'Less Fizz and a Whole lot of Character': An Introduction to Semi-Sparkling Wines | Wine Enthusiast
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‘Less Fizz and a Whole lot of Character’: An Introduction to Semi-Sparkling Wines

Semi-sparkling wines have less fizz and a whole lot of character, so if you’re someone who cranks your SodaStream up to its highest setting, you may question the appeal of a sparkling wine with less effervescence.

But this style of wine can deliver a food-friendly balance of bubbles and flavor. And if you’ve ever enjoyed a bottle labeled “frizzante,” “pétillant,” “spritzig” or “perlant,” you’ve already experienced it.

What does semi-sparkling mean?

The pressure inside a wine bottle is measured in bars or units of atmosphere.

“The biggest difference between [sparkling and semi-sparkling] is the level of effervescence produced in each bottle,” says Settimo Pizzolato, winemaker for Cantina Pizzolato in Villorba, Italy. “Technically speaking, spumante wines are fully sparkling wines with over three bars of pressure, while frizzante wines are semi-sparkling wines with between one and two- and-a-half bars of pressure.”

Many semi-sparkling wines go through secondary fermentation, but some, like pétillant naturel wines, don’t. According to Guy Pacurar, owner of Fathers + Daughters Cellars in California, “the bubbles result from capturing the final portion of the primary fermentation under pressure and as a result, the bubbles stay in the wine.”

Which wines are semi-sparkling?

“Many Prosecco wines would even fall into this category without actually printing it on the label,” says Kaitlyn Harrah, wine director of Fia Restaurant in Santa Monica, California. She says some Moscato d’Asti can also be frizzante.

According to Tomasso Chiarli, export manager of Cleto Chiarli in Emilia-Romagna, many Lambruscos also make the cut. They’re joined by a lot of sparkling rosés from California, many bubbly Rieslings from the Finger Lakes, Paleokerisio skin-contact wine from Greece and Perlwein from Germany. Some bottles have the pressure listed on the label, making it easy to tell.

Do they taste different?

Semi-sparkling wines offer a different flavor experience than their fully sparkling cohorts. Some experts also believe that the less intense fizz makes them better suited to food pairings.

“Fully sparkling wines tend to mute the varietal characteristics of their component grapes,” says Jim Laughren, author of 50 Ways to Love Wine More (Crosstown Publishing, 2018). “Instead of brioche, toast and [lees] as the dominating flavors, frizzantes tend to showcase the actual grapes from which they are made, and not the technique for making them. Because frizzantes put the grapes front and center, they can be a superior pairing with foods. They don’t elbow the food aside to gain the dominant position.”