Posts tagged ‘franciacorta’

The Year’s Best Producers (Part One)

Ca' del Bosco

Ca’ del Bosco winery, Erbusco, Franciacorta (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


It’s time to reveal a partial list of some of the year’s best Italian producers in my opinion. In this post, I’ll include a mix of estates from various regions, producing an array of wines from sparkling to white to red. The complete list of the year’s best Italian producers and wines will be published in the Spring issue of my Guide to Italian Wines, which will be sent to paid subscribers at the end of March.

CA’ DEL BOSCO – This esteemed producer, under the guidance of Maurizio Zanella, has been among the very finest Franciacorta houses for many years. 2012 and early 2013 saw the release of the 2008 vintage-dated wines; the Satén is first-rate and among the most complex examples of this wine I have ever tasted. This past year also saw the second release of the Anna Maria Clementi Rosé – this from the 2004 vintage, which spent seven years on its yeasts! This is an explosive wine, one of the world’s greatest sparkling rosés. (US importer, Banville and Jones)

FERGHETTINA – Managed by the Gatti family, this is another accomplished Franciacorta producer. Their Extra Brut – 2006 is the current vintage – has become their most celebrated wine; a blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Nero that was aged for six years before release, is full-bodied and very dry with a long, flavorful finish and beautiful structure. As good or perhaps even better is their 2004 Pas Dosé (meaning no dosage) “Riserva 33″, so named as it is a blend of one-third of their Satén, one-third Milledi (a 100% Chardonnay sparkler from older vineyards) and one-third Extra Brut. This blend, aged for seven years on its yeasts, is a lovely wine of outstanding quality. In case you haven’t noticed, Franciacorta producers such as Ferghettina and Ca’ del Bosco – as well as several dozen others – have been refining their offerings each year, crafting products that are among the finest sparkling wines in the world. (US importer, Empson, USA)

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Elena Walch (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

ELENA WALCH – Actually, the way it’s been going as of late, I could name the Elena Walch estate in Tramin, Alto Adige as one of the best producers every year in Italy. This year saw the release of her 2011 estate whites and they are all lovely. Especially notable this year are the Sauvignon “Castel Ringberg” with its spot-on notes of spearmint, rosemary and basil; the Pinot Grigio “Castel Ringberg” with its luscious fresh apple and dried yellow flower notes and the Gewurztraminer “Kastelaz,” always one of the best of its type in Italy. (Various US importers)

VILLA RAIANO - This Campanian estate has reinvented itself over the past two years and the results are extremely impressive! The regular examples of Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino from 2011 are nicely balanced with notable varietal purity, while the selezioni versions of these wines are first-rate, especially the 2010 and 2011 “Contrada Marotta” Greco di Tufo, which is one of the top ten examples of this wine, in my opinion. The 2008 Taurasi, produced in a traditional manner to emphasize the gorgeous Aglianico fruit, is a 5-star (outstanding) wine! (US importer, Siena Imports)

Alessandro Castellani

Alessandro Castellani, Ca’ La Bionda (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

CA’ LA BIONDA- Quite simply, this is one of the premier producers in the Valpolicella district. The Castellani family crafts wines in a traditional manner  – maturing in large casks – that render wines that display the true anima of this territory – these are wines that offer a sense of place. Two outstanding releases over the past fifteen months are prime evidence of the greatness of this producer: the 2001 “Casal Vegri” Valpolicella Superiore and the 2005 Amarone Riserva “Ravazzol.” The latter is a sumptuous, remarkably elegant Amarone with tremendous finesse as well as impressive depth of fruit, while the former is a Valpolicella that was aged for 10 years before release; this wine shows the true potential of Valpolicella, a wine type that too often gets lost next to Amarone. Both wines are outstanding. (Various US Importers, including Connoisseur, Niles, IL)

February 7, 2013 at 9:35 am Leave a comment

Favorite Italian Wines of the Past Year

07At the end of one year or beginning of another, “best-of” lists are quite common; I’m no different, as I’ll include a few of these posts soon. But for today, I’d like to highlight a few of my favorite Italian wines I enjoyed during 2012. Some of these will be included in my year’s best list, but many will not. The difference between “best” and “favorite” is rather arbitrary to begin with anyways; quite often all of us get too caught up in the “best”, as we believe that having these wines will enhance our lives. Perhaps, but more often than not, my “favorite” wines are the ones that best fit the moment, whether it’s an ideal match with the meal I’m enjoying or simply a wine that delivers great character for the right amount of money.

Enough with the philosophizing, on to the list!

2011 Jankara Vermentino di Gallura – Vermentino is a successful white along the coast of Tuscany as well as in Liguria and Sardegna. This Jankara version is from the latter region and it’s a textbook example of what this variety is all about, with its expressive aromas of jasmine, grapefruit and green apple, excellent richness on the palate and vibrant acidity. This relatively new producer made a nice version of this wine from the 2010 vintage, but this 2011 is far superior! This has an especially lengthy finish and is ultra clean with excellent complexity; pair this with just about any type of shellfish. ($26)

Emanuele Rabotti

Emanuele Rabotti, Monte Rossa (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Monte Rossa Franciacorta Blanc de Blancs Brut “P.R.” - I tasted so many wonderful bottlings of Franciacorta during my visit to this district back in November, with many different styles from Extra Brut to Rosé. Here is one my my favorite Blanc de Blancs, a 100% Chardonnay with a very fine and persistent stream of bubbles along with beautiful melon, pear and acacia aromas and flavors. Medium-full with excellent persistence, this has good acidity, lovely varietal character and ideal balance. It’s also delicious, whether enjoyed on its own or with risotto or lighter seafood. Every cuvée from this first-rate producer is something special!

2011 Giovanni Manzone Dolcetto d’Alba “Le Cilegie” -This renowned producer from Monforte d’Alba crafts some pretty special examples of Barolo – his 2008 “Bricat” is outstanding – but he also puts a great deal of effort into his other, more “humble” wines such as this beautiful Dolcetto. This has classic aromas and flavors of red plum, boysenberry and black raspberry fruit along with a hint of lavender on the nose and it’s a juicy, fresh and absolutely delicious wine! Medium-bodied, this has moderate tannins, balanced acidity and it’s nicely balanced and above all, such a pleasure to drink. What a great partner for lighter pastas or a simply prepared roast chicken. If more people were not as serious about “great red wines” that can age for decades and more excited about a purely delicious wine such as this – one that’s a real crowd pleaser – Dolcetto would be one of the most popular wines – red or white – in this country.  ($25)

2008 Zyme Valpolicella Classico Superiore – Today in the Valpolicella district, Amarone has become so famous and so revered that Valpolicella has become somewhat of a forgotten wine. Thankfully, there are numerous producers who still produce an excellent example of Valpolicella; this version from Celestino Gaspari offers delightful bing cherry fruit along with hints of tar and cedar in the nose, while there are moderate tannins and very good acidity and overall balance. This is a medium-bodied red that’s so typical of what a well made Valpolicella should be – a wine to be enjoyed with lighter red meats or risotto or stews tonight or over the course of the next year or two.

January 10, 2013 at 2:05 pm 8 comments

Franciacorta Images

Post-Harvest images from Franciacorta

(all photos ©Tom Hyland)

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Pinot Nero leaves

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December 7, 2012 at 4:41 pm Leave a comment

Elegance and Value from Franciacorta

There’s a belief in some circles that the wines of Franciacorta are expensive. I’d like to introduce evidence to the contrary with the beautifully made, value-priced offerings from Ronco Calino.

Founded in 1996 by businessman Paolo Radici, Ronco Calino produces several style of Franciacorta, Italy’s most famous metodo classico sparkling wine. Recently, Michael Skurnkik Wines of Syosset, NY, one of America’s leading importers of Italian wines, started to sell these wines in the US; I tasted the three offerings they represent and was quite impressed.

The NV Brut is a blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Nero (note: these are two of the three varieties allowed in a Franciacorta sparkling wine, the other being Pinot Bianco). Aged for twenty-four months on its yeasts, this has a persistent perlage and aromas of Bosc pear, acacia blossoms and citrus fruit. Medium-bodied with good concentration, this has nice length in the mid-palate along with very good acidity and persistence. Nicely balanced, this is a clean, refreshing sparkling wine of very good complexity. This would be a nice aperitif or served as a starter for many meals; it’s wonderful with vegetable risotto. ($30)

Even better is the 2011 Brut Satèn, a sparkling wine of lovely finesse, which is quite appropriate given that the term Satèn means “satin” or “silky.” Regulations for a Satèn in Franciacorta allow only for white grapes; this is 100% Chardonnay, aged on its yeasts for 24 months. Light yellow with a creamy mousse, this offers lovely aromas of green tea, spearmint, lime and peony – how sensual! Medium-full, this has an elegant entry on the palate, very good acidity and notable persistence. This is a lovely Satèn with excellent varietal character and beautiful focus; this is quite flavorful and yet always manages to maintain a delicacy on the palate. Above all, this has impressive complexity, freshness and balance and is quite delicious. At $30, this is an excellent value and certainly the finest example of Satèn I have tasted at anywhere near this price. Enjoy this over the next two to three years; this is ideally paired with most seafood, especially tilapia, sole or sea bass.

Finally, the NV Rosé “Radijan” is, in my opinion, the best of these three sparkling wines from this classy producer. This is 100% Pinot Nero, something not seen very often, as many examples of Franciacorta Rosé have only 30% to 60% of this variety. Displaying a lovely bright copper color, the delicate aromas are quite pretty with notes of strawberry, pear and geranium. This also spent twenty-four months on its yeasts; medium-full, this has a delicate feel on the palate and in the finish. There is very good acidity, impressive persistence and excellent length in the finish; the complexity is first-rate, as is the varietal purity. Enjoy this over the next two to three years with duck breast, lighter poultry or pork. ($33)

I rate the NV Brut with a three-star (very good) rating, while both the Satèn and the Rosé are four-star (excellent) wines to my way of thinking. To have wines of this quality as well as complexity and overall harmony retailing for $30 and $33 a bottle? Well, certainly in this case, Franciacorta is not expensive. If you’ve been waiting to experience this celebrated sparkling wine, but never took the time to do so, here are three notable examples to get you started!

October 10, 2012 at 11:49 am 2 comments

Year’s Best from Italy – To Date

Come learn Italian wines by tasting some!

 Francesco Carfagna, Az. Agr. Altura, Isola del Giglio (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

As we turn the calendar from June to July, we come to the half way point of 2012. So I’d like to share a few thoughts on the best Italian wines I’ve tried this year, both from my three trips (Verona, Montalcino and Grosseto/Campania) as well as a few wines I’ve tried at home, while working on a special project. It’s been a great year so far with plenty of highlights!

Best Sparkling Bellussi DOCG Superiore di Valdobbiadene Prosecco Ferghettina Extra Brut 2005

The Bellussi Prosecco (green label) is everything I look for in a Prosecco: excellent freshness, very good acidity and a richness on the mid-palate. This has excellent complexity. The Ferghettina is a multi-layered Franciacorta with tantalizing notes of caramel and honey that you rarely find in this wine type. It is an outstanding sparkling wine.

Best Whites – Several examples from Campania

I tasted so many first-rate whites during my visit to Irpinia in May; this is a tribute to the work of the producers as well as the quality of the fruit. A few highlights include the 2009 Villa Diamante Fiano di Avellino; 2011 Donnachiara Fiano di Avellino2011 Mastroberardino Fiano di Avellino “Radici”2011 Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo “Cutizzi”; 2010 Pietracupa Greco di Tufo and the 2010 Vadiaperti Greco di Tufo “Tornante“. All of these wines show wonderful varietal purity, perfect balance and a vibrancy that keeps these wines fresh and gives them longevity. I’ve been a fan of Campanian whites – especially Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino – for many years and based upon the examples I’ve tasted over the past two or three years, I have to rank these whites as among the very best in all of Italy!

Wild papaveri amidst the vineyards in Montalcino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Best Reds – 2007 Brunello/ 2006 Brunello Riserva/ 2008 Barolo

So many great wines to choose from here; let’s start with the newly released examples of Brunello di Montalcino. Both 2007 and 2006 have been rated as 5-star (outstanding) vintages by the local consorzio with 2007 being more forward while 2006 is a more classic, tightly wound vintage that will need more time. I don’t have room to list all the great wines here, so a few highlights from the 2007 Brunello normale: Poggio di SottoLisiniFuligniSesta di Sopra and Sassodisole. For the 2006 Brunello riserva highlights include Biondi-SantiLe ChiuseIl Poggione “Vigna Paganelli”Tassi “Franci”Talenti and Citille di Sopra. As you can see from the photo above, Montalcino in May was the most beautiful viticultural area I have visited this year!

As for 2008 Barolos, this is shaping up to be a classic vintage, as temperatures that growing season were relatively normal, cooler than several recent years where conditions were quite warm. The 2008s have beautiful aromatics and acidity and display a sense of place in a far more direct way than the hotter vintages. I have only tasted about 20 examples so far, with several dozen to go, so my list is partial. But at this point, here are my favorite 2008 Barolos: Renato Ratti “Marcenasco”Mauro Sebaste “Prapo”Conterno-Fantino “Sori Ginestra”Marcarini “La Serra” and Einaudi “Costa Grimaldi.”

I also have to tell you about a fabulous red wine I tasted at a wine fair near Grosseto back in May. I met Franecsco Carfagna, who with his family, farm a few acres on the island of Giglio in the Tyrrenhian Sea. His winery is called Altura and his estate red is called Rosso Saverio; it is a blend of about 15-18 varieties, both red and white, some of them well-known, such as Sangiovese and Canaiolo, others rather rare, such as Empolo, Biancone Giallo and Pizzutello (!). The result is a totally original wine, one that has aromas like a white wine (yellow peaches) at first, but then quickly reveals more typical red wine aromas, such as strawberry, dried cherry and notes of milk chocolate. Medium-full, this has amazing complexity as well as a velvety feel on the palate. The current vintage is the 2010, which is drinking beautifully now and should be in fine shape for the next 3-5 years. This is not a powerhouse Italian red, but one that shows what a dedicated producer with a vision can do. As I taste so many wines in my trips to Italy, it takes something special to get me excited – well, this is the wine! (Note: this wine is imported in the US in limited quantities by Louis Dressner.)

Best Older White – 1994 Vadiaperti Fiano di Avellino

Not only did I taste so many wonderful new white wines from Irpinia, there were also a few beautiful older versions as well. None was more eye-opening than the 1994 Fiano di Avellino from Vadiaperti. Proprietor Raffaelle Troisi was kind enough to open this wine for my friend and I at his estate and I am forever grateful for that decision! Light yellow in color, this looked like it might be four or five years old, not eighteen. The aromas were lovely – Anjou pear, honey, mango and magnolia blossoms and the wine tasted as fresh as it smelled. The finish was quite long with impressive persistence and distinct minerality. What a gorgeous wine – one that shows how wonderfully Campanian white wines can age!

Best Older Reds – Several at the Frederick Wildman Italian Portfolio Tasting

National importer Frederick Wildman held a tasting of their Italian producers in several cities across the US back in May and made a stellar decision to have the producers pour an older wine. They made it clear that these wines were not available any more, but how nice is it that they took this approach so one could witness first hand how wines such as Amarone, Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo and other wines age. Also, isn’t it great to be able to try these older wines, especially with the producers present? There were several outstanding wines, my favorites being the 1985 Le Ragose Amarone ( a stunning wine), the 1974 Barolo  from Marchesi di Barol0 (a true classic) and the 2001 and 1995 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva from Le Chiuse (marvelous wines of grace, finesse and complexity – seamless wines that are perfectly balanced.) Thank you to these producers for showing these wines and thank you to the people at Frederick Wildman for offering this opportunity. Here’s hoping that more importers offer tastings such as this one!

July 2, 2012 at 11:36 am 6 comments

Bellavista – Top 100

Mattia Vezzola, enologist, Bellavista (Photo by Tom Hyland)

For every wine district in Italy, there are one or two estates that are looked upon as ambassadors for their particular territory. When it comes to Franciacorta in Lombardia, home to the country’s finest sparkling wines, Bellavista is regarded as a benchmark producer.

What’s remarkable about this estate founded in 1977 by Vittorio Moretti is the combination of exceedingly high quality and relatively large production; this is one of the top two Franciacorta estate in terms of bottles produced (and probably number one if you only count actual Franciacorta DOCG wine). And it’s not just a few wines either as there are several outstanding cuvées made at Bellavista.

The winery is also fortunate to have excellent vineyards to work with – some 470 acres within Franciacorta – and a winemaker, Mattia Vezzola, who knows how to achieve the finest results with the grapes from these sites. Vezzola has identified 107 crus among these vineyards and works with the wines from these specific sites, blending for many characteristics to achieve his final cuvée. His philosophy has always been one of elegance, and indeed the sparkling wines of Bellavista are generally not as austere as many from this area, but instead are rounder with an emphasis on bright fruit flavors.

The best known Bellavista cuvée is the NV Brut with the familiar dark green oval label. Generally 80% Chardonnay with the remaining 20% divided among Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco, this is medium-bodied, displaying wonderful freshness with pear, lemon and apple aromas and a lengthy, round finish with impressive persistence. This cuvée is a great introduction to the house style of Bellavista.

Then there are the various wines that make up the Gran Cuvée line; these are among the most refined of all bottlings from Franciacorta. The Rosé is quite rich with a deep color and very good ripeness – the 2006 is among the most complex of the Gran Cuvées I’ve had from Bellavista; it’s also one of the most powerful.

The Gran Cuvée Saten, 100% Chardonnay, is sourced from some of the finest hillside vineyards in the Erbusco area and it’s given barrel aging, which definitely adds some texture and smokiness to the wine. Yet the wood does not dominate, as the delicate nature of the pear and citrus fruit emerge beautifully. Vezzola describes this as his most “feminine” wine, one that is truly elegant and graceful. This wine incidentally is non-vintage, where the other Gran Cuvée offerings are vintage dated. I asked Vezzola why that was; his response was that as this was a “feminine” wine and as one does not ask a woman her age, he opted not to label the wine as vintage dated!

The Gran Cuvée Brut – 2005 is the current release – is a blend of 72% Chardonnay and 28% Pinot Nero; one-third of the wine is fermented in wood barrels and then matured for seven months in wood. This is a wine of intensity in the aromas –  lemon peel, quince and biscuit notes are joined by a light toastiness – yet a great deal of finesse in the finish. The bubbles are exceptionally fine and there is impressive concentration; enjoy this over the next 2-3 years.

The Gran Cuvée Pas Operé is the “masculine” counterpart to the more feminine Satén. A blend of 62% Chardonnay and 38% Pinot Noir from 20 plus year-old vines, most of this wine is barrel-fermented; total aging before release is six years at the cellars. This wine also receives no dosage, meaning it is quite dry; the outstanding balance being just one of its highlights. The aromas are striking – pippin apple, lime and yeast – while there is very impressive richness on the palate and a lengthy finish with excellent persistence. This is a lovely example of the best of Bellavista’s philosophy – one of great complexity and richness while having the balance of a tightrope walker. This is such a delicately styled wine, yet there is enough concentration and structure to have this wine (2005) drink well over the next 10-12 years. Truly splendid!

In rare years, Vezzola will produce the Riserva Vittorio Moretti, named for the owner. A blend of equal parts of Chardonnay and Pinot Nero, this is the ultimate in Franciacorta. Produced only six times to date: 1984, 1988, 1991, 1995, 2001 and 2002, the 2004 will be the seventh version of this wine. Generally released seven years after the vintage, there is a beautiful mousse with persistent, very fine bubbles and gorgeous aromas of lemon rind, dried pear, quince and a distinct yeastiness. Medium-full with an elegant entry on the palate and outstanding persistence, this has a lengthy, beautifully textured finish with the structure and concentration to drink well for 15-20 years. The 2002 I tasted a few years ago remains the finest single bottle of Franciacorta I have ever tasted! I told Vezzola that although I did not want to compare this to a Champagne (most winemakers in Franciacorta don’t like the comparison with Champagne, as they want their wines to stand on their own), it reminded me of Taittinger Comtes de Champagne. I must say, Mattia seemed quite pleased!

Finally, like most producers in Franciacorta, Bellavista also makes still wines under the Curtefranca designation. The best I’ve tried so far is the 2008 Convento dell’Annunciata, a 100% barrel-fermented Chardonnay from limestone soils that displays exotic green tea, pineapple, thyme and mint aromas and a robust finish with sour lemon acidity. This is quite expressive and very tasty and would make a fine partner for richly flavored seafood or poultry.

There are dozens of other excellent producers in Franciacorta that make some truly outstanding wines, but to date, I have discovered no firm that produces as many great wines as does Bellavista. Raise your glasses in a toast to continued success for Vittorio Moretti, Mattia Vezzola and the wines of Bellavista!

March 21, 2012 at 3:59 pm 2 comments

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