It used to be that you couldn’t go into a liquor store without seeing at least a few bottles of Asti Spumante, but any more it is nearly impossible to find. These days if you are looking for an Italian sparkling wine chances are you will end up with a Prosecco, or perhaps a Franciacorta, but try as you might you’ll be hard pressed to find an Asti Spumante. You may see Moscato d’Asti, Barbera d’Asti, or even just Asti, but whatever happened to Spumante?
Well, there is still sparkling wine coming from the Asti region of Italy, but these days you will predominateyl find Asti and Moscato d’Asti. The term ’spumante’ means foaming in Italian, and refers to wines that are fully sparkling, rather than the ‘frizzante’ wines, which are only lightly carbonated. Wines labeled simply ‘Asti’ are today’s equivalent of the Asti Spumante that you used to see on the shelves, fully carbonated sparkling wines made from the Moscato grape. The wines labeled as ‘Moscato d’Asti’ are lightly sparkling wines, or frizzante, and are also made from the Moscato grape. Moscato d’Asti wines tend to be lower in alcohol and slightly sweeter than Asti.
As of 1995 the sparkling, or spumante, wines of Asti were elevated to the highest quality ranking of Italian wines, the DOCG. Once the wines received this acclaim, many producers dropped the term spumante from the label, because of the long standing associations with inexpensive sparkling wine (i.e. Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante). These days you rarely see a wine labeled Asti Spumante, however there has recently been an increase in wines simply labeled as Spumante.
Taking advantage of the hole in the market left by the winemakers of Asti when they dropped their Spumante, many producers are making ‘Spumante’ wines that they are simply labeling as Spumante. Usually these white wines are anywhere from lightly to fully sparkling, fairly low in alcohol (8-11%), and not necessarily of the highest quality. While fine for a toast at a large party, the sparkling sweet wines labeled Spumante aren’t the sort of wines you need to contemplate. Simple and straightforward, Spumante is one sparkler that doesn’t deliver. For my money, there are many more bubblies out there that are comparably priced, but much more bang for the proverbial buck!