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. Plus, 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. Of all Italian sparkling wines, Prosecco is the most universally known. And its international popularity has waxed greatly in the last 20 years. Prosecco is also 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. This makes it 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. The latter three wines are largely unknown outside of Italy. However, they are becoming better known and offer a great alternative to French champagne.
All bubblies partner well with Italian cheeses and meats—like prosciutto, speck, or mortadella. This also includes leavened goods, like pizza and cakes. Discover the four main sparkling wine types you’ll come across in Italy and where they come from. And some of my favorites for each category, as well. Enjoy and salute!
Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Prosecco is made primarily from the glera grape and comes from the DOC-regulated areas in northeast Italy. These range from the region of 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 that was inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2019.
Proseccos range in style with different terms on the label that describe their dryness levels (i.e. brut, extra dry, and 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. A time when Italian cafés and restaurants use it to make the ubiquitous Spritz. This cocktail is made with Aperol liquor, Prosecco, and a splash of sparkling water.
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’s home to ancient Etruscan towns and borders the charming Lake Iseo and kisses Switzerland’s southern border. This makes it a must-visit region in northern Italy!
Unlike Prosecco, Franciacorta is similar in winemaking style to Champagne. This is because its second fermentation occurs in the bottle, not in a tank. Franciacorta can be aged up to five years before it is released on the market, and is well-known for its longevity. This process and its aging requirements give Franciacorta more body and complexity than Prosecco. As such, it sells at a higher price point.
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.
Travel three hours south of Franciacorta and you will meet Alta Langa (high Langa), the famed sparkling wine of Piedmont. This area is renowned for truffles and is 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 sparkling wine than Prosecco, it too is often as touted as France’s Champagne. It’s also made in the metodo classico style. Unlike Franciacorta, Alta Langa is made from only pinot noir and chardonnay. Also, Alta Langa is produced from only one vintage, which means its grapes are from a single year (i.e. 2017). In comparison, non-vintage (NV) means a wine from multiple years is blended.
Alta Longa is aged for a period of up to three years before it is released. As a result, it shows a 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 gives 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.