Sunday, November 01, 2015

Will the real Franciacorta please stand up?

I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The good news is that young, urban wine lovers are really enjoying Franciacorta. The bad news is, many folks still don’t know what exactly Franciacorta is, including some producers.

First off, Franciacorta isn’t Champagne. And Franciacorta isn’t Prosecco. And Franciacorta isn’t something in between Champagne and Prosecco. I’ve heard all of those recently in tastings, and I cringed more than slightly.

Let me dip my pole in the pond and see if we can muddy the water even further.

I love Franciacorta, both still and sparkling. I love the area where the grapes grow. I see why people keep a second home here. It’s peaceful, it’s clean, sometimes it feels more like Beverly Hills than it does Lombardia. It doesn’t seem to be laden with heritage. It seems to be a template for Italy of the future. And it is inordinately wealthy. So there are many possibilities for things to happen in the area.

The wine. To me, it’s a sparkling wine that doesn’t try and imitate Champagne. Except in one aspect. And that is the realm of luxury. That might be why people confuse Champagne with Franciacorta, because they both exude lux. But so do a Ferrari and a Tesla, and no one takes one for the other, do they?

I’m going to stick my neck out here and make a general claim that the vineyards of Franciacorta are a much nicer place to have a picnic than the vineyards of Champagne. In many aspects, Franciacorta, as a place, is much more preferable, if you had to choose to live in one place over another. That wouldn’t preclude one from ever opening a bottle of Champagne in Franciacorta-Land. In fact, I’ve seen many a bottle of Champagne sabered in Lombardia, along with bottles of Franciacorta. I don’t think there’s any question as to which place I’d rather live in if I were so compelled. Franciacorta isn’t chasing the Champagne lifestyle. More likely, the other way around. But that’s the problems of the 1% of the 1%.

Let’s turn to Prosecco. While Valdobbiadene is also a gorgeous spot and they make wonderful sparkling wine there, it’s different. It’s pleasant, yes. It’s extremely popular right now, much to the chagrin of the Champagne houses. But its popularity is also a problem, as marketers are trying to cash in on the popularity of Prosecco by making any manner of awful dreck. So the serious producers of Prosecco have to constantly shine their tarnished image, thanks to the profit takers looking for the quick buck.

Champagne really doesn’t have that problem, as the laws keep the production regulated much better than Prosecco is at the present moment (sorry, Prosecco consortiums).

Franciacorta isn’t an ancient wine, like Champagne. Digging up ancient grape varieties really doesn’t fit the mold of Alto-Borghese Franciacorta-Land. Hippies need not apply. Why? Ancient forgotten grapes aren’t part of the aspirational trajectory of Franciacorta. Sure, go organic. Go bio-dynamic. It’s not easy being green, but the folks in Franciacorta can afford it. The Pinot cartel isn’t going to give up any ground to Marzemina, Bianco or Nera, or Gentile or Marzeminone or Marzemina Bastarda. It’s just not lofty or aspirational enough. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are there for a reason. And the reason is in the color green. Money.

And money likes to make more money. And Podunk grapes ain’t part of the program.

For my part, what I look for in a Franciacorta are two things. First, they need to be refreshing. And then they need to be interesting. They don’t have to be deep or brooding. They don’t need to have searing acidity. They don’t have to be fruit (or acid) bombs. They need to be balanced. They really remind more of well-made California sparkling wines (Metodo Classico, that is).

But it seems the hubbub is really about folks looking to Franciacorta and asking them: Who are you? You’ve got out attention now. What do you want from us? And why should we pay almost as much or sometimes more than we do for Champagne? (Again the money thing).

I don’t think the big producers, Ca de Bosco and Bellavista, really care about this. They have their clientele, and it’s Italy. Milan is their biggest customer. And it’s freeway close. Mind you, Veuve Clicquot’s production dwarfs the total production of Franciacorta. It’s important to keep that fact in mind.

We Americans constantly want other cultures to define themselves according to our point-of-view. I can tell you that the folks in Franciacorta-Land don’t dance to the beat of our drummer. They live much better than the average American, so why would they take advice from any of us?

To my way of looking at it, Franciacorta is a modern wine made for modern Italy. If others like it, all the better. But that isn’t a prerequisite. When one of us asks the real Franciacorta to stand up, what of it? The folks at Bellavista aren’t doubtful of their progress. Nor is Ca del Bosco. And they account for 50% of Franciacorta. And while it is the hope of some that the upstarts and the small producers be so much more, if not individually, than at least in aggregate, the idea of what Franciacorta is and will evolve into owes a debt to Bellavista and Ca Del Bosco. For it was they who forged on when Franciacorta wasn’t a household name in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Houston. They invested heavily in time and money and promoted the wine tirelessly when Franciacorta wasn’t the current darling. So maybe we should ask them the question – who are you? Or perhaps we should open a bottle of wine, sit down, and calm our mind for a moment, to take a deep breath, and just enjoy Franciacorta for what it is, regardless of whether or not it passes our reality test.

   written by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
    wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
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