Whenever I talk to anyone back home at the moment and they are telling me about the Prosecco they drank last night. Italian bubbly, especially Prosecco is having a moment internationally, so much so that I have even heard it be (very) incorrectly called ‘Italian’s answer to Champagne’.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a glass of Prosecco as much as the next girl, but comparing it to champagne is sacrilegious. So, I thought it was time to set the record straight.
Italian producers are jumping on the ‘bollicine bandwagon’, trying to cash in on the popularity bubbly is currently enjoying. As a result you can find just about every grape variety is a bubbly (spumante) form. Sparkling nebbiolo is rubbing shoulders with sparkling verdicchio and Franciacorta.
All sparkling wines start with a still ‘base’ wine. To this sugar and yeast are added (known as the Liqueur di Tirage) which causes the wine to undergo a second fermentation, creating carbon dioxide as a by-product, giving the wine its bubbles.
Where this second fermentation takes place is the major difference between the two primary methods of making sparkling wine.
1. Metodo Classico
Also known as the Metodo Champenoise (yup, the champagne method) this represents sparkling wines made with the highest quality technique. The bubbles are created in the bottle as the wine undergoes its second fermentation. As a result, these wines can stay ‘on the yeast’ for up to 30 months. This traditional and lengthy process creates elegant bubbly with a price tag to match (yet still better priced than most Champagne). Any grape can be made in the ‘metodo classico’ style, although some results are better than others.
The most famous Italian ‘Metodo Classico' are:
Franciacorta DOCG - made with a combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero grapes, Franciacorta is arguably Italy’s answer to Champagne. Grown in the Lombardy region near Brescia, the DOCG appellation ensures that only the highest quality wines from a very limited growing area can carry this name.
If you want to make a great impression, look for Franciacorta Saten - the velvet silken texture of these wines are created by reducing the pressure in the bottle to less than 5 bar, rather than 6 or 6.5 bar in regular Franciacorta.
Trento DOC - made from primarily Pinot Nero and Chardonnay grapes and grown in the Trentino region from Lake Garda to the Dolomites, these high altitude wines are elegant and fresh.
The pioneer of this region for ‘metodo classico' is Ferrari. Their flagship 100% Chardonnay Brut was served (for the second year running) at this year’s Emmy Awards. If its good enough for Emmy Award winners like Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Rami Malek and Maggie Smith…well, I’m just saying.
2. Metodo Charmat
In this method, the base wine is kept in ‘autoclave’, most commonly stainless steel vats where the second fermentation takes place. This method is less time consuming and therefore more cost effective, creating effervescent sparkling wines with bigger bubbles that are best drunk young.
The most famous Italian Spumante made in the Charmat Method is Prosecco DOC. The perfect aperitif, Prosecco is aromatic, fruity, bubbly and is generally sweeter and (much) cheaper than Champagne. It is made from the ‘Glera’ grape, grown in the Veneto region of north west Italy.
Want to take things up a notch? Look for a Prosecco Superiore from Valdobbiadene - a sub region in the hills of Conegliano said to produce the best Prosecco.
So now you know which bottle of bubbling joy to reach for next time the mood strikes. The experts say that Italian Spumante should be served at between 8-12 degrees and the correct glass does help keep the bubbles (or pelage) alive.
What is you favourite Italian Spumante? I'd love to hear your 'go to' bollicine in the comments below.