When it comes to serious, bottle-fermented bubbles, Italy has come a long way. Thanks to better vineyard management and site selection, as well as warmer, drier summers that encourage ideal grape ripening, producers across Italy now make focused, more complex sparkling wines.
The most captivating iterations are made without additional sugar. Called dosaggio zero, nature or pas dosé, these are bone-dry, precise wines that combine pristine fruit, vibrancy and knife-like precision. They’re incredibly food friendly, with the structure and freshness to accompany entire meals. And because they’re not enhanced or weighed down by dosage, or additional sugar, these chiseled bottlings beautifully express their individual terroirs.
Dosage is the final step in the traditional method, called metodo classico in Italy, of sparkling wine production. The process adds yeast and sugar to still wine that’s then bottled with a metal crown cap. The yeast ferments the sugar into alcohol, which generates bubbles that contain naturally occurring carbon dioxide. Next, the bottles rest on the spent yeast, known as lees, which imparts those warm flavors of bread crust or brioche.
The yeast is then removed through a process known as disgorgement. The final step before the bottle is corked is to add dosage. Classic dosage is a mix of wine and sugar, but for dosaggio zero sparklers, producers add wine only to top up the bottle, since a small quantity can escape during disgorgement.
The thirst for dry
Dosaggio zero can contain up to a maximum of three grams per liter of residual sugar (RS). By comparison, extra brut and brut have from none to six grams of RS per liter, and up to 12 grams per liter, respectively.
In the U.S., sparkling wine lovers are starting to gravitate toward drier styles, particularly at restaurants prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“In selected markets, mainly large cities, we’ve seen a rising thirst for extra brut and dosaggio zero, especially in restaurants, though of course not so much these days, unfortunately,” says Giovanni Caveggia, brand manager at Winebow Imports.
To monitor dosaggio zero sales at wine shops, or “off-premise” markets, is more complicated. “Sparkling wine selections are often dominated by big brand names,” says Caveggia, but drier styles by smaller producers are expanding “in boutique stores in sophisticated markets.”
Eager to try these dry, structured Italian bubbles? Here are some of the denominations and producers to seek.
Located in Trentino, Trento is one of Italy’s storied areas for traditionally crafted sparkling wines, known today by their collective brand, Trentodoc. The region’s mountain vineyards range from 656–2,952 feet above sea level and enjoy plenty of sunlight. Hot days and cool nights encourage optimal grape ripening, essential if producers skip the dosage.
One of the first to release a dosaggio zero was Maso Martis, with its 2009 Dosaggio Zero Riserva.
“Climate change, up to today and in our hilly zone, has permitted better grape ripening,” says Antonio Stelzer, owner/winemaker of Maso Martis. “This helps us obtain sparkling wine with more complexity and balance without having to intervene with significant sugar dosages.”
Historical producer Ferrari has lowered dosage across its range for years as well. Its Dosaggio Zero cuvée is the result of years of experimentation. The wine is scheduled to roll out in the U.S. during 2021.
Producers to look out for: Ferrari, Maso Martis
Click here for the latest reviews of Trento sparkling wines.
This is another celebrated denomination for metodo classico bubbles made primarily with Chardonnay and Pinot Nero. Located in Lombardy, the area is also home to some of the first dosaggio zero bottlings in Italy.
“In my experience, there’s definitely more interest in drier wines, and in particular from small producers,” says Silvano Brescianini, executive vice president of Barone Pizzini, and president of the local consortium. “Few realize that here in Franciacorta, we’re practically all ‘growers.’ ”
The label’s first Dosaggio Zero was 2006 Nature.
According to Brescianini, ideal grape maturation isn’t an issue in Northern Italy, but “increased know-how in grape pressing in the last decade has allowed us to have wines with greater elegance and finesse.”
Producers to look out for: Barone Pizzini, Berlucchi, Ca’ del Bosco
Click here for the latest reviews of Franciacorta.
Italy’s metodo classico tradition was born in the 1800s in this part of Piedmont, thanks to its proximity to France. Production declined in the 1970s, but it began to rebound in in the mid-1990s and culminated the 2002 creation of the Alta Langa denomination.
Besides the skill of the winemakers, many of whom also make Barolo and Barbaresco, the zone’s hilly terrain and calcareous soils are ideal for Pinot Nero and Chardonnay in its Alta Langa bubbles, which are always vintage dated.
“Ten years ago, we decided to create our 100 Mesi Pas Dosé Riserva to make a wine really expressive of the territory and destined to be appreciated with food,” says Enrico Viglierchio, managing director of Banfi, which has holdings in Piedmont and Tuscany.
The company’s Cuvée Aurora Pas Dosé 100 Mesi Riserva will be imported into the U.S. in 2021.
Producers to look out for: Banfi, Enrico Serafino
Click here for the latest reviews of Alta Langa.
This little-known denomination in Veneto has a cult following among sparkling wine fans for its metodo classico. Made with the native Durella grape, cultivated in volcanic soils, these linear wines have firm acidity and razor-sharp clarity as well as ripe fruit.
Because it’s highly acidic, “Durella is one of the very few grapes that at full maturation is perfect for sparkling wine production,” says Giacomo Danese, head of international sales at Corte Moschina.
To best interpret the marked mineral notes in wines from the area, Durello producers often lower dosage or skip it altogether.
“In the last few years, we’ve seen a big change in American palates,” says Danese. “They no longer want exaggerated softness, but are seeking dry wines and dosaggio zero.”
Producers to look out for: Corte Moschina, Fattori
Click here for the latest reviews of Lessini Durello.
Located in the extreme point of Lombardy in the province of Pavia, the lovely hills south of the Po River have a long history of winemaking. It’s also Italy’s Pinot Nero stronghold, and the grape has been planted here since the early 1800s, when the area was under Napoleon’s French occupation.
By the start of the early 1900s, the growing zone was already making significant amounts of traditional-method sparkling wines from Pinot Nero, and it remains the backbone of the Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita).
For the straight versions or entry-level offerings, Pinot Nero must be 70% of the final blend. Even though this figure climbs to a minimum of 85% for varietal wines labeled as Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico DOCG Pinot Nero, many producers exclusively use the grape, turning out wines with an intriguing blend of elegance and austerity. The dosaggio zero bottlings are racy and loaded with finesse.
Producers to look out for: Oltrenero, Moratti-Castello di Cicognola
Click here for the latest reviews of Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico.