Who doesn’t love that sound? For me, it signifies a celebration. In Italy, we love any excuse for festivity. This time of year it seems like there’s a gathering (or two!) every weekend to attend. The Christmas Markets start popping up in town squares, various “Feasts” honoring Saints are held in major cities, and my favorite, New Years!
Here we call New Year’s Eve La Festa di San Silvestro and of course, celebrate with friends, family, and food. Most Italian tables will actually feature lentils this holiday as they symbolize good fortune for the coming year. Plenty of pork, fireworks, and bubbly will be on the menu as well!
Sparkling wine is an integral part of any Italian’s celebration menu this time of year. Here’s what you need to know about sparkling vintages to celebrate like an Italian this New Year’s Eve.
What is Sparkling Wine?
Just about any wine can be made “sparkling.” All wines are fermented, but sparkling wines go through a second round of fermentation in which sugar is added along with yeast. As the yeast eats the sugars, carbon dioxide is released, creating bubbles. Sparkling wine is fermented in special containers that actually “trap” these bubbles creating that special fizz you’ll find so familiar. The length of time and amount of sugar impacts how bubbly a wine will become.
So, is Champagne the “Best” Sparkling Wine?
“Best” is subjective! It, of course, refers to which sparkling wine you prefer the taste of. Most people actually prefer slightly fresher tasting, fruitier sparkling wine (like Prosecco) to Champagne. “Champagne,” originally invented by the French, is actually a term that can legally only be ascribed to certain varietals bottled in the Champagne region of France. Other sparkling wines you’ll enjoy will actually be Prosecco, Moscato (both Italian), Cava (from Spain) or just plain “sparkling” wine.
There are two ways to make sparkling wine, each giving off very different flavors. To create Champagne sparkling wines the second fermentation actually takes place inside the bottle itself. This imparts a bready, toasty quality to the wine. In the case of Prosecco the fermetation actually takes place inside special steel tankes with the Charmat Method, lending them a much more fresh, floral, fruity flavor which are a product of the grape. .Most people prefer the drinkability of fruitier, elegant Prosecco to traditional champagne.
Prosecco can be produced only in a specific area in northeast Italy, one of the most stunning areas in the Italian peninsula, At least we think so! (=
How Do I Drink Sparkling Wine?
It depends on what you’ll be using it for! Many people actually prefer the drinkability of less yeasty, fruitier sparklers which is why Prosecco has become so popular worldwide. All sparkling wines have high acidity and a stinging, bright texture which pairs perfectly with rich food, like many appetizers tend to be. Sparkling wine should always be served chilled for about 3 hours and in a flute-shaped glass to maximize bubbles, if you have one.
Sparkling wine, particularly Italian Prosecco, is one of the easiest wines to drink without food. Because it’s celebratory in nature, many people serve Prosecco as an intro to a big convivial meal, or to honor an occasion’s toast. We love a great Venetian-born Prosecco Bellini at brunch, too!
Remember, sparkling wine is categorized by four levels of sweetness. Try them all to learn which you find cloying, which is too harsh on your palate, and which is just right!
Extra-Brut: The driest (i.e. least sweet) sparkling wine available
Brut: A bit of sugar has been left behind, but still very dry. True Champagne is Brut, but Prosecco and other sparkling wines can also be Brut.
Demi-Sec: The sweetest type of sparkling wine which pairs excellently with dessert. Moscato is a common type of Demi-Sec.
There you have it! Everything you need to know to have the fizziest, bubbliest toast ever this New Year’s Eve. Whichever sparkling wine you choose to serve as you ring in the new year, do as the Italians do and toast to la dolce vida.
As we say here in Italy, felice anno nuovo!
-Barbara Candoni De Zan