Wine • Italian "champagne"
Sparkling wine, which one to choose, how to best match it

Sparkling wine, which one to choose, how to best match it

Sspumante

This year, unfortunately, the holidays will be conditioned by the particular situation linked to Covid, but there will still be opportunities to toast. The "bubbles" will then be the protagonists, for a toast, at the beginning or at the end of a meal, or even to accompany an appetizer or the meal itself. Despite the growing success and increasingly widespread consumption of sparkling wines, it is easy to realize that there is still a lot of confusion among people, and there are many who think that, apart from the price, a sparkling wine is worth the 'other.

So let's try to make a small contribution to clarity, to better orient ourselves in the vast world of sparkling wines.

Champagne or Italian sparkling wine?

Thanks to a very long tradition and skilful marketing, the French have been able to impose Champagne in the world as a synonym for sparkling wine of excellence, we could say the Ferrari of sparkling wines (Ferrari intended as a sports car, not as a brand of a famous Italian sparkling wine). Is it always true? Considering that Champagne is difficult to find at prices below 20-25 euros, even in less valuable products that end up in supermarket counters, it must be said that very often the most common Champagnes are not worth the money they cost, certainly when compared to sparkling wines. Italians of the same price range, but also of lower price ranges. High quality Champagnes are probably still unattainable even for the best Italian productions, but their cost is very important for the average consumer and not everyone is able to fully appreciate them, because they can be very complex wines in aromas and aromas. , which require preparation and some gustatory exercise.
In short, unless they give it to you as a gift or you are an extremely aware sparkling wine consumer, our advice, not only for a patriotic spirit, is to choose an Italian sparkling wine.

Charmat Method or Classic Method?

In a nation with a great tradition and wine production like Italy, the awareness that there is no single way to produce sparkling wine, and that the production method is fundamental and determines very different characteristics in the final product, should be common. Charmat method (or Martinotti) or classic method, however, are not the only methods used (there is also a method called ancestral), but they are by far the most used and therefore it is the most important distinction to be clear.
The Italian sparkling wine produced with the classic method is also called, erroneously, the "Italian Champagne". While essentially sharing the production method that passes through a long refermentation in the bottle, it is important to understand that the identity of the wine is also given by the terroir, by the raw material (the grapes that are selected), by the intervention of the oenologists in cellar, in short, each wine has its own identity and should not be confused with an "imitation" of another.

Briefly we can say that Charmat is a less demanding sparkling wine, both in terms of production times and costs, and because it often uses grapes more suitable for a product with immediate aromas and for a more “carefree” consumption. The Italian Charmat par excellence has become in recent decades the “Prosecco”, in its most common version, DOC, and in the more refined Prosecco Superiore with the DOCGs of Conegliano Valdobbiadene and of Montello and Colli Asolani. The success of Prosecco has been such as to become, for many, a synonym for Italian sparkling wine. Whatever is in the bottle, if it is sparkling wine it is called "prosecco". A simplification that we hope will soon disappear, and which is incompatible with a wine culture that our country deserves. Among the sweet aromatic sparkling wines, the first Italian wine to be also export champion was Asti DOCG, produced with white Muscat grapes.

The panorama of the classic Italian method is much more complex to represent, because more variables come into play, more difficult to simplify, both in words and in the tasting from the glass.

The classic method sparkling wine is generally produced from more structured grapes than Charmat, sometimes also from red grape varieties, first of all Pinot Noir. The classic method, which involves the refermentation by yeasts directly in the bottle, requires the use of absolutely healthy grapes, therefore more selected, and engages the cellarman for many months, sometimes many years, also occupying physical space for the storage of bottles in suitable places. Some products rest in the cellar for up to 10 years before being put on the market, although in most cases the aging period is in the order of 15-24 months. From here it should be understood that a bottle of the classic method cannot be sold for a few euros and a sale price substantially higher than the bubbles produced with the Charmat method is not only justified, but also inevitable.

Today in Italy the classic method is produced with the most disparate grapes, from South Tyrol to Sicily. However, there are few areas where the production of classic method sparkling wines is historically more rooted or, albeit with more recent origins, has become the flag of an entire territory. These are Oltrepò Pavese, where Pinot Noir mainly uses it, Trentino with its Trento Doc, where Chardonnay is mainly used, and, last in order of time as a denomination, Franciacorta, in the province of Brescia, with the 'homonymous Franciacorta DOCG, where the use of Chardonnay grapes is prevalent, but where Pinot Noir also finds ample space, to the point of giving life to white interpretations based on Pinot Noir in purity, passing through the rosé versions. In addition to these more established denominations, we consider a DOC that is ancient in the origins of its grape, but recent in affirmation: the Lessini Durello. The durella grape has ancient roots and finds its ideal terroir in Lessinia and its volcanic soils, between the provinces of Verona and Vicenza. Lessini Durello classic method sparkling wines, refined by some wineries that have raised their quality in recent years, albeit with a limited production capacity such as the extension of the vineyard area of its DOC, is offering itself in an increasingly credible way as an alternative to denominations mentioned above. Its strengths are the marked acidity and resistance of the durella grape, which gives the wine an enviable ability to evolve in contact with the yeasts for a very long time (over 5 years, up to 10).

Brut, zero dosage or extra dry?

Sparkling wines, whether classic or Charmat method, are also characterized by the percentage of sugar (residual sugar) present in the wine. The classic method pas dosé (zero dosage) or nature sparkling wines are the most extreme in the sense of dryness, so we can say that they are not for everyone and even when pairing with food they must be carefully considered, with raw materials that are accompanied well with a very marked and clear acidity of the wine: fish certainly, but excluding dishes with particularly elaborate flavors. On the other hand, if you want to accompany the end of meal and dessert with bubbles, without reaching a completely sweet wine, an extra dry or dry Prosecco Superiore (the latter not so easy to find) is the best choice.
The most common dosage is brut, which can be more or less dry since the indication is that the wine generally has less than 12 g / l of residual sugar, and in brut we will find wines suitable for different types of appetizers, snacks for aperitif and also, especially in the classic method, to be drunk throughout the meal.

In conclusion

Italian sparkling wine really offers a lot both in the sense of variety and in terms of quality. At the beginning and at the end of a meal and with not particularly pretentious combinations, a sparkling wine produced with the Charmat method of good quality can generally be the most suitable choice. If, on the other hand, your taste or the dishes you have to accompany require wines of greater "temperament" and structure, and to accompany the whole meal, in the context of bubbles the most natural choice is that of a sparkling wine produced with refermentation in the bottle. To guide your choice, first of all consider the characteristics of the territory and the soil, the type of grape, whether with a prevalence of white or red grapes, and the duration of aging on the yeasts, and finally the residual sugar. A pas dosé (zero dosage), 100% Pinot Noir disgorged after 6 years or more from the start of refermentation in the bottle will certainly be a very demanding wine, not easy to understand and suitable for more sophisticated combinations.
On the other hand, a brut blanc de blanc sparkling wine (obtained only from white berried grapes, such as Chardonnay), for example. a Franciacorta Satèn, with an aging period of 18-24 months before disgorgement, will be a softer and easier wine to appreciate even by those who are not ready for more extreme experiences. In between, a fascinating world to be discovered, which requires curiosity, attention to detail and a willingness to make the most of all or almost your senses, to be conquered by that promise of lightness and freshness inspired by the sight of the fine bubbles that rise in the glass, which is reiterated on the nose, intoxicating us with subtle but penetrating aromas, and finally kept in the mouth where the wine envelops and tickles us, with tactile and aromatic sensations that only the "bubbles" can give us.



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