Posts tagged ‘gran cuvée pas operé’

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

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


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

January 13, 2012 at 12:54 pm 4 comments

tom hyland

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