Italian Sparkling Wine | Get A Feel For Italian Fizz

Harry Lambourne
20th March 2024

Italy is responsible for some of the world’s finest wine, but sometimes it’s easy to forget that Italian sparkling wine doesn’t stop at Prosecco. There are a number of different styles of Italian sparkling wine, from a number of different regions.

We are going to take you on a tour of what we think are the four most prominent styles of Italian sparkling wine. This will include Prosecco from Veneto. However, we will also look at Franciacorta from Lombardy, Asti from Piedmont and Lambrusco from Emilia-Romagna. Each provides a wholly unique experience and hopefully, we can broaden your horizons when it comes to Italian sparkling wine.

So, let’s jump into the world of Italian sparkling wine and, (fingers crossed), find your new type of fizz.

Italian Sparkling Wine – Prosecco

It only makes sense to start with Prosecco, as Brits are estimated to drink 8.2 million litres of Prosecco every week! Let’s into this fresh and fragrant drink a little bit further.

The Veneto Region - Home of Prosecco | Italian Sparkling Wine
The Veneto Region – Home of Prosecco & Pinot Grigio
Where IS Prosecco MAde?

Prosecco comes from the Veneto wine region in Northern Italy. Veneto is a huge expanse of land that spans vast amounts of Northern Italy. It begins life in the Alps and travels across peaks and valleys, following the Po and Adige Rivers until it spills out into the Adriatic Sea.

Veneto is responsible for a number of famous wines, such as classic Pinot Grigio and Amarone della Valpolicella, but people are perhaps most familiar with the trademark Italian sparkling wines of Veneto. Prosecco has become something of a phenomenon.

There are two regions within Veneto in which you can find Prosecco. They are the classic Prosecco DOC and then the Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOCG. The former is your bread and butter. It’s fresh, fruity and floral, but also often very affordable everyday wine. The latter are more complex and come from grapes grown high in the hills. Expect a more intense concentration of flavour, with greater complexity.

Interestingly, the grape which is used for Prosecco used to be called Prosecco. However, some thought this would prove a point of confusion so now the grape is known as Glera.

How Is Prosecco MAde?
Prosecco Wine Production
Tanks Used In Prosecco Wine Production

Prosecco is produced via the Charmat Method. Here, secondary fermentation occurs in a pressurised stainless steel tank. This is done to preserve the delicate floral aromas and keep the wine as fresh as possible. This method is also employed in other Italian sparkling wines.

What Does PRosecco Taste Like?

As we’ve touched upon, Prosecco is all about freshness. The Veneto region is cool which preserves acidity and the Charmat Method looks to preserve the delicate floral and fruity aromas.

Prosecco is renowned for fragrant notes of white flowers, but it also excels in green fruit flavours. These will chiefly be through flavours of green apple, grapes, gooseberry and pears. Although, more complex examples could move into notes of orange blossom, honey and citrus fruits such as orange and grapefruit.

Italian Sparkling Wine – Asti

Asti Sparkling Wine
Asti Sparkling Wine

Next up in the world of Italian sparkling wine is Asti. This is Piedmont’s trademark ‘breakfast wine’ This is thanks to it’s relatively lower levels of alcohol which makes it a perfect companion for brunch, (or maybe a full English). This is a completely distinct style of Italian sparkling wine.

Where Is Asti Made?

This style of Italian sparkling wine is a speciality of the Piedmont wine region. Piedmont is most commonly associated with red wine. This includes the world-famous and revered Barolo, but it is also known for Barbaresco, Dolcetto and Barbera.

Yet, amongst this collection of villages which are set into the rolling auburn, fog-drenched hills you will also find the regional Italian sparkling wine of Asti. The Asti wines were first produced in the tiny village of Canelli from Moscato Bianco grapes. Outside of Italian borders, you’ll see this grape referred to as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains and it is particularly popular in Alsace region of France.

How Is Asti Made?

This particular Italian sparkling wine, (like Prosecco), is also produced via the Charmat Method. Again, this is to preserve the delicate floral and fruity aromas. However, there is a difference. Producers of Asti are very conscious of the ABV, (Alcohol by Volume).

The grapes are added to the large vats at near freezing temperatures and then fermented in batches until the wine reaches about 7-9% ABV. It is then chilled, refined, filtered and bottled. The winemaker will then ship it out straight away and generally no vintage is marked on the label. This is because Asti is intended to be drank young and not meant for cellaring.

What Does Asti Taste Like?

This is one for those for have a penchant for something sweeter, as the wines contain a residual sugar due to fermentation being halted early. However, when made properly, Asti should not be excessively sweet or cloying. The finest examples taste more like intensely ripe fruit, rather than sugary sweets. Expect powerful floral and perfumed flavours of white flowers, orange blossom and rose. Then, intoxicating notes of ripe stone fruit such as peach, nectarine and apricot. A truly delicious Italian sparkling wine.

Italian Sparkling Wine – Franciacorta

Franciacorta Wine
Franciacorta Wine

Our next Italian sparkling wine is Italy’s answer to the great traditional method sparkling wines. These include Champagne, Crémant and the Catalan Cava. We have reached the Italian sparkling wines of Lombardy. It’s time to take a look at Franciacorta.

Where is Franciacorta Made?

This style of Italian sparkling wine comes from the region of Lombardy. It is far and away the most famous viticultural export of the Lombardy wine region. This area of Italy is far more industrial than usual wine-making areas. This is partly due to the proximity to Milan which is Italy’s financial and fashion capital.

Yet, it is here which you can find the Franciacorta DOCG region. This sits to the east of the Lombardy region and neighbours the Veneto region. The fact that all the Italian sparkling wine regions we’ve mentioned are found in the North of Italy is no coincidence. The cooler climates in the north of Italy lends itself to the production of Italian sparkling wine as it allows them to preserve freshness and acidity.

While this is Italy’s answer to the French Champagne and the name contains ‘Francia’, this is not a reference to France. Instead, this areas towns, (or ‘Curtes’), were exempt from taxation during the Middle Ages. Exempt translates to ‘Francae’. Hence Francae-Curtes, which translates to exempt towns, has become Franciacorta.

Franciacorta Vineyards
Franciacorta Vineyards

Another key point for this Italian sparkling wine is that it doesn’t focus on Italian grape varieties. Instead, they look to serve up wines from the classic Champagne grapes. Namely, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. However, Pinot Blanc is also regularly included.

How Is Franciacorta MAde?

As we’ve alluded to, this particular Italian sparkling wine has a different method of production to the previous examples. Much like Champagne, Franciacorta is produced via the ‘Traditional Method’.

In this particular method of sparkling wine production, a dry still base wine is trapped into a bottle before it is done fermenting. Then, the bottle is sealed and inverted. Here, fermentation continues which creates the trademark bubbles and dead yeast cells begin to collect at the inverted top of the bottle.

This collection of dead yeast cells, (lees), is then frozen and ejected in a process known as disgorgement. However, before this happens they’ve left the trademark tasting notes of toast, brioche and biscuits. Yet, Franciacorta generally spends far less time on lees than Champagne. Often, Non-Vintage wines spend 18 months on lees, but riserva wines spend up to 60 months. Finally, the wine is topped up with another still wine to determine the level of residual sugar.

There are a few key terms of which you should also be aware. A key term is ‘Millesimato’ which refers to ‘Vintage’ offerings. Then, we have the term ‘Saten’ which is unique to this Italian sparkling wine. These examples are produced to include less carbon dioxide and provide a softer wine, with less intense bubbles.

What Does Franciacorta Taste Like?

Texturally, these Italian sparkling wines are creamy with a palpable freshness. They also display typical flavours of Champagne. These include toast, brioche, cream, butter and biscuit from the winemaking techniques. Then, the grapes do their part as well.

Examples which include a higher percentage of white grapes will display notes of white flowers, green, citrus and stone fruits. Whereas examples from red grapes ramp up the red fruit flavours. These include cranberry, redcurrant, raspberry, strawberry and cherry. Yet, floral flecks of rose come through and you can often get citrus flavours of orange and grapefruit.

Italian Sparkling Wine – Lambrusco

Last but my no means least on our list of top Italian sparkling wines is Lambrusco. The often misunderstood sparkling red which is a speciality in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna.

The region is more closely associated with food, but world class wine can be found throughout and they are particularly renowned for Italian sparkling wine. This can be Lambrusco, or the regional ‘Spumante‘ wines known as Pignoletto. Pignoletto is on the rise and well worth a go, but we are going to focus on the unique and delightful Lambrusco.

Lambrusco Vines in Emilia-Romagna | Lesser Known Italian Wine Regions
Lambrusco Vines in Emilia-Romagna
Where Is Lambrusco Made?

As we’ve mentioned Lambrusco comes from the Emilia-Romagna region and can be made from 13 different Lambrusco grape varieties!

Emilia-Romagna is more closely associated with food, this is partly due to the deeply fertile plains which can be found out to the west of the key city of Bologna. However, this fertility can lead to high yields which can cause issues with flavour concentration in wine. This is a problem you’ll also find in regions such as Beaujolais.

Winemakers are aware of this. They instead look to plant away from the valley floors, in regions where less fertile soils control yields and lead to more complex and concentrated creations.

How Is Lambrusco Made?

Lambrusco is one of the most versatile Italian sparkling wines, so there is no definitive answer to this question. You can find them produced via the ‘Tank’ or ‘Charmat Method’, or they can be made using the ‘Traditional Method’.

Generally, the former will be far lighter and fresher examples. One such example is Lambrusco di Sorbara. The latter will be bigger and fuller bodied with defined tannins. This means they can stand up to the ‘Traditional Method’ and its more rigorous winemaking processes. If this is your style of Lambrusco, then look for Lambrusco di Grasparossa.

What Does Lambrusco Taste LIke?

Again, this is not a quick and easy answer and the tasting notes will very much depend on what style of Lambrusco wine which you find yourself drinking.

The lighter examples will be more floral. They’ll also provide tarter red fruit flavours, such as cranberry, raspberry and cranberry. Then, the more full-bodied version will have more powerful notes of cherry, plum and strawberry. They may also possess a woody, vanilla character from oak ageing.

Lambrusco is a deeply diverse style of Italian sparkling wine, so it is best to get out there and find the one which is right for you!

That’s been a tour of our top picks for Italian sparkling wine, but your journey doesn’t have to stop there. Seek out Pignoletto from Emilia-Romagna, or Brachetto from Piedmont. Almost any Italian wine region will likely have a regional ‘Spumante’ for you to sample.

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