Sunday, December 27, 2015

Franciacorta - Fine Traditional Bubbles From Northern Italy

What is more appropriate than a dry sparkling wine, made in the methode champenoise, to start a
festive event? Certainly the pop of the cork and the tickle of the bubbles adds to the importance of these occasions. Even better, is when the wines are of top quality, as is the case of those from Franciacorta DOCG. Produced in the Iseo Lake region, of southern Lombardy, these wines provide an excellent option for special occasions. While other enjoyable sparkling wines can be found in Italy, few reach the quality level that is the standard of Franciacorta.

DOCG regulations help ensure that Franciacorta is traditional in its style, with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir being the primary varietals used; Pinot Blanc is also permitted, but is much less common in the blends. Regulations also require the traditional Champagne method, but with a minimum of 24 months in bottle, six months longer than in Champagne. Consumers will find these wines to be primarily in the Brut category, showing very low levels of residual sugar. They are typically clean and crisp, with bright minerality, and an overall fresh character. Lovers of fine, sparkling wine should become familiar with the Franciacorta option.

Here are some examples I tasted recently from two top Franciacorta producers, Barone Pizzini and La Valle.

NV La Valle "Primum" Brut Franciacorta DOCG 12.5% ABV, $40

The nose is vibrant with fresh lemon flesh, sweet mineral notes, and some dried grapefruit. Very clean and energetic. The palate is well balanced and seamless with ripe lemon, some green apple, and subtle savory notes. There's a soft and easy texture on the mid-palate and a mildly tart finish with gentle minerality lingering. Lovely, complete, and very easy to drink. 93 Pts

2011 Barone Pizzini "Saten" Franciacorta DOCG 12.0% ABV, $45

Fresh, finessed lemon and lime notes, on the nose, are complimented by mineral, toasty notes and sweet white flowers. The palate texture is notably soft and silky with tart peach, subtle sweetness underneath, fresh acidity, and lingering minerality. There is a pleasant mousse texture as the bubbles dissolve on the palate. Lovely. 100% Chardonnay 92 Pts

2009 La Valle "Naturalis" Franciacorta DOCG Extra Brut 12.7% ABV, $55

The nose is complex and forthcoming with ripe grapefruit flesh, wet stones, white mineral Earth, and a hint of apple pie. Very elegant, with a pure, fresh overall character.  The top note on the palate is the pleasant minerality followed by dried lemon rind, some underbrush, crisp acidity and toasted bread. The minerality carries everything to a satisfying, mouthwatering finish, Solid and a little bold. 92 Pts.

2008 Barone Pizzini "Bagnadore" Franciacorta DOCG Riserva, Dosage Zero 12.0% ABV, $60

This single vineyard beauty is a particularly outstanding example of the quality one can find in Franciacorta wines. The nose offers fresh tangerine and lemon flesh with blended mineral notes, and emergent aromas of sliced peaches. On the palate there's tart peach and nectarine,
and a noteworthy weight to the mouthfeel. Crushed white flowers and minerality and provide further detail that lingers long on the finish. This wine develops very well with time in the glass, and still shows lovely details long after being poured.  A complex and elehgant experience. Aged 60 to 70 months in bottle on natural yeasts and named for the nearby river; the grapes come from the vineyard named Roccolo, which is farmed naturally. The winery was one of the first in the region to promote biodiversity and natural farming methods. 50/50 Chardonnay/Pinto Nero 93 Pts

La Valle Rose Franciacorta DOCG Brut N/V 12.5% ABV, $55

The nose is finessed, overall, with floral spice, fresh strawberry, pomegranate and a saline note. The palate has a creamy texture, with tiny bubbles, bread dough, dried strawberry, a subtle savory note, and clean minerality. Nice length on the finish. 90 Pts

2011 Barone Pizzini Rose Franciacorta DOCG 12.9% ABV, $45

Toasty on the nose with bread dough, dried raspberry, tangerine undertones, and a nice tangy snap. Over time in the glass, plenty of detail emerges, filling out the personality. On the palate there's great texture, with minerally acidity, and a bit of grip, under the lean raspberry and fresh brioche. Shows some nice structure and a long mineral finish. 91 Pts

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