a) a professional sommelier -OR- b) an Italian.
Trying new Italian wines sometimes feels like diving blindly into murky water. It can also be a bit embarrassing when you bring what you think to be a “nice Italian wine” to your friend’s house only to be told it’s commercial swill.
Italians make Champagne?
Well not really, but there are a ton of ridiculously good sparkling Italian wines. Some of them are the same quality as fancy Champagne but cheaper.
What does Spumante Mean?
‘Spumante’ simply means ‘sparkling wine’ in Italian. Spumante doesn’t identify sweetness level or type of grapes used. See the definition of Asti Spumante below.
There are 5 major types of sparkling wines from Italy which include Prosecco, Lambrusco, Franciacorta and Asti Spumante. Get to know sparkling Italian wine.
Aromatic, Fruity, Bubbly, perfect for parties
Prosecco is a white wine grape variety used to make sparkling wine. It also happens to be a region located in Veneto in northwest Italy. Many call the Prosecco grape “Glera.” Most Prosecco wines are meant to be enjoyed young and fresh, so try to buy the newest vintage. You’ll find the aromatics to be flowery and peachy with nuances of vanilla bean, even though it will taste dry (aka not sweet). Still, Proseccos do taste slightly sweeter than traditional Champagne. If you see Prosecco rosé, know that the pink color comes from the addition of a touch of Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir); giving them yellow peach and strawberry flavors.
Fancy sub-region: Valdobbiadene
In the hills close to Conegliano , there is an important sub-region called Valdobbiandene. This region is considered to be the producer of the highest quality Proseccos on the planet (pictured ). Many of the wines from this area will be able to age nicely in a cellar.
Quick Tip for Quality: look for Prosecco Superiore from Valdobbiandene. The majority of bulk Prosecco comes from the flatter region around Treviso.
2. Metodo Classico
Classically produced ‘Champagne-like’ sparkling wines
Metodo Classico is a way sparkling wine is made. It’s the same method as méthode champenoise in Champagne and is commonly considered to be the highest quality technique. Wines in the Metodo Classico style very much resemble traditional Champagne or Cava.
Expect to taste fine creamy bubbles and nuanced flavors of brioche and lemon zest. The body of Metodo Classico sparkling wines can be a bit richer because the growing regions in Italy are warmer than Champagne. Surprisingly enough, many of the Metodo Classico producers use the exact same varieties as in Champagne, including Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Right now you can find many affordable vintage Metodo Classico that stand up nicely against the most famous Champagne brands.
- Franciacorta D.O.C.G.
- In Lombardy, made with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Bianco. Berlucchi and Ca’ del Bosco are famous producers of this region.
- Oltrepo Pavese Metodo Classico D.O.C.G.
- Pinot Noir dominant area in Lombardy
- Trento D.O.C.
- Next to Alto-Adige at the base of the Alps, Trento is famous for Chardonnay and Pinot Nero-based bubbly. Look for Ferrari as a great example.
- Look for the term metodo classico on the label to indicate the style of wine. There are several great examples from Piedmont and Tuscany. Also, check out the handy dandy glossary of Italian sparkling wine terms below.
From bottom rung to top shelf, sparkling reds and rosé
Lambrusco is both a red wine grape and a region within Emilia-Romagna. For the longest time, Lambrusco was a sweet and frothy red wine that would stain your shirt and was popular at late night college parties. Nowadays, producers are making dry Lambrusco touted for its beer-like qualities: fresh yeasty flavors and a slightly bitter finish. It’s made quickly with the Charmat Method and meant to be drunk young. It’s easily one of my personal top bacon cheeseburger wines I’ve paired in recent history. Need some great producer recommendations? Try Cleto Chiarli, Lini and Ca’ De’ Medici.
4. Asti Spumante D.O.C.G.
Aromatic and sweet sparkling wines made from Moscato
Asti Spumante is made solely with Moscato (aka Muscat Blanc), therefore it’s one of the sweetest sparkling wines in Italy. With frothy bubbles and a highly perfumed nose of Asian pear, honeysuckle and nectarine, it goes extremely well with sweet desserts and white chocolate. Despite how awesome this sounds for sticky (sweet wine) lovers it has never been considered a high quality wine. Most Asti Spumante that come into the US are poorly made, overly saccharine swill.
- Moscato d’Asti D.O.C.G.
- Asti Spumante is the fully sparkling version of Moscato d’Asti, which is the lightly bubbly version. There are many great Moscato d’Asti in the US market.
Italy’s Wine Regions
There are 20 unique regions in Italy with 350+ identified wine grapes! While Sangiovese is the most popular red variety (most famously known as Chianti!) there are so many more to discover. Learn more about The Wines of Italy
5. Other Unique Sparkling Italian Wines
- Brachetto d’Acqui (wine)
- Brachetto is a grape variety making a traditionally sweet red wine from Piedmont. You can find it in both still and sparkling styles.
- Liguria (region)
- There is at least one insane producer, Bisson Abissi, who makes a metodo classico that he stores in the sea.
- Friuli (region)
- You can find several Spumante from Colli Orientali del Friuli usually made with Chardonnay, Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir), Pinot Bianco and Friulano (Sauvignon Vert). Expect fresh and fruity flavors and great values.
- Sicily (region)
- There aren’t a lot of sparkling wine producers that hit the radar from Sicily except for maybe Donnafugata who produces a high quality Metodo Classico-style Brut with Chardonnay and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir).
- Puglia (region)
- You won’t find much from this region in the states, but there are several producers in Lizzano making Tank Method bubbly with Chardonnay and Trebbiano Grapes. Expect thicker fruity flavors.
- Emilia-Romagna (region)
- Besides Lambrusco, there are a treasure trove of sparkling wines coming from this area (sadly, many don’t get exported). Everything from a Spumante made with the ancient white grape Pignoletto, to a red bubbly made with Barbera.
Common Words on Sparkling Italian Wine Labels
- Very Dry; 0-6 grams/liter residual sugar
- Dry; 0-12 grams/liter residual sugar.
- Dry (same as Brut)
- Off-dry; 12-17 grams/liter residual sugar.
- Off-dry (same as Extra-Dry)
- Sweet (sweet)
OTHER SPARKLING ITALIAN WINE TERMS
- “of Acqui” named after the commmune Acqui Terme which is on the border of Asti and Alessandria in Piedmont in northwest Italy.
- “of Asti” a small region within Piedmont most known for wines of Moscato and Barbera. Asti Spumante is a sweet sparkling wine from this area.
- slightly bubbly
- sparkling wine
350+ key Italian wine grapes from How to Read an Italian Wine List
Donnafugata Metodo Classico spec sheet and site
Majority of “bulk” Prosecco comes from Treviso, via Wine Grapes