Expertise

A guide to Italy’s sparkling wines

Italians love sparkling wine, and almost every region of the country is now making one. These can be made in a charmat method, which accentuates the fruit and floral character of the grapes used to make them or, increasingly, a metodo classico style, as in Champagne, which gives the wines an autolytic complexity, bread and brioche notes, and greater depth of character.

Sparkling Italy

Charmat: Primary and secondary fermentation in stainless steel, filtered into a tank and bottled.
Also known as: Tank method, metodo Italiano, Marinotti method
Example: Prosecco

Metodo classico: The second fermentation takes place in the bottle, with the wine resting on its yeast lees.
Also known as: Traditional method, Méthode Champenoise, Méthode Traditionnelle
Example: Franciacorta

Each year the wine trade debate whether popular Prosecco’s ‘bubble will burst’; to my mind, this seems to miss the obvious truth – Prosecco is no short-term trend but a much-loved style that’s here to stay. The region, just an hour north-west of Venice, is a little divided, with higher-volume, lower-priced, less intense wines being made on the valley floors. However, as the famous hogsback hills of the Dolomites start to appear and the vines on their terraced tracks begin to climb the slopes, the fruit produced becomes far more intense reflecting the lower yields achieved and the fresher conditions even a small amount of altitude can impact. Here is where we look for producers who are making fresh, orchard fruit and blossom scented wines, that have immediate appeal in their youth, and are the styles of Prosecco I am sure will be popular for many more years.

Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore photo credit – Merotto
Premium Prosecco vineyards in Valdobbiadene DOCG on the region’s volcanic hillsides, now a UNESCO world heritage site. (photo credit – Merotto)

Moscato d’Asti is another wine that really brings a smile to most faces. The best are scented with flowers and sweet peaches, gentle, off-dry to sweet in style, but with a lightness of touch that makes them very refreshing. The well-balanced sweetness makes these great matches for summer fruit puddings, cream teas, or strawberries and cream. This traditional style of wine has been reproduced around the world, but often losing some of its fine-boned charm and delicacy, with many modern USA or Australian examples looking a little cloying. However, from good producers in Piedmont from the vineyards around the historical town of Asti, these wines are a total treat.

Lambrusco is also a highly traditional, and perhaps out-of-fashion, style of Italian sparkling wine. Consumed with great enthusiasm in Bologna, the largest city near the vineyards, it is often paired with wonderful cured hams. This sparkling red can range from dry to off-dry and is a great aperitif. Chilled, it has an exuberant style that can really get a night off to a great start.

In the foothills of Brescia in Lombardy to the south of Lake Iseo, the small vineyard area of Franciacorta is really starting to make waves, crafting metodo classico wines (with second fermentation in bottle and ageing on the lees – as in Champagne). Often chardonnay-dominant with pinot nero, these are great-quality wines much in demand and can have a warmth and richness that sets them apart.

Other regions and styles of sparkling wine gaining momentum include those of Alta Langa in Piedmont, where pinot nero and chardonnay are being used for metodo classico wines that are showing excellent promise.

Trentodoc in the mountainous vineyards around Trento are also using pinot nero and chardonnay to craft Champagne-like wines of great quality, look out for those made by Ferrari under their namesake.

However, so strong is the Italian love of bubbles, that now almost all regions make sparkling wines, some slightly more obscure that I have tried recently are, but not limited to, metodo classico Sicilian carricante, Tuscan sangiovese (blended with chardonnay and pinot nero) and Piedmontese nebbiolo, as well as charmat method durello from the mountains of Lessini and vedecca from Puglia!

As I find more and more that compete against the wonderful established sparkling wines of the world I will of course offer them to members, as there is no doubt that the appetite for Italian fizz is here to stay.

Browse Italian wines

Browse Prosecco & Italian sparkling wines

Sarah Knowles MW

Society Buyer

Sarah Knowles MW

Sarah joined The Society in March 2014 and has taken over responsibility for Champagne, North America and Italy, as well as overseeing our portfolio of sparkling wines and spirits. Sarah passed her Masters of Wine qualification in 2015 and won a prize for submitting the best research paper.

Back to top