Say “sparkling wine” and Champagne might be the first thing to come to mind. But, if asked for a sparkling wine from Italy, Prosecco is the probable answer. This is not a surprise, as Prosecco is the number one sparkling wine in Italy in terms of production. But, are you aware of other sparkling wines from Italy? Asti Spumante, Lambrusco, Franciacorta, Brachetto d’Acqui, more than just a few to name. Because of their diversity, quality and affordability, it is time to know these Italian sparkling wines. After all, when it comes to sparkling wines imported to the United States, six of the top ten wines are from Italy.
To understand the sparkling wines of Italy, it is important to start with a few key wine terms.
Sparkling Wine Production
When making sparkling wine, there are two different methods used:
In the Classic Method (also called Method Champenoise or Traditional Method), the wine is made the same way as Champagne. Grapes are crushed and fermented. The wine is put in the bottle and yeast is added for a second fermentation in which bubbles are created when the CO2 develops. The resulting wines are rich with flavors of lemon zest and brioche and with fine bubbles. Classic Method wines are made in the Italian regions such as Lombardy, Trentino and Piedmont.
In the Charmat Method, the second fermentation happens in the tank before bottling. This method is best for sparkling wines that are meant to be drunk young and fresh. In Italy, both Prosecco and Asti Spumante are made in this method.
There are two terms that may appear on a bottle of sparkling wine from Italy:
Frizzante: slightly bubbly
Spumante: sparkling wine
Sparkling Wines Made in Charmat Method
Prosecco comes from the Veneto region in Northeast Italy. The most important sub-region is called Valdobbiadene. Prosecco is made with a grape called Glera, although now the grape is also called Prosecco. Typically around 11% alcohol, Prosecco is a straw color and has light bubbles. It is fresh, clean and bright with aromatics of flowers and peaches. It is very easy to drink and the perfect sparkling wine to mix in cocktails.
Asti is a town in Piedmont, in the Northwest of Italy. The sparkling wine, Asti Spumante, is made from 100% Moscato. It has a low alcohol content of 7%-9.5% and is sweet due to residual sugar. Many people may think of Asti Spumante as overly sweet and rather cloying but a well-made one has beautiful aromas of honeysuckle, nectarine and pear and is perfect at the end of the meal paired with fruity or creamy desserts.
Lambrusco is a red wine grape from the Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy regions. While this wine is sparkling, it is red and its styles can range from sweet to dry (no residual sugar). With at least 10.5% alcohol, this sparkling wine is made in the Charmat method and is meant to be drunk young. It is very aromatic, smelling of berries, with a slightly bitter finish. This is the perfect wine to pair with fatty foods like salami or prosciutto.
Coming from Acqui in Piedmont, Brachetto is a grape variety. The resulting wine is a slightly sweet, slightly effervescent red wine with bright, fruity notes of strawberry. The sweetness of this wine is balanced by its acidity and it is a perfect pairing with chocolate.
Sparkling Wines Made in Metodo Classico
Franciacorta is a town in the region of Lombardy. The name Franciacorta means “little France” and like Champagne, Franciacorta makes sparkling wine in the traditional method. The grapes allowed are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (like Champagne) as well as Pinot Bianco. The wine is required to age for a minimum of 24 months and has a very fine and persistent perlage (the chain of bubbles). Not as yeasty as Champagne, Franciacorta is a softer style and can be enjoyed throughout a meal.
Other Sparkling Wines
There are many other regions that produce Metodo Classico sparkling wine but they are lesser known than Franciacorta. Oltrepo Pavese, also located in Lombardy, but on the other side of the Po River, makes Metodo Classico sparkling wine that is predominately made with Pinot Noir. Trento, next to Alto Adige at the base of the Alps, makes sparkling wine that is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir based.
While the above sparkling wines are the most common to find in the US, Italy also produces many more sparkling wines from Liguria, Friuli, Sicily, Puglia and Marche that are worth exploring.