European Wine Wars: after Tocai, it is the time of Prosek… and Teran

StefanoThe international press, Dr Vino and several other sources all recently reported that, as a result of Croatia’s imminent accession to the European Union at the end of a 10-year long process, Croatian wineries will be required to stop using the name “Prosek” to identify a traditional local sweet raisin wine that has been made for centuries mainly in the Dalmatia region from local grape varieties such as Bogdanuša, Maraština, Plavac mali and Pošip.

The reason for the requirement is that, according to EU officials, the name of the Croatian wine is too similar to Italy’s Prosecco and therefore it might be confusing to consumers. And this in spite of Prosek and Prosecco being two very different wines, made out of different grapes (Glera for Prosecco and the Croatian grape varieties mentioned above for Prosek) and in different styles (Prosecco is mostly sparkling and is not a sweet wine, while Prosek is a still, sweet raisin wine).

Unsurprisingly, the EU requirement has caused considerable commotion in the Croatian wine world and some producers indicated that the Croatian authorities are even considering initiating a legal dispute to challenge the EU requirement.

However, the chances that Croatia be allowed to retain its right to use the name “Prosek” for their wine after joining the EU are very slim, as the case is virtually identical to the one that a few years ago prevented Italian winemakers (mostly in Veneto and Friuli) from using the word “Tocai” to identify a local dry wine that had been made for centuries from the homonymous grape variety because the name was too similar to Hungary’s Tokaji, a famous local sweet raisin wine made from Furmint grapes (for more information about the Tokaji/Tocai dispute, please refer to my previous post that dealt with it).

But, as the saying goes, bad news never comes alone, at least for Croatia, that is. Beside the Prosek debacle, Croatia has to face a claim made by neighboring Slovenia that Croatia should also be prevented from using the word “Teran” to identify a red wine that is made in Italy’s region of Friuli, in Slovenia and in Croatia from the grape variety known as Terrano or Teran in Croatia. Slovenia’s claim is based on the fact that the EU granted Slovenia a protected designation of origin for Terrano grapes grown in the Slovenian region of Kras. The European Commission very recently decided the Teran dispute in favor of Slovenia, with a decision that will likely also negatively affect Italian Terrano producers.

Even in this case, the decision gives rise to many doubts, as Terrano is a very ancient variety (the oldest references date back to 1340 in Slovenia) which originated from the Karst plateau, an area that is shared among Italy (Friuli), Slovenia and Croatia (Istria). DNA profiling has also proved that Terrano is identical to Refosco d’Istria (a Croatian variety) and Refosk in Slovenia (information on the Terrano grape variety, cit. Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, HarperCollins 2012).

Given the above, which side of the fray are you on?

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0 thoughts on “European Wine Wars: after Tocai, it is the time of Prosek… and Teran

  1. Brice

    HI ! I’m a french student from Bordeaux in wine law. I have chosen to do a presentation about the “prosek/prosecco” case.

    Therefore, I have some questions about croatian wine organisation. I will be pleased if you could help me.

    Firstly, since croatia is part of the European Union, i know that wines are classified in 2 categories : wines with geographical indication / wines without geographical indication.
    But what was the former classification in Croatia ?
    I’ve heard about region, sub region, wine growing hill ?
    what is prosek from a legal point of view in Croatia ?

    Secondly, is there any lack of an intellectual property culture in croatia ? Do wine producers really systematically protect their wines by geographical indications, designation of origins, trademarks ?

    I look forward to your response.

  2. Maria

    Hi, I am a simple person without claims that I know much about wine or wine tasting. But I was in Croatia last month and the glass of prošek I had with my dessert was the most soulful experience of the entire trip. I would suggest to anyone who’s in favour of this insane idea that prošek (which is by the way pronuonced as *pro-shek*, not pro-sec) and prosecco might confuse consumers, to try it and have a second thought.

    Thus said, I am very sad to learn about the Tocai story – it hurts to hear how people have no respect for traditions going on for centuries. I just hope the EU is not intending to recompensate Italy for tocai by eliminating prošek – it’ wrong.

    As for the teran, I don’t get the logic, either. If teran grapes are recognized to be grown in Croatia, Italy and Slovenia, why would only one of these countries have the right to name its production properly? I wouldn’t mind choosing between Kraški teran (Slovenia), Istarski teran (Croatia) and Terrano del Carso (Italy), isn’t this part of the concept of terroir? What happens to Chile if France decides to get exclusive rights over the word “carménère” and, above all, is this morally correct?

    Maybe my thoughts are too shallow, maybe I am speaking without being prepared to do so. But still, I am one of these “presumably confused” simple customers. The EU regulators claim they are doing all of this for my good – well, here I stand and I say to you – you are wasting your time and losing people’s respect. I would rather make and explain the difference between prošek and prosecco than between c. sauvignon and c. franc!

    1. Stefano Post author

      Dear Maria,
      Thank you very much for such a well thought out, balanced comment. I really appreciate it!
      I totally agree that two wrong decisions are worse than one.
      And, I am also with you on your points regarding Teran! They are anything but shallow, I tell you!
      Trust me, these EU decisions sadden me as much as they aggravate you.
      Thank you very much for so thoughtfully contributing to the discussion.

  3. talkavino

    I think this is a little crazy – Prosek and Prosecco are so different in style, I don’t believe anyone will be confused, outside of the people who can’t pronounce the word “Prosecco” properly. We need to take all the people who actually create and propagate all the nonsense issues like this one, and send them to do charitable (meaning – unpaid) work in a remote location for the good of humankind…

  4. Pingback: European Wine Wars: after Tocai, it is the time of Prosek… and Teran | DLCS Management

  5. Dina

    Interesting topic, Stefano, I was not aware of this contoversy either. I’m not that familiar with Croatian wine but I sometimes tend to react a little bit allergic to all the regulations and restrictions from the EU. Not working only inside the EU – Norway on the outside is kneedeep into it as well.
    Greetings to Connecticut from Fredrikstad

    1. Stefano Post author

      Thank you, Dina! The EU is certainly not shy about regulations, all right! 😉
      On the specific issue, I think the EU should have handled the matter differently. If you are interested in reading more details about my own opinion on the issue, please see my answer to B’s post above, which was the first comment to this post.
      Big hugs from the City That Never Sleeps! 🙂

  6. apuginthekitchen

    Very interesting post, I wasn’t aware of this controversy but after reading I would have to agree with the EU that Prosek is uncomfortably close to Prosecco. i have never had wine from Croatia so am really pretty uninformed about this. It doesn’t sound like this is settled now though and it will be appealed.

    1. Stefano Post author

      Hi Suzanne, thank you for sharing your views on this topic.
      While I agree that the two names sound very much alike, I think the EU should have handled the matter differently. If you are interested in reading more details about my own opinion on the issue, please see my answer to B’s post above, which was the first comment to this post.
      Thank you!

  7. Jennifer Findlay @ coffee&couch

    It’s time for bureaucrats to stop assuming people have no common sense. They were able to distinguish between the different wines before the documents were signed to unite the regions, and they will continue to make the distinction. The whole thing is ridiculous.

    1. Stefano Post author

      Thank you, Jennifer, for sharing your views on this topic.
      I tend to agree with your viewpoint and think the EU should have handled the matter differently. If you are interested in reading more details about my own opinion on the issue, please see my answer to B’s post above, which was the first comment to this post.
      Thank you!

  8. Just Add Attitude

    An interesting question Stefano. I think I am on the side of the EU officials on this. The world of wine is vast and there are so many grape varieties, I feel that a consumer, without any specific wine knowledge, will have heard of only a fraction of them and these will most likely be the better-know varieties such as: Cab S, Pinot Noir, Sauvingon Blanc, Chardonnay etc. So I do feel there is potential for confusion between say Prosek and Prosecco which I don’t think is a good for producers of either wine or for consumers. 😉

    1. Stefano Post author

      Thank you very much, B, for sharing your opinion on the subject and for the well thought out answer.
      I purposedly refrained from expressing my own opinion about this matter directly in the post not to influence readers, one way or the other, but in a nutshell here is what I think about the issue.
      I can see what the EU authorities were trying to do, protecting the consumer interests and all, but personally I think they missed the mark.
      In both the Tokaji/Tocai and the Prosek/Prosecco cases, we were not talking about protecting the historical name of a famous wine against someone who just recently started making their own wine picking a name that resembled someone else’s famous wine in order to deceive consumers and “steal” sales (which by the way reminds me of the condemnable practice used by certain US winemakers of marketing their sparklers under the name “Champagne”, which as everybody knows is a name reserved only to Classic Method sparkling wines produced in the homonymous appellation in the homonymous region in France).
      In those two cases we were talking about the coincidental resemblace of the names of four wines that not only were very different from one another but also had long-standing traditions (well, except Prosecco that is!), which is why I think it is wrong that the EU decided to “kill” a piece of some country’s heritage (be it Italy or Croatia) just because of names that sounded alike.
      Maybe a compromise solution could have been to request the country against which the EU decided to simply add some localization information to the name, such as “Italian Tocai” instead of just Tocai or “Dalmatian Prosek” instead of just Prosek. That way the average consumer would immediately know that the bottle he or she is looking at is something different from what that consumer was looking for and decide accordingly.
      That’s at least my take of it!

      1. Just Add Attitude

        Stefano, that’s a very thoughtful analysis of the situation. When you mentioned ‘killing’ a piece of a country’s heritage that gave me pause for thought as I hadn’t seen it in that light; I like your idea of a compromise solution. 😉