Posts Tagged ‘Franciacorta’
Gussalli Beretta, based in the northern Italian city of Brescia, is a name much better known to collectors of high quality firearms than to wine lovers. But that may be about to change. Under the name of Gussalli Beretta family wineries and distributed in the UK by Antonio Tomassini from Wine and Food Promotions, they have created a portfolio of wines from very different estates and parts of Italy. Nearest to the Brescia home and an hour east of Milan is Lo Sparviero, a 30 hectare Franciacorta estate making both excellent, bottle-fermented, sparkling wine, white and rosé, and a still white and a red. Of these four, the vintage 2007 Franciacorta sparkling wine stood out for its combination of subtle yeastiness, characteristic ripe red apple fruit and fine savoury notes. The still Chardonnay is quite classy but is up against so much competition in the crowded UK market; more distinctive for its pale ruby colour and well profiled fruit is the Cabernet/Merlot blend, Il Cacciatore 2009.
The company’s Tuscan property is altogether more ambitious in its scale. It was bought in 2003 on a prime site in Chianti Classico between the wine town of Radda and the local landmark, the Castello di Volpaia. In this sensitive landscape they have cleverly inserted a handsome new winery to process the 45 hectares of vines on the property. Both Chianti Classico lines are worth trying – the easier drinking Poggio Selvale (90% Sangiovese, 5% each of Canaiolo and Merlot) and the wonderfully austere, 100% Sangiovese, Castello di Radda, both available in standard and riserva qualities.
The third estate offers the most diverse range and perhaps the biggest area for exploration for UK drinkers of Italian wines. Aside from a couple of big names known to wine buffs, Abruzzo is chiefly known for its excellent value Montepulciano which is a staple of the UK supermarket trade – deep ruby in colour, simple plum fruit, an inexpensive ‘pizza’ wine. But there is much more to Abruzzo’s offering than this. First there are white wines of real character from the Trebbiano d’Abruzzo variety. This has the misfortune to have the same first name as the seriously dull and commoner Trebbiano Toscano and may (or may not) be the same as Puglia’s Bombino Bianco – see Robinson el al, Wine Grapes, 2012 for the inconclusive state of play. Gussalli Beretta have bought the wine estate of the aristocratic family Orlandi Contucci Ponno. If a family has three surnames in Italian they will usually have family silver! Their Trebbiano, Colle della Corte, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC, 2011 has marked complexity on the nose and intense lemon, apple and mineral notes on the palate. Secondly, there is substantial rosé from Abruzzo, or to give it its proper name, Cerasuolo, the deep pink wines of Italy. Vermiglio (ie the colour vermillion), Montepulciano Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC, 2011 is great ambassador of its style. It is made from the free run juice of the deeply coloured Montepulciano grapes. It retains the freshness of a white wine but with the fuller body of a red. Fully dry, it makes a great food wine for the fish and crustaceans of the nearby Adriatic coast.
This estate has a large number of bottlings (Abruzzan Sauvignon Blanc anyone?) but we keep the best to last which showcases the third great feature of Abruzzan wine: full-on, top quality red wines from the local Montepulciano d’Abruzzo variety. Orlandi Contucci Ponno’s example is from Abruzzo’s one DOCG: La Regia Specula, Colline Teramane DOCG, 2006. Far from being a simple red wine, this is made from the best fruit from the vineyard which bears the name of an old observatory. It is aged in a mixture of medium-sized, 20 hectolitre, barrels and stainless steel. The best Montepulciano grapes do not need a lot of oak. It is released after two years but really needs time, and plenty of it, in the bottle. Deep in colour with just ten days of maceration on the skins, the nose and palate show intense plum and prune fruit with herb and vegetal overtones, vibrant acidity and a good tannic structure well hidden by the fruit. An outstanding wine and one that would repay ageing.
All in all, the Gussalli Beretta wines are welcome additions to the Italian wines available in the UK. They would fit naturally on the shelves of independent wine merchants or on restaurant wine lists. Closer to home, I would very happily have them in my cellar or on my table.
Andover Wine Friends’ March tasting was designed to have some fun while tasting a range of sparkling wines blind. It certainly achieved the first aim. The blind tasting part showed some the difficulties of this game all too clearly:
1. Sparkling pink wines don’t give a lot away. Apart from an occasional difference in colour – like the Saumur rosé and the New Zealand copper tinged wine in the picture on the left – even markedly different grape varieties are difficult to detect blind when made as pale rosé. This is because the wines have very little time on the skins and intentionally pick up little varietal difference. Only one person correctly allocated the wines to the Loire, Spain and New Zealand and he has more years in the wine trade than he might like to admit to! The wines were:
Selección Especial, Cava, Rosé Brut, Marques de Monistrol, 11.5%, Monastrell, Pinot Noir – neutral red fruit and apricot, short on the palate
Saumur Brut Rosé, Gratien & Meyer, 12%, made from Cabernet Franc and a small amount of Grolleau – some indeterminate perfume and almond notes, slightly off dry, the most acidic of the three, rather more refined than number 1
Sparkling Cuvée Rosé, Oyster Bay, New Zealand, 12% – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – easy drinking stone fruit, lower acidity, some sweetness of finish, rather lacked character for a wine that was £5 more than the preceding two
2. Guess the grape variety, guess the country. Again, despite being 100% varietals, this was a surprisingly challenging. Certainly the old rule of thumb, ‘Chardonnay for finesse, Pinot Noir for structure’ did not really help, even though these were the grape varieties. But what applies in Champagne may not apply in the same way in a rather warmer climate, in this case, Northern Italy. And certainly the Pinot Noir did not have a hint of pinkness about it:
Blanc de Noir, Extra Brut, Puiatti, Friuli, Italy – a real rarity this with the bottle stating that this is from the only winery making bottle-fermented sparkling wine in Friuli, the extreme north eastern corner of Italy, famous for its white wines. 100% Pinot Noir – fine subtle fruit, marked yeasty notes and a touch of something savoury. Unusual and worthwhile.
Brut 25, Franciacorta DOCG, Berlucchi – a striking autolytic notes on nose (but then the 25 in the name refers to the number of months the wine has spent with the yeast in the bottle), modest if elegant fruit, a lower acidity and fully flavoured. Next month Janet and I are visiting Franciacorta, the Italian stronghold for bottle fermented wines, east of Milan, so this was by way of homework!
3. Guess the quality level (for example, non vintage, vintage or special cuvée) and guess the country. With marked yeast and brioche aromas, you should have (and most did) head to vintage or special cuvée level for these two outstanding wines. We had less success with the country though one of our members did spot the English connection, whereas most assumed from the quality that these were both Champagne:
Classic Cuvee, Brut 2004, Nyetimber, English quality sparkling wine, 12%: made from the Champagne trio of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier grapes and given 36 months in bottles before removing the yeast. Pronounced biscuit notes, medium high acidity (though some found this even more marked), powerful structured fruit which perhaps lacked some complexity.
Blanc des Blancs Les Fleurons, Brut Premier Cru, Pierre Gimonnet, Champagne, 12.5%, more than four years on the lees in bottles: initially rather a neutral nose but a complex and beautiful palate – cut ripe and green apple, layers of interest, excellent length.
4. What the **** is that?’ section: two more or less sparkling wines, pale red and a deeper red, one very sweet and the other with a touch of sweetness and some bitterness. It was obviously a good evening because I forgot to take any pictures of these colourful wines, which turned out to be two glorious Italian eccentricities:
Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG, Alasia, Araldica, Piemonte, 5% – similar in conception to Asti, this wine is tank fermented to retain maximum fragrance from the Brachetto grape variety and all the sugar in the wine is from the original grapes. The fermentation is stopped when the low 5% of alcohol is reached with the yeast and its nutrients being filtered out under pressure and at a low temperature. Moderately fizzy, pure strawberry cordial, sweet and delicious: good wine does not have to be serious stuff.
Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOC, Tenuta Pederzana, Emilia Romagna 11.5%, lively frothy fizz, ruby red (if not as deep as a sparkling Shiraz as some thought), some red fruit but then almond and savoury flavours; light on the palate and only slightly sweet, but with a bitter finish, ergo must be Italian. And indeed it was a traditional Lambrusco, not the industrial stuff, but still best served with a plate of fatty salami …
And the moral of the story? – in fact there were two: 1. because of the subtle differences between them, identifying sparkling wines tasted blind can only succeed if the number of variables are reduced so that contrasts stand out (eg start from base of same region or same grape variety or strongly contrasting styles) and 2. nonetheless a great deal of fun can be had in the process.
As Janet and I had been in Piemonte but not got to the Gavi area, we made bee-line for the home of the Cortese grape at Vinitaly 2010. This massive wine fair allows you taste some of the real specialities (and peculiarities) of Italy and that includes some little known sparkling wines. Here the focus will be on two little known sparklers, from the Gavi (South East Piemonte) and Franciacorta (Lombardia) areas.
Generally, Gavi has a reputation a bit like Soave – rather a basic, mass produced white wine, popular in the past with Italian restaurants, with a few good exceptions which only wine buffs know about. La Scolca, or Soldati La Scolca to give it its full name, have always held out for quality and especially for the steep rise in interest which bottle ageing brings to good Gavi. The company has just celebrated 90 years so it clearly has done some things right.
All of La Scolca’s whites are made exclusively from the native Cortese grape. The entry level Gavi 2009 is a fresh, moderately fruity wine, well made without being very attention seeking. Gavi di Gavi 2009 must come from the commune of Gavi is not itself a big jump up in quality but is much more persistent in its flavour. By contrast the selection Gavi di Gavi D’Antan 2000 is a revelation. First of all it is made from the best grapes in good years only, secondly it has the benefits of a decade of ageing. It has a pronounced nose of pears and melon fruit, then a strong lime streak. In the mouth it is a quite a big, structured wine, with great persistence. The company has these older bottles to sell, in this case at €35. You can suddenly taste what all the fuss is about.
La Scolca have also made a speciality of sparkling versions of Gavi. The great majority of Italian sparklers are tank fermented which is a cheaper process and preserves the freshness of the fruit for wines for drinking young. By contrast La Scolca’s wines are all metodo classico, ie second fermentation in the bottle, like Champagne, and all are from individual vintages. The Metodo Classico 2006 has a honeyed nose with good fruit and fairly modest yeast notes. It has a noticeable bitter finish – highly prized in Italian food and wine but not to everyone’s taste. The Metodo Classico riserva 2002 is a pale straw colour with a green tint and has really benefitted from its seven years on the yeast in the bottle – a much more complex nose, lovely yeasty, patisserie notes followed by plenty of delicious fruit. Better again is the D’Antan riserva 1998, which has spent a full eleven years on the yeasts of the secondary fermentation in its bottle. The nose is yet more sophisticated and the wine is beautifully smooth in the mouth – a real treat.
Brief aside – all wine bottles are difficult to photograph successfully because of the light reflecting off the bottle. But this bulbous shape takes the biscuit. Every single one of my general ‘whole bottle’ shots has my reflection in it – just to prove I was there! Low angle next time.
This starts out as a pale salmon pink and ages to this rather lovely apricot. D’Antan rosato 1998 shows the influence of even this tiny addition of Pinot Noir with some more (now very rounded out) raspberry fruit, altogether a class act.
Just over one hundred miles North East, the other side of Milan is the Franciacorta area. I was cheered to read in Tom Hyland’s Vinitaly blog that one of the reasons he gives for going to this wine fair is Franciacorta. Where else can you try these quality sparklers, so prized in knowledgeable Italian circles, so unknown elsewhere? Basically the wine comes from a zone in Lombardy, near Brescia, is made from the same grapes as Champagne, by the same method, and costs much the same price. But the style is rather different, no doubt because of the geology plus the warmer weather. There is a market out there for a Champagne style wine but with richer, more mature fruit, but cracking it will be a huge challenge. In the meantime it is one to search out.
This time we tasted wines from just two growers, the first of whom makes just one wine. Santus is a new venture between two agronomists who pay tribute to their vine/wine consultant, Alessio Dorigo, who they charmingly describe as rigoroso spumantista! With their ‘precision bubble maker’ the two of them have done a great job in producing something really rather distinctive, in comparison with the fresh, subtle but fruity, sparkling wines, typical of the zone. A key difference is their practice of keeping the grapes on the vines for 10 days or so after full maturity. 10% of the wine has been aged in old barriques and all the wine is kept in its bottles on the lees for 21 months. This produces a wine strawy yellow in colour with a rich, extracted palate and a dry finish. A very promising debut and we look forward to the rosé which will appear in the future.
We then enjoyed the wines of Bredasole, a more typical Franciacorta company with five sparkling wines. These are classic Franciacorta – around two years in the bottles during the second fermentation producing nice yeasty flavours above ripe fruit (Brut 2007). By contrast the Satèn (2007) style is made from white grapes only (in this case 100% Chardonnay) and has slightly less pressure. It has a delicate nose, and lovely subtle fruit. The most ‘serious’ of the five, is Nature 2006, which is a blend of Chardonnay (50%), Pinot Nero (30%) and Pinot Blanc (20%), spends an impressive three years in bottles in the second fermentation stage and has no balancing sugar/alcohol added at the end. The yeast notes are beautiful and pronounced as is the excellent fruit. Two party pieces follow – a rosé and a medium dry version. The former – Rosé 2007 - is the palest apricot pink, the product of the freshly pressed grape juice being held with the Pinot Noir skins for just 2-3 hours. Nice raspberry fruit, entirely dry finish. By contrast Demì starts out life as a rather more acidic base wine but with higher dosage, so more sugar added to offset the acidity. In the mouth the sweetness-acidity balance is good, definitely sweet but not at all sickly. Would be excellent with patisserie. This is a really good range at decent prices – but sadly not available in the UK.
And finally, a part of the Piemontese wine scene that is massively undervalued, the lovely, quite sweet, sparkling Moscato. It’s a classic which gets little attention because it’s not ‘important’, ie at least one of expensive, fashionable, or in need of long ageing. But it is straightforwardly delicious, full of flavour (it actually tastes of grapes, how strange is that) and low in alcohol. Perfect for tea time (how English!), for picnics, for celebrations, for desserts.