Posts tagged ‘saten’

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

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

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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