If the first thing that comes to mind when you think of sparkling red wine is a watery, cloying wine cooler, you're not alone. But it's time to reconsider. Sparkling reds are back, thanks to the latest high-quality bottles in a wide range of styles. And if you've had your umpteenth bottle of rosé this season, ruby-red bubbly offers a fun alternative to that, and to more predictable sparkling wines like Champagne and Prosecco. Here, six of the sparkling reds you should look out for, from three of the most popular versions in the U.S., to three rarer ones that are worth the hunt. Get to know sparkling red wines better, and you'll begin to understand why they're earning a reputation as “the wine world’s best-kept secret.”
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This sparkling red made from the Shiraz grape is traditional to Australia, where it's produced in the premium Shiraz-growing regions. But because sparkling Shiraz got itself a bad reputation in America a while back, much like Lambrusco (see below), the latest high-quality sparkling Shiraz bottles can sometimes be hard to find— but are definitely worth tracking down. The wine—which has notes of blackberry, pepper, blueberry, tobacco and licorice—pairs beautifully with everything from tangy barbecue to roast turkey and even breakfast (yes, breakfast!). An egg and smoked salmon open-faced sandwich, for example, makes an ideal match. Bottles to try: Hardys Sparkling Shiraz, average price: $24; Rockford Sparkling Black Shiraz, from Australia, average price: $87. The Scarlet Letter Shiraz, average price: $24.
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You’ve probably heard of Lambrusco, the most famous of the sparkling red wines. In the 1970s and ‘80s, Lambrusco was the biggest selling import wine in the United States, despite the fact that this was around the same time the wine had a reputation for being cheap and much too sweet. These days, Lambrusco producers in Italy are working hard to rid the wine of that image. Lambrusco comes in varying levels of dryness and sweetness, ranging from secco (bone-dry), to dolce (very sweet). Pair this highly acidic, berry-flavored sparkling red with rich foods like hard, salty cheeses, meaty pasta dishes and berry-stuffed pastries. As with most sparkling reds, Lambrusco should be enjoyed young and served chilled. Bottles to try: “Becco Rosso” Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetvo 2015, average price: $12.99; Pedere Cipolla Lambrusco dell’Emilia, average price: $15.99.
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In ancient Rome, it's said that Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony gave Cleopatra gourds of “vinum acquence”, an early forebearer of this sparkling red. The extremely sweet wine has an effervescence that's much softer and less pronounced than what you get in Champagne, with aromas of berries and some notes of rose petals. Best food pairings with Brachetto d’Acqui include fruit tarts, panna cotta and amaretto cookies; in other words, it makes a terrific dessert wine, with sweets or on its own. Pick up a bottle of this sparkling red online at Liquor Outlet Wine Cellars. Bottles to try: Castello Banfi Brachetto d’Acqui “Rosa Regale” 2010, average price: $15; Bricco Rioglio Brachetto d’Acqui 2008, average price: $22. Araldica Brachetto d'Acqui Spumante: $11.
Sangue di Giuda dell’Oltrepo Pavese
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This soda-like, deep ruby-red wine from the Southern Lombardy region of Italy is a blend of local grape varieties that are seldom seen, including the Croatina (“The Little Croatian Girl”) and Rava Uva (“Rare Grape”); it's also one of the rarer, harder-to-find sparkling reds. It has an aroma reminiscent of a spice cake, and you can often pick up a distinct cherry scent too. Since this sparkling red is pretty rare, we recommend buying it online from places like Wine-Searcher. Drink it with tomato-based dishes and spicy foods. Bottles to try: Bruno Verdi 2004) Sangue di Giude Paradiso Oltrepo Pavese, average price: $11.99; ‘Costarosa’ Sangue di Giuda dell’Oltrepo Pavese, average price: $16.
Photo courtesy of Take Me Wine.
Originating from the Lombardy region of northwestern Italy, this sparkling red was brought to the Americas in the 19th and 20th centuries by Italian immigrants; the grapes took root in California and Argentina. Widely grown, they're used primarily for blending with other varietals. Barbera Frizzante has notes of cherries and vanilla and tends to be very sweet, and you can find it easily on the virtual liquor store and alcohol-delivery app, Drizly or at Wine-Searcher. Pair this frizzante (Italian for sparkling) with mushrooms, herbaceous cheeses, root vegetables and braised greens. Bottles to try: Vino Rosso Piemonte Bava Barbera Doc Viva Frizzante, average price: $11; Braida La Monella Barbera del Monferrarato 2013, average price: $12.
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And now for the rarest of all the sparkling reds: Sekt, meaning simply “sparkling wine.” This one comes from Austria, where it's produced in abundance. Its flavor notes include black currants and plum, but the scent is distinctly spicy and almond-like. Pork dishes work very well with red Sekt, as does vegetable tempura or a fried white fish like tilapia. To find it, check out Alpine Wines or other online sources. Bottles to try: Szigeti Zweigelt Sekt Extra Dry 2011, average price: $16; Steininger Zweigelt Sekt 2007, average price: $31.99.
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