Italian sparkling wine is a must for celebratory times – actually, any time. Whether I’m ringing in the new year, celebrating a career milestone or toasting to travel, Italian bubbles are my go-to for sipping, and their effervescence tickles the nose ever so beautifully.
Produced in a number of styles across various regions, Italian sparkling wines differ widely in taste, production method and price point. Prosecco is the most known of all Italian sparkling wines and its international popularity has waxed greatly in the last 20 years. It is the most widely produced, with nearly 500 million bottles made annually.
Italian sparkling wines are made from a base wine and then undergo a secondary fermentation to become bubbly. For Prosecco, this secondary fermentation occurs in large vats where the bubbles develop and become trapped, making this a more affordable wine that is best enjoyed young. Franciacorta, Alta Langa and Trentodoc, on the other hand, are produced in the metodo classico, or classic method. This secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle (rather than a tank) increasing the manual work, the wine’s longevity and its price tag. These latter three wines are largely unknown outside of Italy but they are becoming better known and offer a great alternative to French champagne.
All bubblies are good partners for Italian cheeses and meats – like prosciutto, speck or mortadella – as well as leavened goods, like pizza and cakes. Discover the four main sparkling wine styles you’ll come across in Italy, where they come from and some of my favorites for each category. Enjoy and salute!
Prosecco: Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Prosecco is made from the glera grape primarily and comes from the DOC regulated areas in northeast Italy that range from Veneto and extend north to Friuli-Venezia Giuli. The most highly regarded Prosecco comes from the DOCG hill areas of Asolo and an area between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, a region inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2019.
Proseccos range in style with different terms on the label describing their dryness levels (i.e., brut, extra dry, dry as examples). Also, in 2020, the Italian government finally approved Prosecco rosé DOC. Look for the DOCG on the label for the more acclaimed Proseccos.
While great to sip alone, Prosecco has become the crowned jewel during afternoon aperitivo time when cafes and restaurants in Italy use it to make the ubiquitous Spritz – a cocktail made with Aperol liquor, Prosecco and a splash of sparkling water.
See More: 3 Festive Recipes For Prosecco
Franciacorta DOCG: Lombardy
Franciacorta is a sparkling wine that shares its name with the region where it is produced. Located an hour east of Milan, Franciacorta is a gastronomic haven that overflows with cultural history. It is home to ancient Etruscan towns, borders the charming Lake Iseo and kisses Switzerland’s southern border, making it a must-visit region in northern Italy.
Unlike Prosecco, Franciacorta is similar in winemaking style to Champagne, with its second fermentation occurring in the bottle, not in tank. Franciacorta can be aged up to five years before it is released on the market, and is known for its longevity. This process and its aging requirements give Franciacorta more body and complexity than that of Prosecco, and as such, a higher price point as well.
Franciacorta is made from a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot blanc and erbamat grapes. It comes in a variety of styles, including Dosaggio Zero (no added sugar), Satén, Rosé, Millesimato, Vintage and Reserva Franciacorta.
See More: 48 Hours in Franciacorta
Alta Langa DOCG: Piedmont
Travel three hours south of Franciacorta and you will meet Alta Langa (high Langa), the famed sparkling wine of Piedmont, an area renowned for truffles and home to the International Alba White Truffle Festival. Alta Langa bubbles come specifically from the DOCG areas of Asti, Alessandria and Cuneo.
A higher level of sparkling wine than Prosecco, it too is often touted as France’s Champagne and is made in the metodo classico style. Though unlike Franciacorta, Alta Langa is made from only pinot noir and chardonnay. Also, Alta Langa is produced only from one vintage, which means its grapes are from just one year (i.e., 2017). In comparison, non-vintage (NV) means wine from multiple years are blended.
Aging for up to three years before it is released, Alta Langa shows nice weight and an array of citrus and bready notes. You can also find great Alta Langa rosé. I am particularly fond of Pas Dosé, a style in which winemakers do not add sugar. I have never met an Alta Langa that I did not like.
This wine is the expression of the land where it is produced. Trento is a high altitude, alpine area that sits among the Dolomite Mountains, and is about 1.5 hours northeast of Franciacorta. The only sparkling wine region in the mountains, Trentodoc give us elevated vivaciousness and bold acid, the perfect partners for pairing with food. It too has its own requirements and is made from chardonnay, pinot nero, pinot bianco and pinot meunier. Like Franciacorta and Alta Langa, it is made in the metodo classico style and ages up to three years before release. Many locals consider Trentodoc the best of all Italian bubbles.