Paris Hilton, rich prosecco tinnes and gen Y

Rather than tut-tutting, Italian winemakers ought to applaud Guenther Aloys’ launch, in designer cans, of Rich Prosecco, a semi-sparkling wine from Italy’s Treviso Province.

In a series of Paris Hilton hosted parties, starting in a Tyrolean ski resort last April before fanning out over Germany (and even to Munich’s beer-drenched Oktoberfest), the little gold tinny and its contents seems to have been a huge success.

The promoters claim to have sold one million cans of Rich Prosecco in the four months following its release. One press release called it “Generation Y’s trendiest lifestyle beverage”.

And therein lies a hint for Australian winemakers as well as the Italian hand wringers. Unlike wine in traditional packaging, Rich Prosecco in cans appears to have broad appeal to young people.

Guenther Aloys’ success with Prosecco-in-can suggests that there’s at least one way forward in an oversupplied global industry facing a demographic crunch.

In its Australian Wine Industry, Challenges for the future report issued in October, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics writes, “Despite rising incomes in both traditional and non-traditional wine consuming countries, global demand for wine is not responding as more wine drinkers move into retirement (with attendant lower income) and younger age groups exhibit a preference for other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages”.

It’s worth noting, too, that there’s nothing novel in attracting drinkers to wine with light, fresh, fruity, slightly sweet flavours. It’s been a perennial theme in Australian winemaking and marketing – and very successful at times, too.

We’ve been spared Paris Hilton, at least, but it was just such a wine style – Barossa Pearl and a host of bubbly look-alikes – that in the fifties and sixties turned many Australians on to the pleasures of wine drinking.

Even without bubbles, crisp, fresh, slightly sweet, fruity wines – notably Lindemans Ben Ean Moselle — carried the pop wine drinking culture forward. And, more recently, we’ve seen mixed success with semi-sweeties like Glass Mountain and Soho.

And, of course, we shouldn’t forget one of the biggest selling sweeties of all, Brown Brothers Spaetlese Lexia. It’s been thriving for decades now.

But what none of these has achieved – from Barossa Pearl in the fifties to the still popular Spaetlese Lexia – is broad appeal to young adults. The market has generally been to a more mature person that may or may not move on to dry wines and will almost certainly drink less when older.

The success of Rich Prosecco, then, clearly lies more in the presentation than in its pleasant, undemanding flavours – a style described by Prosecco producers on the official regional website as being “made with the young and less expert consumer in mind”.

Those traditional producers might pooh-pooh the can, and even ban it in Italy. But Guenther Aloys’ designer packaging is more in tune with what younger drinkers are used to in their preferred tipple — pre-mixed drinks, mostly spirit based.

Throw in the colour of Paris Hilton, the glamour of ski resorts and top night-spots (and a premium price) and you have wine as fashion – meaning significant volumes for the producer and presumably good profits, too.

Australian winemakers have long wondered how to tap into the exploding ready-to-drink market. Rich Prosecco shows that it can be done. If it succeeds in Germany, why can’t similar products succeed with young people both here and in our major export markets?

WINE REVIEWS

Schloss Vollrads Rheingau Riesling Kabinett Halbtrocken 2005 $26
This gold medal winner from Canberra’s International Riesling Challenge comes from Germany’s Rheingau district. Vines were first planted there in the eighth century and riesling recorded there since 1435. The latitude’s long, gentle growing season suits riesling so well that today it constitutes eighty-five per cent of the Rheingau’s vine plantings. The styles are wonderfully delicate and generally low in alcohol – with the sweeter wines as low as seven or eight per cent. This one, at eleven per cent, is a wonderful, teasing, pour-another-glass aperitif combining gentle sweetness with intense but delicate fruit flavour. Available at www.fermoy.com.au

Richmond Grove Watervale Riesling 2005 $14 to $18
Given its provenance, exceptional ageing ability, superb show record and the sheer drinking pleasure it provides, Richmond Grove Watervale Riesling surely ranks amongst Australia’s greatest value wine buys. The 2005, already with four gold medals to its name, delivers the classic, zesty, lime-like flavour, freshness and fine structure of riesling grown at Watervale, in the southern Clare Valley. Orlando Group White Winemaker, Rebekah Richardson, tells me it’s a blend of the best Watervale material of each vintage, as assessed by the Orlando team. That team, incidentally, includes veteran John Vickery, a key figure in the development of modern Australian riesling.

Printhie Orange Region Merlot 2005 $15
Merlot’s out of favour in some quarters at present, perhaps because so many Australian attempts at the style tend to be either green and hard or overburdened with oak or tannin. But this one – a silver medallist at the recent Orange Wine Show – demonstrated what good fruit, gently handled, can do. It’s from Printhie’s Phalaris Vineyard and, says winemaker Rob Black, winemaking focused on capturing the fruit flavour without extracting too much tannin. The appealing fragrance, elegant structure and simple, delicious fruit make it ideal for drinking right now. It seems Orange has a real future with this variety. See www printhiewines.com.au

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