Wine Enthusiast Podcast: The Wide World of Italian Sparkling Wine

Illustration of people around a table in an Italian waterfront setting pouring what appears to be bottles of sparkling wine.
Illustration by Vidyha Nagarajan

Winemakers across Italy produce a wide range of sparkling wines. From assorted appellations and using different grape varieties and techniques, a beautiful array of offerings can be found from the country.

But with so much variety, it can be a little tricky to know exactly what kind of final wine you should expect in any given glass.

To help break it down, Tasting Director Alexander Peartree talks with Giuseppe LoCascio, Chief Everything Officer of Vntners, an online direct-to-consumer retail shop, and Lucidity Wine Merchants, an import/wholesale wine company, about four of the country’s prominent sparkling wines: Prosecco, Franciacorta, Trentodoc and Lambrusco. They discuss what sets each of these types of wines apart, and why they are great for any occasion.

From the charmat method to metodo classicos, frizzante to spumante, bright and fruity pours to more mature profiles, there’s an Italian sparkling wine for every palate and personal taste.

Visit our Buying Guide for recommendations of recently reviewed Italian sparklers. If you like your sparklers dry, check out this guide to the best of the bone-dry Italian bubblies.

Episode Transcript

Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.

Speakers: Lauren Buzzeo, Alexander Peartree, Giuseppe LoCascio

Lauren Buzzeo 0:09
Hello and welcome to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast, your serving of drinks culture and the people who drive it. I’m Lauren Buzzeo, the Managing Editor at Wine Enthusiast, and in this episode, we’re diving into the world of Italian bubbles. Winemakers across Italy produce a wide range of sparklers from varying appellations and using different grape varieties and techniques to yield a beautiful array of offerings. But with so much variety, it could be a little tricky to know what kind of final wine you should expect in any given glass. So to help break it down, Tasting Director Alexander Peartree talks with Giuseppe LoCascio, Chief Everything Officer of Vintners, an online direct-to-consumer retail shop, and Lucidity Wine Merchants, an import/wholesale wine company, about four of the country’s prominent sparkling wine selections. Prosecco, Franciacorta, Trentodoc and Lambrusco. They cover what sets each of these sparkling wines apart, and why they are great go-tos for any occasion. But first, a word from today’s sponsor. Total Wine & More is ready for summer. They’ve got all your pours for the great outdoors, like their top 12 wines under $15. Raise a glass to America with their star-spangled selection of sips made in the USA. Then taste your way to new flavor it like ready to freeze cocktail pops and fun fizzy hard seltzers—lime, pineapple or peach anyone? Here’s a recipe for a delicious summer evening: Take smoked ribs, good friends and just add Bordeaux. Let your imagination go grill crazy. From good old fashioned hotdogs to turkey burgers with all the toppings, you can’t go wrong with Chardonnay. And when it comes to seafood, salmon and tuna swim nicely with fruity and fresh reds. So no matter if you’re grilling, chilling or both, you’re sure to find cool prices on over 8,000 wines, 4,000 spirits and 2,500 beers in store or at totalwine.com.

Alex Peartree 2:12
I’m Alexander Peartree, Tasting Director at Wine Enthusiast Magazine, and today we’re going to chat about four popular styles of Italian sparkling wine. Many might already be familiar with Prosecco, which we will of course cover, but there are a few other categories to keep an eye out for that might serve you well the next time you’re looking for some fizz. I’m joined today by Giuseppe LoCascio, Chief Everything Officer of Vintners, an online direct-to-consumer retail shop and Lucidity Wine Merchants, an import wholesale wine company. On top of that, Giuseppe is an all-around knowledgeable wine guy. And his studies dive deep into the world of Italian wine. So welcome, Giuseppe.

Giuseppe LoCascio 2:58
Thank you, Alex. It’s great to be here.

Alex Peartree 3:00
And now I know you have your hands in a lot of different pots, did I miss anything? Are you working on any other projects?

Giuseppe LoCascio 3:05
No, no, that’s that’s pretty much it. And it’s more than plenty for me right now.

Alex Peartree 3:13
All right. Well, we’re gonna be talking all about Italian bubbles today. But before we dive in, I think we need to set the stage a bit. Italian bubbles can by and large be split into two camps, those that use the Charmat method and those that employ what’s called Metodo Classico. And I think many wine lovers might already be familiar with those. How would you explain these concepts to people new to wine?

Giuseppe LoCascio 3:42
It’s very simple. Usually, I introduce this topic by trying to make people understand that in the first place to have a sparkling wine, you have to create the bubble. So it’s how you actually create the bubbles that makes the difference between all the categories that we have mentioned so far. So by and large, the historical way of doing it was actually almost by accident, and you just have wine in a bottle. And somehow in the past, you know, because they didn’t have the right technology, some bottle said the second fermentation in the bottle. This is what basically happened, even in the far past. In the end of the 1800s, early 1900, almost at the same time, an Italian and a French developed a technology to actually create, induce the bubbles in a more efficient and effective way, let’s say by using tanks, pressurized tanks. So this is where you will start to have a split and really the two main categories. On one side, you have sparkling wines that are refermented in the bottle. And on the other side you have sparkling wines that are made with a secondary fermentation in a large pressurized tank. So that’s the two major, let’s say groups. And within those groups, you might have some some differences and some different styles and some variations if you want, but that’s the two main concept different, you know, consumers has to be familiar with to understand exactly what they’re buying.

Alex Peartree 5:19
Now, between the two categories, since they’re produced in different ways, do you find that they sort of give off different flavor profiles? Like Charmat may be more fruity and metodo classico just by its nature might be more savory.

Giuseppe LoCascio 5:36
Yeah, it’s also a matter of texture is not not just the flavors, but usually Charmat methods tend to have bubbles that are a little more gentle on the palate, and their data, overall creamy texture to it. While some of the metal classical, especially some of the most high end wines tend to be kind of very sharp, and the bubbles tend to last longer in the glass. So there is a pretty significant difference, not just in terms of flavor profile, but also in texture.

Alex Peartree 6:13
And so now that we have that background and context, how about we jump into the first two categories and these are two that mostly employ the Charmat method? And those are Prosecco and Lambrusco. So why don’t we start with Prosecco, which I think it’s the category that many Americans are quite familiar with. It’s a sparkling wine made in the northeastern part of Italy, predominantly in the Veneto area. And it’s made from the Glera grape. I think many people are familiar with its sort of cheap and cheerful alternatives. But there are also these more terroir driven wines. Can you give us a little bit of context about that?

Giuseppe LoCascio 7:03
Yeah, for sure. So Prosecco as we know it today, it’s a relatively large operation that was created give or take about 10 years ago, not that he didn’t exist before. Prosecco as an appellation in the Italian law did exist even before that. But it was, let’s say, redesigned with providing basically a stricter protection to the appellation because as you know, you can’t really protect the grape designation, you can only protect a place. Right, so there is an historical importance of Prosecco production in northeastern Italy that spans from let’s say, the shores of Lake Garda, all the way to Trieste, or let’s say from around Verona all the way today to the east of where you have almost in Croatia. So they were able to craft to kind of design an historical appellation that comprises nine provinces within Benito and Friuli. And that’s the DOC, that’s the larger area, and that appellation basically is based on the fact that there is a town called Prosecco in Friuli. And so, with that, you also need a grape and obviously the name that will speak to produce Prosecco is Glera, which is the traditional name of the grape that is, by and large, the most important in Prosecco production. In Prosecco production, there are also other grapes allowed, usually, some may be local grapes like Bianchetta for example, and some might be international. But you know, the like Pinot Blanc for example in Chardonnay, but the most important is definitely glera, so about 99% to 95% of Prosecco was made with glera. So they created the DOC, which is the let’s say that the base try to think about a pyramid that will be the base of the pyramid. And you can have just a Prosecco DOC which can be planned out of vineyards from different provinces in this very large area, northeastern Italy. You can have a Prosecco named after the province of for example, Trevizo DOC, so on and so forth. And then this is kind of when you go into the more terroir driven Prosecco, you start entering the DOCG appellation. So, just as a refresher, Italian wines typically fall into three categories. You have a regional designation, like Toscana IGT, then you have a DOC, which is a protected appellation so the rules become a little stricter. And then you have a geographical appellation with a guarantee of, let’s say, a flavor profile of sort, and that’s the DOCG, where the G at the end stands for guaranteed. It just means that there is a committee that vets all the wines. And if the wine falls within some sort of a framework of what it should be tasting like that it is granted the, you know, the little sticker on it and it’s part of the DOCG appellation can be labeled as a DOCG wine. So as you move from the Prosecco DOC, again nine provinces in northeastern Italy into the DOCG. The DOCG is the historical production area of Prosecco in the province of Trevizo. And that’s the Conegliano Valdobbiadene and Colli Asolani, which is separated.

Alex Peartree 10:36
How is that area different than a lot of the broader Prosecco DOC area? Is there a difference in geography?

Giuseppe LoCascio 10:46
Yes, there is a difference in geography and it is a dramatic difference in the lay of the land if you want, and then in obviously, you know, in climate. If you have a map of Italy, the Prosecco DOC appellation is very big. I mean, it’s it’s nine provinces. I don’t know what the span is, but it takes three hours, at least from one side to the other, if not more, so it’s a it’s a huge appellation, and it’s relatively flat. It is influenced by obviously, the Mediterranean climate that comes from the Adriatic Sea, which is just south of it. But especially if you’re talking about a regular Prosecco DOC without a specific designation, even a province, we are talking about Proseccos that are made from vineyards that can be very far away from each other. And so you kind of lose that kind of sense of place. On the other end, the DOCG Conegliano Valdobbiadene in Colli Asolani, they are way more defined in terms of territory. These are very hilly areas, with a much broader day-night dispersion, temperature dispersion. And the hills can be really steep and pretty tall. I mean, it’s like you’re talking about maybe 450, 500 meter elevation. And within this DOCG, you even have a more, let’s say, granular type of designation, which is some sort of a single vineyard designation called Rive. Okay, so if you’re looking for a Prosecco that has a much more well defined, precise sense of place, then you might want to look at the DOCG level Conegliano Valdobbiadene and Colli Asolani, which is kind of south and west from the from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene appellation. And the Conegliano Valdobbiadene appellation is actually the historical part of where Proseccos actually produced for the longest time, but most importantly, at the beginning of the 1900s. This is when a couple of producers started really producing Prosecco for export. We go back 100 and something years.

Alex Peartree 12:55
And so what in your mind is sort of the hallmark of these wines from the Prosecco DOCGs and how are they sort of different flavor profile-wise or maybe even texturally than the greater Prosecco DOC wines?

Giuseppe LoCascio 13:14
Well, they share, let’s say, with the Prosecco DOC, they do share this fruit forward, markedly peach and kind of orchard fruit aromas. That’s a classic Prosecco descriptor. There’s a classic Prosecco aroma. That being said, if you even within Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, which are slightly different areas, you will see some differences. The Conegliano one tends to be a little broader, and tends to be more about the flowery notes and the peachy notes and a little rounder, other more four foot foot forward. The Valdobbiadene being you know, a hillier area, even more than Conegliano tends to be even more vertical, even more precise, tends to have a little higher acidity, tends to have more of a green tone to it. And a much more, let’s say, small fruit rather than peach aromas. It’s interesting because again, Prosecco percent is obviously a very enjoyable, easygoing, sparkling wine. You don’t really have to think about it too much. It’s just it’s something that in Italy we do enjoy without thinking too much. So it’s always been supposed to be something like that. That’s because of the Glera grape. It’s never going to give you the complexity of our Chardonnay or things like that. But when it comes to the DOCG Conegliano Valdobbiadene and especially the Colli Asolani then you’ll start to pay a little more attention, you’ll start to see to notice finer aromas a little bit more herbal tones to it, especially in Valdobbiadene, you have like thyme, rosemary. These are usually notes that are very difficult to find in the regular DOC Prosecco.

Alex Peartree 15:05
And I actually think it might be interesting to talk about retail prices just because some people are probably familiar with, you know, the cheap and cheerful proseccos being 10 to $15 on the low end. But even on the high end, I don’t think these single vineyard wines and all of these DOCGs are all that expensive. Am I right?

Giuseppe LoCascio 15:27
It really depends. Let’s say DOC Prosecco usually is between, let’s say, $10 to $15. And the DOC, it’s really the the playing arena where you have the large companies, the large brands where you’re playing, even though you’ve got and you do have some smaller wineries making it simple DOC Prosecco. When it comes to the DOCG, especially if we’re talking about single vineyards, they’re usually designated as a Rive, then it starts to be also a bit more expensive. So we’re talking about Proseccos that are in the DCG level, between $20 to $25. With some exception, you will do actually do go north of $30. There are some areas of the historical Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG, which are probably some of the most expensive vineyard lands in Italy, like for example, the Cartizze. And that’s where you get into the $50, $60, $70 very difficult to find kind of an unusual style of Prosecco, because usually Cartizze is on the dry end of things. And I remind remind everyone that when it comes to sparkling wines, dry means sweet. It’s a little confusing, but it’s the French design this system when it comes to sparkling wines. If you want to draw to have a dry style, then you have to look for the word brut. While if you are dry or extra dry, you’re actually into the sweet spectrum if you want. So Cartizze usually comes out as a dry, or extra dry, so it’s on the fruitier, sweeter side and it’s probably the most expensive Prosecco you can find around. That being said, most people will be very happy with $20, $25 Prosecco DOCG Conegliano Valdobbiadene or Colli Asolani if they want to upgrade from the regular Prosecco. And if you’re making a spritz with any other flavor with fruits or Aperol or Campari or whatever other liqueur then just go with a DOC Prosecco and there is no point in looking for, you know, a more terroir driven bottle if you’re mixing it up. If on the other end, you’re planning to have your Prosecco with your dinner or as an aperitivo that on its own, then you might want to upgrade and going to the DOCG and even experiment if your store or retailer has more than one, maybe try more than one brand or even try if they find one for you, try like a Rive or try a single vineyard Prosecco. Those are by far the most interesting ones.

Alex Peartree 18:15
Now are there any specific brands or producers that stick out to you that you think kind of really exemplify the style of Prosecco?

Giuseppe LoCascio 18:26
There are many there like medium size and they do an amazing job. And I do not represent any of them, so I’m just talking about my own personal preferences when it comes to Conegliano Valdobbiadene, Sorelle Bronca for example, makes excellent Prosecco. On the Colli Asolani, you have Case Paolin is probably one of the very few ones you can find in the in the US. And again, this is where Prosecco becomes a bit more serious and a little more defined in its flavor profile.

Alex Peartree 18:56
Nice. Well, okay, so I think we covered Prosecco quite well, which was our first Charmat method sparkling wine, but why don’t we move on to Lambrusco, which for me personally, I love the category but I do find it slightly confusing as I’m sure some wine lovers might. It can range from dry to sweet but then there’s also a bunch of different grapes used within the Lambrusco family that can kind of create very different wines. So can you learn a little insight on the category as a whole?

Giuseppe LoCascio 19:37
Yeah, absolutely. We you know, today actually at Vintners we are celebrating International Lambrusco day. That’s kind of an interesting, interesting festivity if you want. So yeah, it can be confusing for two reasons. Number one, there isn’t one Lambrusco. Lambrusco is actually a family of grapes. And the members of this family they can be very different from each other in terms of how the grapes look and taste. So you do have, for example, very dark, very thick skinned Lambrusco like the Maestri or the Salamino or the Grasparossa. Grasparossa they leave in tannin, so they have that kind of dry sensation like a red wine basically. And you have lighter, thinner skinned Lambruscos like the Sorbara Lambrusco, so again, Lambrusco per se doesn’t exist, you have different types of plants within the Lambrusco family and every plant gives you different fruits. Now the tradition in Emilia Romagna is to actually not just plant but even coplant different types of Lambrusco for many reasons, like for example, Sorbara, the plant of Lambrusca di Sorbara doesn’t self pollinate. So in order to have fruit in order to have harvest the growers plant other types of Lambrusco alongside the Sorbara so that they can actually provide fruit, create fruit, you know. So this is why traditionally Lambrusco’s always a blend of different grapes within the Lambrusco family. That being said, in the last, let’s say 10 to 15 years, some producers have decided to actually do monovarietal Lambrusca. So you can find, for example, for example, 100% so Sorbara, or 100% Salamino. And even the designation, even the appellations which on one end allow for blending that you have to allow for blending, rarely can be 100% monovarietal. So for example, usually when you see an appellation, it usually has a grape or a place. In this case we have both. For example you have Lambrusco di Sorbara, which can be at least 85% Sorbara and then other things, other type of Lambrusco. Lambrusco di Modena are for example. Usually di Modena can be a mix of different types of Lambrusco, then you have Lambrusco Reggiano, Lambrusco Mantovano. And these are all places. Then you have Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, this is south of Modena, then you have Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce, which is north of Modena. But then again, always plants, usually 80%, 75% of one type and then others. But again, you can find producers that are going monovarietal. It’s rare there are only few of them doing that, but you can find it. And the other confusing thing is that as you mentioned, most of Lambrusco is still produced with the Charmat method and again, as a refresher, Charmat not is the secondary fermentation in pressurized tanks, actually, we call it Charmat Martinotti because Charmat is the French gentleman that patented the system and Mr. Martinotti in Piedmont was actually the one to invent the pressurized tank. So we usually refer to it as Charmat Martinotti. And I mention that because some wineries actually use the Italian name and some others we use the French name for this production system. So yes, most of the Lambrusco that you can find for let’s say around $15 to $20, it’s going to be Chamat method, so made with a secondary fermentation in a tank. But you can find today also Lambrusco that are refermented in the bottle either with the system we call metodo classico, like Champagne, where you have a secondary fermentation in the bottle. And then in order to get rid of the lees that are in the bottle, you have disgorgement and the cork and then it’s ready to go. Or you have Lambruscos that are made col fondo or pet nat style so basically the winemaker just allows the secondary fermentation to happen spontaneously naturally in the bottle does not take the cap away and so all you get it’s a very fruitful kind of style. So usually when we when it comes to Lambrusco I always tell everyone to have a very open mind. And the great thing about Lambrusco is that he has one of the most versatile Italian wines and coming from Emilia Romagna, which is some sort of harbor for some of the most iconic Italian foods like Parmigiano Reggiano, prosciutto di parma, mortadella, tortellini and all those kinds of things. It’s an amazing food wine. Itwas invented by the most food oriented people that we have in Italy, which are the the people of Emilia Romagna.

Alex Peartree 24:47
Yeah, Lambrusco is one of my favorite go-tos when I just want something easy that I know will go along with with whatever I’m having. And it’s quite an oddity in the wine world to have a sparkling red wine that is also dry or at least in some cases off-dry, it’s certainly something quite special to to this area of Italy.

Giuseppe LoCascio 25:13
The greatest thing today, Alex, is that Lambrusco has come a long, a very long way from you know what? Probably most Americans remember of the 70s that you need a soda pop type of Lambrusco. Today you have the finest Lambrusco in Michelin star restaurants. They have really, really come a long way. And as you mentioned, you can have a very, you know, cheerful, simple, straightforward Lambrusco as an aperitivo or you can go all the way up and upgrade yourself to a metodo classico Lambrusco, which is going to be an amazing pairing for the entire meal, not just like an aperitivo or maybe a drink on the patio. It’s one of the most gastronomic wines we like to say. It’s one of the most food friendly. And really people that are into it, today in the US, they have a lot of options they can choose from. There is a Lambrusco for every occasion really, from you know, simple things to most most important.

Alex Peartree 26:18
And one of my favorite producers is actually Paltrinieri. They do a bottle fermented Lambrusco, so it’s the outside trend of Lambrusco but I still think it’s a wonderful expression of the area and I know you work with some producers there yourselves. Don’t feel like you can’t plug them because you work with them.

Giuseppe LoCascio 26:40
Yeah, I know, you mentioned Paltrinieri, which is a great producer and they are in this Sorbara area. So the one you’re referring to is actually one of the few 100% Lambrusco di Sorbara you can find around. And they do one that is refermented in the bottle, let’s say pet nat style and its a Frizzante, Frizzante is to lower pressure so is it a more it’s a more rustic version of it. I represent Cantina Della Volta, which also makes a 100% Lambrusco di Sorbara, but they decided to go the metodo classico way. So it’s Lambrusco tha, number one it’s rose and number two it spends 36 months on the lees and then there is the disgorgement and it’s a, let’s say it’s the more serious, the more upscale version of the Lambrusco di Sorbara and the color, both in Paltrinieri and Cantina Della Volta is very light. And this is going back to what I was saying before. There are different types of Lambrusco in different shades of Lambrusco so if you’re using Lambrusco di Sorbara which has very, very thin skins and very little color, you end up having a light level score. So if you see a light Lambrusco you know that doesn’t matter. If you’re seeing a very dark, almost purplish color Lambrusco and you smell it and taste it and if it’s a little tannic, you know, like a red wine, like a Chianti or Sangiovese, then that’s most likely either Grasparossa, or Maestri or Marani. Those are really more like darker and more tannic ones.

Alex Peartree 28:17
Well, thanks for shedding some light on that. I’m sure that was certainly helpful for me and I hope to our listeners as well as they’re shopping for their next bottle of Lambrusco.

Giuseppe LoCascio 28:30
Yeah, again, most likely when they when they buy a Lambrusco what they see is usually an appellation. If they see like Lambrusco di Moden, Lambrusco Reggiano or Lambrusco Mantovano, you can bet that’s three or four different types of Lambrusco grapes mixed together. If you see Lambrusco di Sorbara or Lambrusco Salamino Santa Croce, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, those are at least at 85% monovarietal.

Alex Peartree 29:06
Well, so I think we covered the Charmat method quite well, explaining the two major categories in Italy there with Prosecco and Lambrusco. How about we move on to metodo classico. As you mentioned before, it’s essentially the Champagne method, where the second fermentation happens in the bottle, which results in the carbonation, the bubbles. And the two major areas in my mind that employ metodo classico are Franciacorta and Trento or Trentodoc as it’s known in its marketing world. So why don’t we start with Franciacorta, which is in the in the Lombardi region. How about you give us a little background on the area and then the types of grapes that are mostly used there.

Giuseppe LoCascio 30:00
Yeah, so metodo classico arrived in Italy let’s say at the very end of the 1800s, more or less, when you know consumers started to have an interest in in sparkling wines coming from France with Champagne. The technique however, goes back a few hundred years and basically the way we know metodo classico today is because the legend says that this monk in France in Champagne, Dom Perignon was trying to actually avoid bottles from exploding. So because of that problem that I mentioned before, you know, back then that he didn’t have the technology so sometimes the cellars were becoming warm, a second fermentation would restart in the bottle and then you have it boom, a bottle would explode. So he was trying to fix that problem. And he ended up actually mastering this technique and allegedly this is how Champagne was born. The reality is it’s an amazing amazing part of the wine culture because metodo classico and employing a secondary fermentation in the bottle where you have this very very little small I should say ratio of liquid to the lees after the fermentation. The middle the classical gives you a palette of flavors a an array of flavors and aromas that very few wines can give you. So yes, the two most important areas and appellations permitted to classical in Italy are Franciacorta, as you mentioned, just an hour and up north and east from Milan, and Trentodoc, which is farther to the east at the beginning of the Trentino region. So almost at the bottom. Very different regions. Number one let’s talk about soils and Franciacorta is basically on the southern shores of this lake called Lago d’Iseo and the salts were created by receding glaciers. And so the salts are usually morainic in nature. And it’s interesting because it’s an area that can be actually relatively hot and warm. And so Franciacorta was literally invented, maybe not invented but it really became the metodo classico of choice for Milan in the roaring years of the 50s after the war. So it found the market right away when Milan became the central Italian economy after the Second World War. Just like Trentodoc, in Franciacorta, Franciacorta has to be made, usually when with international varieties, mostly Chardonnay, usually Pinot Nero, Pinot Noir and a little bit of Pinot Bianco. Lately they have started to reintroduce a native grape but that was that was almost lost and its native grape called Erbamat, very much like Champagne. There is a minimum number of months that the wine needs to be in bottle before it’s released. And so it’s 100% very much like Champagne the way it is made. So you have a still wine first and then you have a second fermentation in the bottle. And then depending on the number of months that the wine stays on the lees, you can have different quality levels like Riserva, sort of thing. Stylistically, Franciacorta, let’s say in the last few years has changed a little bit meaning that the major houses in the 80s, the 90s, the 2000s, were seeking a style that was basically harvesting the grapes slightly before they were fully ripe. And then making a white wine and then aging the white wine in wood, and then allowing malolactic fermentation to happen. So basically, long story short, let’s say the style in the 80s, the 90s and a little bit of the 2000s was for a very kind of creamy and soft type of wine. Lately, also because the weather is change, no question about that, the growers are letting the grapes stay on the plant until full maturation is reached. And then most of them do only stainless steel fermentation, they do not use any oak in the aging of the still wine. And they do not seek any malolactic fermentation. The malolactic fermentation is the fermentation that happens because of basically a change in acidity. The tart acid molecule is converted into lactic acid, which is a little creamier, a little softer on the palate. So Franciacorta today with the emergence of a number of smaller producers is becoming more of an artisanal product. Not that it wasn’t, but before Franciacorta was dominated by three or four very large houses. They were kind of setting a very precise style. Today you have a bit more variation. And you even have producers that are trying to kind of letting the single site express themselves. Before Franciacorta was basically made by blending grapes in different areas. Again, so to simplify simply very different than Trentodoc. This is morainic soil from the warmer area next to the lake d’Iseo, and mostly Chardonnay oriented. A little more Pinot Noir recently, but that’s it.

Alex Peartree 35:38
Yeah, so comparing that to the wines of Trento, which are, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe they use the same Chardonnay based wines with the addition of Pinot Nero, Pinot Noir, as well. But the region itself, the topography, the weather is completely different than Franciacorta, and results in very different wines.

Giuseppe LoCascio 36:04
I agree with you, I think the difference that you taste between the Franciacorta and in the Trentodoc, everything else being equal, so the winemaking technique being the same, it’s really the place because at the end of the day, both Franciacorta and trentodoc are based on various amounts of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, not so much Pinot Blanc and in Trentodoc, but let’s say Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the main core varieties for both populations. So what it really is the big difference is the climate and the soil. In Trentodoc, where you are this terraced vineyards at the bottom of the Alps, the weather can be very hot during the summer, but you have much bigger variations between day and night, so Trentodoc typically, normally on average, let’s say, they tend to be shorter, more vertical, a little more precise in the palate if you want. A little more high in acid. In Franciacorta, they tend to have a more round palette. They have a broader type of kind of kind of feel to it, by and large, let’s say. I’m trying to simplify, but you can find Trentodoc producers that make really outstanding Trentodocs and the style is way more, let’s say, it’s like a blade. It’s very, very sharp. And very rarely you can find that in Franciacorta. Franciacorta usually tends to be a little more gentle on the palate.

Alex Peartree 37:38
And who are some of your producers that you look to just as great examples of Franciacorta and then Trento?

Giuseppe LoCascio 37:50
I have to give credit to some of the most important, you know, producers in the area because they really have created the awareness of Franciacorta in the US. And these are Ca’ del Bosco for Franciacorta in the US. And Ferrari for Trentodoc in the Trentodoc area. And these are very reliable, consistent producers, classic products really. And they really are the pioneers, if you want, in the in the US market. We wouldn’t be able to have, you know, knowledge of this of these appellations if it wasn’t for these two producers. And I have to say it’s, I think 95% or 90% of Franciacorta that does not leave Italy. So we only get a little bit of it in the US. Trentodoc, I don’t know the statistics, but I think it’s pretty much the same. I hope they will grow because they are terrific appellations and amazing wines. So these are the two pioneers, Ca’ del Bosco for Franciacorta and Ferrari for Trentodoc. And if you really want to treat yourself I recommend you find the Annamaria Clementi from Ca’ del Bosco for one of the top Franciacorta and you’ll find the Giuliou Ferrari from Ferrari. That is one of the epitome, one of the most important and one of the most sought after Trentodocs around. That being said, there are also small, you know, more like family owned, family run wineries. In Franciacorta, I am in love with this little kind of two wines, actually. One is a wine that I love that I have represented in the past that is called Barone Pizzini, certified organic and biodynamic. And the other one is Corte Bianca. Corte Bianca is even smaller than Barone Pizzini. Corte Bianca is, you know, little recess close to the lake and it’s probably one of the coldest parts of the Franciacorta appellation, so they make Franciacortas that are very sharp and vertical. In Trentodoc, one of my favorite small producers is Revi. And another one is a Letrari. Those are my go to producers.

Alex Peartree 40:14
And as far as price points, I think we’re definitely getting up there in terms of price for Franciacorta in Trento, especially when you compare it to Prosecco and Lambrusco. Can you give us an idea of what consumers might be spending on a good bottle of Franciacorta and Trentodoc.

Giuseppe LoCascio 40:36
Of course. So again, when it comes to metodo classico, there is part of the production that can be mechanized. Let me try to explain that usually during metodo classico, while the wine is in the bottle on the lees, you have to turn the bottle making sure the lees go all the way at the bottom of the neck, let’s say, right? So there is a manual process to it in all then also on top of that your wine is sitting in your warehouse for at the very least thirty six months. So there is also a financial burden if you want for the one you can really sell your product for at the very least three years. So metodo classicos have to be more expensive than Charmat. Charmat method, with the secondary fermentation in the tank, technically speaking is almost a continuous cycle. Basically, fill the tank with the yeast and the sugar, have a secondary fermentation, empty tank and refill it again. So obviously, when you’re talking about tank refermentation, bottle refermentation right there out of the gate, you have a different cost of production. So metodo classico has to be more expensive. It’s also way more complex just because of the chemistry that happens between the lees and the wine in a small container like a bottle, right? So when it comes to Franciacorta, we are talking about at the very least, at the very, very least $35 to $40. I don’t think anyone can spend less than that, frankly. And more or less the same goes for Trentodoc, saying in the neighborhood of $30 to $35ish. But really the best ones in Franciacorta and in Trentodoc, we are talking about the $45, $50, $60, $70 per wine, which is still less than you know, some grand marques Champagne. It’s on par with some grower Champagne. That’s more or less the range.

Alex Peartree 42:44
Yeah, no, I mean, as you said, those those prices, they’re definitely, you know, more more expensive up there. And maybe it wouldn’t be considered an everyday wine at those price points. But when you compare it to Champagne, these are definitely great value sparkling wines, and they’re of the same quality. So why don’t we actually talk about aging a little bit. I know that with Franciacorta and Trentodoc, these wines more often than not have a vintage on them. They’re from a single vintage and they definitely go through some aging before they reach the market. But these wines can also hold well after they’re available and sit well, in your own personal cellar. Do you find that between Franciacorta and Trentodoc, One ages better than the other?

Giuseppe LoCascio 43:43
Well, you know, no, I wouldn’t say that. You know, they are both equally able to age beautifully. Keep in mind that, as with many other metodo classico, the producer has already aged the wine for you. That being said, most of these wines in the proper conditions can last for years. The best ones in both the Franciacorta side and the Trentodoc side, the best names especially the most expensive ones, they can still stay in the cellars for years. Like for example, if you’re buying when Annamaria Clementi from Ca’ del Bosco, you can lay down for another 10 to 15 years no problem. So, again, usually you go with pricing. If you’re, you know, spending $30, $35, this is something you might want to enjoy in the next couple of years. But if you’re spending $50, $60, $70, $90, $100, $200 for a Franciacorta or a Trentodoc, you can take your time and lay it down for the next decade or so.

Alex Peartree 44:51
And so we know we all have our personal preferences when it comes to sparkling wine. Do you find you personally gravitate towards one over the other between the two, Franciacorta and Trentodoc?

Giuseppe LoCascio 45:05
No, I actually drink both of them pretty much equally. Again, I’m a huge fan of of Lambrusco because that’s super easy and super versatile. When it comes to Franciacorta and Trentodoc, I tend to gravitate more to Franciacortas that are from probably some of the colder areas within the population. And when it comes to the Trentodoc, it’s pretty much the same. And I usually try to find ones that have a little bit more Pinot Noir in that wine rather than Chardonnay, but that’s my taste. Again, Italy has come a long way in the production of sparkling wines. And that’s because Italians drink a lot of bubbles. I think you know, we are I think Italy is like the second or third export market for Champagne. So Italians really love bubbles and they really love their own sparkling wine. So I always try to stress the fact that consumers have to be open minded with, like everything else Italian, it can be confusing. But all the wines we mentioned there are terrific with any type of meal actually. Bubbles or the sparkling wines are the most versatile wine available. And so you know, embrace these wines with an open mind and experiment. That’s what I’d like to suggest.

Alex Peartree 46:20
Absolutely no. And and I hope that with this podcast, this helps shed a little bit of light on these major sparkling wine categories in Italy that are available in the States. So these by no means are hard to find or esoteric. They’re just really great categories that definitely deserve your attention. And while everyone seems to gravitate to sparkling wines for celebration, I wholly urge people to drink sparkling wines on all occasions, not just special occasions, especially with Lambrusco and Prosecco since those price points are just so accessible.

Giuseppe LoCascio 47:06
To give you an idea, Alex, I was with my family last night. We had sushi delivered to our place and we opened a Lambrusco di Sorbara, a rose metodo classico from Cantina della Volta. It was outstanding, especially with like pan-seared salmon and things like that.

Alex Peartree 47:23
That sounds amazing. Well, Giuseppe, thank you so much for taking the time to demystify some of these Italian sparkling wine categories. I really appreciate it.

Giuseppe LoCascio 47:36
Thank you, Alex, it was a pleasure for me.

Lauren Buzzeo 47:41
After listening to this conversation, I am definitely ready to pop a bottle and enjoy some of Italy’s favorite fizz. From the Charmat method to metodo classicos, Frizzante to Spumante, bright and fruity pores to more mature profiles, clearly, there’s an Italian sparkling wine for every palate and personal taste. Be sure to visit winemag.com for more information about these wine types, as well as recommendations of recently reviewed Italian sparklers to enjoy now. Subscribe to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you find podcasts. If you like today’s episode, we’d love to read your review and hear what you think. And hey, why not tell your wine loving friends to check us out too. You can also drop us a line at podcast@winemag com. For more wine reviews, recipes guides, deep dives and stories. Visit Wine Enthusiast online at winemag.com and connect with us on Instagram Facebook and Twitter @WineEnthusiast. The Wine Enthusiast Podcast is produced by Lauren Buzzeo and Jenny Groza. Until next episode, cheers.

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Published on June 23, 2021
Topics: Podcast