For laid-back summer soirees, pop a user-friendly Italian wine that’s frizzante and festive.
Don’t get us wrong; we’re deeply devoted to French bubbly and always will be. Yet according to industry sources, Champagne shipments last year declined worldwide by more than 14 million bottles—that’s about 1.2 million cases and roughly 5 percent of the region’s total production.
Could drinking fizzy wine be falling out of favor? Certainly not in America, where the popularity of alternative sparklers has exploded over the past few years. We like to think of these varieties as “recreational sparkling wines.”
Leading the field is Prosecco, the seemingly omnipresent sparkling wine from Italy’s Veneto region. Made from the grape variety of the same name, Proscecco is packed with refreshing citrus and melon fruit. It was traditionally served in Northern Italy as an aperitivo and offered to welcome guests in a restaurant or private home but was nearly unknown in the States until about five years ago.
One of the main reasons for its current vogue is the appealing price point. Like other recreational bubbles, Prosecco is a super value—three to six bottles can be had for the price of a single bottle of the French stuff. Unlike Champagne, it doesn’t undergo a second fermentation in the bottle or a long period of aging, so it costs less to produce.
Another big reason for the Prosecco craze is lifestyle. It is fresh, forward and easy drinking, so it fits quite well in the casual side of life. It’s perfect for picnics, outdoor receptions and sipping around the pool. It also goes great with a variety of hors d’oeuvres, fish and shellfish—a platter of sushi and a cool crab salad come to mind. Champagne, a more serious wine by virtue of its higher acidity and a complex structure, is an impeccable foil for appetizers and desserts, of course, but bottles with a high percentage of Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier are also well matched with white meat and game dishes. Modern Americans don’t sit down to a formal meal in an elegant restaurant very often, which also helps make Prosecco de rigueur for life in the twenty-first century. Consider serving guests bubbles from one of these leading brands: Mionetto, Nino Franco, Adami and Zardetto.
Another Italian wine of the moment is Moscato, both still and sparkling. Bubbly Moscatos are low in alcohol and span a range from slightly off-dry to semisweet. The best-known wines are Moscato d’Asti, grown and bottled near the town of Asti in the Piedmont region. The drier versions pair well with cheeses, charcuterie and other savory bites. The sweeter ones burst with flavors of ripe, fresh-cut melon and are a natural fit with desserts—especially fruit tarts, cobblers and meringues. Look for bottles from Paolo Saracco, La Spinetta and Ceretto. And do not miss out on the luscious Nivole from Michele Chiarlo.
For the drinker who craves novelty, Piedmont is also home to Brachetto d’Acqui. Made from the Brachetto grape, it is sometimes referred to as the red version of Moscato d’Asti. The nose is floral and the wine is replete with flavors of fresh red berries. Like Moscato, it ranges from off-dry to sweet, and gets along splendidly with tapas or desserts, depending on the style of the producer. Braida’s Brachetto is well worth trying (perhaps with some chocolate and cherries?), as is the ruby-hued, pink-foamed Rosa Regale from Banfi.
Brachetto is sometimes compared to that infamous recreational sparkler, Lambrusco. The grape and wine native of the Emilia-Romagna region got a bad rap in this country as a result of the early popularity of brands such as Cella and Riunite, candy-sweet sips favored by the ’70s and ’80s college crowd. As in many other instances in the wine world, perception is evolving. Thanks to the efforts of producers such as Lini and Medici Ermete, lively, fresh, foamy Lambrusco is being recognized as worthy in its own right.
So ignore any preconceptions and stock up for the season. These are ideal vinos to pack in the cooler for all those alfresco parties and outings.