By: Nan McCreary
When we think of bubbly, we think of champagne, cava, franciacorta or Prosecco. But there’s a whole other category of fizzy wines which offers playful beat-the-heat refreshers to serve around the pool or on a picnic: semi-sparkling wines.
Semi-sparkling wines are different from fully sparkling wines (such as champagne) as they have less effervescence. Perfect for summer, these wines offer a fresh burst of bubbles on the palate, a tongue-tingling sensation often referred to as spritz. They’re known as frizzante in Italy, as spritzig in Germany and as pétillant in France. Almost all are produced with a second fermentation in a tank (Charmat method), rather than in a bottle. Here are a few semi-sparklers you might enjoy during the hot, muggy days ahead:
Prosecco is probably the most well-known frizzante wine style, though Prosecco wines can be made fully sparkling (spumante). Many people think that Prosecco is a grape, but it’s not, it’s actually an appellation. Prosecco is made from the Glera grape, a white variety grown in Veneto and Fruili-Venezia, with the best examples coming from Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG (Veneto) and Prosecco DOC (Fruili.) Prosecco is an easy-going wine known for its crisp acidity, freshness and bright flavors of fruit and flowers. Prosecco frizzante pairs perfectly with a light lunch, such as a salad, a cheese plate or charcuterie board, or can be enjoyed just by itself.
Moscato is the Italian word for the Muscat family of grapes (Moscato Bianco, Muscat Blanc and Muscat Canelli). Scholars believe that muscat is the oldest known grape used for winemaking, dating back to the days of the Greeks and Romans. Today muscat has found fame in moscato d’asti, a semi-sweet sparkling wine made in Piedmonte from the moscato bianco grape. This is a delightfully fresh and fruity wine, lightly fizzy, with aromatics of peach, tangerine, rose, orange blossom and even lychee. This is another wine that pairs well with salads, and even spicy foods and light desserts. What makes moscato d’ asti especially appealing is its low alcohol percentage: a mere 5.5 percent. It’s a wine that can be enjoyed again and again…and again.
Also produced in Piedmont is brachetto d’acqui, a sweet, semi-sparkling red wine made from the brachetto grape. This is the ultimate wine to have with chocolate: its intense, delicate aromas of roses and orange compliment the sweetness of the dessert, and its light body and frothy palate offset the clout of even the darkest chocolate. What’s more, the alcohol by volume (ABV) can be as low as 6.5 percent, so there’s little need to restrain yourself while sitting around the table and savoring all things decadent.
This classic wine from Emilia-Romagna in central Italy has had a bad rap, as it was initially mass-produced and inexpensive. But that’s all changed as Italy has dramatically upped its wine game. Today, you can find excellent Lambrusco in styles ranging from dry to sweet and light to bold. With its lively acidity and tingly bubbles, Lambrusco is one of the world’s greatest food wines, produced to compliment the region’s gastronomic traditions, such as prosciutto and salami, as well as pizza, lasagna and other richly-sauced pasta dishes. The wines are easy-drinking, inexpensive and relatively low in alcohol, generally 8 percent.
Pétillant Naturel, commonly called Pét-Nat, is a French term that roughly translates to “naturally sparkling.” It is made according to the méthode ancestrale that dates back to the 16th century, where the wine is bottled before all of the sugar is converted to alcohol during primary fermentation.
Since the wines continue to ferment and are seldom filtered, they can vary from bottle to bottle. Pét-Nats are all the rage these days. In France, some of the best wines are made in the Loire from the chenin blanc grape, and the Gaillac AOC in Southwest France, home to the mauzac grape. Today, we are seeing Pét-Nats produced from all regions of the world, including the U.S. In Texas, William Chris Vineyards makes Pétillant Naturel Rosé, a blend of primarily merlot, mourvedre and malbec. Since Pét-Nats can be made with any grape of any color, flavor profiles will vary. Generally, Pét-Nats are light and fizzy, low in alcohol, and slightly sweet. Since they are unfiltered, the bottles are often cloudy; but to those who love the natural wine movement, this is part of the appeal. Pét-Nats are very trendy and certainly deserve a try.
Fresh and lively, with a low ABV, semi-sparkling wines are the perfect candidate for our steamy Texas summers. Drink them for brunch, lunch or dinner, or sip them throughout the day at your park picnic, beach trip or poolside gathering. They will definitely add life to the party.
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