OK, any wine geek knows that you can’t use the word Champagne to any wine other than those produced in the Champagne region of France.
But Italy has been producing a sparkling wine that rivals the quality of French champagne, at a lessor cost. Sparkling wines from Franciacorta deserve your attention if you’re a fan of the bubbly. You can find Franciacorta in the $20-$30 range, more than California sparkling, but less than French, but as I said, on a par in quality. In fact these Italian wines are more aggressive than their French counterparts; something like comparing a Ferrari to a Renault.
I had the opportunity today to attend an educational event sponsored by the Society of Wine Educators, of which I am a lifetime member. It was held at the Rose Hill Historic House in Manhatten, listed in the National Registry and owned by two fellow wine educators, Bill and Harriet Lembeck. It was presented by Paul Wagner who recently returned from a visit to Lago di Iseo, the epicenter of Franciacorta.
We tasted 6 examples and they were all outstanding. The new category of Satén (Italian for satin) was represented by Ronco Callino. It has less atmospheric pressure so it’s creamier and softer, a entry-level to Franciacorta. We had 2 rosés, produced from the Pinot Nero (Noir) and they were delightful. We also had the Bellavista which was the most expensive at $29. But my favorite was the Fratelli Berlucchi Brut 2007. Guido Berlucchi was the inspiration for the Franciacorta wine appellation, having returned from a trip to Champagne and believing that Italy could produce wines of similar quality.
Keep in mind that it won’t be easy finding any wines from Franciacorta. They only produce about 1 million cases total, and 95% is consumed in Italy. And to complicate it, 2 wineries: Bellavista and Ca del Bosco- account for 60% of the production.
The primary grape is the Chardonnay, although there is some Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco used.
Roz and I visited Lombardy several years ago and we were convinced that we should offer a tour to this region- and we will. It encompasses the Lake region (Lago di Iseo is the smallest of the lakes) with its white wines and many outstanding reds, some
made from the Nebbiolo.