Posts tagged ‘italian sparkling wine’
Camilla Lunelli, Ferrari (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
My most recent trip to Italy was a wild ride – six regions in 18 days, most of it during the beginning of harvest in several wine zones. From Campania in the south to Marche and then Umbria in the middle and then Piemonte, Alto Adige, Trentino and Veneto in the north, I enjoyed numerous excellent meals and dozens of first-rate wines, so let’s get right to them.
In case you aren’t that familiar, there are some excellent, even outstanding sparkling wines made in northern Italy. Of course, Franciacorta has been one of the reference points for Italian sparkling wine the past four decades and the wines as a whole have improved dramatically over the past five to ten years. I didn’t get to visit this area during this trip, but I did enjoy the Bellavista Satèn Gran Cuvée a 100% Chardonnay that is one of the finest of this type (Satèn is under less pressure than other examples of Franciacorta; the name refers to “satin” or “silky” for its ultra smooth finish) I have ever tasted. Quite rich with delicious fresh pear and green apple flavors, this is rich with marvelous complexity and a great example of finesse in a sparkling wine.
Another area that has come on in recent years for its sparkling wines is the Alta Langa district of Piemonte; as the name suggests, the vineyards are planted at high (alta) elevations to ensure good acidity and structure. While this is a category that is small (less than 20 producers) and while the consistency is not quite where it should be, there have been some excellent examples, none more so than the Enrico Serafino “Zero” 2006. A blend of 85% Pinot Nero and 15% Chardonnay, this is a metodo classico product (as with Franciacorta) that is ultra smooth and irresistibly delicious. The Zero designation refers to the dosage, so this is quite dry, yet it is not austere, as the acidity is nicely balanced without being exceedingly high. The wine spent more than five years on its yeasts, rendering a product of marvelous complexity; there is a light yeastiness in the aromas and the perlage is very persistent. This is a beautifully balanced wine, one that is just a pleasure to drink with a large variety of foods, from lighter seafoods to veal or poultry.
Roberta and Antonio Stelzer, Maso Martis (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
If there is an area that challenges (and perhaps surpasses) Franciacorta for the quality of its metodo classico wines, it is Trento DOC, situated in and around the town of Trento in Trentino-Alto Adige. Generally speaking, this is a cooler area than Franciacorta, so the wines as a rule have excellent acidity and notable structure.
One of the very best producers here is Maso Martis; the proprietors are Roberta and Antonio Stelzer, a truly lovely and gracious couple. These are wines of great precision, ones where structure means almost everything to the wine; there is plenty of fruit, but ripeness does not come as the cost of overall balance. Every wine I tasted here during my visit was excellent; if I have to select one it would be the Brut Riserva Millesimato 2007. A blend of 70% Pinot Nero and 30% Chardonnay, the wine spent between 52-60 months on the lees and was aged in 2nd and 3rd passage barriques. Offering very good to excellent concentration, with expressive aromas of dried pear, yeast and dried yellow flowers, this is a rich, very dry sparkling wine with excellent persistence and beautiful purity. It is an absolute must for food, be it raw fish or roast pork. This will improve with some time; my estimate is that will show its best in 5-7 years. (A big thank you to my friend Aurora Endrici, a local publicist and journalist, for introducing me to this couple and their remarkable wines.)
Of course, the most famous producer of Trento DOC is the great firm of Ferrari, owned by the Lunelli family. I was able to meet with the three siblings who are most responsible for the current production: Camilla along with her brothers, Alessandro and Matteo, who also serves as winemaker. There has been so much written about this house and the quality of its wines; there is little I can add, except that this family is remarkably generous with their time, as they are very interested in one’s opinion. They also take their responsibility as ambassadors for their wines and those of Trento DOC very seriously; this is a company that is run with great professionalism.
It’s a difficult challenge to select only one wine from Ferrari as my favorite (but I’m up to the task!). I tried eight different cuvées, ranging from the delicious 2007 Perlé Rosé to the 2001 Riserva Giulio Ferrari, a wine that is truly exceptional in its breeding, complexity and finesse. However, my choice (at least for this trip) is the Perlé Nero 2006, a 100% Pinot Nero that was aged for six years on the yeasts. If the Riserva Giulio Ferrari is the most sublime of all the Ferrari wines, the Perlé Nero is the most powerful. Deep yellow with a very fine perlage, this displays explosive aromas of coffee, dried lemon peel and hyacinth (very distinctive!) and is full-bodied with excellent depth of fruit. There is vibrant acidity, outstanding persistence and notable complexity. This is a bambino, as they say in Italy, as the wine is in its infancy; this will will improve for quite some time, at least seven to ten years. This is so wonderful by itself, but it is an absolute brilliant match for roast veal or lamb. (I noted that this is the cuvée from Ferrari that most resembles Champagne in its power and yeastiness, yet I don’t want to give the impression that the other wines from the producer are not of the quality of Champagne, as they certainly are; they are merely a more subdued, fruit-driven style that has elevated this house to the top of the sparkling wine pyramid in Italy).
My final thought on this Perlé Nero 2006 is simply this; it is among the four or five best Italian sparkling wines I have tasted in the last five years.
My next post will feature many of the finest whites wines – most of them being from the outstanding 2012 vintage – I tasted during my trip in September.
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:
- Fratelli Berlucchi
- Guido Berlucchi
- Ca’ del Bosco
- Contadi Castaldi
- Enrico Gatti
- Il Mosnel
- La Montina
- Le Marchesine
- Monte Rossa
- Ricci Curbastro
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.