ITALIAN SPARKLING WINES: A SMART GUIDE
Updated: Sep 21, 2020
If you have somehow followed this blog, you should know by now that Italy boasts of more native grape varieties than any other country on earth. On top of that, not only does Italy make more wine than any other wine producing country in the world but it also matches quantity with quality. And this is also true, of course, for sparkling wines.
Though most Filipinos are usually familiar only with Prosecco, Italy abounds with sparkling wines made both with the metodo Classico (or traditional method, that is, with the second fermentation in individual bottles) and the Charmat-Martinotti method (in which the fermentation takes place in pressurised stainless steel tanks) thus offering a high quality range of “bollicine” (bubbles) to satisfy tastes across all styles at affordable price.
Whether red, white or rosato, spumante (sparkling) and/or frizzante (semi-sparkling), Italian “bollicine” (bubbles) will make you forget about some other countries over-rated and boring fizzy products.
Glera is the name of the grape that produces - in Veneto region’s cool climate and sea-fossil soils - the worldwide famous sparkling wine called Prosecco. Prosecco has at least 11% of alcohol content and varying degrees of sweetness, the most consumed of which is the extra dry, with about 15 grams of sugar per liter in it.
Like many Italian wines, the quality of Prosecco has improved dramatically, and the wineries producing Prosecco DOCG and DOC denominations are now collectively going organic. Prosecco is one of the world’s best value sparklers even when purchased in its highest quality, the “cru” Cartizze. Prosecco areas of origin are: Conegliano Valdobbiadene, Valdobbiadene, and Asolo (or Colli Asolani).
The rise in Prosecco’s popularity over the past few years has been exponential, outselling French Champagne across the world. Sales are projected to reach 440 million bottles annually by 2020, way up from only 150 million in 2010.
Prosecco is a light-bodied, fresh and highly aromatic style of sparkling wine made in the Charmat-Martinotti method. It is dry to off-dry, with medium to high acidity and large bubbles. Dominant natural flavors include apple, honeysuckle, melon and pear. Prosecco is delicious on its own as an aperitif, pairs effortlessly with many dishes, even sushi, and it is fantastic in cocktails (think of Bellini and Spritz) and typically fares below 1,000 Php. At iTrulli Fashion, Food and Wine Makati City, we paired it with Laing, try it to believe!
Great Prosecco producing vineyards are: Foss Marai, La Marca, Colesel, Bartolomiol, Follador and Le Rughe among others.
Franciacorta, a 1967 DOC and 1995 DOCG although produced in the area for centuries, is wrongly called “the Champagne of Italy,” because of its traditional method of vinification and its Chardonnay and Pinot Nero grape varieties blend (though with Pinot Bianco in lieu of Champagne’s Pinot Meunier) similar to Champagne. On the contrary, consider Franciacorta as Italy’s best kept sparkling secret. The production area’s location below lake Iseo in Lombardy region, more southerly than the Champagne region in France and milder due to the lake’s moderating influence favoring riper grapes and resulting in fuller-bodied, more fruit forward wines.
There is a lot of range when it comes to Franciacorta wines, from lean and acid-driven to rich and brioche-like taste. An intriguing style of Franciacorta comes in the form of Satèn, a blanc de blancs (Chardonnay and/or Pinot Bianco) aged two years on its lees and bottled with less pressure, creating a softer texture. Franciacorta rosato is also drawing plenty of attention and has 25% of Pinot Nero in the base wine. “Millesimato” is the product of a single vintage, not released before 37 months after its harvest while “Riserva” requires 66 months ageing on its lees.
Franciacorta by law has a longer minimum time for bottling than Champagne (24 months as opposed to 18) and its sweetness degrees vary, though the majority is Brut (below 12 grams of sugar per liter).
Any typology of Franciacorta has its ideal food match: try the elegant Satèn with a fish starter, the Brut with a seafood risotto or the Rosato with white meat dishes – or even dare red meat courses with a Vintage or a Riserva!
Best Franciacorta? Ca’ del Bosco, Mosnel, Contadi Castaldi and Bellavista, but also Lantieri, Berlucchi and La Montina among other 116 producers.
Oltrepò Pavese (Lombardia)
Oltrepò Pavese has been long producing wines of all styles, but the region’s bubbles obtained their own DOCG classification only in 2007.
Unlike Franciacorta, where the emphasis is placed on Chardonnay, Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico highlights Pinot Nero, which must comprise of at least 70% of any wine produced. Winemakers can also release a varietal Pinot Nero, which must contain at least 85% of the grape. Since the region still has a fairly small production, its wines can be hard to find.
Best wine estates: Monsupello and Giorgi.
Trentodoc (Trentino-Alto Adige)
Trentino-Alto Adige region’s valleys around the city of Trento produce both still and sparkling wines but Trento DOC, or Trentodoc as the appellation is known, is reserved only for sparkling wine.
Altitude is a key factor in Trentodoc’s fresh sparklers, which can be made from Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, Pinot Bianco, and/or Pinot Meunier. While vines are planted throughout these valleys, grapes harvested from the mountain slopes are more suited for sparklers. Expect Trentodoc wines to be elegant and harmonious, emphasizing lean, bright acidity from the citrus and toasty rich like flavors.
Trentodoc, as all other sparklings, goes well with salty and mild spicy food. Most Filipinos love adobo, the acidity of Trentodoc will match the greasiness of adobo.For the same reasons crunchy chicharron, for instance,would taste better if paired with a Trentodoc “bollicine” which will balance its fattiness as well.
You will have to taste Ferrari, Kettmeir and Maso Martis Trentodoc products among the best.
Alta Langa (Piemonte)
The Alta Langa DOCG region was created only in 2011 but its strict regulations indicate that it was established with quality in mind. The appellation overlaps quite a few of Piedmont’s most famous regions in the hills of Alessandria, Asti and Cuneo. Alta Langa produces just over 2,300 hectoliters of wine per year compared to Franciacorta which makes more than 122,000 hectoliters.
Alta Langa, unlike most sparkling wine regions around the world where non-vintage blends dominate production, may only be produced as a vintage-dated wine aged for a minimum of 30 months: a guarantee of quality. All wines are made in the Metodo Classico or traditional method, Pinot Nero or Chardonnay must comprise at least 90% of the blend.
Best vineyards: Contratto, Fontanafredda and Serafino.
Asti spumante is a sparkling sweet wine made from the Moscato Bianco grape always in the wine-rich Piedmont region. It is fermented in a stainless steel tank (metodo Charmat-Martinotti) which is sealed off before fermentation in order to trap the CO2, achieve the desired level of carbonation and let a considerable amount of sugar be left in the juice, resulting in a sweet wine with lower alcohol and intense floral and fruity aromas.
These wines are often cheap and thus wrongly considered of lower-quality, although wines from the Moscato d’Asti DOCG have today a significant reputation. This highly perfumed and sweet wine boasts fruity and floral flavours and is best enjoyed served with dessert. Filipinos are particularly fond of lifting glasses of sparkling Asti Spumante during Christmas holidays.
For the best Moscato d’Asti you already know the world famous Gancia vineyard but look also for, and taste, Icardi and La Spinetta.
Acqui Terme (Piemonte)
Another charming and refreshing but lesser known option in the Italian sparkling wine lineup is Brachetto d’Acqui, also produced in Piedmont. Brachetto d’Acqui is a lightly sparkling wine made from a red grape called Brachetto. It is one of the few sweet Italian wines to achieve DOCG status. Only wines produced entirely from Brachetto grapes grown in a very limited area around the town of Acqui Terme in the southern Piedmont can qualify as Brachetto. Served chilled, Brachetto pairs beautifully with chocolate, fruit, nuts and cheeses.
The Castello Banfi vineyard’s Brachetto could be considered one of the best.
Having enjoyed its pinnacle exports in the 1970s and 1980s, the sweet, semi-sparkling red precursor, however good, tastes nothing like the dry, earthy, layered styles of Lambrusco available today on the market.
Lambrusco is not only the name of the bubbly red wine style, but of the grape itself or, more accurately, a family of grapes. Lambrusco di Sorbara tends to produce lighter, strawberry-accented wines that lean more towards rosato than red, while Lambrusco Grasparossa produces darker, fuller-bodied sparkling reds with plenty of rich earth. So the trick is to look for a Lambrusco that is dry – in fact - this is what the wines from this region should taste like.
Excellent on its own, Lambrusco pairs well with anything from a platter of its home region’s famed cold cuts as an antipasto to tortellini in brodo and/or hearty meat dish as could be a secondo piatto (second course).
Best Lambruscos: Medici Ermete, Paltrinieri and Cleto Chiarli.
Other Italian regions
Friuli – Ribolla Gialla is an indigenous grape that has accompanied the people of Friuli over the past 700 years. At the end of the 1970’s, Collavini vineyard started to use Ribolla Gialla to obtain a sparkling Brutspumantesomehow reinterpreting the sparkling wine making methods: the so-called “Collavini method” integrates the best advantages of the metodo Classico techniques with the Charmat-Martinotti process. Later on, other vineyards in Friuli like Fantinel, Di Lenardo, Bastianich and Puiatti started producing sparkling wines from the same grape.
Ribolla Gialla spumante is a well-balanced, high-quality sparkling winewith hints of nectarine, white figs and green apples that meld with hints of minerality. This fine sparkler is a wine good for all occasions, perfect for dishes based on fish and shellfish.
Tuscany – while most people associate Tuscany with Chianti and other bold Sangiovese based still red wines. However a few Tuscan producers are experimenting with Metodo Classico sparkling wines in the region. Notably, Baracchi vineyard which is producing vintage traditional method sparkling wines from 100% white Trebbiano and a rosato from 100% Sangiovese, both grape varieties being indigenous to the region.
Puglia – the Lizzano DOC is known for producing Charmat-Martinotti method sparkling wines in a full spectrum of styles – red, white and rosato. The reds and rosatos are Negroamaro based with Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Bombino Nero, Pinot Nero and Malvasia Nera grapes also allowed. The whites are Trebbiano based with a large portion of Chardonnay and/or Pinot Bianco, as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Bianco di Alessano and Malvasia Bianco. The wines here typically have fuller body and are richer in fruit flavors. Focus on Cantele and Colli della Murgia vineyards.
Abruzzo and Basilicata – Fantini vineyard is producing in Abruzzo a Charmat-Bertinotti method sparkling white wine made from the native grape Cococciola and in Basilicata a sparkling rosato wine made from the native grape Aglianico del Vulture.
Sicily – Donnafugata vineyardproduces fine vintage Metodo Classico sparkling wines, both in white (from Chardonnay and Pinot Nero) and rosato (Pinot Nero) style. You would also enjoy drinking a Metodo Classico from Planeta vineyard made from 100% Carricante, a grape indigenous to Sicily.
Since the antiquity, Italy has been known as Enotria, the land of wine. Today amazing sparkling wine could be also found all across the Peninsula. From the classic styles in the North to innovative styles in the South, Italy’s unique terroirs and wide ranging grape varieties will give you countless options for enjoying Italian “bollicine”.