Italian Bubbly Part 1: Intro to Italian Sparkling Wines

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While many people might immediately think of Champagne when you think of popping the cork off a bottle at any celebration (much like you think of the specific brand Kleenex when you need a tissue), there are fortunately tons of amazing Italian sparkling wines to explore! Bubbly drinks can range from dry to sweet, and can be a great way to start or end the evening.

This is a posting with two parts. This first post is a simple guide for any grape-fan to the main sparkling wines of Italy. The second posting will be for the sparkly-curious who are interested to learn the details of Italian sparkling wine production.

Prosecco DOC/di Conegliano/Valdobbiadene DOC/DOCG:
Grape: Glera, 100%
Area(s) of Production: Veneto (Conegliano, Valdobbiadene), Friuli Venezia Giulia
Method: Tank Method, aka Charmat Method
Level of Sweetness: typically very dry
Variations: In Italy it’s possible to find an extremely cheap version of this crisp sparkling wine. Look for a wine labeled “Glera” and with the note that it is “Frizzante” (=slightly sparkling).
Notes: Try adding a splash of orange juice to your Prosecco for an Italian Mimosa, or rather some peach juice for the famed Bellini cocktail…they’re both perfection for brunch!
Prosecco is a wildly popular and an inexpensive to mid-priced sparkling wine that comes from the Veneto region. It is made entirely of the Italian grape Glera and takes its name from the village of original production and where the grape may originate from (note: The grape was previously known as “Prosecco”, but in the name of resolving confusion they changed it to Glera). Prosecco is made using the Tank Method of sparkling wine production, which gives it its light and fruity character as well as its generally low to mid-level price tag. Prosecco is low in alcohol and goes excellently with salty or fried appetizers, so it’s no wonder why it’s a favourite choice during aperitivo hour. A bottle of Prosecco can rarely if ever stand the test of time, so, bottoms up!

Asti/ Asti Spumante:
Grape: Moscato Bianco, aka Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains
Area(s) of Production: Piedmont (Asti, Alba, Cuneo, Alessandria)
Method: Asti Method (a variation of the Charmat Method)
Level of Sweetness: typically medium in sweetness
Potential Food Friends (Pairings): sweet desserts, fruits and salads, or spicy Asian cuisine.
Asti is found in the region of Piedmont, home also of killer wines like Barolo and Barbera. Asti, sometimes with or without the “spumante” on the label, are sparkling wines that are more often than not medium sweet. They are made using their very own method, unsurprisingly called the Asti Method, which results in some residual sugar in the finished wine and gives it its characteristic sweetness. Moscato d’Asti is another wine made in this area which can be called “frizzante”, meaning slightly sparkling. Both of these wines are made entirely from the Moscato Bianco grape (also known as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains), noted for being grapey, peachy, and floral. Sparkling Asti or Asti Spumante wines are typically inexpensive, and go best with sweet foods like sugary desserts, salads, and spicy Asian dishes.

“Metodo Classico” Bubbly
:
Grape(s): vary from wine to wine but common players include Pinot Nero, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco.
Area(s) of Production: also vary from wine to wine, but predominately produced in northern regions.
Method: “Metodo Classico” liteally means “classic method”, which simply means bottle-fermented.   This is a tradition you are likely familiar with from the Champagne region of France. In short, it means that the wine underwent its second bubble-creating fermentation in a bottle, rather than in a large stainless steel tank. The wine has much more contact with the sugar-devouring yeast during the process and this in turn creates a whole different aspect of flavours in your glass, making it fuller and more complex, sometimes biscuity even.
Level of Sweetness: also varies, from Brut (dry) to Dolce (sweet), the wine’s label will tell you for each specific bottle.
Notes: Fans of Champagne will really love Italian metodo classico wines. Wines made in this traditional method definitely have a higher price tag than their other sparkly colleagues mentioned above.  This may partly be due to the prestige of the bottle-fermentation method but more than anything it’s due to the high cost of this production method.
Specific “Metodo Classico” Wines (but by all means not all of them!):

  • Franciacorta DOC/DOCG– a sparkling wine made in the Lombardy region, shares many similarities to Champagne, including two of the three grapes used to make it: Pinot Nero (aka Pinot Noir) and Chardonnay. Franciacorta wines are made in a large range of dry to sweet variations, as well as many other “types”. The three principal Franciacorta’s are: Bianco (blend of chardonnay and/or Pinot Nero and some Pinot Bianco may be added), Satèn (Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco), Rosè (Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, and at least 25% Pinot Nero).
  • Gancia’s Cuvée Metodo Classico– making sparkling wines in the Piedmont region since the 19th century, Gancia is like a Father of Italian sparkling wine. They offer a large variety of traditional method wines, from dry to sweet, and white to Rose’. They too use Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Bianco, but they also have a well-rounded Classic Method Asti made from Moscato Bianco (still sweet yet more full and rich with flavour).

Lambrusco
Grape: the Lambrusco grape, clearly! Not that you need to know but there are nearly 60 different varieties of the Lambrusco grape (of which six account for most Lambrusco wines today).
Area(s) of Production: Emilia-Romagna (Modena, Parma, Reggio nell’Emilia), Lombardy (Mantua)
Method: Tank method mainly
Level of Sweetness: though the sweet versions were most popular in the past, Lambrusco wines can be found secco (dry), amabile (off-dry), and dolce (sweet).
Variations: Cheap Lambrusco production outside of Italy can be found in Argentina and Australia.
Lambrusco is a red sparkling wine whose popularity especially soared in the American market during the 1970’s and 80’s but has since become less popular (as global tastes change in terms of how the international drinker likes their bubbly- dry or sweet?). The grape itself has been made into wine in the Italian peninsula as far back as the Ancient Etruscans and Romans, though it was unlikely to have been the bubbly version we know today. Presently there are eight DOC areas for frizzante Lambrusco: Colli di Parma Lambrusco, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce, Reggiano Lambrusco, Colli di Scandiano e Canossa Lambrusco, Modena Lambrusco, and Lambrusco Mantovano. So what’s so great about the seemingly unloved Lambrusco? It’s low in alcohol, light and fruity, easy to drink, inexpensive, and ready to drink straight away. This is a great summer drink especially. Just make sure you read the label so you can be sure if you are in for a dry or sweet version!

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