2 Organic Red Sparklers: In 2023, Check Out These New-to-US-Wines from Italy’s Cantina de Frignano

2 Organic Wines from Cantina de Frignano paired with Sicilian style pizza

Tiny Cantina de Frignano in Emilia-Romagna produces around 22k bottles, at most 2k cases a year. While quite small, they grow a wide variety of organic grapes, specializing in a few which grow nowhere else in the world,  making this winery ideal for us to focus on as the Wine Pairing Weekend crew explores new to us grapes for the new year. 

Since we’ve been writing for so long and about so many different grapes, my writing partner Sue Hill and I wondered what grapes we might be able to access to write about for this prompt, especially since last month we wrote about sparkling Durella, a very rare wine.

Then I came across a bottle of the Italian Cortese grape grown in Lodi at Grocery Outlet. We’ve only written about Cortese once (read about it here), and having an unusual Italian grape grown in Lodi sounded like an interesting enough story, especially since Wild is grown organically, made as an orange style wine with wild yeast, and it’s tasty, pairing well with some of our seafood favorites. 

Since Italy has such a wealth of native and naturalized grapes, I checked in with Sheila Donohue of Verovino: she specializes in wines from indigenous grapes made by small producers in Italy (and other places as well), and I thought maybe she had something new for us to sample.

Sheila suggested we try two wines she imported recently that have never been in the US before, one made with the rare grape of Uva Tosca  and the other with 85% Lambrusco Grasparossa and 15% Malbo Gentile, another very special grape from Emilia. 

That’s how we came to taste — and fall in love with — these two red sparklers from Cantina de Frignano made in the traditional method from new to us grapes, and under 12% ABV so while not alcohol free, certainly lower than others. And at $22, quite affordable for an organic, imported wine from a small producer. 

Begun in 1993 and expanded in the early 2000s, Cantina de Frignano is located in Emilia-Romagna at 1500-1800′ elevation which provides diurnal effects bringing greater acidity and focus to the finished wines. Emila Romagna is a large region just south of Lombardy and the Veneto on the eastern side of the Appenines that serve as a spine down the back of Italy. Bologna is an important city in the region, and it is also an important hub for food and wine. Lambrusco is one of the better known wines, but instead of having a bottle of Lambrusco in the pantry, I bet you have a bottle of balsamic vinegar from Modena, which is located in the same area of Italy. 

Ukrainian Irene Balim and her partner bought the winery in 2018 because they both really liked the wine and the winery: “They are enthusiastic about the terroir,” Sheila told me in an interview. “She’s very knowledgable about the grapes,” she said, but they also have a consulting winemaker who looks after more of the technical aspects of winemaking. While a lot of Lambrusco is charmat or tank method, they do pet nat or classic method, which is very exacting, with a lot of work behind the scenes to select the grapes. 

Our group of tasters loved these wines and lapped them up! Fun for a pizza party for sure!

2 Organic Wines from Cantina de Frignano

2 Organic Wines from Cantina de Frignano

  • 2021 Cantina de Frignano “SGARBATO” Emilia IGP

  • 2020 Cantina de Frignano “SCURONE” Emilia IGP


  • Sicilian style thick crust pizza

    with cheese first, then sauce, and topped with pepperoni on one side and tomato with more mozzarella on the other 

2021 Cantina de Frignano “SGARBATO” Emilia IGP

2021 Cantina de Frignano “SGARBATO” Emilia IGP

ABV: 11.5%
SRP: $22
Grapes: Tosca Uva
Importer: Verovino
sample for my review 

Sgarbato’s uva tosca grape thrives in higher altitude regions and is a classic method sparkling wine. According to Sheila, Sgarbato “means someone that’s very much to the point, almost brusque, you know those type of people that are no nonsense. That’s what this wine is, no nonsense. You will understand when you try it,” she told me with a laugh.

Appearance:  So very pretty pink, fushia, as vibrant as raspberry koolaid in the glass.  

Aroma: Yeast and raspberry, raspberry croissant, carnation, honeycomb.

Palate: Tart raspberry, cranberry, lightly fizzy, lovely fruit and fizz, not sweet, nice tartness in the fruit, really well balanced, raspberry finish. 

Pairing: Works well with the pizza but would be better with a lighter less dense dish– or pizza style, not Sicilian, but cuisine more traditional to the region like an eggplant parmigiana. The pepperoni balances out the yeastiness in the wines and leaves the raspberry fruit on the palate. 


2020 Cantina de Frignano “SCURONE” Emilia IGP

2020 Cantina de Frignano “SCURONE” Emilia IGP

ABV: 11.5% 
SRP: $22
Grapes: 85% Grasparossa, 15% Malbo Gentile 
Importer: Verovino 
sample for my review

Grasparossa gets its name from its red leaves and vines. Adapted to hilly sites with clay-limestone soils and indigenous to Emilia, it’s found mainly around ​​Castelvetro where it ripens relatively late, at times in early November or later. The name “Scurone” means the big dark one, and both of these grapes are “darker” — more grippy, more intense than the typical grapes of the region.

Appearance:  Cranberry, soft bubbles, cloudy. 

Aroma: Plum, carnation, not much brioche, dried rose petal potpourri. 

Palate:  Rosewater, raspberry, lemongrass, light, refreshing, lively, great summer wine with some chilled, not a fizzy that fills you up, low alcohol makes it more of a session wine 

Pairing: The thick crust pizza offers a base for the fruit and the spice in the sauce and in the pepperoni that works well with the wine; the raspberry fruit works nicely with spice and salt of the cured meat. The lightness of the wine contrasts well with the rich heavy pizza. Powerful flavors with a powerful pizza. 

2 Organic Wines from Cantina de Frignano

Curious about more interesting and indigenous Italian grapes? We have plenty of posts featuring them, many of them with wines also imported by Verovino, so subscribe! 

Last week we featured five indigenous grapes of Sicily; read more here.

What other varieties did the Wine Pairing Weekend crew find that are new to do? 

For this month’s #winePW chat, host Culinary Cam decided to do a Google Meet which you can join here https://meet.google.com/fmb-zryk-ovi on Saturday Jan. 14, 2023 at 8am Pacific time. No set questions, just talk about the wine. This year, it’s up to the host to decide how to do the chat whether on Twitter as usual or on another social media platform. 

Next month’s ItalianFWT theme is on Puglia, and the host has also decided not to do a twitter chat. Last time we wrote about wines from Puglia they were rose following a ZOOM I held with the producers. It can be hard to find wines from Puglia in California, but we are on board with four wines that Sheila Donohue of Verovino has just begun importing that we’re excited to sample: Domus Hortae with all native varieties, two, whites, a rose, and a red. Read more here: https://www.verovinogusto.com/domus-hortae-puglia-italy-organic-winery 

Subscribe so you don’t miss out! 

4 thoughts on “2 Organic Red Sparklers: In 2023, Check Out These New-to-US-Wines from Italy’s Cantina de Frignano

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