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Italy is home to more sparkling wines from more grape varieties than anywhere else in the world. There might just be a sparkling wine for every palate as you explore Italy. In this series of articles, I explore some of my favorite sparkling wines from around the world. In this part 4 of 5, we are going to take a look at some of my favorite Italian sparkling wines. There are so many types of Italian sparkling wines that I can't cover them all. I will talk about Prosecco, Franciacorta, Asti, and Lambrusco. While I really enjoy a great Prosecco, you aren't experiencing Italy until you try some of the other Italian sparkling wines.
If you want more background on how sparkling wines are made, be sure to read about the background in the first article in this series. Looking for champagnes? We cover those in part 2 of this series. Always remember—now is the best time for a glass of bubbly.
The Sparkling Wine Series on Wander
In this article, we talk about Italian sparkling wines. Be sure to check out the other articles in the sparkling wine series:
- Understanding Sparkling Wine
- French Sparkling Wines (including Champagne)
- Spanish Sparkling Wines
- American Sparkling Wines
About Italian Sparkling Wine
Italy is a magical country. During my time there, I felt captivated at every turn. The connection Italians hold to the land is palpable. That love of the land also means a love of the bounties of the land—olives, grapes, olive oil, wine, vegetables. I was in awe of the tiny wineries that seem to be unique to each region. I have traveled to Italy twice, and on both occasions, I fell in love all over again. A big part of that is the food and wine, including the great Italian sparkling wine.
Italy has so many different types of sparkling wines, made from such a variety of grapes. For example, I had a chance to try a lovely sparkling wine in the Le Marche region made from Verdicchio grapes. That one, a Sartarelli Brut Sparkling, is sometimes available online here in the U.S. There may literally be dozens of Italian sparkling wines, but I'm going to offer you just a few of the most popular and some of my favorites.
Prosecco: the Most Famous Italian Sparkling Wine
The popularity of Prosecco has skyrocketed in the past decade, especially in the U.S. In 2008, Italy produced about 150 million bottles of Prosecco. Today, that number is in excess of 600 million bottles each year. The quality of Prosecco varies, as with many other sparkling wines. Prosecco all comes from the Veneto region of Italy. No other sparkling wine is legally Prosecco.
Prosecco has a long history, first as a still wine and then sparkling. It began in the 12th century around the town of Prosecco using a grape known as Prosecco. In the 1890s, Federico Martinotti made a process using wooden tanks for the second fermentation. This was more economical than the bottle method used in France (méthode Champenoise). In 1907, a Frenchman named Eugène Charmat perfected that method, and patented it. While there are some Proseccos made using the méthode Champenoise or Metodo Classico, most use the Charmat method. However, in Italy, they call it Metodo Italian.
Prosecco has traditionally been made using Prosecco grapes. However, the grape name changed in 2009 to prevent other regions outside of Veneto from using the name. Today, the grapes are known as Glera. They are still the primary grape used in making Prosecco, although there can be some Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, or the local Verdiso.
Italy uses DOC and DOCG to rate wine regions. For Prosecco, wine that is listed as DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin) is often mass-produced from bulk grapes. You can rely on the wine to be of better quality if you look for one designated DOCG, or Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin. DOCG is for Prosecco made from glera grapes in the Prosecco Superior zone north of Venice.
There is a new, high-level Prosecco known as rive, which means hillside. It is reserved for small-production, vintage Proseccos, dated with grapes from a single town.
How Does Prosecco Compare to Champagne?
In part 3 of this series, I talked about Spanish sparkling wines. As I mentioned in that article, it is hard to compare sparkling wines from around the world to those from Champagne because the soil and the climates differ, as do the types of grapes. That is also true of Prosecco and other Italian sparkling wine. Traditionally, Prosecco was only slightly fizzy, which is known as frizzante. However, as time evolved, most Prosecco is now made spumante, which simply means sparkling.
Most Prosecco has a lower alcohol content than champagne. It has soft bubbles and can range from dry to sweet. Prosecco is usually crisp, with fruity flavors of apple and pear. There can be an underlying bitterness to Prosecco, which is why it works really well to use it in sparkling wine cocktails, like a mimosa or bellini.
A mimosa is equal parts of sparkling wine and orange juice while a bellini is Prosecco and peach purée. I was in Venice in late April, before the peach season, so a bartender made me a strawberry bellini, because the Italians will substitute fruits, but would never dream of using juice in a bellini.
My Favorite Prosecco
I change which Prosecco I prefer based on whether I'm drinking it alone or using it to make cocktails. Here are a few of my suggestions:
- La Marca Prosecco. This may be one of the most common Proseccos sold in the U.S. While I don't really enjoy drinking it alone because there's not a lot of depth to it, it is probably my favorite Italian sparkling wine for making cocktails. At less than $20 per bottle, it's a good deal.
- Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco. This is one Prosecco I enjoy sipping as an aperitif, just as I would champagne. It's a lovely well-rounded sparkling wine, ideal by itself or with a meal. At less than $30 per bottle, it is still a significant savings over a sparkling wine from France.
- Zonin 1821 Prosecco. This winery is one of the leaders in the Prosecco industry and you can see why with this one. Zonin 1821 can be used with sparkling cocktails or paired with pasta and seafood. It is light, has a nutty aroma that goes well with the citrus tones in the wine. At about $20 per bottle, it's a great sparkling wine to keep on hand.
- 90+ Cellars Prosecco Superior. This is a DOCG Prosecco that comes from the region of Conegliano Valdobbiadene. This region is between the Adriatic Sea and the Alps, so it creates a cool temperature for the grapes. This has a very fruit-forward taste with strong citrus. It has more fine bubbles than many Proseccos. At about $16 per bottle, it is definitely a great sparkling wine.
Franciacorta: My Favorite Italian Sparkling Wine
Although most people in the U.S. are unfamiliar with Franciacorta wines, I predict they will become more popular moving forward. These are absolutely delightful Italian sparkling wines that come from the Lombardy region in Northern Italy, along the Swiss border. This is the area that includes Milan and Como. Franciacorta is my favorite Italian sparkling wine and this may be one of my favorite areas of Italy.
Producing and Tasting Franciacorta
Franciacorta sparkling wines were made popular in the 1970s by producer Berlucchi. A Franciacorta can include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir (called Pinot Nero in Italy), and Pinot Bianco. A rosé must have 15% Pinot Nero. Franciacorta is all DOCG and made in the méthode Champenoise, which is labeled either Metodo Tradizionale or Metodo Classico.
Franciacorta wines must spend a minimum of 18 months for non-vintage, with 30 months for vintage, and 60 months for Franciacorta Reserva.
I find Franciacorta sparkling wines much closer to champagne than a Prosecco. They are drier than Prosecco but offer less minerality than champagne. There is usually a very fine mousse on the vintage wines and a crispness that comes from the acidity. I find these more complex than a Prosecco.
My Favorite Franciacorta Sparkling Wines
These are gradually more available in the U.S. I look forward to experiencing more of them. These are a few that I have tried, which I enjoyed:
- Berlucchi Franciacorta Rosé. This is a 55/45 Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blend. To meet all of the requirements, the fruit is all 100% Franciacort fruit from Lombardy. This one, created in the Method Classico, ferments for 18 months. It is a lovely pale pink and is ideal as either an aperitif or paired with a meal. It is light, acidic, and has a great balance. It sells for about $50 a bottle, making it one of the cheaper Franciacorta options.
- Ferghettina 2016 Rosé. This Pinot Nero/Chardonnay blend has that lovely baking bread aroma of champagne, with a hint of peaches. But, this is uniquely a Franciacorta with herbs for a bit of a bite and a fine hint of citrus. This is a sophisticated wine with very fine bubbles and a sophisticated profile. You can find it online for under $60 per bottle.
- Ca' del Bosco Franciacort. I had this wine during a dinner at Radio Milano at Hotel Sorella CityCentre in Houston. It is a lovely blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Bianco from 134 vineyards in the region. This is a Cuvée Prestige, so it spends 28 months on lees. It has very low dosage of about 1.5 grams of sugar per liter, making it an Extra Brut. At about $45 per bottle, this is a great sparkling wine with seafood. I had it with octopus ravioli served with a parmesan cheese sauce.
Asti and Moscato d'Asti Sparkling Wines
Asti is a small town in the Piedmont region of Italy and the name for the region's sparkling wines. The wine is usually made using either the Charmat method or méthode Champenoise from Moscato Bianco grapes (also known as Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains).
Unfortunately, Asti received a bad reputation because only extremely sweet Asti sparkling wines were imported to the U.S. after World War II. Today, however, you can find modern Astis that blend the musky flavor of the Moscato grapes with a fresh taste, something I think is similar to a fresh peach.
Producing Asti and Moscato d'Asti
Most Astis use a revised Charmat method. The grapes are crushed and the must gathers in large vats and is frozen to stabilize it. Small batches at a time go into pressurized, sealed tanks for fermentation. After that, they are chilled to stabilize them and bottled. They are sold immediately and you don't want to keep an Asti for a long time or it will lose its effervescence.
Astis have a lower alcohol content than most wines (7-9% compared to 12-13%). They are best served very cold. Traditionally, there was an Asti Spumante and Moscato d'Asti. Today, the regular Asti is simply called Asti. It is spumante, which means foaming. These have more bubbles because the carbon dioxide is trapped during fermentation.
Moscato d'Asti is actually frizzante (fizzy) rather than spumante (foaming), so it has fewer bubbles. Muscato d'Asti can have no more than 5.5% alcohol and it uses a regular cork or screw top, not the sparkling wine cork with the cage. The cage is used in other sparkling wines because of the high pressure in the bottle. A Moscato d'Asti has much less pressure.
You drink Asti and Moscato d'Asti well chilled and out of a regular wine glass, not a champagne flute. It is traditional in Italy to drink a glass of Moscato d'Asti on Christmas morning.
Suggested Asti and Moscato d'Asti
Although I am not normally a fan of these wines, because I don't usually like sweet wines, there are a few that I recommend:
- Saracco Moscato d'Asti 2019. This sweet wine, with its subtle effervescence, is lovely on a hot summer evening. It has the peach taste to offset the mustiness of the Muscat. It is a good fruit dessert. At less than $20 per bottle, it's a fun wine.
- Vietti Moscato d'Asti 2019. Another great option for those who prefer a low-alcohol sweet wine, this Moscato d'Asti has only 5% alcohol. It has that typical peaches aroma, with a bit of a spice on the finish. This is really nice with dessert and fruits. At less than $20 per bottle, it can add a nice accent to finish a meal.
Lambrusco Sparkling Wines
Lambrusco is another wine that received a bad reputation in the U.S. because of the extremely sweet imports made following World War II. I grew up seeing commercials for Lambrusco and had no idea that there was actually great Lambrusco available. The first time I realized it was about 30 years ago while living in Germany. I was shocked that the Lambrusco sold in Europe tasted completely different from the sweet wine sold in the U.S.
Types of Lambrusco Sparkling Wine
Today, you can get Lambrusco that is dolce (sweet), semi-secco (lightly sweet), or secco (dry). Lambrusco is from five regions in Italy. The largest is Lambrusco Reggiano. This is also the area of Italy that is home to Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and Prosciutto di Parma, the most amazing ham in the world. There is no wonder these wines pair beautifully with cheese and ham.
Lambrusco can include 60 different varieties of grapes. It has soft, gentle bubbles and is always frizzante. It is in a bottle with a regular cork or screw top and is served chilled, at about 60 degrees F., or about 10 degrees warmer than the typical sparkling wine. Lambrusco is best in a regular wine glass. Lambrusco is a deep ruby red.
Only Italian sparkling wines made in the Emilia-Romagna's Lambrusco Zone are Lambrusco. There are some Lambrusco-grape wines that can't use that label. The only grapes used in the DOC designation are Lambrusco di Sorbara and Lambrusco di Salamino.
Recommended Lambrusco Wines
These are some of the recommended Lambrusco wines:
- Lini 910 Labrusca Lambrusco Rosso. Is a classic red sparkling Lambrusco. It is dry and fruity with a beautiful ruby color. It is a blend of the region's popular grapes: Lambrusco Salamino and Lambrusco Ancellotta. It has the delicious smell of strawberries and very fine bubbles. This one has great acidity, making it ideal for pasta. At about $17 per bottle, the Lini 910 is a nice date night wine.
- Cantina Di Sorbara Lambrusco di Modena Ilpiù. Lambrusco di Modena is a DOC wine from the same region that is home to Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati. This wine, from the highest quality Sorbara grapes, is a deep ruby red. It has about 8% alcohol and generally sells for less than $15 per bottle.
- 90+ Cellars Lambrusco. This is a DOC wine from the Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro area in the south part of Emilia-Romagna. The area has a moderate climate, creating a deep red wine with lovely plum and blackberries in the aroma and the taste. The 90+ Cellars Lambrusco has a light effervescence and is ideal with the meats and cheeses native to this area of Italy. Priced at about $12 per bottle, this is a great wine for Italian night at home.
Experience Italian Sparkling Wine
There are really some fun options for Italian sparkling wine. If you like a great, more economical alternative to champagne, go for a Franciacorta. For something sweet, try a Moscati d'Asti. Perhaps you want just a touch of effervescence. If so, you can't go wrong with a Lambrusco. I suggest trying something unique and different. You might be pleasantly surprised at the variety of Italian sparkling wines.
I hope you discover your own favorite Italian sparkling wine! Be sure to find more great Italian wines on Wander. Want to add Italy to your bucket list so you can sample those wines where they are made? We offer some great suggestions for travel to Italy. Be sure to check out the previous sections in the series on my favorite sparkling wines and join us in the final section, where we examine American sparkling wines.