap at music festivals and other bacchanals in the UK. But Frizzenti has denied violating EU regulations, and supports the current labeling laws. "As far as we're concerned, 'Prosecco on tap' is a contradiction in terms—it doesn't exist," Frizzenti's director, Daniel Spinath, told The Guardian. "We've made very clear that the product we sell in kegs is the same product as the bottles, which is 100-percent glera Prosecco grape, but that we cannot call it Prosecco even though it is exactly the same product."

Beyond simple pearl-clutching, Italian producers are threatening significant fines—from €2,000 to €20,000—against pubs found to be in violation of EU law.

One such establishment—The Priory Bar in Wakefield—already received a visit from the UK's Food Standards Agency, which informed the bar that it was violating EU regulations. The Priory opted to change the name of its fizzy wine to "frizzante," though it can't expect that the other 200-odd establishments it supplies with the wine to do the same.

But if Britain's pub-goers don't mind drinking Prosecco from the tap in the first place, it's hard to believe they'll care what it's called.

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