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Liquid Caviar: Sparkling Red Wine

Sparkling red wine is changing fast and now you might like it. Get the details on sparkling red wine and the 3 main styles, including Australian sparkling Shiraz, Italian Lambrusco and Brachetto d’Acqui.

Liquid Caviar: Sparkling Red Wine

sparkling red wine and cheese on a picnic table

Sparkling red wines used to be the laughing stock of the wine world but now they are turning up on some very classy wine lists. Despite their purported return to popularity, many of these sparkling reds are still quite affordable at less than $15. Here are the top 3 styles and what to expect in terms of taste. Also, at the bottom you’ll find a few other interesting red bubbles that are harder to find.


If it’s not sweet, it’s secco!

typical flavors of lambrusco a sparkling red wine
Typical Flavors in Lambrusco include Rhubarb, Sour Cherry, Wild Strawberry, Boysenberry, Blueberry
Where it’s from: Emilia-Romagna, Italy

  • Acidity: Medium+ -High
  • Tannin: Low-Medium
  • Body: Light – Medium
  • Alcohol: 10.5-11.5%
  • Sweetness: Dry – Sweet

There is a variety of styles of Lambrusco from dry (Secco) to sweet (Dulce) and from light-colored and tasting of strawberries to nearly opaque and tasting of blueberries. Here are a few useful tips to selecting a Lambrusco:

  • Sweet Lambrusco: If you like it a bit sweet, be sure to pick one that says ‘Semisecco’, ‘Amabile’ or ‘Dolce’ on the label. Sweet Lambrusco pairs well with waffles, red velvet cupcakes and berry pie.
  • Dry Lambrusco: If you like it dry look for the words ‘Secco’ on the label. Dry Lambrusco pairs really well with things like hamburgers, hot dogs, and pepperoni pizza.
  • Light Lambrusco: Lambrusco di Sorbara and Lambrusco Rosato (rosé) are the two lightest styles. You’ll find that these wines exhibit more strawberry and rhubarb flavors along with tangy acidity and little-to-no tannin. ‘Amabile’ in this style is like drinking a zesty raspberry soda on a hot afternoon. The ‘Secco’ versions have more rhubarb and strawberry flavors with a tart and dry finish.
  • Bold Lambrusco: Lambrusco Grasparossa and Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce are bolder with dark fruit flavors of blueberries and marionberries and moderate tannin that feels similar to hibiscus or black iced tea. When they’re ‘Amabile’, they have a creamy richness of berry sauce balanced by texture of tannin on your tongue. When dry, they’re like drinking an unsweetened black tea with tart marionberries mixed in.
TIP: The sweetness levels for Italian sparkling wines are: Secco (dry), Semisecco (off-dry), Amabile or Dolce (sweet).
TIP: Frizzante has only about 1-2 atmospheres of pressure in a bottle. Lambrusco usually has about 3-5 atmospheres and Champagne has about 7 atmospheres.

Brachetto d’Acqui

The best darn red wine to pair with chocolate

typical flavors of Brachetto a sparkling red wine
Typical Flavors in Brachetto d’Acqui include Maraschino Cherry, Rose, Cotton Candy, Raspberry, Blackberry
Where it’s from: Piedmont, Italy

  • Acidity: Medium+ -High
  • Tannin: Low
  • Body: Light
  • Alcohol: 5.5-6%
  • Sweetness: Sweet

Brachetto d’Acqui is possibly the best chocolate pairing red wine because a) it’s sweet, and b) it’s low alcohol, meaning a glass won’t send you towards a sugar and alcohol hangover. The word Brachetto is actually the grape variety from Piedmont with rich floral aromatics and a delicate candied flavor. While many producers make gobs of low quality Brachetto, there are some excellent examples if you seek them out. Expect to spend a little less than $20 for a great bottle.

Sparkling Shiraz

Yes, you can have red wine for breakfast

typical flavors of sparkling Shiraz
Typical Flavors in Sparkling Shiraz include Blackberry, Pepper, Brown Sugar and Licorice
Where it’s from: Australia

  • Acidity: Medium
  • Tannin: Medium+
  • Body: Medium
  • Alcohol: 12.5%
  • Sweetness: Off-Dry

A sparkling Shiraz is a keen choice for drinking at breakfast or pairing with sweet tangy BBQ. You’ll find these wines to be darn cheap because most are produced inland in South Australia where grape growing is accomplished in a massive scale. Things to watch out for:

  • Over drinking Sparkling Shiraz is easy to do because of the higher alcohol level.
  • Some are dry and some are sweet but they won’t be labeled, so do your research.

Sparkling Red Wine: Other More Rare Options

Here are a few other types of sparkling red wines that are much harder to find. The majority of red bubbly appears to come from Italy:

  • Aglianico Spumante Rosso: Sweet Floral and Raspberry flavors. (Campania & Basilicata)
  • Barbera Frizzante: Sweet Raspberries, Licorice and Fennel. (Italy)
  • Freisa di Chieri: Sweet Violets and Raspberries. Freisa is found in Piedmont and often blended with Brachetto. (Piedmont, Italy)
  • Sangue di Giuda dell’Oltrepo Pavese: Sweet grapey and soda-like. This is a blend of the local varieties including Barbera, Croatina, Uva Rara and Pinot Noir among others. (Lombardy, Italy)
  • Bonarda dell’Oltrepò Pavese Frizzante: Plum and Peppery and is sometimes quite dry. (Lombardy, Italy)
  • Zweigelt Sekt: cherry, plum and herbs with a slightly bitter finish. (Austria)

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