France has its Champagne. Spain has Cava. In Italy, Prosecco and Asti are its two most popular sparkling wines.
Prosecco is primarily from the Veneto region of Italy and made from the Glera grape. Like Champagne, Prosecco must be produced in designated regions of Italy to be called Prosecco on the label. Unlike Champagne and Cava that undergo a secondary fermentation in the bottle (the 'traditional method'), Prosecco is produced using the Charmat ('transfer') method. Using this process, large quantities of wine are kept under pressure in stainless steel tanks during the second fermentation. The resulting sparkling wine is then bottled. While most people can't tell the difference in the secondary fermentation process used, it is generally believed that the traditional method results in smaller, more persistent bubbles, while the transfer method results in lighter bubbles, being almost frothy, and having a creamier feel in the mouth. Prosecco tends to be fruiter than Champagne and usually sweeter. Prosecco has been described as having flavors of melon, peer, apple, honey suckle and cream. There are three main styles of Prosecco: Brut has up to 12 gram per liter of residual sugar, while Extra Dry has 12-17 gm/liter and Dry has 17-32 gm/liter. Prosecco also tends to be lower in alcohol, around 11-12% And, nice entry-level bottles of Prosecco are easily found in the $12 - $15 range.
Asti is another popular sparkling wine from Italy. It is produced in the Piedmont region around the towns of Asti and Alba from the Moscato Bianco grape. Originally known as 'Asti Spumante' (spumante means fully sparkling), the name was shortened to just Asti in 1993 when it received its official designation. This fully sparkling wine has an alcohol content around 8% to 9% by volume. Sharing the Asti designation is Moscato d'Asti that is also made from the Moscato Bianco grape. This sparkling wine is typically in the frizzante style (frizzante means lightly sparkling). Like Asti, Moscato d'Asti is made using the transfer process, but the fermentation is stopped quite early, resulting in a sparkling wine that is sweet, has fewer bubbles and is low in alcohol (5-6%). Because Moscato d'Asti is lightly sparkling, it is typically packaged with a standard bottle and cork. Both Moscato d'Asti and Asti sparkling wines can be found in the $10 - $15 range.
These Italian sparkling wines are not meant for aging and should be consumed young and fresh. So pick up a bottle or two, chill them, and enjoy them right away. Cheers!