Posts tagged ‘franciacorta’

Best Italian Sparkling and Dessert Wines of the Year

Here is part two of my lists of the Best Italian Wines of 2011. My last post dealt with white wines and my next few will be about the red wines (I’ll need more than one post for that). This post will focus on the finest sparkling and dessert wines from last year.

Please note that this is a partial list – there are other wines that made the list (see end of post for more information).

2005 Bellavista Gran Cuvée “Pas Opere” (DOCG Franciacorta)- Bellavista is one of the largest houses in Franciacorta and has been among the very best for more than three decades. Their line of Gran Cuvée wines are selections of the best grapes from older vineyards, most of them planted more than 25 years ago. The Pas Operé is a blend of 62% Chardonnay and 38% Pinot Nero, the majority of which is fermented in oak barrels. The wine spends some six years on its own yeasts before release and the finished product is amazingly powerful, yet graceful and elegant, displaying aromas of  lime, yeast and red apple with a pale mousse and persistent stream of fine bubbles. The finish is quite long and round with hints of citrus fruits. Drink now or over the next 5-7 years. Suggested retail price: $80

2007 Le Marchesine Franciacorta Rosé (DOCG Franciacorta) - Quality is extremely high at this medium-sized Franciacorta estate, managed by the Biatta family. Their Secolo Nuovo (“new century”) lines represent their finest; this past year however, I was very impressed with their 2005 Rosé Brut Millesimato. A blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Nero, this wine spent three years on its yeasts before bottling. The color is deep copper/light strawberry with aromas of cherry and currant. Quite rich on the palate, this has excellent persistence and very high acidity – the style of this wine is quite austere. This will drink beautifully for the next 3-5 years and perhaps longer. This is among the three of four best examples of Franciacorta Rosé I have had enjoyed! (Not imported in the United States at the present time.)

2003 Ca’del Bosco “Cuvée Annamaria Clementi” (DOCG Franciacorta) - This wine, named for the mother of Ca’ del Bosco owner Maurizio Zanella, is one of the benchmarks of Franciacorta. This is a blend of 55% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Bianco and 20% Pinot Nero; the grapes were sourced from 16 different vineyards, with an average age of 39 years. One of the secrets to complexity in a Franciacorta (or any great sparkling wine) is the length of time the wine spends on its own yeasts; for many of the best cuvées in Franciacorta, that time is as long as 50-60 months. However for this wine, that period was 78 months, a full six and one-half years! Full-bodied, with aromas of dried pear, peach and yellow flowers, this has explosive fruit and a long, well-structured finish. This should drink well for another 5-7 years, at least. $75

2001 Ferrari “Riserva del Fondatore Giulio Ferrari” (DOC Trento) - Those who point to the Trento zone as being the home of Italy’s finest bubblies use this wine as evidence. Ferrari has been one of the quintessential sparkling producers – using the metodo classico (classical method) – since the first decade of the 20th century. The Giulio Ferrari bottling is 100% Chardonnay, with the grapes coming from vineyards some 1650 to 2000 feet above sea level. The wine spends 10 years(!) on its own yeasts (specially cultivated from Ferrari’s own cultures); the result is sublime. The aromas are intense, offering notes of honey, dried pear, caramel and vanilla and the wine has a generous mid-palate and a long, beautifully structured finish with vibrant acidity. The bubbles are very small and there is outstanding persistence. I would expect this wine to drink well for at least ten years. Amazing complexity and class! $90

2006 Brigaldara Recioto della Valpolicella (DOC)- While Amarone is quite popular around the world today, Recioto is not. This is more than a bit ironic, as Amarone is a fairly recent innovation, first made in the 1950s, while Recioto is the wine that has been made in cellars in the Valpolicella zone for over a thousand years. Both wines are produced according to the appassimento method, in which the grapes are dried on mats or in plastic boxes for several months. Amarone is of course, fermented dry, while Recioto finishes fermentation with some residual sugar, so given the difficulty in selling dessert wines these days, it is not a surprise that Recioto is not that much in demand. However, a great example, such as the current release from Brigaldara, should convert many wine lovers. Deep purple with tantalizing aromas of black raspberry and black plum, the wine is quite rich with only moderate sweetness, as there is good balancing acidity. This is a great example of how elegant Recioto della Valpolicella can be. Absolutely delicious now, this will drink well over the next 5-7 years. $30 per 375 ml bottle

2009 Coffele Recioto di Soave “Le Sponde” (DOCG) - Recioto di Soave is a remarkable dessert wine, produced from Garganega grapes that are dried naturally on mats – or hung on hooks – in special temperature and humidity controlled rooms. Coffele produces one of the finest examples; with an amber golden color and lovely aromas of apricot, golden raisins, honey and pear, this is a wine with heavenly perfumes; it is also a delight to taste with its lush fruit and a light nuttiness in the finish. Medium sweet, this has very good acidity to balance the wine so it is not overly sweet. Enjoy this over the next 5-7 years. $25 per 375 ml

2007 Pieropan Recioto di Soave “Le Colombare”(DOCG) - Leonildo Pieropan has been considered one of the benchmark producers of Soave Classico for more than thirty years. His cru bottlings are superb examples of how complex and ageworthy Soave can be, while his Recioto di Soave is among the finest each year. There are excellent examples of Recioto di Soave in many styles; while some are quite lush and sweet, the Pieropan bottling is subdued with only a trace of sweetness. Light amber gold, the sensual aromas are of apricot, lemon oil, mango and almond while the finish is quite long with lively acidity. Offering beautiful complexity and balance, this wine oozes class and breeding! Enjoy over the next 7-10 years. $50 per 500 ml

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This is a partial list of the best Italian sparkling and dessert wines of the year. The complete list will be in the Spring issue of my Guide to Italian Wines, which will be sent to paid subscribers. If you are interested in subscribing to my publication – currently in its 11th year – email me at thomas2022@comcast.net.

January 13, 2012 at 12:54 pm 4 comments

Franciacorta

Vineyards of Le Marchesine, Passirano, Franciacorta

You may not realize it, but sparkling wine is produced throughout Italy, from many different varieties. From Campania to Piemonte, from varieties such as Falanghina and Aspirinio to even Nebbiolo, there is a wide variety of bubblies that can be found in various locales in the country. But for world-class quality, there is no question as to which Italian sparkling wine is the finest – the answer is Franciacorta.

What makes Franciacorta so special is the fact that this is a sparkling wine made in the classic method – as in Champagne – where the secondary fermentation is made in the bottle and not in a tank, as with sparklers made according to the Charmat process. Franciacorta can be produced from three varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) and Pinot Bianco and is it made in many different versions, be it a traditional Brut or a Rosé (minimum 25% Pinot Nero for a Rosé, though most bottlings have a much higher percentage of this variety) to Satén (literally “satin”), a wine produced solely from white grapes. If a Franciacorta bears a vintage on the label, it is known as a Millesimato. Franciacorta was awarded DOC status in 1967 and the DOCG designation in 1995.

The Franciacorta production zone is in the province of Lombardia in northern Italy with vineyards located south of Lago d’Iseo. The plantings are on low-lying hills and are primarily in modern planting systems such as cordon spur or Guyot, the ancient overhead system of pergola, though still present in small numbers, is disappearing.

Franciacorta, by the way, refers to three things: it is the name of the growing area, the name of the production process and the name of the wine. There are only ten such wines in all of Europe and only three of them are sparkling wines made by refermentation in the bottle: Cava from Spain, Champagne and Franciacorta.

As for the production method, there are strict regulations, as the minimum aging on the yeasts in the bottle is 18 months (most special bottlings are aged for a much longer time) and as stated before, secondary fermentation must take place in the bottle. The long aging on the yeasts certainly increases complexity and adds a note of minerality that is found in most examples.

Matteo Vezzola, winemaker, Bellavista (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Here is a short list of the finest producers of Franciacorta:

Bellavista

Ca’ del Bosco

Le Marchesine

Monte Rossa

Ricci Curbastro

Ferghettina

Enrico Gatti

San Cristoforo

Le Cantorié

Vezzoli

Guido Berlucchi

Il Mosnel

Camossi

Andrea Arici

As with most sparkling wines, the products are best enjoyed within 2-3 years of disgorgement. Some of the finest bottlings, made from vines with as much as 40 years of age as well as those aged longer on their yeasts, can be enjoyed for 5-7 years after disgorgement and perhaps even as long as a decade. Even the most straightforward examples of Franciacorta have lovely natural acidity and some examples are extremely high in acidity, with the result being wines that edge toward being a bit austere in the mouth.

Given the production methods as well as the overall quality of these wines, there is the inevitable comparison with Champagne. Yet many producers shy away from this assessment. At a recent seminar I moderated in Chicago, Andrea Biatta of Le Marchesine stated, “We are not trying to make Champagne, we are making Franciacorta.” When I asked him about the comparison of the two sparkling wine types, he seemed as he wanted no part in making such an evaluation.

I can understand that, but when I taste a product such as the Le Marchesine Rosé Millesimato, the Pas Dosé (no dosage) from Bellavista, the Cuvée Annamaria Clementi from Ca’ del Bosco or the 2008 Zerodosaggio from Andrea Arici, I can’t help but think of Champagne, both in terms of quality and style.

However you view this, you can’t help but admire the work these producers have done in making Franciacorta one of the world’s great sparkling wines in a period of less than half a century.

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On a separate note, I reached a bit of a milestone recently, as there were more than 5000 hits for this blog in October, making this the first time that has happened. I want to thank everyone that stopped by to take a look and read what I wrote – it is greatly appreciated!

Now I’d like to ask all of you for a comment now and then, as I’m interested to read what people think. It doesn’t have to be anything profound, as a simple, “nice post” or “enjoyed it” will suffice. You’ll make a middle-aged wine writer happy and you know what? You’ll feel better about yourself after leaving a brief comment. Try it and you’ll see what I mean!

November 1, 2011 at 11:24 am 13 comments

Doing it Their Own Way

Fiano Vineyard of Mastroberardino, Santo Stefano del Sole (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Looking back on the first six months of the year, I am reminded of the wonderful Italian wines I’ve tasted in 2010. Perusing the lists of these bottlings, I’m once again reminded of the amazing variety of Italian wines – be they white, red, sparking, rosé or sweet. These wines are from the breadth and width of the country, from Piemonte to Sicily and they run the gamut of price ranges. Most of them, of course, are from indigenous varieties, which combined with their excellence, also give them a singularity.

This is nothing new, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the identity of Italian wines as well the the quality. I’ve made 4 trips to Italy this year and a total of 45 trips in all (maybe I should just move there?), so I’ve been able to gain remarkable insight into the Italian wine industry. At its best and most honest, it’s about making wines that represent one’s land and one’s heritage. Yes, some Italian wines of today are international in style, but most of the finest wines of today are based upon terroir and communicate a sense of place. Personal preference is one thing, but there’s no disputing heart, passion and honesty.

Montalcino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I’ve just published the Summer issue of my Guide to Italian Wines and it’s evidence to what I mean about Italian wines. In this 46-page issue, I have conentrated on several wine types and regions including:

  • 2009 Whites from Friuli
  • 2009 Whites from Campania (an excellent vintage in both regions- these wines have fine backbone along with impressive concentration)
  • 2005 Brunello di Montalcino – an overlooked vintage, especially after 2004, but one that offers elegance and very good typicity.
  • The beautiful sparkling wines of Franciacorta – especially those from Bellavista – what a remarkable lineup of wines!
  • The sumptuous 2007 reds from Bolgheri – these are not produced from indigenous varieties, but are often gorgeous wines; 2007 represents some of the finest reds from Bolgheri to date.

These are the highlights of this issue. I’ve been writing my Guide to Italian Wines for eight years now and this was one of the most notable collection of wines I’ve reviewed during that time.

The Guide is available on a subscription basis of $30 per year (four issues), but if you would like to purchase this Summer issue only, the price is a mere $10. I don’t think you’ll spend your $10 more wisely when it comes to learning about Italian wines.

To find out how to purchase, email me at thomas2022@comcast.net

July 13, 2010 at 11:10 am Leave a comment

Franciacorta

You might be surprised to learn how much Italians love sparkling wine. Italy is one of the biggest export markets for Champagne and throughout the country, local producers make unique sparkling wines, from Erbaluce di Caluso in Piemonte to Aspirinio di Aversa in Campania; I’ve even tasted a bollicine from Toscana. Then of course, there are the wildly popular sparkling wines from Asti and Prosecco.

So it should come as no surprise that there is an area where local vintners have decided to focus on producing the finest sparkling wines, using the best varieties and sparing no cost with production methods. This sparkling wine is Franciacorta.

The Franciacorta zone is comprised of nineteen communes in the province of Brescia in eastern central Lombardia. Viticulture among the gentle rolling hills of this area date back more than five hundred years, but it was not until the 1960s that local producers transformed Franciacorta into an important territory for sparkling wines. Awarded DOC recognition in 1967, Franciacorta was elevated to DOCG status in 1995. Today there are over 75 producers of Franciacorta, ranging in size from small (100,000 bottles per year) to large (about one million bottles per year).

Only three varieties are allowed in the production of Franciacorta: Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay for white and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) for red. Aging is for several years and the final product cannot be released until 25 months after the vintage of the youngest wine in the cuvée (as with Champagne, the most common bottlings of Franciacorta are non-vintage – or multi-vintage, if you will – Brut.) While most producers age their wines solely in stainless steel, there are a few notable producers such as Bellavista and Enrico Gatti that age at least part of their cuvées in oak barrels.

Along with non-vintage Brut, there are bottlings of Rosé, which must contain a minimum of 15% Pinot Nero, although the finest examples are produced with 50% to 75% of this variety. There is also a type of Franciacorta known as Satèn that can be produced from only white varieties (originally Satèn was 100% Chardonnay, but today, Pinot Bianco is allowed in the cuvée; a few producers such as Bellavista with their Gran Cuvée Satèn still use only Chardonnay for this type of wine.) Also as with Champagne, there are special cuvées that represent the finest sparkling wine a producer can craft. Made from the best vineyards and aged longer on their own yeasts, these bottlings are released later then the regular Brut and other cuvées and can generally age longer than those wines. A few examples include the “Annamaria Clementi” from Ca’ del Bosco, the “Gran Cuvée Pas Operé” from Bellavista and the “Brut Cabochon” from Monte Rossa.

Among the finest producers of Franciacorta are:

  • Bellavista
  • Fratelli Berlucchi
  • Guido Berlucchi
  • Ca’ del Bosco
  • Contadi Castaldi
  • Ferghettina
  • Enrico Gatti
  • Il  Mosnel
  • La Montina
  • Lantieri
  • Le Marchesine
  • Mirabella
  • Monte Rossa
  • Quadra
  • Ricci Curbastro
  • Uberti

Perhaps the most important thing that should be noted about Franciacorta is the outstanding quality. The wines are made according to the classic (or Champagne) method, where the wines are aged on their own yeasts in the bottle before being disgorged after a lengthy aging period. This is a costly and time-consuming method, but it is a vital step in assuring complexity and quality. Clearly, the finest examples of Franciacorta can stand alongside the most famous bottlings of Champagne in terms of excellence.

One final note: Many producers of Franciacorta also make red and white table wines, produced from a number of varieties, including Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, Barbera and Cabernet Franc. These still wines are labeled with the Curtefranca designation.

December 14, 2009 at 1:50 pm 1 comment

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