Like Champagne in France, Italian sparkling wine has become synonymous with Prosecco – but that’s not all that the country has to offer when it comes to bubbly! From the “Metodo Classico” Champagne-like wines of Franciacorta, to the perfect pizza pairing sparkling reds of Lambrusco, to wines cellared in the sea in Ligura (not kidding! 😳), Italy’s sparkling wines are as unique and diverse as the country’s cuisine.
So where does one even begin? Let’s start at the top of the boot!
Northern Italy is the heartland of Italian sparkling wine, and the home to three distinct styles: Prosecco, Franciacorta and Asti Spumanti! Since these are the classic examples of Italian sparkling wine, let’s dive into each style a little further…
The rise in Prosecco’s popularity over the past few years has been astronomical. It now outsells Champagne across the world, and last year producers sparked concerns of a global shortage! 😱 Prosecco is produced from the Glera grape, in the foothills of the Veneto region of Northern Italy (in the Prosecco DOC or Prosecco DOCG). It is a light-bodied, vibrant, fresh, highly aromatic, easy-drinking style of sparkling wine made in the Charmat method. It is dry to off-dry, with medium to high acidity and large, frothy bubbles. Dominant flavours include apple, honeysuckle, peach, melon and pear. Prosecco is delicious on its own as an aperitif, pairs effortlessly with almost any dish, is fantastic in a cocktail, and typically clocks in below $15. For all these reasons and more, perhaps that’s why Prosecco is one of the most popular sparkling wines in the world. For an in-depth look at Prosecco, the Charmat method, the Veneto region, and food pairings check out our Prosecco 101 post! We had the pleasure of visiting the region last summer, and you can check out our travel guide in our Plan a Day in Prosecco post… did we mention there’s a Prosecco vending machine?!
Franciacorta is known as the “Champagne of Italy”, because it is produced in the “Metodo Classico” (or the “Traditional Method”) the same way Champagne is made in France. Although some may argue that the best examples can be even better than its more famous French cousin. Franciacorta is produced from a blend or Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy (in the Franciacorta DOCG) just east of the city of Milan. Its much richer than Prosecco, with a medium to full body, creamy mouthfeel and a much finer perlage. Franciacorta is usually brut (dry) in style, with the same yeasty characteristics we know and love in Champagne, along with crisp citrus and savoury nutty flavours. It pairs wonderfully with rich Italian cuisine, like stuffed ravioli or a white lasagna. For a very comprehensive guide to Franciacorta, check out the regions website!
Asti Spumanti is a sparkling sweet wine made from the Moscato Bianco grape in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. It is different from the other two in that it doesn’t undergo a secondary fermentation at all. It is fermented in a stainless steel tank which is sealed off before fermentation is finished to trap the CO2 and achieve the desired level of carbonation. Fermentation is stopped early, so a considerable amount of sugar is left in the juice, resulting in a sweet wine with lower alcohol and intense floral and fruity aromas. These wines are often much cheaper and considered lower-quality, although wines from the Moscato d’Asti DOCG have a better reputation and are often enjoyed at the end of a meal with creamy or fruity desserts.
- Trentino – like Franciacorta, here you will find Metodo Classico sparkling wines produced from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Meunier.
- Piedmont (Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG) – a sweet sparkling red wine popular for dessert. Delicious with dark chocolate!
- Liguria – the most interesting point to note here is that winemaker Bisson Abissi is producing Metodo Classico wines aged under the sea! They’re described as “lean, crisply acidic, minerally, almost salty” – due to the vineyards proximity to the sea (and probably the fact that they’re aged in it!). Storing wines under the sea helps them to maintain a consistent temperature, pressure, and limit their exposure to light. How cool is that?!
As the worlds best sparkling wines are typically produced in cooler climates, it should come as no surprise that there are considerably less amounts of it being produced as you travel further south in Italy. However, the central part of the country is known for its distinct Lambrusco style, and some producers are experimenting with Metodo Classico bubbles as well.
Like Prosecco, Lambrusco is produced in the Charmat method. But unlike Prosecco, Lambrusco is red! 🍷 Lambrusco is produced from the grape of the same name, in the the Emilia-Romagna region of Central Italy (in one of many Lambrusco DOC’s). When you hear “Lambrusco” you might be more familiar with the sweeter style popular in the 1980’s, but nowadays these wines are typically dry (and are also produced in white and rosé styles)! They feature aromas and flavours or fresh red fruit, and are meant to be drank young – whether it be alone as an aperitif, or with our favourite food pairing… pizza!
- Tuscany – while most people associate Tuscany with Chianti and other bold Sangiovese based still red wines, a few producers are experimenting with Metodo Classico sparkling wines in the region. Notably, Baracchi, who are are producing vintage traditional method sparkling wines – a white from 100% Trebbiano and a rosé from 100% Sangiovese. Both grape varieties being a unique specialty of the region.
Sparkling wine production in Southern Italy is quite small, however there are some producers breaking the mould and making both Charmat Method (like Prosecco) and Metodo Classico (like Franciacorta) sparkling wines.
- Puglia – the Lizzano DOC is known for producing Charmat Method sparkling wines in a full gamut of styles – red, white and rosé! The red’s and rosé’s are Negroamaro based (60 – 80%) with Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Bombino Nero, Pinot Noir and Malvasia Nera also allowed. The whites are Trebbiano based (40 – 60%), with a large portion of Chardonnay and/or Pinot Blanc (at least 30%), as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Bianco di Alessano and Malvasia Blanco. The wines here typically have more body than Prosecco and richer fruit flavours.
- Abruzzo – Fantini is producing a Charmat Method sparkling white wine made from the native grape Cococciola.
- Basilicata – Fantini is producing a Charmat Method sparkling rosé wine made from the native grape Aglianico del Vulture.
- Sicily – Donnafugata has made a name for themselves by producing very fine vintage Metodo Classico sparkling wines, both white (from Chardonnay & Pinot Noir) and rosé (from Pinot Noir). We also had the pleasure of tasting a Metodo Classico from Planeta made from 100% Carricante, a grape indigenous to Sicily.
So there you have it! Italy has long been known as the land of food and wine, and amazing sparkling wine can be found all across the country. From the classic styles in the north, to more experimental styles further south, Italy’s unique terroir and grape varieties make the options for enjoying Italian bubbly endless! So go pop a bottle of Italian bubbles, c’mon, you deserve it after all this reading! 😉🍾