For birthdays, we have cake. For grilling, we have steak. For celebrating, we have Champagne. But what about frizzante? Never heard of it?
The pop of the cork, the genuine fear that it’s going to explode or shoot out an eye or window, the messy froth, like lava from a volcano, deliciously spilling over the sides and down the fingers and wrists and arms and on the floor—it’s an iconic scene. Shocker that this drink is reserved for the holidays. Who could handle all this on a regular basis?
Fortunately, many find it within themselves to dig deep and drink up. But let’s say you aren’t the showy type, that you are more austere and modest when it comes to filling your cup. Perhaps you find more drama in the midnight kiss than the midnight pop? What then?
Frizzante, as you might suspect, is Italian and means “fizzy.” Known also for sparkling mineral waters, Italians have been drinking all sorts of things that sparkle and fizz and tickle the tongue in all sorts of ways way before the French. A quick jaunt onto the Wikipedia for “sparkling wine,” and you’ll find a reference to how the naturally occurring sparkle in wines was eventually referred to as “the devil’s wine” because of this sparkle that would often cause bottles to literally explode. The Italians, on the other hand, were drinking a much more delicate and subdued sparkle. Instead of the exploding bottles, this palette-cleansing bubbly took on a more domesticated place. As boring as salt and pepper, as it were.
Lambruscos, red or white, can have this sparkle. Moscato d’Asti is another well-know bubbly, but Prosecco seems to be gaining in popularity. In simpler terms, Moscato tends to taste of peaches and vanilla; Prosecco slices through with mouth-watering lemony citrus and mineral. Gavi, a more expensive Italian frizzante, has much more mineral than Prosecco. I once had a Gavi that brimmed with a full-bodied (think whole milk versus skim) complexity that still makes me quake. So many minerals while flirting with sweetness but never relenting in its bracing acidity—such a great palette cleanser as it just hung on, washing away while quenching.
Semi-sparkling wines also tend to be more affordable and more interesting. I’ve been obsessing as of late over a Portuguese semi-sparkling (Italians aren’t the only ones familiar with the ways of the sparkle; the Spanish make a yummy dry sparkling called Cava perfumed with fresh baked bread along with the citrus and mineral) called Vinho Verde (veen-o verd). I rarely pay over $10 for a bottle. Even better, Vinho Verdes are dry, light and shimmer with minerals, florals and just enough citrus to make things interesting.
Wine Specialist Heather Fleming, of Lees Market in Westport, MA, attests to a growing popularity of the semi-sparkling Vinho Verde. “Casal Garcia is a major brand,” Fleming mentions adding that “Pecorino [an Italian frizzante] is popular, too.” Fleming would know. Westport is in an area of the country that has the second largest population of Portuguese in the world, second only to Portugal. These people know their semi-sparkling.
In my conversation with her, Fleming referred to my line of questioning as “full bubble versus partial bubble.” I’m sure this is common wine parlance, but I hadn’t heard that reference before. It got me thinking about the texture instead of the visual of “sparkling.” Full bubble. Partial bubble. Game on, I say. Sometimes, texture trumps.
This year, cross the threshold of your local wine store with frizzante in mind for not just the holidays but those more frequent quotidian holidays called the weekend.