There’s something mesmerising about watching the bubbles in a glass of Italian sparkling wine. It evokes a whole kind of feeling in a way that other wines aren’t able to match. There’s excitement, anticipation, and joy – all likely because the times when we drink sparkling wines are to mark a celebration! Sparkling wines are fun wines to drink and perhaps that’s why they’re Liv’s favorite kind. Whether it to mark a birthday, a wedding, or to bring in the new year, there is something just so brilliant about the act of popping the cork on a bottle of sparkling Italian wine. 

Whilst Champagne is the sparkling that will immediately come to mind, we want to highlight some of the efferverscent bubbles that await you in Italy too. The most famous is of course prosecco, and we’re sure you’re no strangers to this wine from Veneto. But there are many other wonderful sparkling Italian wines to discover – and one that even rivals the famous French one. Keep reading to find out more. 

sparkling wine

What is Sparkling wine?

Let’s start with the basics. Sparkling wines are made from a first or second alcoholic fermentation obtained either from:

  • fresh grapes,
  • grape must,
  • wine;

They release carbon dioxide when opened and have varying bars of pressure (normally at least 3 bars) and total alcohol strengths.

What are the main Italian sparkling wine types?

There are a few different categories of Sparkling wine like spumanti, vini frizzanti, sparkling aromatic wines, semi sparkling. You can find white, rosè and red sparkling wines in Italy as well as sweet or dry varieties too. 

What is Spumante?

What does spumante mean? It comes from the Italian word “spuma”, which literally means bubbles. So it recalls the characteristic fizziness and bubbles that you get from this kind of wine. In Italy, there are 375 million bottles of Italian spumante produced every year!  

What are the main Italian Sparkling Wine Regions?

You’ll find the main producers in Trentino, Lombardy, Piemonte, and Veneto, as well as Emilia of course for Lambrusco. Here’s some more information about what to expect of the sparkling wine in these regions.

1. Veneto

The land of the most well-known Italian sparkling wine – Prosecco! There’s no wonder it’s so well-known around the world, when you consider that 180 million bottles (out of the 300 million produced) are exported every year. Maybe the reason this sparkling wine from Northern Italy is so loved is because it’s easy, it’s light and it’s wonderfully refreshing to drink. 

Glera are the grapes used to make Prosecco Italian sparkling wine. Great prosecco means you can expect pear, apple, citrus, white flowers, wisteria, sometimes even peach and apricot when it comes to the aroma and taste of the wine. And who doesn’t love the sound of that?!

For those who want to wine-geek out on how prosecco is made, keep reading (otherwise skip ahead!) Most prosecco is made using the Martinotti or Chermatt method, which in a nutshell means it’s fermented twice and both fermentations happen in stainless steel vats. It’s generally quite a quick fermentation of just 20 days – but higher quality wines can take longer. 

What to look for when buying Prosecco?

The top quality is marked as Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG. So if your budget allows, go for this one! Here’s the quality ranking from highest to lowest so you can work out what’s best for you and your budget when shopping for Prosecco.

  • Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG (Controlled and Guaranteed Denomination of Origin) Superiore
  • Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG
  • Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Rive DOCG
  • Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG
  • Prosecco DOC Treviso
  • Prosecco DOC

2. Lombardy

Italy’s answer to Champagne is the delicious Franciacorta from Lombardy. It’s made using the metodo classico method which is why it gets compared to Champagne as that’s made using this method too. It’s a really sophisticated and elegant sparkling made using chardonnay, pinot nero and pinot bianco grapes.

Where prosecco is light, fresh and easy to drink, Franciacorta is a little more full-bodied or intense. The aromas and flavors you can typically expect are bread, white flowers, nuts, citrus, butter and vanilla.

Italian Franciacorta sparkling wine has the strictest regulations in the world for producing sparkling wine! Just like prosecco, there are two fermentations but the difference is that the second fermentation happens directly in the wine bottle rather than in a stainless steel tank. After the first fermentation, the wine is left for at least 9 months on the lees (or the yeast) which is what gives this wine such delicious aromas and flavours. It’s a much longer process which is also why you pay more for it.

If you want to wine geek out keep reading! After the second fermentation in the bottle, winemakers use a process called sboccatura. This means that once the yeast has died, they freeze the top of the bottle to quickly open it without damaging the bottle. At this point there is hardly any sugar left in the wine so they add what’s known as ‘dosage’ which is a mixture of sugar and other components (distilled wine) which is a secret mixture that differs from producer to producer. And then they quickly close the bottle and leave it to rest for some months before being released on the market.

The result? Different classifications written on the label that tell you how much sugar is in each bottle. Here are the different kinds you can choose from depending on dry (little sugar) to sweet (lots of sugar):

  • PAS DOSE: Less than 3g/L of sugar
  • Extra Brut
  • Brut
  • Dry
  • Sec, Secco or Dry
  • Demi Sec
  • Dolce which is even more than 50g/L of sugar

 

How to choose your Franciacorta?

  1. Understand if you want something dry or sweet so get familiar with the terms of pas dose, extra brut etc. 
  2. If your budget allows buy a millesimato franciacorta because the quality is generally higher 
  3. Check for the date of the sboccatura and make sure it was only 6-18 months before you want to drink it. 
  4. Different kinds of Franciacorta:
    – Rose
    – Saten: Made with just white grapes and extra creamy. Spends 24 months on the lees
    – Millesimati: 30 months on the lees
    – Riserva spends 60 months on lees  

3. Piedmont

Moving ever more north to our gorgeous home region Piedmont, this is the home of sweet Italian sparkling wine. When it comes to bubbles, the region is renowned for Asti Spumante wine and Moscato Italian sparkling wine. If you like semi sweet or sweet sparkling, then this is the one to choose. 

Both wines are made from 100% moscato bianco grapes. Asti Spumante sparkling wine is full of notes of fruits and flowers like peach and wisteria, and a refreshing sweet taste that goes perfectly with a dessert. Moscato on the other hand, is more likely to have aromas of citrus and aromatic plants.

Both are made using the Martionotti charmat method and although similar, the two wines have some differences. Asti Spumante, as the name says, os a spumante, while Moscato d’Asti is a vino frizzante. Moscato generally has more sugar too while Asti spumante is more sparkling.

Tips for buying Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti

Drink these wines as young as possible – it’s not a wine that ages well (say maximum 4 years).

4. Emilia 

Australians and Americans are likely familiar with Italian red sparkling wine and unfortunately not for a good reason. For a long time, Italy’s most famous sparkling red was seen as a really cheap, bulk wine that was a little sweet and easy to get drunk off. Of course, it didn’t help that all the Lambrusco exported was pretty rubbish too! 

Flash forward to today, and the Italian sparkling red wine Lambrusco is enjoying a well-deserved rebrand. For a start, it’s a good foody wine, so don’t try drinking it on an empty stomach. It goes perfectly with Emilia Romagna’s salty, fatty cured meats cutting through with a delightful acidity. The next point is, you can also find dry Lambrusco if you know what to look for and like all wines, not all are created equal so it pays to do a little bit of homework to find one you’ll love. 

Lambrusco can be made using any one of the Martionotti Charmat method, ancestral methods or metodo classico and there are lots of different varieties the Lambrusco grape that go into it including salamino, grasparossa, sorbara, marani and maestri. While these varieties create wines with different characteristics, we can say that they all have in common a ruby red colour, aromas of red berries, currant and blueberries. It’s mineral, fresh and has an aftertaste of sour cherry. We love Lambrusco and think you should give it a go!

Tips for buying Lambrusco

  • The highest quality Lambrusco is generally made using the ancestral method or more trendy way to call this is pet nat. The wine is bottled while it is still going through its first alcoholic fermentation. Look out for the bottle’s cork which looks a bit like a champagne cork but it will be attached with a metal clamp instead of a wire cage. The metodo ancestrale makes the wine frizzante, or lightly sparkling.
  • Look for Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC which produces the region’s most highly regarded wines. 
  • Look at the label for secco, Semisecco or dolce depending on the style you want
  • It’s at its best young, so go for the new vintages

The best Italian sparkling wines to try in 2024

Feeling thirsty? Here are some of our favorite Italian sparkling wines to try in 2024. Salute!

This is a real high-quality prosecco to try from Villa Sandi!  Expect golden apple, stone fruit and honey aromas and flavors.

We love a woman-run winery because it’s so not the norm in the wine world. And these women are making some kick-ass prosecco! It’s elegant, creamy, with intense notes of apple and acacia flowers and gentle on the palate.

Moving to Lombardy, this is a classic Franciacorta that’s readily available outside of Italy. Expect lemon, grapefruit, honey and bready notes on the nose.

Think ripe fruit to fresh flowers alongside vanilla and pastry aromas!

This is a really popular and easy to find outside Italy type of Lambrusco! It’s a beautiful deep pink color and full of strawberry and mineral notes. Velvety and fresh.

Inspired to learn more about sparkling wine Italian regions? Have a listen to our podcast episode on Untold Italy now. Have a favorite Italian sparkling? Let us know in the comments.