2013 Contratto Metodo Classico, Millesimato Pas Dosé
Blend: 85% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay
From Piedmont, Italy
When you think of Italian sparkling wine, Prosecco is likely the first that comes to mind. The buzzy bubbly from the northeast has certainly won hearts around the world. But dive a bit deeper into the category, and you’ll discover the country’s range of excellent bottle-fermented sparklers made from both native and international grapes.
These bottlings are produced using the traditional method (same method as champagne and crémant), known as metodo classico in Italy. Yeast and sugar are added to still wine, which is bottled with a crown cap. The yeast then ferments the sugar into alcohol, creating bubbles that contain naturally occurring carbon dioxide.
The wine then rests on the spent yeast, known as lees, which often imparts sensations of bread crust or brioche before the yeast is removed through a process known as disgorgement. In contrast to sparkling wines that are produced through the Charmat method, like Prosecco, where bubbles are formed in pressurized steel tanks, bottle-fermented sparklers typically boast greater depth, complexity and longevity.
Until the 1990s, metodo classico was made mainly in Northern Italy, specifically in Piedmont, around the town of Trento in Trentino, and in Oltrepò Pavese and Franciacorta in Lombardy. With some notable exceptions, quality often underwhelmed and most of the production remained in the country.
Today, there’s an array of stunning sparklers made from a wide range of grape varieties available in the U.S. From lively and linear to complex and elegant, there’s so much to celebrate in the world of metodo classico. Salute!
Italy’s metodo classicos were born in this northwestern region, thanks to Piedmont’s geographic proximity to and historic relationship with France. Local growers started farming Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, known locally as Pinot Nero, as early as the 1800s.
Enologist Carlo Gancia, who founded the Fratelli Gancia winery with his brother in 1850, was the real trailblazer. After studying enology and learning the secrets of Champagne production in Reims, he began to cultivate the grapes in earnest around Canelli in the mid-1800s to make traditional-method sparklers.
In the 1970s, demand for Vermouth and sweet bubbles like Asti Spumante, made by the quicker and less-expensive Charmat method with the Moscato grape, took the focus off of Piedmont’s bottle-fermented wines.
In the 1990s, a group of producers began to revive serious metodo classico production. This invigoration of the category and refocus on quality production ultimately spurred the creation of the Alta Langa Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) in 2002.
Now a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) as of 2011, Alta Langa is made from Chardonnay and Pinot Nero grown in the provinces of Asti, Alessandria and Cuneo. Aged a minimum of 30 months on the lees and vintage dated, they’re enticing, fragrant wines. Riservas require a mandatory 36 months of aging.
“The calcareous soils and hillside vineyards are ideal for Pinot Nero and Chardonnay cultivated for metodo classico production,” says Giulio Bava, president of the Consorzio Alta Langa. “We pick when grapes reach the right ripeness, but still have good acidity. The wines stay fresh even after 30 months or more on the lees and have good aging potential.”
Taste: Dry and powerful, lending considerable verve to a set of flavors and textures deeply steeped with the essence of Pinot Noir. Brisk and energetic. On the palate chalk, graphite, red berries and mint emerge. White flowers, citrus and crushed rocks are layered into the finish.
Pairing: Anything?! Honestly, this metodo classico from Piedmont is right on par with champagne, and anything from fried chicken to a fancy dinner with lobster to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich would be divine.
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