The best sparkling wine you’ve never heard of

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When you think of Italian sparkling wine, probably Prosecco comes to mind first, which isn’t surprising, given its massive production output and tremendous marketing efforts. Franciacorta may top the list for those in the know about traditional method Italian sparklers, and perhaps Lambrusco or Asti Spumante take the top spot for the truly original among you.

 

Tucked into the Dolomite mountains of the Trentino-Alto Adige area, however, is Trento DOC, or Trentodoc, Italy’s best kept sparkling secret, though the word is increasingly out thanks to a consortium of producers in the area. Trento DOC was among the first classified wine regions in the world for traditional method sparkling wine, “metodo classico” in Italian: only France’s Champagne and a couple of the Crémant regions predate it. (In Italy Franciacorta predates Trento as a DOC, but that DOC also allows for charmat method sparkling wines in addition to classical method wines.)

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I spoke with Paolo Letrari, whose family has been making metodo classico wines in Trento since the 1960s, who explained, “A glass of Trentodoc is an invitation to discover a corner of Italy with unique characteristics. This territory and its wine are influenced by its history and the character of its people.”

Interestingly, 80% of Trentodoc production is consumed in Italy, and while Trentodoc is not yet widely available in the United States, if you can get your hands on a bottle from this enigmatic region, you should. (For starters, Wine Enthusiast named Trentodoc as Wine Region of the Year in 2020.)

Here are five things to know about Trentodoc, and why it should top your wish list for sparkling wine selections, Italian or otherwise.

Letrari wine

1. Made Using Metodo Classico

The classic method, traditional method, or Champagne method all refer to the same style of sparkling winemaking, where the secondary fermentation that creates the bubbles in the wine happens within the individual bottles, rather than in a tank, yielding a mousse of a finer texture. (The tank process is known as the charmat method, which is how Prosecco is made.) Additional yeast is added to each bottle along with additional sugar, (in most cases,) to be converted into carbon dioxide, which is trapped and then released as bubbles once the bottle is opened.

 

Once the yeast cells have expired following fermentation, the wines spend time aging with them still in the bottle. Referred to as “lees aging,” or “on the lees,” this process gives classical method sparkling wines a particularly rich, almost creamy texture. Trentodoc wines must spend at least 15 months on the lees for non-vintage expressions, 24 months for vintage-stated cuvées, and 36 months for riserva wines. Notably, Letrari’s Trentodoc Brut Riserva spends 60 months on the lees, creating a seriously robust and elegant sparkling wine to rival the finest Champagnes.

Speaking of the character of its people, Letrari makes a point about the type of people who endeavor to create sparkling wines according to this method: “People who produce metodo classico wines are a peculiar group of people: a mix of idealists, artists, and romantics, because it’s a more expensive, difficult, and risky way to produce sparkling wine. You have to be full of passion to try to express the best of your vineyards or your territory in this way.” (Editor’s note: Sparkling wines in the Trentino are also made using metodo martinotti or charmat but Trentodoc wines are only made using the classic method.)

2. Mountain Atmosphere

Trentodoc is a small and finite region surrounded by mountains, and whose grapes grow within a range of altitudes. Regardless of the nuance between valley vineyards and slope vineyards within Trentodoc, however, the mountains themselves contribute greatly to the character of all the wine produced there.

A study released by the Edmund Mach Foundation, along with the University of Modena, revealed that this is an agriculturally important and distinct characteristic of these special wines. The influence of nearby Lake Garda, plus the ever-sentinel presence of the Dolomites, creates ideal conditions for grape ripening. There is a median diurnal shift between daytime and nighttime temperatures of 8 to 12 degrees Celsius, which results in grapes that have a high component of the volatile compounds that contribute aroma and flavor to the wines.

The mountains also create a natural limit, as there’s no opportunity to expand vineyards for more experimental production, but as with all limits, artists who work well within them often produce things of rare character. “The limit is our land,” explains Letrari. The vineyards are what they are. We are surrounded by mountains with no room to expand. Our greatest ambition is to surprise and satisfy the consumer.”

Ferrari wine

3. Same Grapes As Champagne

Trentodoc wines are reminiscent of Champagne for more than just the method used. Most of the grapes used in Trentodoc, in fact, were imported from France in the early 1900s by several winemakers who had gone to participate in winemaking there. Giulio Ferrari, who is largely credited with making the first substantial chardonnay plantings in Italy, correctly estimated that Champagne’s grapes (chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier) would succeed in Trento’s particular, mountainous climate, where the cold nights help preserve desirable acidity in the grapes.

Along with those three, Trentodoc wines may also include pinot blanc, which, according to Letrari, adds to the aromatic profile and creates wines with additional fullness, especially in Riserva selections.

4. Surprising Food Pairing

When I asked Letrari what sort of local dishes he recommended to pair with Trentodoc wines, his answer was a bit of a surprise. He mentioned crauti e luganega, a dish common to the region made with cabbage, sausage, and pork chops. If this sounds decidedly more Austrian or German than Italian, that’s basically because it is.

Formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the area of Trentino-Alto Adige has always balanced both aspects of its border-dwelling personality. “We’ve always been a territory with an aspiration to be a part of Italy, but also to remain independent from our motherland,” explains Letrari. This, in my opinion, also helps to explain the unique character of the people who make Trentodoc wines. To pair an elegant wine with a humble, substantial food represents “an expression of a way of life; a joy of life,” says Letrari.

Trentodoc wine

5. The Trentodoc Brand

Which leads to the final, and perhaps most important point. While Trento DOC is the official geographical classification for classical method sparkling wines made in the area, “Trentodoc” actually refers to a consortium of winemakers within Trento DOC who share common values within the region. The Trentodoc seal is available to any winemaker from the region who wants to participate in the cooperative, regardless of the size of the operation. The Os in the Trentodoc logo are meant to look like the action of remuage, or the systematic turning of the bottles during secondary fermentation, to emphasize the wine’s classical method production. The wines have been around for a long time, but the consortium brand only dates back to 2007.

The collective represents an almost socialist approach to raising the value of the entire region, which is important both economically and agriculturally. Economically, the region was a previously poor area, which is now dependent on wine production not only for sales but for tourism in the area. Agriculturally, everyone has a stake in the ongoing success of everyone else’s vineyards, to promote on-going responsible farming, stave off vineyard vacancies, and prevent landslides on the slopes.

Letrari explains the importance of the Trentodoc consortium toward the ongoing success of the region. “Being together as a collective was the best thing that we were able to do, because it attracted attention. Individual producers could have had success with their own brand, but the territory would remain unknown. The idea was not to give advice in anyone’s production or marketing, the idea was how we could communicate to the world the special character of the territory that is reflected in our wine.”

For more on Italian sparkling wine see Discover Franciacorta, Italy’s Most Serious Sparkler, Prosecco Rosé is a Thing, and Make Lambrusco Your Summer-to-Fall Transition Wine.

This article originally appeared on AlcoholProfessor.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

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Yes, you can pair your potato chips & donut holes with wine. Here’s how

 

Champagne—and its sparkling wine derivatives—pair well with everything, full stop. The high acidity of the wine causes you to salivate so that your mouth begs for food, while the action of its bubbles scrubs the palate clean after each bite, subtly inviting the next one.

But why are Champagne and fried foods such a match made in heaven? For one, the textures of each kind of echo each other. “When I think of having fried food I often think of bubbles,” says NYC sommelier Marcela Colonna. “It makes me feel like I’m having the same crunch in liquid form through effervescence and bright acidity.”

In addition to Champagne’s texture, sommelier and sales rep Josh Lit seconds the acidity point: “When you have a lot of freshness and vibrant acidity, it pairs very well with richer, more decadent items like fried foods because the acidity cuts right through the richness.”

Any sparkling wine you like—including those that are slightly sweet or made with a process other than the traditional champagne method—can fill in for Champagne against any fried food you like. (And with a potential looming Champagne shortage, you might need to resort to other choices anyhow.) But in the fizzy, heady spirit of sparkling wine season, here are 7 specific fried food and sparkling wine pairings worth raising a glass to.

 

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Champagne and fried chicken together is a highbrow/lowbrow pairing that people in the know go crazy for. Let it be a testament to the universal reverence of this pairing among the beverage community, that this earned the most raised hands from people who volunteered to rhapsodize about it. (One person even went so far as to say he “knew I’d be just fine in life,” for having suggested it in the first place. I’ll take it.)

NYC bar professional Nick Vendetti explains the magic of the pairing: “The acidity of the wine cuts through the fat of the chicken, and the subtle sweetness of a brut especially, while usually not so perceptible on its own, helps balance out the acidity and the salt of the food. It’s similar to how sweetness functions in ketchup or BBQ sauce, or in many types of various Southeast Asian cuisine, or even American Chinese cooking.”

One to try: Une Femme The Juliette Premier Cru Champagne

 

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Prosecco is often considered Champagne’s country cousin: a little less refined in its winemaking process and texture, but no less zesty and lively when it comes to pairing with food.

Furthermore, Italian cuisine understands the value of sparkling wine and fried food combinations better than just about other cultures. Take a glance at any Italian wine bar menu and count the instances of the word “fritti” on the food section. Little fried bites—the aforementioned fritti—with Prosecco are a staple of Italian aperitivo culture, but Prosecco absolutely has the oomph to take on a full meal, dessert, or even…breakfast cannoli?

Consider the absolute twinning of a Prosecco and cannoli pairing by Brooklyn-based chef, Albert Di Meglio, where Prosecco is used to add extra bubbles to the fried cannoli shell. Take the cannoli. Take the Prosecco along with it.

One to try: Cavit Prosecco

 

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Lambrusco, with its fruity nature, light fizz, and gentle tannin, is the unsung hero of the Italian wine catalogue, in my opinion. Another “in the know” coupling is Lambrusco with pizza, which is more than just an inspired pairing; it’s a laid-back, lifestyle choice. So how about Lambrusco with pizza in fried form, i.e. mozzarella sticks? (Mozzarella stuffed arancini would also do nicely here.)

“Lambrusco with mozzarella sticks is genius,” says Althea Codamon, Beverage Director at Brooklyn’s Aita Italian restaurant.

Sommelier and sales rep Josh Lit concurs: “Lambrusco and mozzarella sticks go really well together, because you’re going to dunk the mozzarella sticks in tomato sauce, and the Lambrusco has a little sweetness and ripeness, plus a lot of texture, which goes great with the rich cheese and the salty crust.”

One to try: Bruno Zanasi, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, D.O.P.

 

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By now you’ll hopefully have accepted the salt/fat/acid/heat quadrumvirate that sparkling wine and fried food combos bring to the table. Now, I turn up the salt factor with an additional element: brine. Some of the greatest wines sparkling wines on earth grow on fossilized seashell beds, or in coastal areas where the salty sea air influences the grapes, making them a natural pairing for oysters. When the oysters and grapes come from the same area? Game over. That minerality sings, even when you decide to give them the deep-fried treatment, which you should.

Robin Kirk Wolf, sommelier and owner of Highwater, in San Luis Obispo, explains: “Oysters and bubbles are an incredible pairing that can be seen around the world, and it’s showcased perfectly here on the California Coast. The briny salinity of the oysters from our own Morro Bay fit perfectly alongside a Brut Cuvée, from Laetitia Vineyard just four miles inland. The rich texture of the oysters is balanced by the light and airy streams of bubbles, with hints of lemon chiffon and fresh bread.”

Further up the California coast, in a promotion called “Taste of the Bay,” Chandon, Food 52, and Real Oyster Cult have teamed up to deliver this exact pairing right to your door. Through Food 52 you receive a bottle of Chandon Taste of the Bay Blanc de Blanc reserve, along with a code for 50% off oysters from Real Oyster Cult, which are overnighted for freshness. The package also includes accouterments such as locally made hot sauces and shrubs, which, incidentally, also happen to be ideal condiments for fried bivalves.

 

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During a recent event showcasing Spanish food and wine at Jose Andres’ Mercato Little Spain in New York, sommelier Marcela Colonna took home the pairing challenge prize with this matchup: Cava rosé and churros. Other somms were asked to pair foods such as paella, patatas bravas, and other Spanish superfoods, which just goes to show that the sparkling/fried combo always wins, even when you pit savory against sweet.

“I loved the berry and toasty, brioche notes I got from the Cava rosé, which made the churros that much more enjoyable if that’s even possible,” says Colonna, along with the bubbles, which, from my own experience tasting the pairing, emphasized and enhanced the churros’ sugary crunch.

One to try: Segura Viudas Brut Rosé

 

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This, right here, is the classiest junk food pairing imaginable.

It’s natural to try to forget that potato chips are fried, often being within arms’ reach. But that just makes this pairing all the more fun, as you might not even need to leave your kitchen in order to achieve it. Any bubbly on hand turns a bag of chips into a celebration, but here’s the argument for Moscato D’Asti or Asti Spumante:

“Salt and sweet work well together. I call it the kettle corn theory” says Minneapolis-based sales rep David Curiel.

Italy’s moscato grape makes a generously fruity wine. If, in your mind, this translates to being cloying, that is a reputation it doesn’t deserve. In the right hands it is vibrant and balanced, especially with bubbles, and most especially if you introduce spice into the equation, as with barbecue or other spicy-flavored potato chips.

“It’s totally magical,” says Curiel, “Asti Spumante tastes like apricots and nectarines. The bubbles and acidity wash the chips off of your palate, and the spice from the chips shines through the fruit and bubbles.”

One to try: La Caudrina Asti Spumante “La Selvatica

 

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This is one from my own heart, and not just because the wine is literally called “bugey.” Bugey Cerdon is an appellation tucked into the Jura mountains in Eastern France that produces lightly sweet, floral, sparkling rosés.

Bugey Cerdon and chocolate donut holes together are an even bougier version of chocolate-covered strawberries. If you intend to start in 2022 like you mean to go on, then there’s a New Year’s Day Breakfast of Champions for you.

One to try: Dentelle Bugey Cerdon Semi-Sec Rosé

 

This article originally appeared on Alcoholprofessor.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

 

 

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Featured Image Credit: Trentodoc / AlcoholProfessor.com.

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