Watching the summer sunshine shimmer through the bubbles in a glass of sparkling wine is reason enough to pop a cork. There’s no need for special occasions—a nice al fresco lunch, cocktail hour on the deck or just settling in by the water are all reason enough. Champagne is the queen of carbonated wine, but there’s an ocean of others that are gaining popularity—especially when cool fizz is needed to beat the heat.
Moscato d’Asti is a pretty aperitif wine. Made from the moscato blanco grape in Piedmont, just south of Asti in northern Italy, it’s frizzante, i.e. less carbonated than its cousin Asti Spumante. Grape juice is fermented in a pressurized tank and when the alcohol level reaches around 5-8%, the wine is chilled and the yeast dies. This leaves natural grape sugar in the wine, which can be cloying. Still, even though sweet wines aren’t usually my thing, I found the Gancia Moscato d’Asti ($13) light and lovely, with floral, orange blossom flavors.
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Prosecco is Italy’s most famous sparkling wine, made primarily from Glera grapes in the Veneto region. Yeast and sugar are added to still white wine, which is re-fermented under pressure in large tanks and bottled under pressure. This cost-effective charmat method makes exuberant, highly carbonated wines. The best examples are comparable to good champagne, like the Santa Margherita Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore ($20). It comes from a DOCG region, the highest quality level in Italian wines. I really enjoyed its refined, crisp mouthfeel with notes of apple and hay, and frothy bubbles that persisted until the next day.
For something unique, look for pétillante naturel wines. These “pét-nats” are considered a handcrafted, true expression of a vineyard and usually made from a single grape variety. They are made with the méthod ancestrale—unpressurized wild-yeast is fermented and just before the end, the wine is bottled with the last residual sugar and living yeast. This creates fizz in the bottle and sediment. Fans are okay with sediment, but newcomers may have to take a leap of faith. Winemaker Chris Tracy at Channing Daughters in Bridgehampton makes a series of excellent pét-nats from various grapes, in red, white and rosé. His 2015 Rosato Merlot ($27) is a standout choice. Drink now; these pét-nats evolve fast.
An unusual sparkler, the 2013 Frizzante from Anthony Nappa Wines ($20) is a blend of mostly pinot noir, riesling and gewürztraminer from New York. It starts off like champagne, with yeast and sugar added to still wine for the second, in-bottle fermentation. But the processing stops there, like the pét-nats, so the finished wine has a bottle-cap closure and visible sediment. It’s dry, slightly floral, with a note of aged lees (post-fermentation sediment). When it was just released, it was more fresh-fruit driven, but I like it just as much now. It’s kind of like a handsome older dude in a hipster T-shirt; age has made it more “serious” and interesting than the packaging might indicate.