With David Falchek
Turn to Piedmont region’s fizzy brachetto for a Tasty, low-alcohol treat
Brachetto, a red grape from Italy’s Piedmont region, makes a middling red wine but really shines when it puts on some bubbles.
As a red wine with no bubbles (or a still wine), brachetto d’aqui isn’t bad. If you find one, it smells of roses and red fruit and has a nice flavor and texture. But it is simple, showing little in the way of tannins, structure or acids.
Italy — and the Piedmont — have plenty of great red wines at a variety of prices. Why bother to make a mediocre one?
It was someone’s genius, a generation ago, to make a low-alcohol brachetto and zap it with some carbonation. It sounds like a cheap route to get some attention, but the bubbles seemed to lift even more fruit and floral notes from the grape. Add a touch of sweetness and you can’t go wrong.
In Italy, the term “frizzante” means a drink has some bubbles but at a low-enough pressure to take just a standard cork or screw cap and bottle. A spumante has more pressure and bubbles and therefore comes with a cage cap and heavy glass, like a conventional sparkling wine, that pops when you open it. You see brachetto in both styles.
For a decadent pairing, go for a Gertrude Hawk black raspberry Smidgen and a sparkling brachetto. Fruit tarts or berry pastries make for good pairings as well. Sweet wines can take the place of dessert.
Banfi’s Rosa Regale brought a lot of attention to this style even though it fails to mention brachetto on the front label of its fluted bottle. Banfi probably doesn’t want fans to know they could go out and find similar styles of wine at a lower price. Still, Rosa Regale is a benchmark for sparkling brachetto. It jumps out of the glass with smells of roses and strawberries, and the flavor brings in some ripe berry and white pepper character. While it goes in with a strong suggestion of sweetness, Rosa Regale finishes clean and balanced, inviting the next sip and making it appealing to many dry-wine drinkers. $22. **** 1/2
For those who might enjoy an even sweeter version, Bersano Brachetto d’Aqui is ripe and sweet from beginning to end. With an almost imperceptible level of alcohol, it pours into the glass like bubbly grape juice. Even the foam is purple. The flavor is raspberry and strawberry with ripe, sweet flourishes all the way through. $14. *** 1/2
Fizz 56 Brachetto has ripe blackberry and cranberry with an edge of caramel. It’s a special-order wine in Pennsylvania, so you may see it in restaurants or in supermarkets. $14. ***1/2
Sparkling brachetto offers a tasty, low-alcohol treat, ideal for brunches or as a fun dessert in itself.
GRADE: Exceptional *****, Above average ****, Good ***, Below average **, Poor *.
David is the executive director of the American Wine Society and reviews wines each week.