Every year, the Gambero Rosso, Italy’s premier wine rag, goes on tour with the Tre Biccheri. Translating to “three glasses,” this event celebrates and, cynically speaking, promotes the wines that have been awarded the magazine’s top honor.
In the past few years, I’ve left disappointed, finding too many wines that are over-oaked. Not expecting much of a difference this time around, I hit the starting line with a somewhat blasé attitude. Two hours later, I was much more excited, perhaps influenced by the effects of tasting close to 100 wines. Generally, the wines showed much more individuality and for the first time, I think I got enough material for several weeks of columns.
So, let’s kick off an Italian Marzo with Italy’s answer to Champagne, Franciacorta.
Franciacorta is located at the foothills of the Alps in Lombardia. Until the early 1960s, it made still wines exclusively, but the emergence of its high-quality bubbly has been its claim to fame. Berlucchi made the first sparkling wine in 1961, paving the way for the DOC in 1967. Since 1995, the sparkling wines have been DOCG. Like Champagne, methode classico — where secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle — is mandatory. Chardonnay, pinot nero (noir) and pinot bianco (blanc) are the only grapes permitted and a blanc de blanc style called Saten is highly regarded.
These three wines — again, all Tre Biccheri — are fantastic examples of Franciacorta and as a Champagne fanatic, I would be happy to drink any of them at special occasions.
Il Mosnel Franciacorta Pas Dose QdE Riserva, 2004 (Lombardia, Italy): The Barboglio changed the name of its estate to Il Mosnel in 1976, 140 years after the family first started making wine to emphasize its stone laden terroir. First produced in 1990, this limited production cuvée is on par with grand cru Champagne. A blend of 66 percent Chardonnay, 20 percent pinot noir and 15 pinot blanc, it is delicate and at the same time rife with minerals, vanilla, buttered brioche and subtle nuts flavors. Suggested retail: $55
Bellavista Franciacorta Gran Cuvée, Pas Operé, 2004 (Lombardia, Italy): In spite of its quantity, more than 100,000 cases of wine made every year, Bellavista has maintained a standard of excellence. One of several sparkling wines that experiences significant lees aging, Pas Operé is matured for six years before its release. Made from 62 percent Chardonnay and 38 percent Pinot Noir, this is rich but not overpowering with nuts, hints of toasted banana, vanilla, honey and a long, dry finish. Suggested retail: $69.99
Guido Berlucchi and Co. Franciacorta Brut Extrême Palazzo Lana, 2005 (Lombardia, Italy): This is where it all started. Founders Guido Berlucchi and Franco Ziliani could not have imagined that their little dream would change the fate of an entire region. Berlucchi has grown considerably since it made its first 250 cases of bubbly, but it remains one of the benchmark producers in Franciacorta. Just the second vintage made of Palazzo Lana, this wine has is a classic with vanilla and toasted-almond aromas, a lively mousse and long finish. Suggested retail: Price not yet available.
Pamela S. Busch is the owner of Skrewcap.com, founder of CAV Wine Bar and a Bay Area wine consultant. Please submit your questions to Pamela@Skrewcap.com.