What do you know about Bollicine aka sparkling wines of Italy?
You may be surprised to learn that Bollicine are an important part of the Italian wine scene– and not just Prosecco, which is the most well known, and is being celebrated this week.
I’ve been studying up on Italian sparkling wine for the VinItaly Ambassador Course Agile edition which takes place next week, with the tasting labs and test on Wednesday. Learn more about the course here. I also joined a ZOOM tasting webinar earlier this week; US Wine Tasting Team team mates Kristen Shubert and Lisa Stoll helped me taste five Prosecco DOC (see more about these wines below). Among other information this week I learned:
In Italy, there are 150 plus DOP that include sparkling wine!There’s diverse styles made with so many different grapes– from aromatic varieties (Malvasia or moscato where the bubbles amplify the aromas) to neutral varieties (think international grapes like Chardonnay) to tannic ones (like red grape varieties like Freisa or Lambrusco where the bubbles mitigate the tannins) to highly acid ones (like Erbaluce). Read about four Italian sparklers that aren’t Prosecco here.
Two types of bubbles in Italy:
- Frizzante: lightly sparkling, pressure 1-2 atmospheres
- Spumante: fully sparkling with at least 3 atmospheres and typically 5-6 for Prosecco
Three key methods to make sparkling wine in Italy:
- Metodo Classico: typical in Champagne but invented by the English; dosage creates a secondary fermentation in the bottle; best known in Italy in Trento and Franciacorta; the Prosecco version is called Col Fundo
- Tank or Martinotti: no sugar added, plenty from the fruit, typical of Prosecco
- Autoclave or the Asti: Moscato Bianco picked pressed, clarified, stored at low temperatures, then warmed up; two types, one with stelvin closure and the other with cork
In 2016, of the 14.5 million hl of wines produced in Italy’s DOPs, over 3 million of them are Prosecco! However, there’s almost twice as much sangiovese produced.
Who’s drinking all this Prosecco? One third goes to the UK, then the US.
Carlo Gancia is considered the father of Italian sparkling wine because in 1865 he made an Italian sparkling wine using Italian grapes and likely in the Metodo Classico.
Today’s Prosecco derives from the Metodo Classico. In 1868, Antonia Carpene in 1873 produced the first Prosecco, and so he is known as the Father of Prosecco. He used the Metodo Classico; in 1924 they started using the name Prosecco, in 1930 started using the Charmot method. In the 1960s, the consortia was formed, in 1969, the DOC, and in 2009 DOCG split off.
In 2011, an additional DOCG but more importantly, the grape name changed from “Prosecco” to “Glera.” While glera is not considered an aromatic variety, it does have a high concentration of varietal aromas. There are two types: lungo (longer bunches) and tondo, which has tighter bunches. They think that glera is native to the region of the town of Prosecco, hence the name, and that it may have been the wine the Pliny the Elder references as pucinum.
In addition to Glera, Prosecco wines can also have verdiso, perera (which offers pear aromas), and bianchetta. It might also have Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco, and the new rose Prosecco might be 15% Pinot Nero. But no matter what, it must be at least 85% Glera.
So how did Prosecco go from traditional method to one in tanks?
In the 1890s and the early 1907, the new Martinotti-Charmot method was developed to prioritize different factors. You get less complexity from contact with lees but better retention of the grapes characteristics, for example, with glera, more aromatics. With the second fermentation in the tank instead of the bottle, less impact of the lees– less surface area in contact in a tank than in a bottle. This less labor intensive process means Prosecco can be more affordable.
Emphasis with purity — not botrytis to interfere, careful separation skins from juice, low temperature maceration, gentle pressing to get clear juice but enough nutrients, no MLF to reserve fresh characteristics, slow fermentation, stabilized to drop tartrates, membrane filtration to make sure there’s not yeast.
First mentioned in 1382 in Trieste — her majesty requested tubs of wine. Long cultivated in the north east of Italy in Veneto, and all of Fruili. Much of the DOC is flat. Most Prosecco is fairly simple, and made from vines that produce higher yields. While a smaller total area than Champagne, Prosecco production is twice as much at 600 million bottles. DOCG is higher in elevation from rolling hills to very steep hillsides– from 50-500 meters above sea level. Rainfall comes during the growing season, which cools the region.
Different points on the hill provide different aromatic chemicals. The higher quality Glera grapes relate to higher these aromatics. Soil types differ depending elevation too, and those also have an impact on characteristics on floral and fruit expressions.
DOC and DOCG Pyramid
- Cartizze DOCG: 107 hectares considered the “grand cru,” very steep
- Rive DOCG: means hills but refers to the 43 “Rive”
- Superiore DOCG
- Asolo DOCg
- DOC Treviso
DOCG is so much more expensive because of the challenges of farming in the hillsides where it requires more labor at a higher cost. The area also has lower yields, and stricter controls with no glysophate allowed and other chemical restrictions. These smaller producers have lower economies of scale as well. Read more bout DOCG Prosecco here and here Prosecoo DOCG.
The flat DOC is much easier to mechanize and industrialize, hence more affordable bubbles. In general, Prosecco is fresh, floral, fruity, flirty on the nose but with a bitter finish. Recently we tasted these five newly released bottles of Prosecco DOC. Our tasting notes follow.
|Bottega||Prosecco DOC Brut “Bottega Gold”||Brut||$30.00|
|Fantinel||Prosecco DOC Extra Dry||Extra Dry||$16.99|
|Piera 1899||Prosecco DOC Frizzante “Blu Giovello”||Frizzante||$11.00-$12.00|
|Antonio Facchin & Figli||Prosecco DOC Rosé Brut Millesimato 2019||Rose Brut||$14.99|
|Val d’OCA||Prosecco DOC Rosé Extra Dry Millesimato 2020||Rose Extra Dry||$12.99|
1. Bodega Prosecco DOC Brut “Bottega Gold”
Spectacular and memorable presentation!
Color: pale lemon
Aroma: fragrant white flowers, jasmine, ripe Bartlett pear, citrus blossoms
Palate: medium acidity, fruit grapefruit pith on the finish, marzipan, pear, yellow apple, simple, straight forward, delicious and easy to enjoy
2. Antonio Facchin & Figli Prosecco DOC Rosé Brut Millesimato 2019
Color: rose gold, blush, pale pink
Aroma: strawberry, cherry, nectarine, fennel pollen
Palate: cherry on front, nectarine on finish, persistent finish, medium acidity
Lovely, balanced Prosecco.
3. Piera 1899 Prosecco DOC Frizzante “Blu Giovello”
Aroma: honeysuckle, fragrant white flowers,
Palate: simple, lemon lime, bitterness, tart pear on finish
Love the presentation, and a very enjoyable Prosecco that won’t break the bank OR be too fizzy!
4. Fantinel Prosecco DOC Extra Dry
Color: Pale lemon
Aroma: caramel popcorn, funky,
Palate: yeasty, herbaceous, lees, very champagne but…changes a lot quickly once open within 45 minutes becoming skunk and unpleasant making us wonder if this bottle is flawed. We really liked it at first and then we had to dump. Very odd.
5. Val d’OCA Prosecco DOC Rosé Extra Dry Millesimato 2020
Color: pretty pink, gross bubbles
Aroma: fragrant, pleasant, strawberry jolly rancher,
Palate: watermelon, nice mouthfeel, lasting bubbles, matches nose
This is a fantastic wine at an affordable price. We were really impressed.
We also wrote about Val D’Oca here. The wines from this coop defintely over deliver for the price.
Happy Prosecco Week! What’s in your glass?
All the best! It’s a tough program for sure! Lots of study will make all the difference! Trust me I know! I wrote that exam 5x to become an Italian Wine Expert!
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Thank you! and Wow! Yes, it’s a tough one. They suggested I do it in September but that’s during harvest and so too busy…