Beyond the glimmer of Champagne, the most illustrious of sparkling wines, gleams some surprising wine regions fashioning traditional method bubbly.
Also known as méthode champenoise or méthode traditionnelle, producing these exceptional wines requires winemakers to follow an intricate choreography set by law through the centuries.
Before the grapes arrive at the winery, an early harvest ensures the grapes retain the acidity necessary for a lean base wine. Then, a gentle pressing minimizes skin contact to avoid harsh aromas and bitter flavors. After pressing, initial fermentation and blending (assemblage) of the base wines (cuvées) follow. Then, liqueur de tirage (adding yeast and sugar to initiate secondary fermentation in bottle), bottle aging (typically under screwcap), and disgorgement of the dead yeast cells (aka lees). Next, dosage tops up the disgorged bottle with additional liquor. As a final fillip, winemakers insert corks and bottle-age the wine, typically one to three years minimum.
Outside of Champagne in northeastern France, these steps have been finessed and lauded in other wine regions. Crémant de Loire in central France, Cava from Spain, and northern Italy’s Franciacorta are exceptional examples.
However, glinting on the horizon is a vast world of traditional-method sparkling wines. Remarkable and distinctive expressions can come from anywhere. The following four regions are overlooked – or yet to be discovered – for this style of fancy fizz and are certainly worth trying, too.
Dubbed the ’diamond of the Med,’ Sicily is Italy’s largest island, renowned for its volcanic wines from the region surrounding Mount Etna. This verdant triangle also boasts the largest number of organic vineyards in Italy, growing more than 70 indigenous grape varieties. But Sicily also crushes it in the refreshing sparkling wine department.
One winemaker, Massimo Padova of Riofavara, cultivates rare native varieties on his organic estate in southeastern Sicily near Ragusa. Riofavara Spumante Metodo Classico Extra Brut contains an exotic blend of Grecanico, Grillo, Moscato Giallo, Rucignola, Cutrera, and Recunu. The golden-hued dazzler brims with lime blossom, white florals, and saline notes.
Similarly in nearby Noto, organic producer La Giasira makes sparkling rosé. SIC! Brut comes from certified organic Nerello Mascalese grapes in IGT Terre Siciliane. This fun fizz offers flirty hints of wild strawberry and summer breezes. Both wines age up to 24 months in bottle to add complexity.
High in the Dolomite mountains of northeastern Italy, Trento DOC (or Trentodoc) crafts classic method sparkling wines called Metodo Classico. Trentodoc’s steep vineyards climb between 199 and 899 meters (656 and 2952 feet) above sea level within the Trentino region. Limestone and silica soils, coupled with distinctive mountainside flora and fauna, impart over 200 aromatic markers unique to Trentodoc. Consequently, these unusual flavor profiles tickle the palates of sparkling wine experts, who awarded Trentodoc 22 gold and 50 silver medals at the 2021 Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships (CSWWC) international sparkling wine competition.
Cesarini Sforza Aquila Reale Riserva Trentodoc 2010 sources 100% Chardonnay from the winery’s centuries-old cru terroir, Maso Sette Fontane. Profuse perlage, luxurious mousse, and luscious notes of brioche, tangerine, Meyer lemon, and golden apple skillfully capture the soul of this region.
Many people don’t know that sultry southwestern France, not chilly Champagne, produced France’s first sparkling wine. It’s true. Recounting origins point to the 1530s when Benedictine monks at the abbey of Saint-Hilaire made “Blanquette de Limoux” sparkling wine. That’s more than 100 years before the French monk Dom Perignon was thought to have invented Champagne in 1697.
Fourth-generation winemaker and proprietor Jean-Claude Mas owns approximately 1,483 acres of Terra Vitis certified vineyards throughout southwest France. Mas coined the term ‘luxe rural’ to describe his region’s easy, nature-centric lifestyle. His coral-hued Domaines Paul Mas NV Côté Mas Crémant de Limoux Rosé Brut captures this vibe brilliantly. A blend of 70% Chardonnay, 20% Chenin Blanc, and 10% Pinot Noir that ages two years in bottle. Appealing red and stone fruit, florals, and citrus notes lend a casual flair to everything from an apéro to a fancy, five-course meal.
Willamette Valley, Oregon
Oregon is more than Pinot Noir. Specifically, the Willamette Valley is proving to be the perfect place to produce traditional method sparkling wine, too. Like Champagne, it runs along the 45th parallel and shares a cool climate. Unsurprisingly, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir thrive throughout the valley’s high elevation vineyards.
In the Dundee Hills, family-owned Winter’s Hill 2018 Sparkling Wine blends 50% estate-grown Pinot Blanc and 50% Pinot Noir, with 34 months of aging on lees before disgorging. As a result, the wine is an elegant pour replete with tiny bubbles, toasty brioche and marzipan aromas, bright acids, and lingering lemon zest and quince notes.
To illustrate a taste of the entire valley, try Youngberg Hill 2016 Bailey Sparkling Wine, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir sourced from the Willamette Valley, Amity-Eola Hills and Chehalem AVAs. Up to three years of fermentation in bottle yields a vivid, golden fizz buzzing with electric acids and zippy citrus notes. But don’t forget southern Willamette Valley, where award-winning Iris Vineyards makes several traditional method sparklers, including creamy Areté 2018 Blanc de Noirs from Pinot Noir and golden-noted Areté 2019 Blanc de Blancs from 100% Chardonnay.
Clearly, for adventurous bubbleheads, these four surprising sparkling wine regions offer compelling, affordable sparkling wines suitable for any occasion.