Sunday, February 05, 2012

Assembling a Rainbow, Brick by Brick

Imagine driving out of a pounding snow storm, ice everywhere, drifts of snow, soaked shoes and gloves, miserably cold. And then to arrive at a place where the sun is shining, the snow still cavorting in the upper ranges. A moment of respite, not from Nebbiolo but from Winter. Sure enough we’d be back in the thick of it the next day, but for now we are looking over the amphitheater-like plain leading down to Lake Iseo. It truly is a beautiful view on many levels. For the moment I am focused on the warmth the sun is spreading about us.

We are in the land of Franciacorta for a short time; playing hooky from Piemonte, just to clear the palate, warm up a little and learn more about some of the greatest sparkling wines of Italy and the world.

How easy it is. If one were in Burgundy and needing a Champagne fix, it would be about the same distance, somewhere around 150 miles. Another parallel I had never thought about.

Ok, so yes, I love méthode traditionnelle. And not just for special occasions, but with food, during the week, as a cocktail, anytime. Even with fried chicken. Here in Franciacorta-land I reckon I will find myself enjoying méthode traditionnelle (metodo classico it is called in Italy) with pasta, salads, any number of wonderful foods prepared in the kitchen of Gualtiero Marchesi, whose eponymous restaurant is situated below the rooms we are staying in at L’Albereta.

I’m not a wine snob, but I do enjoy the occasional pampering from a hotel that ranks up there as one of the finest I have ever stayed at in the world. A moment to feel like the 1%ers before we head in our little Lancia back to the hills. But not until we have our moment with some of Franciacorta’s finest.

I didn’t know Bellavista grew all their grapes. Would that make them a grower’s Franciacorta? They are large by Franciacorta scales, small by Champagne’s. I rarely get to sample their products, as they can be pricey. But I never turn them down when offered.

A glass of Bellavista Vittorio Moretti is handed to me as we stroll about the estate. Aged for 72 months before chilling and popping, what patience went into getting this wine to our lips? The more I think about this wine the more I realize how unlikely it is to have been made. It makes no economic sense. It is time and labor intensive. The land on which the vineyards sit could easily be sold to wealthy Milanese for a summer lake villa; the price of the land is staggeringly high. But someone has a dream, and at the end of that rainbow is a barrel of Franciacorta.

I am unabashedly smitten with the Bellavista wines. They are like a beautiful, refined, wealthy woman; perhaps a countess, or just a strong willed woman who made her way through the 20th century of changes to arrive a little older, but very into life, healthy, brimming. She doesn’t need tattoos or IPhones; she simply is a world unto her own. And I get to gaze upon her shimmering effervescence until the sun goes down.Meanwhile, her younger sister holds court with the younger crowd over at Contadi Castaldi.

The next day, after an evening devoted to red wines of the Maremma and a Fiorentona the likes of which one will never see in Tuscany or Texas, we had an early morning visit to the little sister’s winery. A once-upon-a-time brick kiln, now repurposed into a chic and highly functional winery. Also for the sake of Franciacorta, but in this case from grapes grown by local farmers. So, not a grower’s Franciacorta, like the Bellavista. But also not priced in the upper stratospheres intended for the Ferrari and Maserati crowd.

There is something about the idea of Contadi Castaldi that excites me. Maybe because I see an alternative to Prosecco, a wine for those of us who are looking for a little more depth, a little more seriousness. Yes, there are serious producers in the Veneto. But there is something about metodo classico that beats to the same rhythm as my sensibilities.

And it seems, to many other folks as well. Franciacorta will never fall the way of Prosecco, or even Champagne, as the district governing the production of the wine is limited. There are approximately 30,000 hectares of vines for the production of Champagne. Franciacorta under vine is in the area of 2,500 hectares. No one that I know of can accurately determine how many hectares of vines exist for the production of Prosecco.

There are other sites that will extoll the pleasures and the virtues of Franciacorta. I encourage you to visit them. Franco Ziliani and Richard Marcis are especially emotive about these wines and their place in the wine world and they more eloquently elaborate those passions.

What I sense, the times I pass through Franciacorta-land, is an elegance, a “hidden Italy” that the tourist on their way from Milan to Venice seldom gets a chance to see. Perhaps this is the right thing, leaving Franciacorta to the Italians and those who have the time and the patience to delve into the pretty little amphitheater valleys lapping the sensual little jewel of a lake, Iseo.

I drink as much of these wines as I can fit into my regime. I do not find a reason to celebrate other than the obvious one: I woke up again this morning. That will suffice for now.

Franciacorta might just be a Quixotean pursuit of mine. It also seems to be the quest of men like Vittorio Moretti, who has chased after it for many years, and quite possibly found the world he was looking for.


AM said...

Lovely. Your writing always enchants.

Jason O. said...


I have "been away" from your blog for some time for no other reason than simple negligence. I was happy to return to this wonderful posting of yours. I am reminded what a great, even sense of wine you have and also how well you write. Yours is my favorite wine blog, though it is not ever trendy or cute or controversial. In fact, it is my favorite because it is not those things.

Of course, you are not a "wine snob", though I suspect you know more than 99% of us. See, you are a 1%er! This distinction is important as it give the light you cast on such things as your wonderment at Franciacorte a humble hue. You remind me of Hugh Johnson insofar as you cannot avoid letting your emotions seep into your opinions about wine. And all the better! What is wine without emotion anyway?

Alfonso Cevola said...

Anne Marie - thanks again ever so much. It means a lot to me that you visit these pages.

Jason - Wow - wonderful to hear such compliments, it made my day!

Grazie y'all!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I wonder: When is some publisher going to recognize the genius here in your blog posts and ask you to write a book? So you misuse a few words (that an editor can easily correct). Your sensibilities about wine, life, these times, the circumstances of man seem to surpass the ordinary. And yet, touch the ordinary in such a visceral, accessible way.

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