Lambrusco wine being poured into a glass

What is Italy’s Version of Champagne?

Italy’s Champagne? Franciacorta is a quality, traditional sparkling wine that can easily hold up to its better-known French cousin. With finesse produced by the complex Metodo Classico, Franciacorta invites sparkling wine lovers to venture out from the Champagne area. In this post, we’ll walk you through Franciacorta, Prosecco, and other varieties of sparkling Italian wine. No sales pitch here, just good vino.

Key Takeaways

  • Franciacorta is an Italian sparkling wine with a complexity and distinctive flavor that can easily rival French champagne. Produced using the traditional Metodo Classico, this wine is considered top-notch.

  • Prosecco is an affordable sparkling wine with fruity, floral notes crafted from the Glera grape and using the Charmat method. A distinctly different light, refreshing bubble from Champagne.

  • There are many other types of sparkling Italian wines beyond Franciacorta and Prosecco. Flores vary from Trento DOC to Asti Spumante to Lambrusco and beyond, and there’s something for everyone.

Franciacorta: A Wine to Rival Champagne

A vineyard in the Franciacorta region

If you want a sparkling wine that compares to French Champagne, look no further than Franciacorta. Made from the same high-quality grapes in the Lombardy wine region of Italy, this sophisticated Italian sparkling wine quietly outperforms Champagne at approximately half the cost due to its delicate crafting and distinct taste.

Not only is Franciacorta unique in the world of sparkling wines due to its distinguished blend of grapes and traditional production method (Metodo Classico), which, like its neighbor Champagne region, produces a multi-layered taste and multitude of flavors, but what is it about this unique region that allows its grapes to grow into such spectacular wines?

The Franciacorta Region

Franciacorta is located in the Lombardy region of Italy, and its surrounding area has the perfect climate to craft these unique wine flavors. Warm sunny days followed by cool nights allow for the growing of premium grapes. Well-drained mineral-rich soils teamed with the southwest-facing slopes of Monte Orfano create an ideal environment for grape cultivation.

It’s a DOCG wine region, which to Italians means it’s known for producing some of the highest-quality sparkling wines. However, on the world stage, it’s often overlooked because it’s not Champagne. Only 70km east of Milan, this beautiful and historic region is a must for wine enthusiasts looking for a mix of high-quality winemaking and rich history. So, what varietals create the personality of Franciacorta wines?

Varietal and Method

The Franciacorta blend consists of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero in Italian), and Pinot Blanc, each contributing its own rich and complex flavor to the finished wine. Pinot Blanc was accepted as a distinct variety in the 1980s, and its fruit provides the perfect balance to the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in a Franciacorta wine. Champagne is also made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but often includes Pinot Meunier as part of the blend.

Chardonnay grapes are common to Champagne, Franciacorta, and Trentodoc.

The Metodo Classico, used in Franciacorta production, is a traditional method that includes secondary fermentation in the bottle, just like Champagne. This method makes Franciacorta’s flavor more complex and deep, setting it apart from other sparkling wines. The aging on lees, or ‘affinamento sui levity,’ during this process adds to the wine’s unique taste.

Flavor Profile and Food Pairings

Franciacorta has a rich, medium to full body flavor with a creamy feel, crisp citrus, and savory nutty taste. This wine stands out with its gleaming straw-yellow color and notes like:

  • Sweet muffin

  • Lime honey

  • Concentrated mint-orange

  • Almond

These flavors make Franciacorta a versatile and enjoyable drink.

When it comes to food pairings, Franciacorta pairs well with rich Italian dishes. Stuffed ravioli or white lasagna brings out the wine’s complex character, creating a delightful dining experience.

The creamier Franciacorta Satèn is perfect for a lighter pairing with tortellini served in a rich capon broth.

Prosecco: The Popular Italian Sparkler

A glass of Prosecco with fresh fruits

Prosecco: Italy’s Popular Sparkling Wine

Prosecco is one of the world’s two most popular sparkling wines, sharing the spotlight with Champagne. This Italian sparkler has won hearts everywhere with its fruity and floral flavors, affordability, and versatility. Drinking Prosecco often brings to mind sunshine and warm breezes. Although Prosecco and Champagne are both famous, they are not the same. The main differences are in the grapes used and how they are made, making each unique.

Prosecco is more affordable than Champagne because it is made using a less labor-intensive and cheaper method called the Charmat method. This method, combined with the Glera grape, gives Prosecco its light, airy bubbles and unique character. But where does this popular Italian sparkler come from?

Glera Grape and Prosecco Regions

Prosecco is made mainly from the Glera grape, also known as the Prosecco grape. This grape is known for its high yields, late ripening, and straw color. The Glera grape is essential to Prosecco because of its moderately high acidity and aromatic profile, featuring scents of melons, peaches, pears, and white flowers.

Prosecco is produced in the northeast of Italy, mainly in the regions of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia, across nine provinces. In 2009, the region earned Prosecco DOC status, ensuring quality by controlling yield measures and preserving the rich wine-making heritage of the Prosecco Hills.

Charmat Method

Prosecco DOC wines are made using the Charmat method, the Martinotti method, tank method, or cuve close. This process differs from the traditional method and involves secondary fermentation in sealed tanks, which traps carbon dioxide and creates Prosecco’s signature bubbles.

Compared to Champagne, Prosecco’s bubbles, formed through the Charmat method, are light and airy, different from the finer, longer-lasting bubbles found in Champagne. This method sets Prosecco apart from other sparkling wines, contributing to its distinct taste and texture.

Taste and Pairing Suggestions

Prosecco’s flavor profile is fruity and floral, different from Champagne’s almond and citrus notes. The primary flavors in Prosecco are:

  • Apple

  • Honeysuckle

  • Peach

  • Melon

  • Pear

These flavors make Prosecco a versatile wine that pairs well with many types of food, including acidic, sweet, fatty, and salty dishes.

Prosecco is great with finger foods and appetizers, perfect for social gatherings and celebrations. Venetian chicchetti, for example, pairs excellently with Prosecco, allowing the wine’s delicate flavors to shine.

Other Italian Sparkling Wines to Try

A bottle of Trento DOC against a backdrop of the Alps

Besides Franciacorta and Prosecco, there are many other prestigious Italian sparkling wines with different tastes and production areas. Whether you are a wine connoisseur or a novice, you will surely appreciate trying some of the most interesting Italian sparkling wines you have never tasted, such as Trento DOC and Asti Spumante.

You will discover the alpine refinement of the Trento DOC, the sweet and fragrant character of Asti Spumante, the passionate red bubbles of the Emilia-Romagna, Lambrusco, and many other prestigious Italian sparkling wines.

Trentodoc: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Alpine Refinement

Trento DOC is an Italian sparkling wine produced only in the Trentino area of northeastern Italy. It is obtained using the classical or traditional method (the same method used for Champagne) from grapes grown in vineyards at the foot of the Alps. Trento DOC wants to represent the territory of Trentino in wine, with its different climates, from the snowy peaks to those of Mediterranean suggestion in the valleys.

Spring is in full swing on the hills about Trento in Italy.

The winemaking technique for Trento DOC has been perfected over generations, incorporating traditional methods with modern technology. The resulting wines are:

  • Fresh

  • Fragrant

  • Light

  • With notes of exotic fruit, Golden Delicious apples, apricots, flowers, freshly baked bread, and toasted hazelnuts

These qualities and affordability make them a delightful addition to any wine lover’s collection.

Asti Spumante: Sweet Sensation

Another of Italy’s beloved sparkling wines is Asti Spumante, made from the Moscato Bianco grape variety. Asti is valued for its sweet, effervescent style. It can only be produced in the Piedmont Region (Piemonte) and must follow DOCG regulations that assure a high-quality wine and distinct style.

Asti Spumante exhibits glycerin-rich sweet wine with intense floral and fruity aromas typical of the Moscato grape variety. Asti Spumante’s unique production process distinguishes it from other Italian sparklers like Prosecco, notably due to its sweetness and the absence of secondary fermentation.

Lambrusco: Red Bubbles from Emilia-Romagna

Lambrusco wine being poured into a glass

Lambrusco is a fun and refreshing sparkling wine made from the Lambrusco grape and produced in the Emilia-Romagna region of Central Italy. All the sparkling wines we have reviewed up to this point have been white, yet Lambrusco is a red sparkling wine. For this reason, Lambrusco offers a slightly different flavor profile.

Lambrusco wines are typically dry with aromas and flavors of fresh red fruit. Like other fruits of the vine, Lambrusco should be consumed young. Lambrusco offers a nice change of pace for those who have never considered drinking a red sparkling wine.

Visiting Italian Sparkling Wine Regions

Visiting the Italian regions where sparkling wine is produced isn’t just about sampling the regions’ excellent wines. Each area boasts its history and culture, and visitors can immerse themselves in local lifestyles and traditions. From Franciacorta’s renowned vineyards to the breathtaking Prosecco Hills, these areas are a delight.

Whether you go as a wine lover or inquiring traveler, you’ll find activities to enjoy. Wine tours and tastings are offered at many historic wineries. Hikers can explore miles of vineyards and woodlands. And no matter where you visit the areas producing Italy’s sparkling wines, you’ll see the charm and beauty Italy is famous for.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Italy’s Prosecco Hills are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The UN’s cultural organization designated the area on July 7, 2019, acknowledging its cultural and natural value.

The honor commemorates the landscape’s natural value and cultural heritage. The Prosecco Hills are renowned for their traditional winemaking and breathtaking scenery. Any wine aficionado’s travel list should indeed include this historic site.

Activities and Experiences

Wine tours and tastings are available at several historic wineries in the Franciacorta and Trentino areas. For a memorable and picturesque experience, guests can visit Ricci Curbastro, Barone Pizzini, and Ferrari wineries. History, culture, and flavor combine for an incredible visit.

Vineyards at 2000 feet or more are common throughout the Trentodoc region.

Visitors to the Prosecco Hills can immerse themselves in the area’s natural beauty and cultural heritage. Hiking through vineyards and forests and exploring the pre-Alps for stunning views over the Prosecco Valley provides a memorable experience. Additionally, outdoor activities like hiking and mountain biking in the alpine scenery of Trentino offer an exciting adventure for the more active traveler.

How to Choose and Serve Italian Sparkling Wines

Choosing and serving Italian sparkling wines can enhance your wine-tasting experience. Whether you’re hosting a dinner party or enjoying a quiet evening at home, choosing the right sparkler and serving it properly can make all the difference.

Prosecco, for example, should be served chilled in a large tulip-shaped glass to best enjoy its aromatic flavors. When choosing an Italian sparkling wine, consider the sweetness level that suits your palate. From sweetest to driest Italian sparkling wines are typically:

  • Demi-sec (Semi-seco)

  • Dry (Seco)

  • Extra Dry (Extra Seco)

  • Brut

  • Extra Brut

  • Brut Nature (Brut Zero)

Most importantly, as the person selecting and purchasing the wine, select a wine that aligns with your personal preference.

The Last Pour

From Franciacorta’s elegance to Prosecco’s popularity and the unique flavors of Trento DOC, Asti Spumante, and Lambrusco, Italy’s sparkling wines offer a diverse range of taste experiences. Each wine represents the rich viticultural heritage of its region, reflecting the unique terroir, traditional winemaking practices, and the passion of local winemakers.

Whether you’re a seasoned wine enthusiast or a newcomer to the world of Italian sparkling wines, exploring these delightful beverages offers a journey of discovery. Remember, the best wine is not necessarily the most expensive or famous, but the one that brings you joy. So, pop the cork, pour a glass, and savor the exquisite flavors of Italy’s sparkling wines.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is sparkling wine called in Italy?

In Italy, sparkling wine is called “Spumante,” which means “sparkling wine” in Italian. It is also called “bollicine,” which means “bubbles.”

What is the main difference between Champagne and Franciacorta and Prosecco?

The main difference between Champagne and Franciacorta is simply location. Franciacorta is made from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc using the traditional Metodo Classico. Prosseco is produced using a completely different process called the Charmat method, along with the Glera grape. This leads to distinct flavor profiles and characteristics in the wines.

How should I serve Spumante?

Serve your “bollicine” chilled in a large tulip-shaped glass to fully appreciate its aromatic flavors. Enjoy!

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