Italy’s emerging sparkling wines

Jan 18 2016, 13:40 | by Marco Sabellico

The obsessing about comparisons to Champagne is finally over, and Italian metodo classico labels are enjoying a new era, one of transition. Stimulated by a generational shift, a reshaping of the identity of Italian territories is underway, particularly those best suited for the slow bottle fermentation of metodo classico wines. Many young producers have improved average quality, and the larger wineries have taken note. We chose three areas to focus on.

Oltrepò Pavese

We begin with Oltrepò Pavese, which for many is the supreme zone for metodo classico, although for others, it is the eternal Godot, weighed down by potential that has never been fully expressed. But the results of our tastings are clear: 5 metodo classico Tre Bicchieri labels this year, a record. With 3,000 hectares of pinot nero, limestone soils and dramatic temperature excursions, conditions are ideal. It’s no accident that large producers from other zones have always come here to find grapes with low ph levels and vibrant acidity. Numerous producers are fighting against the work methods of the enormous cooperatives in the zone, with results that have been difficult to achieve, but impressive.


Then there’s Franciacorta, with 10 Tre Bicchieri winners in the Vini d’Italia guide. The zone is moving towards very low or even zero dosage, focusing more and more on pinot nero and re-examining the original philosophy of satèn. Sales abroad are finally beginning to take off, giving new enthusiasm to production.


Trento doc

Trento, with 8 Tre Bicchieri winners, has many small producers and a few colossal ones, Ferrari above all. The zone is not well known outside Italy itself, although its wines are models of clean flavor, tension and finesse.


Metodo Classico

The passion for metodo classico is enthralling producers all over the country, from Friuli to Etna. The number of varieties used is growing, sometimes with unhappy results, but other times with encouraging ones. It’s a scene to follow carefully, with producers and zones beginning to understand their own strong points, refining their styles and specializing more on cuvées that reflect their vineyards and less on basic recipes – grape blend, dosage, months on lees – in order to reflect the place, the individual vineyard. What follows here is a closer look at emerging cuvées from the three benchmark territories we’ve underlined above. Try these in a blind tasting, preferably along with your favorites from other countries. You may be surprised.

Oltrepò Pavese, youth on the move

Bottles produced: 350,000

Brut Farfalla – Ballabio

ex-cellar price: 10.00 euros

This longstanding Casteggio winery, founded by Angelo Ballabio in 1905, is now run by Filippo Nevelli, who aims to revive its old glory, focusing in particular on sparklers. The exceptionally well-equipped cellar vaunts modern systems with vats for microvinification and impressive storage capacity. The excellent Brut Farfalla had no trouble taking a Tre Bicchieri this year for the creaminess, verve, and fullness derived from long aging on the lees, which detracts not in the least from its backbone. A classy finish completes the picture of excellence. Its style harks back to the old vintages of the excellent Testarossa from La Versa, which set the standard for the denomination. The Oltrepò has found a new star player.

Pinot Nero Brut 64 Calatroni

ex-cellar price: 14.00 euros

A breath of fresh air in Oltrepò Pavese. The young Christian and Stefano Calatroni are the fourth generation of growers since its foundation in 1964. Indeed, the wines show increasingly more personality, as well as steadily higher quality. Not surprisingly, considering the location of the vineyards and the soil, the grape varieties that yield the best results are riesling renano and pinot nero. Brut 64 is excellent, earning a Tre Bicchieri with its fullness, complexity, well-typed notes of red fruit and aromatic herbs, fine bead, and crescendo finish. It was one of the most remarkable surprises in the Guide, and its precise and vibrant style has already become a model.

OP Pinot Nero Brut Cl. M.V. 2010 - Ca’ Tessitori

ex-cellar price: 9.50 euros

It is worth keeping a careful eye on the wines of the estate run by Luigi Giorgio with his sons Giovanni and Francesco. The hillside vineyards in Montecalvo Versiggia and Finigeto yield characterful wines that reflect both the terroir and the vintage. The Brut M.V. (the intials stand for Montecalvo Versiggia) displays fullness and opulence that do not detract from its freshness. It is an impressive wine, commencing with its deep golden hue, offering top notes of cakes, followed by fruit and aromatic herbs, good backbone, and a long finish of candied peel in a unique and intriguing style. It displays all the power of Pinot Nero.

OP Pinot Nero 2010 - Ca’ del Ge’

ex-cellar price: 8.80 euros

Stefania, Sara and Carlo Padroggi run the family estate, following in the footsteps of their late father Enzo. It boasts 40 hectares of excellently positioned vineyards on the hills of Montalto Pavese, dominated by chalky soils ideal for growing riesling and pinot nero. Like many family-run Oltrepò estates, its wide range offers excellent value for money and includes some real gems. One of these is the rich, ripe Brut 2010, which offers a beautiful golden hue, with a nose of red berries and aromatic herbs, and a creamy palate that is full, yet taut and edgy, showing exemplary progression and cleanliness on the finish. We defy you to find a better metodo classico at this price: 7 euros at the winery!

New faces of Franciacorta

Bottles produced:15,400,000

Franciacorta Dosaggio Zero 2009 - Colline della Stella

ex-cellar price: 19.60 euros   

Without doubt, one of the most interesting emerging producers of Italian spumante. Andrea Arici and Giovanni Arcari produce a curated range of Franciacorta from their own vineyards without the use of any liqueur d’éxpedition, in order to preserve the integrity of the hues of each terroir. This is Gussaggo, in the extreme east of the Franciacorta territory, with terraced vineyards at altitudes ranging from 150 to 350 meters. Their Dosaggio Zero (90% chardonnay, 10% pinot nero) is delicious and irresistible, precise, savory, satisfying. It offers seductive, well-modulated fruity fragrances and an energetic and very continuous finish. Regenerating.

Franciacorta Brut Doppio Erre Di - Derbusco Cives

ex-cellar price: 17.00 euros

A group of “citizens of Erbusco” in 2004 decided to found a new estate. Today, on the moraine hills of the municipality, it can draw on 12 hectares of vineyard. Over little more than ten years, the labels have shown constant growth in quality, and the winery developed an enviable reputation on the Franciacorta scene. The flagbearer of the portfolio is the monovarietal chardonnay, Doppio Erre Di. It has a fresh bouquet of citrus fruit and a creamy, dense palate, with tones of iodine and licorice after a long stay on its lees and disgorging shortly before release on the market. Refined, more on its softer aspects than its hard ones.

Mountain Bubblies

Bottles produced: 8,500,000

Trento Brut Dosaggio Zero 2008 – Opera

ex-cellar price: 26.50 euros

When, after the tasting of the TrentoDoc bottles, we uncovered the labels of the wines, we were happy to find we had given such high marks to Dosaggio Zero '08 from this small, emerging winery. On its first entry into the Guide in 2014, it was just a hair from the top ranking, which it won easily in 2016, thanks to fascinating aromatic backbone, structure derived from porphyry terrain, acidic vitality. Between La Vis and the Valle di Fiemme, Alfio Garzetti, consulting with enologist Paolo Tiefenthaler, releases some tens of thousands of bottles each year, all spumante. Every year they’re better, and it’s noteworthy that prices are always fair.

Trento Extra Brut Paladino 2010 - Revì

ex-cellar price: 29.20 euros

Young Giacomo Malfer has taken on a key role in the management of this small, well-cared-for maison. It has its base in Aldeno and produces its cuvées with grapes from its own vineyards. Four labels: a Brut of chardonnay and pinot nero; the same blend for the Dosaggio Zero and the Rosé. Then there’s the Paladino, the winery’s flagbearer, with only a few thousand bottles made. Monovarietal organic chardonnay, it has an alpine character, a multi-faceted nose of white-fleshed fruit, above all apple, that transports us to the rocky nearby mountains. The mouth is silky, compact, intense and assertive, with the character of a champion. It fully deserves to be on our short list. Follow it.

Trento Brut Nature Riserva 2010 – Bellaveder 

ex-cellar price: 13.90 euros

Tranquillo Lucchetta did not choose a name for his winery at random. The view from the terraces of his vineyards opens onto a romantic landscape, an intact and uncontaminated environment. The winery facilities are built underground, dug out beneath the rows of vines. In the fields and in the cellars, the work follows organic precepts, with constant attention to environmental sustainability. In his portfolio, which includes other classic Trentino expressions (we noted an excellent Lagrein Mansum '12), is Brut Nature Riserva '10, a spumante that reached our final tastings easily, and only missed the top rating by a hair. It is a promising, elegant spumante, fragrant with exotic fruit, tones of vanilla and mountain herbs, fresh and easy to drink.

Trento Madame Martis  Riserva 2005 - Maso Martis

ex-cellar price: 49.90

The vineyards of Roberta and Antonio Stelzer grow on the sun-kissed slopes of Calisio. Production is about 60,000 bottles annually, of which 45,000 are dedicated to metodo classico wines. Only 1,000 of these are Madame Martis, which in the 2005 version shows it has the stuff of a champion. It is a cuvée of mostly pinot nero, with chardonnay and a small amount of pinot meunier to guarantee more softness. The bouquet is complex, multi-faceted, in which honey tones follow acerbic red berry notes. The mouth is sumptuous but not motionless, thanks to calibrated sapidity and acidity that lead into a dry and pleasantly smoky finish. A complete Trento of notably solid character.

The other sparkling wines

The desire to create and experiment is in our DNA (‘crazy’ and ‘funny’ are the most commonly used words to describe our producers abroad). If we leave the north, moving towards latitudes less common for spumanti, we come to Civitella d'Agliano in the Lazio province of Viterbo, on the hills that shape the upper reaches of the Tiber river. Here we find Sergio Mottura and his Brut ’09, a blanc de blancs of chardonnay grapes that, after 4 years on its lees, reveals itself to be full and enticing, flavorful and vibrant. In blind tastings, this cuvée surprised many. But the tendency to utilize indigenous grapes to make spumante is constantly growing. Vallerosa Bonci, an historic Marche winery of Cupramontana (Ancona), a land known primarily for Verdicchio, decided to treat this variety as a spumante. The result is a Brut that in the ’10 version shows great elegance and typicity, full of almond, pear, ginger and white flower aromas. Bubbles are caressing and dosage well-calibrated.

Still in the center of the country, in Umbria, we want to mention the spumante made by Stefano Grilli in La Palazzola (Vascigliano, Terni). He has dedicated himself to this process for many years. The 2011 vintage year gave us a great version of his Riesling Brut Metodo Ancestrale. Moving a little more towards the south, we enjoyed many surprises. In the Cilento, a young, emerging winery, Casebianche, produces a spumante based on fiano grapes at dosage zero. La Matta is fragrant, delicious, and very dangerous. The islands are producing their own great metodo classico versions. Here we’ll mention only Cantine Murgo. Already in 1990, they produced a Brut from nerello mascalese grapes, and over the years, amplified their offerings with an Extra Brut from the same vineyard, with elegant texture and Etna-influenced character. 


by Marco Sabellico

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