Natural Italian Bubbles

5/19/17 -

Luciano Saetti

Of the under-appreciated categories in wine, Italian sparklers might not be the first thing that comes to mind.  Sure, Prosecco has always been quite popular and people are starting to realize that not all Lambrusco is sticky sweet,  but it's easy to miss out on some really compelling wines if they are only thought of as simple aperitifs.  There's a whole crop of growers that are not only making sparkling wines from organically grown grapes, but also with more natural winemaking techniques: using indigenous yeasts for fermentation, not adding any sulphites or foreign sugars, and even fermenting bubbles in the bottle rather than in bulk.  These wines are so much more than an inexpensive bottle to share at a party (though I certainly wouldn't mind seeing them at any I attend); they are expressive, contemplative, and utterly delicious. I assembled a list of some of our favorite natural Italian bubbles, all organically farmed, made with unusual care, and all worthy of your attention.

Azienda Agricola Giol is an estate whose wines we have been delighted to sell for a number of years.  Dedicated to organic agriculture since 1987 and making a line of wines without the addition of sulphites since 2009. The Prosecco sur lie is fermented in bottle, unfined, unfiltered, and made without additional sulfites. Secondary fermentation in the bottle lends a slight toasty note and deep savory character, but since the wine is fermented dry, it is still crisp and refreshing, resulting in a Prosecco as well suited to food as it is an apertif.

Az. Agr. Costadila was founded in 2006 by Ernesto Cattel as a model farm, producing not only organically farmed wines but also practicing polyculture to spur interest in the area for more sustainable agriculture.  The domain uses techniques notable in the world of Prosecco production: they grow not only the productive Glera grape but also Bianchietta and Verdiso, varieties known for bright acidity and vibrant fruit profiles.  They ferment exclusively with native yeast, triggering the secondary fermentation in bottle with must from passito grapes, and rejecting fining, filtration, or added sulphites.  All of this added effort is so that each cuvee can more fully express their particular terroir, shown through the practice of bottling based on the altitude of the vineyards.

Angiolino Maule, founder of La Biancara in Gambellara, has made an addictive sparkler from Garganega, the white grape of Soave. It is fermented to dryness in stainless steel tanks with native yeast and then refermented in bottle with grape must (as opposed to sugar). The farming here is conducted with the best interest of the land in mind; the grass is cut by hand, compost and nitrogen fixing plants enrich the soil, artificial treatments are shunned in favor of tisanes, herbal treatments, and if needed low doses of copper and sulphur.  The wines are never fined or filtered and sulphur dioxide is only added in vintages that absolutely demand it.

Corte Pagieri is a new producer for us at Chambers and I couldn't be more excited about their rosato. It is produced from the grape Lambrusco di Sorbara, a common but very delicately colored type of Lambrusco. The small 3 hectare estate is certified organic and all fermentations occur not only with native yeast but the secondary fermentation also occurs in bottle, highly unusual for Lambrusco. No charmant tanks here!  Warm summer temperatures trigger the second fermentation naturally consuming any remaining sugar resulting in a dry wine that is then rested for an additional year before release. 

Vignetto Saetti, founded by Luciano Saetti and operated as a family affair, produces Lambruscos of unusual character from old vines of Salamino di Santa Croce, a variety of Lambrusco with a much deeper color than Sorbara but no less elegance.  The farm is certified organic and has not used SO2 since 2007.  The grapes are hand-harvested and rigorously selected, fermented dry in stainless steel tank by indigenous yeast with the secondary fermentation triggered by must from passito grapes, and allowed to ferment back to dryness in the bottle.  Finally the wine is riddled and disgorged by hand.  All this care results in a stunning, dry lambrusco, naturally made and absolutely perfect for rich foods.

Arcari + Danesi and Solouva are two projects making Franciacorta in a unique manner that is meant to better reflect the terroir of the region.  Instead of using the traditional method, which was developed to suit the particular climate of Champagne, they employ a method called Solouva.  The grapes are allowed to ripen to phenolic maturity resulting in richer wines that don't require much (or any) dosage.  Any sugar that is added (both to trigger the secondary fermentation and any dosage) comes in the form of frozen grape must from the same vineyards as opposed to table sugar or RCGM.  The wines see extended elevage in bottle on the order of three years to enhance their texture and integrate the mousse. The results are more opulent wines, in-tune with their terroir rather than champagne look-alikes.

-Andy Paynter

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