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Wiens on Wine - Sparkling Wine Part 4 - Understanding Italy

Posted on October 6, 2023

This post originally appeared in our Wine Line email newsletter. Stan was kind enough to let us post it on our blog as well. Thanks, Stan!

Learn alongside Stan as he completes WSET Level 4.

Days to Final Exam: 327

I’m back! I took a break and went to Ucluelet, B.C. for my son’s wedding. Gorgeous part of our country and an adventurous trip. I would be happy to give you details if you visit me in the store.

To bring you up to speed on my diploma studies in wine:

Complete

  • D1 – Wine Production (20% of course – passed)
  • D2 – Wine Business (10% of course – passed)

Next 327 Days

  • D3 – Wines of the World (50% of the course)
  • D4/D5 – Sparkling/ Fortified Wines (10% of the course)
  • D6 – Research Assignment (10% of the course)

To this point, our series on sparkling wine has looked at methods of how sparkling wine is produced (part 1), how to read the label (part 2), and a special focus on Champagne (part 3). To understand, appreciate and explore sparkling wine - the fastest-growing category in the wine world - you should know these foundational concepts. Next week’s conclusion of the “Sparkling Wine” series will look at all the other regions outside of Champagne.

However, today we will look at the fascinating diversity of the sparkling wines of Italy! I have to admit, before leaning into these studies, my impression of sparkling wine in Italy was limited to the cheap and cheerful category of Prosecco. Wrong! Let’s grow our knowledge base together.

To rethink Italy’s powerhouse level of production of sparkling wine, you need to explore these five regions where sparkling wine is produced: Prosecco, Asti, Lambrusco, Franciacorta and Trentodoc. Not surprisingly, all five of the geographical sites are in the cooler northern part of Italy, which is ideal for producing sparkling wine.

Prosecco (Tank Method)

Most of you understand and have tried Prosecco. How could you not, with over 500 million bottles produced annually? This vast region covers most of the NE corner of Italy, covering nine provinces from Veneto to Friuli. Glera is the semi-aromatic grape variety used to make Prosecco and is typically noted for its apple and pear aroma with medium acidity and lighter alcohol. Across all Prosecco categories, there has been a marked move to increase quality. There will always be a significant amount of inexpensive, mass-produced Prosecco BUT you need to be aware of how to spot quality! If the bottle states Conegliano, Valdobbiadene, Prosecco DOCG or Superior DOCG, it is not and cannot be compared to basic, inexpensive bottles of Prosecco. Other styles to be aware of include Col Fondo (refers to Pet Nat); Rive (+ the name of the place) which refers to the steep slopes on which it is grown and can be very good to outstanding.  

Asti (Tank Method - modified)

This sparkling wine is made in the province of Piemonte “Land of Perfection”, the Northwest region of Italy. Asti DOCG or Asti Spumante is fully sparkling and higher in alcohol. Moscato d’Asti DOCG is typically “frizzante” (lightly sparkling) and higher in residual sugar content. Asti is made from the grape variety of Muscato Bianco (Muscat Blanc a Petit Grains), which has aromas of orange blossom, grapes and peach.

Lambrusco (Tank Method)

This region is just below the vast region for Prosecco on the NE side of Italy, just south of Venice. This is a sparkling red wine with aromas of strawberry, red cherry, red plum, and can be pale pink to deep ruby in colour. This is a fun wine to drink, frizzante to spumante in sparkles, with some tannin texture from the skin of this black grape variety, which goes by the same name as the region. On the label, if you see the grape variety Lambrusco Salomino or Grasparossa, it is going to be a full-body, rich, deep-coloured wine. If you see the grape variety Lambrusco di Sorbara (think Sorbet) it is going to be pale in colour, lighter in body with higher acidity.

Franciacorta (Traditional Method)

This region is located in North Central Italy (foothills of the Alps by Lake Iseo). For over a century, Franciacorta has been emulating Champagne. If you can find this wine, it can be a way to experience similar quality and style without the price. Franciacorta is typically made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grape varieties. To give you an appreciation for how stringent the winemaking guidelines are (and therefore the quality) here is a quick look at the “Lees Aging” requirement (see previous article on “Lees Aging”, which is one of the hallmark brioche/ bready aromas of Champagne):

  • Non-Vintage: 18 months
  • Saten: White only (Chardonnay) 24 months
  • Millesimato: Vintage declared; 30 months
  • Milliesimato Reserva: 60 months

Fun Fact: On the label – “Spumante” means fully sparkling; “Frizzante” means lightly sparkling.

Homework: Buy a basic Prosecco and compare it to a high-quality Prosecco. It will likely change your view of just how good Prosecco can be. Cheers.

Stan Wiens can be found working at our shop sporadically in between lengthy bouts of drinking wine ("studying") in order to complete Level 4 of the WSET program.

You can also find Stan on Instagram: @wiensonwine

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