If you’ve never sipped sparkling red wine before, you’re missing out.
“From luscious, sweet Lambrusco, dark fruit-driven Shiraz from down under, to bone-dry red sparklers from the Greek mountains, fizzy reds run the gamut from A to Z,” says Evan Turner, sommelier at Krasi Meze and Wine in Boston.
Like sparkling white wines, bubbly reds are the result of double fermenting still red wine, when carbon dioxide is added to create the stylistic fizz. There is no limit as to which red varieties can become sparklers; therefore, their qualities from aroma to palate are as varied as the grapes used to produce them. Even so, “the explosion of bubbles in the mouth and the creamy texture and finish of fine tannins changes the wine dramatically” from the first fermentation result, according to Mick Schroeter, head winemaker at Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards.
An Australian native who lives in California, Schroeter says that when he worked at Geyser Peak in Sonoma Valley, he produced a sparkling Shiraz that was only available at the tasting room. Sparkling red wine is extremely popular in his home country, he says, but for many of the guests he served in Sonoma, it was a foreign concept.
“My rough polling of customers showed 30% loved it, 20% hated it and the rest just didn’t know what the heck to make of it,” says Schroeter. “Very few sparkling reds are produced here in the U.S.”
Drinkers familiar with sparkling red wines often associate the style with sweet Lambruscos, says Julia Prestia, owner of Venturini Baldini in Reggio Emilia, Italy. That type of Lambrusco was the top-selling imported wine in the U.S. throughout the 1970s and ’80s. Prestia blames these lesser quality wines for tarnishing the reputation of Lambrusco, and thus, the reputation of sparkling wine as a whole.
Contemporary wine education and awareness, and general enthusiasm for sparkling reds, have created market opportunities for small producers to experiment with the style. Schroeter believes that these are typically small batches and kept for onsite tastings.
So, if you’re eager to explore the world of sparkling red wines, below are some of the most popular examples made worldwide.
Lambrusco originates from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region. The name encompasses both a family of grapes and the wine they produce. The resulting wines “can range from very dry to sweet, from fresh and crisp, to fruity and with spice notes, while also tannic,” says Prestia. It is one of the more recognizable sparkling wines in the U.S. Prestia recommends pairing dry Lambruscos with dishes that are popular in Emilia-Romagna, like lasagna, pasta Bolognese and pizza.
See recent reviews of recommended Lambruscos here.
Schroeter says that sparkling Shiraz has similar attributes to still wines made with the grape, including spice, pepper and ripe dark fruits like blueberries, blackberries and cherries. Schroeter explains that the wines need to have some amount of sweetness to balance the carbon dioxide and tannins because “if bone dry, would be unenjoyable.” He recommends pairing sparkling Shiraz with turkey, duck and other game meats.
See recent reviews of recommended Sparkling Shiraz here.
The Bugey appellation in eastern France has three subappellations, one of which is Cerdon. Here, Gamay and Poulsard grapes are used to make sparkling rosés. “Bugey-Cerdon is like a better version of a Kir Royale from long before they started bottling cocktails,” says Benjamin Oram, sommelier at Bar Enza in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Oram recommends pairing Bugey-Cerdon with soft cheeses like Camembert. “It acts as both the wine and the raspberries for your bread and cheese,” he says.
See recent reviews of recommended Bugey-Cerdon here.
Portuguese sparkling wine, called espumante, is produced throughout the country. One prominent red version, Baga Espumante, is made with the indigenous Baga grape grown on the country’s central coast. The dark-skinned grape is naturally high in acidity, which creates a tart sparkler with “fruit and power,” says Oram. Aside from pairing with local Bairrada specialties like suckling pig, Oram says it‘s a great Thanksgiving dinner wine, as Baga complements turkey and cranberry. Red bubbles from this area can also be labeled as Baga Bruto Espumante or as Baga blended with Touriga Nacional.
See recent reviews of recommended Tinto Espumante here.
About 200 miles west of the famed Lambrusco region of Emilia-Romagna lies Piedmont, which is home to the Brachetto grape. “You can’t help but smile after one whiff of all the roses and raspberries in a glass of Brachetto,” says Oram. On the palate, Brachetto is “pure and pretty,” Oram says, and alcohol by volume is lower than other sparkling wines, averaging 6.5% (versus Lambrusco, which averages 10%). Oram refers to it as “pure and pretty.” Try Brachetto with a hearty, spicy dish or a fruity dessert like strawberries and cream.
See recent reviews of recommended Brachetto d’Acqui here.
Native to Greece’s Thessaly region, Limniona grapes are used to make berry-forward red wines. The sparkling versions are “chock full of forest fruit and completely dry,” says Turner. The bubbles are sharp and cut through acidic dishes like tomato-based sauces or pungent braised lamb.
Last Updated: July 12, 2023