This August I took a handout *** from the region to come and experience it. Where? The bubble-centric Franciacorta. That's in Lombardia, Northern Italy.
Had I been pedaling my own bicycle, I might have found more people interested in wine and not in its brand. ( I tried to sneak in a visit to Ca' del Vént, but just couldn't make it happen.) Because Franciacorta is a brand first, and a wine second.
The pre-Alpine regions goes back to mentions in Pliny. They were certainly a big deal in the Middle Ages. Somehow they segued from that heritage to making their first sparkler in 1957 and received their DOC in 1967. By the late 80s they were positioning themselves as the Champagne of Italy, trying to compete not with Selosse but with Moët.
I hadn't expected the region to be so very stunning. It's nestled into a ring of hills, Lake Iseo to the north, Mount Orfano to the south and it didn't hurt that I landed in the brilliant sun, the moment that the vivid heat had subsided. Most were in the middle of harvest, a few others were waiting for the grapes to fully ripen-- to lessen their need for added sugar. I walked the vines looking for the past.
I constantly asked, were there any native grapes left or was it all pinot nero, chardonnay and pinot bianco? The answer was almost no. Few could remember the past when the region hadn't been a reinvention.
It was only at my first stop Il Mosnel that I heard there was life before bubbles. The red of the area had been in the marzemino family, an Alpine grape that is particularly perfumed and lovely--especially in the hands of Eugenio Rosi in Trentino. Note to Franciacorta: Revival Time! Bring it back!
The good news? The DOC is 50% organic. I found myself wishing that the growers would use that and focus on wine and expressing place. That is what they must do if they're going to find their true selves and be taken seriously by a new group of enthusiasts, and warrant more than a half a column in books, such as in Jancis Robinson's newly updated Oxford Companion of Wine. In that way, by imitating and not finding their soul, they are out of step with the rest of the world to put brand first and wine second.
I'm waiting. It will happen. It has to. Someone will do their research, find out which grapes had once flourished, which ones had been grown there for centuries and plant some illegal sticks of vines and see what happens. After all Champagne made its fame by turning lemons into lemonade. Bubble wine was what they could excel at, not just produce it because the technology was there to do so.
There was a taste that confounded me, a chemical bitter aftertaste in many of the wines. I like bitter, but in many, this taste was off-putting. I could not nail the reason why it was there. But nevertheless, some were able to sidestep this pitfall. Who? Barone Pizzini. SoloUva (push it further, Giovani and Nico!) Il Mosnel and Ca' del Bosco.
Actually, the aging potential of Ca' del Bosco was impressive. The region absolutely has the goods to do better.
So, where are the vignaolis stripping away the glitz and getting down to work?That doesn't mean it can't make a fine sparkler, but for me to eagerly drink them, there needs to be something else going on. The region has potential. So, where are the vignaolis stripping away the glitz and getting down to work?
But that said, the place is beautiful. It is relatively inexpensive. And the figs?
I had the fig of my life from the vines of La Boscaiola. As I slurped them down I thought it had to be clues to what could be in that terroir.
That there's one biodynamic producer (Barone Pizzini).
That the land, embraced by Lake Iseo is gorgeous and has a tempering effect on the microclimates.
The morainic terroir deserves more serious exploration.
Also memorable was one of the wildest examples of tech companies imaginative ways of separating wineries from their euros.
It's a grape jacuzzi.
And I found it in Franciacorta.
The creator of this expensive gadget goes as far to say there's more toxic chemical on organic grape than conventional...as with the use of copper.
As I know many producers who even in areas like the Beaujolais that have much higher botrytis and powdery mildew stress, who go for years without using any copper, I have to wonder about unnecessary spraying. If you're going to be a little sloppy with vineyard practices, perhaps the spa is a good thing. However, I can't imagine any producers like Francis Boulard or Prévost going in for this, or even someone with larger plantations like Béreche of Larmandier-Bernier.
Nevertheless, here's the process I was able to observe at the Ca' del Bosco winery (1,000,000 case production.)
The process? First you select the grapes.
Then it's a citric acid bath.
Give it a good scrub
Then it heads to the cool air sauna for a good drying off.
What do I think? If you'relooking for a vintage and terroir reflective wine, this is not the way to go. The key is to work well in the vineyard, and intervene less in the winery. Yes, put the $ there.
*** Thank you Franciacorta, I appreciate the chance to discover your region. There's stuff there for sure, now go out there and break some rules!