In the wine world, popularity can be a two-edged sword. Witness the conundrum of Prosecco: now the most popular Italian wine on the market, it has completely overshadowed other Italian sparklers, particularly those on the upper end of the price scale. While the wines of Franciacorta easily compete with Champagne in terms of quality, selling them to consumers is a challenge.
Franciacorta is Italy’s premier region for sparkling wine. Located in Lombardy, near Lake Iseo in the Province of Brescia, it first gained fame in the 1950s with the emergence of Berlucchi under Franco Ziliani. The wines are made by the time-consuming Champagne method. The grape varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Bianco (in place of Champagne’s Pinot Meunier). There are numerous producers farming the region’s 6,000 acres, but few are as celebrated as Ca’ del Bosco.
The cornerstone of their production is the Cuvée Prestige ($32), a non-vintage blend of 75% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Blanc, which spends two years aging in the bottle before release. The fresh, clean nose is slightly yeasty, and the wine displays classic Chardonnay flavors of melon, pear and mature citrus. Bolstered by the addition of 25% reserve wine, the texture is rich enough to pair well with fish or shellfish.
Satén is the term in Franciacorta for a Blanc de Blancs sparkler, and Ca’ del Bosco’s version is a vintage-dated combination of 85% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Blanc. The 2009 ($43) has a bright nose perfumed with lemon and vanilla. Assertive and poised in the mouth, the brisk acidity magnifies the citrus flavors and allows them to resonate on the finish. In the blend of the 2008 Vintage Collection Brut ($55), the white grapes are augmented with 30% Pinot Noir. This results in a richer and fuller texture, a wider range of food pairings, and a wine of both character and style—an unusual combination.
Are you willing to spend $85 for an Italian sparkling wine? If so, pick up a bottle of the 2004 Annamaria Clementi Brut, named for the founder of Ca’ del Bosco. You’ll find a wine that is deep, rich and elegant, mouthfilling and slightly smoky, with hints of candied fruit on the finish: everything you would want a sparkling wine to be, regardless of where it comes from.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation: The art of Creating Cornbread in a Bottle (Lyons PRess, 2014); for more information, go to amazon.com