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Sparkling Wines

Bright, lively and vivacious, sparkling wines are the protagonists of festivities and pleasant taste experiences. These wines are characterised by the presence of carbon dioxide from fermentation and an internal pressure of no less than 3 atmospheres at a temperature of 20°C. The practice of transforming still wines into sparkling beverages has been attested in Italy since the 14th century, but it was in 17th century France, thanks to the intuitions of Abbot Don Pérignon, that sparkling wine took on its modern connotations, reaching very high quality standards. Produced with aromatic or non-aromatic grapes, dry or sweet, with or without the addition of residual sugar, with re-fermentation in the bottle according to the Classic method or in autoclave according to the Charmat or Martinotti method, it can reach an infinite variety of expressions and denominations, always ensuring enchanting sensations and lively, sparkling atmospheres.

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Bright, lively and vivacious, sparkling wines are the protagonists of festivities and pleasant taste experiences. These wines are characterised by the presence of carbon dioxide from fermentation and an internal pressure of no less than 3 atmospheres at a temperature of 20°C. The practice of transforming still wines into sparkling beverages has been attested in Italy since the 14th century, but it was in 17th century France, thanks to the intuitions of Abbot Don Pérignon, that sparkling wine took on its modern connotations, reaching very high quality standards. Produced with aromatic or non-aromatic grapes, dry or sweet, with or without the addition of residual sugar, with re-fermentation in the bottle according to the Classic method or in autoclave according to the Charmat or Martinotti method, it can reach an infinite variety of expressions and denominations, always ensuring enchanting sensations and lively, sparkling atmospheres.

The story of Sparkling Wine

It is impossible to define where and when it originated and mystery surrounds its origins. A common belief is that the French were the first to invent this type of wine, but it is more correct to say that the discovery was born in the mists of time, when a farmer noticed that the fermenting must was boiling.

In ancient times there were no clear parameters to determine what it was and how it was produced. The first evidence dates back to 1000 B.C. in the Book of Psalms, which speaks of a wine in the hand of God. The story is also intertwined with the great writings of Homer, particularly in the Iliad, in which the Greek poet recounts that Achilles' shield depicts the image of peasants drinking "sparkling wine of the sweetest Bacchus".

The oldest and most detailed accounts date back to Roman times. Virgil refers to bubbly wine in his Aeneid and Georgics, and Lucan and other Latin authors mention the drink in their writings. We learn how the ancient Romans rejoiced in two types of bubbly wine: Aigleucos and Proptropum, which were not so different from our modern sweet sparkling wines. In fact, the former, also mentioned by Pliny, was made from concentrated must sealed in amphorae and immersed in cold water, where at low temperatures a slow fermentation began, generating bubbles in the wine. Proptropum was the Roman quality product, made using the same methods as Aigleucos but from a flower must. Alongside these wines, there was also Azinatio, made from dried grape must, which was added to dry wines that were probably made sparkling.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, dark and troubled centuries began for grape cultivation. Only the Renaissance marked the resurrection of the ''ispumante'', a term coined by doctors to describe the beneficial and healthy effects of the drink. A few centuries earlier, in the Middle Ages, we find mentions of it, especially in the book Regimen Sanitatis of the Salerno Medical School, which tells how sparkling wines should be drunk in moderation.

In 1570, the Brescian doctor Girolamo Conforti described in his text ''Libellus de vino mordaci'' the methods of preparation of sparkling wines then produced in the Franciacorta area, describing them as "mordaci" because of their light froth.

The book by the Italian Father Rodolfo Acquaviva, who lived at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries, gives a detailed account of all the steps involved in making wine from Montepulciano in Siena. Refermentation is described at every stage.

History has it that in the same period as Rudolph, a legendary Benedictine monk from Hautvillers Abbey, called Dom Pérignon, perfected the technique of refermentation in the bottle. In reality the legend is unclear as some claim it was his brothers, but what is important is that the legendary Champagne was developed during these years. The brothers introduced stronger glass bottles and corks that could maintain the internal pressure of the wine. We are still a long way from the idea of modern Champagne, as the wines of the abbey were sugary and made from sweet concentrated musts.

We should also mention the important contribution of the Italian Federico Martinotti, who in 1895 in Asti developed the method for processing wines in containers. This type of wine often goes by the name of the engineer Eugéne Charmat, who developed the method and developed the autoclaves.

Today they are a leading type of wine on the Italian and world wine scene, appreciated at festive occasions and on special occasions, but also to accompany large and small events, aperitifs and elegant dinners, providing liveliness and joy.



Production Methods

Sparkling wines are the product of a refermentation of still wines to which sugar and yeast are added. The methods for producing base wines are those of white wine making. To qualify for the designation, the wine must have an excess pressure of not less than 6 atmospheres at a temperature of 20°C in closed containers and a minimum alcohol content of 9.5 degrees.

Bubbles can be obtained by two different methods

- the Classical or Champenoise method, which involves re-fermentation in the bottle

- the Charmat or Martinotti method, which involves re-fermentation in autoclaves.

The Classical or Champenoise method is the system developed by Dom Pérignon in the 17th century, which produces elegant and complex wines with nuances reminiscent of bread crust, dried fruit and white flowers and a fine and persistent perlage.

The process that leads to the development of a classic method sparkling wine begins with the selection and blending of the base wines. The cuvée is the blend of wines in varying proportions chosen by the winemaker. If the base wines come from the same harvest (or at least 85%), we can speak of vintage sparkling wines and the year of harvest can be shown on the label.

Once the cuvée has been created, the liqueur de tirage is added, consisting of wine, cane sugar, yeast and mineral substances. The amount of sugar added is crucial to the total pressure. Normally, the liqueur de tirage contains 24 grams of sugar per litre, which develops a final pressure of 6 atmospheres. A special case is Franciacorta's Satén, which develops only 4.5 atm from an addition of 18g/l of sugar. The wine is then bottled in traditional champagne bottles and corked. The yeasts transform the sugar into alcohol, carbon dioxide and secondary substances, which form the basis of the wine's aromatic bouquet. This phase is called froth setting and lasts about 6 months, at the end of which the yeasts are exhausted (autolysis) and settle to the bottom. The wine is left for a further few months in contact with its yeasts, which slowly release all the substances absorbed.

Maturation of the yeasts can vary from 15 months to several years, at the end of which the bottles are placed on special wooden racks, called pupitres, where they become increasingly vertical, accumulating the lees on the neck of the bottle. This procedure is called remuage and can be carried out by special machines or by expert rémueurs.

This is followed by the disgorging process, which involves removing the lees to obtain a clear, residue-free wine. Once upon a time, this process was carried out manually by skilled professionals, whereas nowadays there is a tendency to favour disgorging à la glace, which involves immersing the neck of the bottle in a refrigerating solution at -25°/-30°C for a few minutes so that the sediment freezes. The bottle is then opened and the frozen sediment is pushed out under pressure.

The last stage, before corking, labelling and refining in the bottle, is the addition of a dosing syrup, the liqueur d'expédition, whose recipe is secret for each producer and is made up of wines, sugars and distillates. Classic method sparkling wines are classified according to the residual sugar, from the driest to the sweetest, in: Pas Dosè or zero dosage, Extra Brut, Brut and other sweet or semi-sweet types.

The Martinotti or Charmat Method is often used for aromatic varieties such as Malvasie and Moscato, but also and above all for Prosecco, and allows bottles with a fresher and simpler character to be obtained. The process takes place over two or three months in large hermetically sealed stainless steel containers, known as autoclaves. Once the cuvee has been assembled, the yeasts and sugars are added. Refermentation in the autoclave is carried out under constant pressure to avoid losing carbon dioxide. Refermentation in autoclaves can be extended up to 6 months, which is called long Charmat.



The Best Bottles

In Italy, sparkling wines play a leading role in national wine production. Nowadays there is no region that has not experimented with the production of bubbles using historic vineyards, such as Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, or regional varieties.

Starting in the far north, we find one of the symbols of Italian production, Trento DOC, the first denomination that produces using the classic method. The success of this wine is linked to one of the greatest Italian producers, Giulio Ferrari, who made Italy and the world fall in love with its excellence, later imitated by other great producers in the area.

Moving down to Lombardy, in the province of Brescia, one of the oldest wines is produced: Franciacorta. Based on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc, it is one of the most elegant products of the Italian territory, with nuances, residual sugar and grape varieties that change according to the style of the producer.

The Oltrepò Pavese is famous for interesting productions based mainly on Pinot Nero, with a long and glorious tradition.

In Piedmont, on the hills of Alta Langa, there is a classic wine based on Chardonnay and Pinot Nero grapes, characterised by an excellent sapidity and minerality. In the area around Asti, in addition to the great regional whites and reds, there is also Moscato d'Asti, a sweet wine re-fermented in autoclaves and characterised by its fascinating aromatic notes.

In the Veneto region, the most successful sparkling wine is Prosecco made from Glera grapes, mainly using the Martinotti method. From the Colli Asolani to Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, from Asolo to Treviso, it is the most widely exported wine in the world, a symbol of joy and happiness. Appreciated above all for its freshness and immediacy, which make it perfect as an aperitif and not only.

In recent years, many other regions of Italy, such as Sicily with Grillo, the Marche with Verdicchio and Apulia with Bombino Bianco have inaugurated a high level of production, capable of competing with the greatest wine expressions in the world.