If it’s not already happened, you’re about to be awash in pink Prosecco. The appellation for the Italian sparkler recently approved wines to be labeled “rosé Prosecco DOC,” and these bottles are flooding onto the market.
To be honest, I’m not really a fan of Prosecco, unless it’s topping off my Aperol Spritz. Many are industrial-made, forgettable products. So that’s why our topic today is so exciting.
This week, I sought out “other” pink sparklers — unsung wines without massive marketing budgets, quietly waiting to be discovered and appreciated on their own merits. Forget “pretty” and “fruity.” These are bad-ass bubbles to get psyched about. These wines are:
Farmed organically or biodynamically
Made from blends featuring indigenous grapes
Structured, with complex flavors and textures
From Spanish Cava to Italian Frizzante, there’s a lot to explore. Let’s dive in!
What to Know
Sparkling wines are produced world over, in styles that range from gently effervescent to full-on frothy. Champagne and Cava are the fizziest, bottled at 5 to 6 atmospheres of pressure, which is about three times the pressure inside a car tire.
There are several ways to make sparkling wine. The most common are the Traditional Method (e.g. Champagne and Cava); the Tank Method used for Prosecco; and the Ancestral Method, which makes pét-nat, among others.
How does it work? Yeasts convert grape sugars into alcohol — with carbon dioxide (CO2) as a byproduct. For still wines, that CO2 blows off into the atmosphere before the wine is bottled. For single-fermentation sparklers like pét-nats, juice starts fermenting in a tank, then is interrupted. The wines are bottled and capped off before fermentation completes. Along the way, CO2 is captured and voilà — you’ve got bubbles.
Then there are the sparklers that go through secondary fermentation — everything from Prosecco to Champagne. After the still wine is made, this is where the magic happens. A mixture of yeast, sugar, and wine is added to that base wine in a closed environment (bottle or tank). As the yeast converts the sugar into alcohol and CO2, the trapped CO2 dissolves into the liquid, waiting to escape as bubbles when the bottle is uncorked.
The key differentiator is where the secondary fermentation happens.
Traditional Method — Secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle. There are several steps, and the wine is generally aged for a period of months or years (more info here). This technique is generally considered to make the highest quality sparklers; long-lived wines with flavor and textural complexity, and fine bubbles.
Tank Method — Secondary fermentation happens in a tank. This is a quicker and less expensive way to make sparkling wine. These are often clean and easy drinking wines — they tend to be fruitier and less complex than traditional method sparklers. The bubbles are typically larger and feel more prickly in your mouth.
I tasted through several pink sparklers, and was surprised that my favorites ran the gamut of techniques and styles. I liked examples that were light and crisp; others that were richly textured and full bodied. Some were bone dry; others had a touch of sweetness. Mostly, I was looking for sparklers that were memorable. Bottles that went beyond fruity, pushing into the territories of minerality and texture.
The ones I chose are all low alcohol — ranging from 11% to 12% ABV — so they’re perfect day drinkers or aperitif wines that allow you to start slow and enjoy several glasses over the course of an evening.
And the food pairing possibilities! My wanderlust kicked in and I mentally traveled the Mediterranean coastline. I imagined sipping them while snacking on fried anchovies and ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms. Charred shishito peppers and nutty Manchego cheese. Briny olives, finocchiona salami, and savory taralli crackers.
Across the board, these sparklers called out for casual gatherings and easy entertaining. And they’re festive (and affordable) enough to play host at celebrations in the months to come.
Best of all, in a sea of characterless pink suds, these sparklers stand apart.
Four to Try
The wines I liked best were from four different European countries, representing several styles. These bottles are fantastic values — I was pleasantly surprised that they all landed at $25 or under.
Top value — usually priced closer to $20. Filipa Pato is part of the new generation of Portuguese winemakers. She came from a winemaking family but set out on her own to make wines from indigenous grapes that are farmed biodynamically on plots throughout the Bairrada appellation. This bright pink sparkler is made in the traditional method from Baga and Bical grapes. Dry and crisp with fine mousse, this sparkler has floral and black raspberry aromas and flavors, and a creamy texture.
Raventós is a pioneering organic and biodynamic producer that’s been producing wine in Catalonia, Spain, for a remarkable 500+ years — since 1497! The Raventós family is loyal to tradition, making wines from native grape varieties that are reflective of their terroir, and prioritizing the health of their vineyard ecosystem. This pale rosé Cava is made in the traditional method from old-vine Xarel-lo, Macabeu, Parellada, and Monastrell. Like all Raventós wines, it’s a mineral-driven sparkler with structure and complexity. It is dry and fresh, with fine bubbles and subtle rose and red berry notes.
Located in the Languedoc region of France, Mas de Daumas Gaussac is a cult producer making excellent organic and natural wines. This intriguing sparkling rosé was made in the tank method from a blend of several grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre, and Petit Manseng. It has many layers of flavor, staring with tart berry and grapefruit zest notes that evolve on the palate into savory green olive and dried herbs. It’s dry, fresh, and flavorful — everything I want in a sparkling wine, and for a great price!
Punta Crena is a small family winery in the Liguria region of Italy that has been tending the vines here for 500 years. The estate is planted with local varieties that are organically farmed. This frizzante wine gets its sparkles from single fermentation in a closed tank; there is no second fermentation. It is full bodied and boldly flavored, made from co-fermented Rossese and the rare Crovino grape. I get dried apricot, strawberries, and honey on the nose followed by flavors of yellow plum and dried herbs. The wine has a rich texture but with enough acidity to make it an excellent aperitivo wine.