From the powerful red Barolo and Barbaresco wines to Franciacorta-a sparkling wine that rivals French Champagne for elegance and finesse-Italy has its fair share of highly esteemed bottles that are worth a sniff, swirl, and a furrow of the brow from any serious wine collector.
But among more casual wine drinkers, it's Italy's more easygoing sparklers that have been turning heads lately. Generally priced in the inexpensive to moderate category, Prosecco, Asti and Moscato d'Asti all offer a great way to bring a Champagne-esque lilt to any occasion without draining your wallet.
One reason these wines are less expensive than French Champagne or high-end sparkling wines from other regions in the world is because they're made by the charmat process, a less time-consuming and labor-intensive process than the more elaborate méthode champenoise used to make higher-end sparklers.
And that's why it's important not to think of these wines as princely pretenders to the Champagne throne, but rather, more playful and less well-bred knaves with their own brand of charm. While Champagne can be rich and elegant, these wines are frivolous and refreshing. Champagne can be a little dry and little tight-fisted with the fruit, but these Italian sparklers playfully offer it to you in spades.
When chilled up nicely, Prosecco, Moscato d'Asti and Asti taste especially great poolside, dock-side or anywhere outdoors as the temperature climbs. However, with their happy bubbles, they're also shoo-ins for celebrations any time of year, as they offer an expensive yet highly respectable way to bring sparkle to grand occasions, such as birthdays, holidays, weddings and New Year's Eve.
The three range in sweetness-Prosecco is generally a little drier than Asti, while Moscato d'Asti is usually the sweetest of the three. They also range in the intensity of bubbles. Asti is fully sparkling (spumante), while Moscato d'Asti is gently sparkling (frizzante). Prosecco can come in either spumante or frizzante styles.
Here's an overview of the three:
Prosecco is made from the Prosecco grape and most often produced in Italy's Veneto region. Light, crisp and refreshing, this easy-to-love sparkling wine goes well with many foods. Chicken salad, Eggs Benedict and other light brunch and lunch dishes make for winning combinations; however, like many sparkling wines, Prosecco shines with just about anything.
Made in the Piedmont region of Italy near the town of Asti, Moscato d'Asti possesses just a hint of sparkle along with peachy flavors that appeal to those who enjoy a little sweetness in their sip. Light and refreshing, it's usually low in alcohol, making it tailor-made for sipping on a warm day. It pairs especially well with fruit desserts.
You may have enjoyed this under another name-years ago it used to be called "Asti Spumante." Now it's simply "Asti." Like Moscato d'Asti, this sparkling wine also is made near the town of Asti from the Moscato grape; the difference is that it's a little less sweet and it sparkles more fully. It pairs well with dessert, though anyone who likes sweeter wines like White Zinfandel will enjoy it with their entrée, too.