29.7.11

Bubbles of happiness

On a beautiful (and hot!) weekend of July, G and I decided to tour wineries in Franciacorta.
First, some background:

Franciacorta is an area between Iseo Lake and Brescia, and it's about an hour and a half from Milan. Its geography of hills was shaped by glacial action, making it ideal for winemaking.
Franciacorta vineyard
 The wine:
Franciacorta is a bubbly wine, made from Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Blanc grapes. The minimum ripening period is 25 months from harvest , of which at least 18 months of slow fermentation in the bottle, in contact with yeast. 
Chardonnay grape
 Its perlage (the bubbles, that is) is fine and persistent, color is yellow like straw  with greenish reflexes; its smell has a distinctive smell of bread crust, accompanied by delicate hints of dried fruit (almonds, hazelnuts, figs) and spices (cloves); the flavor is pleasant and fresh.
According to its sugar content, there are different types of Franciacorta:
- Pas Dosè (or Dosage Zéro, or Nature): particularly dry but delicate and sharp. It contains no sugar (btw, the add of sugar is regulated by the law and it is a part of the process of making of these types of wine, like Champagne; this process is called Classic method).
- Extra Brut: the quantity of sugar in it is up to 6 grams/liter. It is a bit dry, and it's ideal as appetizer wine
- Brut: the quantity of sugar in it is up to 15 grams/liter. Dry, ideal to be paired with food (fish, risotto, white meat), please, do not pair with desserts.
- Extra Dry: the quantity of sugar in it is up to 20 grams/liter. Dry and delicate, ideal for quiches.
- Sec, Dry:  the quantity of sugar in it is up to 35 grams/liter. Dry, ideal with strong cheeses like gorgonzola or roquefort or with non-sweet desserts.
- Demisec: the quantity of sugar in it is up to 55 grams/liter: sweet, ideal for desserts.

 Other types of Franciacorta:
- Satèn:  It's made mainly with Chardonnay grapes (and Pinot Blanc), with a pressure of 4,5 atm or lower and the quantity of sugar must not be above 15 gram/liter (like Brut). 
- Rosé: white and red wines are vinified separately when making Franciacorta. The Pinot Noir grapes are fermented in contact with the skins for the time required to obtain a rosé or red base in order to give the wine a pale pink hue. It can be made according to all types of sugar content. The presence of Pinot Noir gives it the features to be paired with cold meats, vegetables, veal and lamb, snails. 
- Millesimato (Vintage): is a type of wine that requires a particularly careful choice of "origin" of the base wine, since it imposes the highest class, quality and taste. It is made from grapes harvested in both climatic conditions of the same, very favorable, harvest (at least 85%). It is produced with the aging for at least 37 months after the harvest, of which at least 30 of the second slow fermentation in the bottle with the yeast. The vintage has a personality and sense of taste which vary every year, because they reflect more than any other the climatic conditions and expressions of a specific quality of the grape harvest. It is perfect with any meal, with intense flavor and a light amber hue. Vintage on the label shall be marked as the year of harvest (the last two digits).

OK, now, back to where we were... 

So, on a Saturday morning we took the car, the "Bible" (the Italian Sommelier Association guide that contains the descriptions of the wines) and left for our first stop, Le Marchesine in Passirano, a family-run winery that follows the techniques of Champagne. 
Vineyard at Le Marchesine

We had our first taste of their Franciacorta at Vinitaly (the famous wine fair of Verona) in April, we had a glass of their award-winning Secolo Novo (Brut, 2005, aged 36 months) and fell in love with it. We had a guided tour of the cellar with the youngest heir who showed us the warehouse where they keep the bottles, the machinery (imported from France) that they use to turn the bottles and the process of bottling; he also explained their method of producing the wine, the types of wine, part from Franciacorta, that they produce, etc. We didn't taste the wine this time but left the place with some boxes...
wine cellar
After Le Marchesine we drove to Adro to Ricci Curbastro, a bigger family-owned winery, where we had a tour of their agriculture and wine museum by its owner, Gualberto Ricci Curbastro. It was very interesting to see the tools and machinery used in the old days in the countryside and the first wine machines. After that, his son Riccardo brought us to the cellar and showed us around after a very pleasant and interesting talk about his techniques, his research on yeasts and the latest on the EU laws regarding designations of origin (aoc's). Since 2008, the winery produces electricity through solar panels. Nowadays it is almost independent in terms of energy thanks to solar panels that can produce up to 20 kWh. We had our first glasses of Ricci Curbastro wines there: a Brut, a Satèn and a Rosé; my personal winner was the Rosé Brut: made of Pinot Noir (80%) and Chardonnay (20%), after a second fermentation, the bottles remain in the pile for at least two years. After disgorgement (that's the release of the yeast from the bottle) and the dosage (the addition of a little extra wine and liqueur d'expedition - the amount of sugar), the wine stays in the cellar for a few months. The total period of maturation is of at least 36 months. It's color is a pink salmon with persistent bubbles, fine and brilliant. The scent is of black cherries, wild berries and mountain herbs, scents of rose. Taste is fresh, fruity and fragrant, in one word: delicious!

After Ricci Curbastro we had a lunch break with homemade sandwiches and relax in our hotel; Iseo Lago, by Iseo Lake (obviously). It is a lovely place, wish we had spent more time there but duty called! (wine called, actually) Among all the facilities it has 2 swimming pools, a spa, 2 restaurants and it's next to a camping/sports complex that is directly in the lake. We had breakfast there the following morning and it was good (cold meats, sweets, cheeses, juices, etc.).
Iseo lake
After some relax we drove to Cologne to La Boscaiola, another relatively small family-run winery, this one is special because it is run by 2 women. We met Giuliana (one of them, very kind) who explained the story of the winery, founded by her father Nelson (doctor, former Alpine officer, Russian war veteran and writer) in their 1600's farmhouse. After the tour of the cellar we tasted some of their (very good) wines and left with a couple of boxes and the advise of an excellent restaurant for dinner.
sign at Giuliana's desk
We had dinner, following Giuliana's advise, at Trattoria Cacciatore in Sulzano (by the lake) where we had a delicious appetizer with fish from the lake, I had their specialty: tagliolini all'oca (handmade pasta with goose ragout) while G had the perch. The whole was paired to a delicious La Boscaiola's Brut. If you're ever in the area, don't miss it! (and book ahead, they're always full)
view from the restaurant
The following day, after a good breakfast in the hotel, we left for the wine shop in Erbusco, where we got a bottle of Uberti (don't remember which one but it was expensive). After that we went to Franciacorta Outlets to finish the weekend shopping!

Hope I didn't bore you too much!