Italian Sparkling Wine
Most people are familiar with some Italian sparkling – usually cheap and cheerful, great when mixed with Aperol. It’s true that most of the demand in Australia is for inexpensive Prosecco, but there is a lot of complexity to the traditional Italian sparklings. There are five major categories to be aware of, and the surprising part is that some of the higher end wines can rival Champagne for quality.
This is probably not the first name that people associate with Italian sparkling wine, but it is at the forefront of quality. The producers of Franciacorta in Lombardy are committed to traditional method, lees-aged wine made primarily from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This might sound a little familiar, and apart from the chalk soils and northern latitude, these are the same production methods as Champagne. The style is driven by a small community of quality-minded winemakers producing Franciacorta. This level of quality has been recognised with DOCG status, the only sparkling wine with this status in Italy.
Prosecco is made in the ‘tank method’, where it undergoes secondary fermentation in tank before bottling. This means the bubbles aren’t quite as fine and long-lasting as bottle fermentation, but it is very cost effective. Prosecco must be made from 85% Glera grape in the Veneto/Friuli regions. The fruit-forward, off dry style has become very popular globally, with demand exceeding supply in Australia in recent summers.
Lambrusco is the name of both a red grape and a sparkling red wine from the Modena region. Good examples of Lambrusco are frothy and high in acid, with concentrated fruitiness. This makes them a great foil for the rich cuisine of Modena. Unfortunately a lack of control over the region name and the grape name mean a lot of lesser imitators are produced under the Lambrusco moniker. So next time you’re in Emiligia Romagna, or making tortellini in Brodo with stacks of Parmesan, try matching with a Lambrusco Di Modena DOC.
Asti is likely the most infamous name on this list, having been used and abused by cheap plonk producers both in Italy and here in Australia. The quality wines from Piedmont are worth your while, with Muscat based sparkling in two styles. The Spumante wines are fully sparkling and resemble Prosecco, and the frizzante Moscato d’Asti are sweet, slightly fizzy and low alcohol (max 5.5%). Moscato d’Asti is great as an alternative to cider, with some great bottles coming from the respected Langhe producers.
Metodo Ancestrale, or ancestral method, is a traditional way of making sparkling. It’s not associated with a specific region. The wines develop carbon dioxide in the bottle, and tend to be slightly sweet and cloudy due to not being disgorged. This style has actually taken off in Australia, being similar to Petillant Natural (Pet Nat) styles of sparkling, often favoured by the natural wine/hands-off crowd.
Read more about sparkling wines with Sparkling Wines in the Yarra Valley and True or False: Champagne Should Be Served in Flutes.
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