Perhaps no other European nation has a long a history of cultivating vines for wine production than Italy. Archeological evidence points to viticulture as far back as the 8th century BC. When colonizing Greeks arrived they dubbed the land Oenotria, the land of wine. With over 300 DOCs (delimited wine producing areas) and nearly a thousand different varieties of wine grapes, one could literally spend a lifetime exploring the wines of Italy.
With Spring upon us and Easter approaching, the season for sparkling wines is certainly here. While Prosecco is certainly Italy’s best known sparkler, there are several others that certainly deserve attention. Produced in the northern region of Lombardy, Franciacorta may be Italy’s greatest sparkling wine. Made in the same traditional method as Champagne (secondary fermentation in the bottle), it tends to have a little rounder profile due to the warmer climate the grapes are grown in and dosage is usually unnecessary. Produced from Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir, Franciacorta also undergoes a similar aging regimen as Champagne: it may not be released until at least 25 months after harvest and 18 of those months must be spent in contact with the lees in the bottle. Bellavista is a label to look for.
Near Franciacorta in the north is another sparkling wine hotbed: the Trento DOC of Trentino. One favorite is the 100% Chardonnay version produced by Ferrari. It displays beautiful apple and stone fruit aromas with toasty, bready notes. It represents a great value in the world of sparkling wine.
One of my absolute favorite wines to enjoy with all kinds of food is the lightly carbonated red wine Lambrusco. Not so long ago, most Lambrusco sold in the US was very sweet and was more like a fizzy alcoholic kool-aid. In the last few years, that has changed. Versions are now available that are dry or slightly off-dry that possess a bright, fruity character along with a slightly bitter note. Vecchio Modena from Cleto Chiarli is a delicious example. There is an array of distinctive, affordable Italian wines out there the likes of which has never been seen. Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path and find your new favorite!