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!