Italy’s Sparkling Wine Paradox

The holidays aren’t coming; they are here. The number one thing on consumers' minds as they look to buy for their wine-loving friends, fill glasses with vinous pleasures through upcoming parties or pair with the elaborate meals that are on the horizon? Sparkling wine. Unfortunately, Italian sparklers, no matter how good they are, face two very big challenges. The first being the uptick in quality of affordable grower NV Champagne, and the second being the incredible success of generic, and often inexpensive, Prosecco. The categories of Franciacorta, Trentodoc and, more recently, Alta Langa, fall victim to the first issue, as they strive to create wines that are often seen by the majority of the public as a Champagne alternative. The fact is that there are many producers in Italy that are creating bubbles through metodo classico (méthode champenoise) using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and, to a lesser extent, Pinot Blanc, often with extended bottle aging on the lees, which can easily compare and often outpace the wines produced by their French counterparts. The problem is price, or quality-to-price ratio, and the hundreds of years of branding that the Champagne region has established. A perfect example of this can be witnessed by nearly any wine lover when they open a great bottle of Franciacorta, pour it for friends that know a thing or two about sparkling wine, and watch as they both swoon but then complain about the price of said bottle. The unfortunate reality is that, for producers of metodo classico wines in Italy, the days of good NV Champagne being out of reach for the average consumer are over because of the number of excellent grower Champagnes that are available today. What this means is that, to corner a piece of the market for themselves, the wines of Franciacorta, Trentodoc and Alta Langa have to not only deliver, but overdeliver within their price points. Granted, I’m speaking in very general terms, as a number of wines and wineries from my recent tastings were absolutely stunning, world-class examples from the Extra Dry, to the Brut, to the Brut Nature categories. These wines will stand up to some of the best bubblies from around the world and provide an amazing amount of pleasure, but they are the exception, not the norm. Generally speaking, Franciacorta continues to prove its quality and importance, while Trentodoc comes across as the underdog that’s watching anxiously to take the lead. Last, but not least, Alta Langa is slowly establishing that consumers should be paying more attention to them. Which brings us to Prosecco, a category where the only things holding it back is their own success and stereotyping. When a glass of Prosecco is ordered in a restaurant, does anyone ask what the brand is? Does anyone question what the style is? Does anyone think to ask where it came from? The fact that most people, other than the truly devoted, don’t think to ask any of these questions. Because of that, consumers are missing out on one of the largest surges in quality taking place in Italy today. While the amount of mass-produced, just palatable, sweet and bubbly Prosecco continues to sell out through the holidays, there is an entire other level of quality and site-specific wines out there, made by passionate growers, at much lower quantities and at only a slightly higher tariff. We’re talking about cru bottles from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene hillsides of Rive, as well as Cartizze. We’re talking about Prosecco that sometimes clocks in at zero grams of residual sugar per liter, but also a revolution of the Extra Dry category that creates the ideal balance of sugar, acid and terroir to create wines that speak with soul. These are the bottles that you open for your wine-loving friends and watch their jaws drop as you explain how much they cost. Will you find them at your corner wine and liquor store? No. However, looking for them will be time well spent. Frankly, I’m wondering just how far these artisan producers can push the needle, and if one day we’ll be comparing a Rive di Soligo to a Rive di Rolle as we do with cru expressions from other regions. --Eric Guido, Italy’s Sparkling Wine Paradox, December 2021 Below is a selection of notes from the report. Read Eric’s full report including more in-depth notes on various producers on Vinous now .

Sorelle Bronca

Extra Dry Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore

Delectable Wine
9.0

The NV Extra Dry Prosecco Superiore holds nothing back with an extroverted bouquet of sweet exotic spice, vanilla bean and crushed apples. It’s rich and soothing on the palate, with a gentle bead of fine bubbles that gives way to ripe peach offset by a twang of sour citrus. While this tapers off a bit shorter than expected, it’s crisp and wonderfully refreshing. (Lot# 9206T5) (Eric Guido, Vinous, December 2021)
— a month ago

Acinum

Extra Dry Prosecco

Delectable Wine
8.8

The NV Extra Dry Prosecco wafts up like a basket of freshly picked flowers mixed with ripe apricots and pears. It’s soothing and pleasantly sweet on the palate, with saline-infused acids to balance. This leaves a buzzing of inner tension, as it tapers off long, resonating on notes of sour apple and lime. Acinum found a lovely balance in this Extra Dry Prosecco. (Lot# 21207A) (Eric Guido, Vinous, December 2021)
— a month ago

Parusso

Brut Metodo Classico Nebbiolo 2014

Delectable Wine
8.8

The 2014 Brut Metodo Classico wafts up with sweet roses, dried strawberries and hints of tropical citrus. This is pleasantly sweet with silken bubbles that usher in ripe red berries and exotic inner florals. It leaves the palate refreshed with a tinge of salty minerals and spices that taper off slow. I’m enjoying this varietal Nebbiolo for its fruity personality, yet I find it lacking in depth. (LOT# S2014/1) (Eric Guido, Vinous, December 2021)
— a month ago

Nino Franco

Rustico Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore

Delectable Wine
9.0

The NV Prosecco Superiore Rustico lifts up with a whimsical blend of peach skins, white flowers and hints of incense. This is silky and pliant in feel, with a creamy wave of sweet bubbles that fizzle out to reveal ripe Asian pear and pretty inner florals. It leaves a pleasantly bitter twang through the finale that keeps the mouth watering for more. The Rustico is one of the “entry-level” wines of the Nino Franco portfolio and makes for a wonderful introduction to the house style. (Lot# 21328) (Eric Guido, Vinous, December 2021)
— a month ago

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