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

The international press, Dr Vino and several other sources all reported yesterday 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 over at Flora’s Table 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?


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

  1. ChgoJohn

    Side? We have to pick a side, Stefano? Being Sammarinese, I’ll claim neutrality and let the experts, such as yourself, decide the issue. 🙂

    1. Stefano Post author

      Hahahah! I love your witty Sammarinese comment, John! I thought the topic of this post was quite interesting and debatable for wine aficionados.
      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. Tracy Lee Karner

        I agree with you, Stefano.

        I think the EU is behaving like an overprotective parent who should, instead of getting involved in the kids’ petty dispute (mom, he’s TOUCHING me!), tell them they can’t watch television anymore if they’re going to ruin everyone’s peace by bickering for no good reason.

  2. Maria Dernikos

    How stupid do the EU think we are, that we can’t tell the difference between the words Prosek and Prosecco? I don’t know whether I should write any more….not a fan of the EU.

    1. Stefano Post author

      Thank you for voicing your opinion about the issue, Maria: while personally I think (as in many things in life) there is good and bad about the EU in general, I also think the EU should have handled and decided both the Tokaji/Tocai and the Prosecco/Prosek disputes otherwise. For a more detailed answer, please see my response to John’s comment above (who was the first to comment on this post).
      Thanks again for sharing your opinion, Maria!

  3. Kiara Style

    I stand on the side of drinking great wines…..My only worry is that they be good….I leave the rest to the linguists, haha. As usual a great post, Mr. Stefano!

  4. the winegetter

    Only just seeing that now. The worst thing about this is that it reinforces bad stereotypes about the EU. Remember banning cucumbers that were bent too much from the norm? It is also the case of consumer protection being taken too far…and at the same time, curiously enough, ending up being a protection of producers, not consumers! A classic example of taking things too far…

    I am a strong supporter of European integration, and would like to see more of it, not less, but over the last years I have definitely become more cynical about the EU as an institution…this is a case in point.

  5. lovelinen

    little question here… I wonder how many decision makers on the EU side were Italian vs Croatian 🙂 On a more serious note, it is all Politics whether we agree with it or not, there is a good dose of Political filtration in all this EU wine mix.

    1. Stefano Post author

      Thank you for your comment: as I said in response to a previous comment, I think the EU authorities should be more considerate of longstanding traditions and practices of the various member States (regardless of them being Italy in the Tocai decision or Croatia in the Prosek case) and try to come up with fair solutions that do not harm such traditions.


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