I have long wanted to try the sparkling wines of Lombardy’s Franciaorta region, so I leapt at a chance to attend a tasting and dinner hosted by the Azienda Agricola Villa.
It was quite an event and it took place in the wonderfully stylish Dego just off Great Portland Street near Oxford Circus in London. This is an Italian restaurant and wine bar that is incredibly chic and nothing like your normal stereotypical Italian eatery.
I would highly recommend it on my limited experience; the food was inventive and the range of wines looked interesting and varied – even the range by the glass in the upstairs wine bar. They also serve interesting salumi and cheese boards with the wines, so I look forward to returning.
All of Italy’s famous sparkling wines, other than Franciacorta are made by variations of the Tank Method, whereas this region uses the Champagne’s Traditional Method. The sparkling wines from here have enjoyed D.O.C.g status since 1995, while the previous D.O.C. covered all wines. Interestingly Franciacorta labels do not have to make any mention of their D.O.C.g status, much like Champagne being allowed to dispense with mentioning the A.O.C.
Being in northern Italy the region is reasonably cool and while the climate is warmer than Champagne the area is tempered by cooling influence from the Alps and nearby Lake Iseo. This can temper the warm days and allow for better acid balance in the ripe grapes, which is crucial in fine sparkling wine.
It was these conditions which put the idea of making sparkling wines into the heads of a few pioneers and Alessandro Bianchi was amongst the first to champion the cause. He bought Villa in the 1960s – I would assume the name is a memory of a Roman settlement – and developed the crumbling ruin into the high tech and prosperous winery it is today.
I have to say I was impressed, Villa is a family run winery that is in the forefront of making this place one of the great sparkling wine regions of the world and they really seem to relish the challenges.
The aperitif set the tone for the night:
2007 Villa Satèn Brut
This pure Chardonnay wine was aged on lees for 30 months, which is the minimum for vintage Franiacorta – non-vintage is 18 months, while rosé and Satèn styles are 24 months.
Satèn means the wine is slightly less fizzy than normal, like the Crémant Champagnes of old.
This had a lovely nose of crystalized fruit and fresh bread while the bubbles were fine and persistent.
It was very soft and creamy on the palate, with some rich toffee and caramel complexity and flourishes of subtle stone fruit and nuts.
This is a lovely sparkling wine with a good balance between freshness and richness, ease of drinking and complexity, I loved it and could have gone on drinking it all night – 90/100 points.
This was followed by 5 more sparkling wines made in different styles and from different blends of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc grapes. They were all of excellent quality, but the fresh Satèn was my particular favourite.
The 2005 Diamant Pas Dosé, non dosage, was very good but austerely dry – as you would expect, while the richly oaky and long lees aged 2004 Selezione Brut even overpowered the roast veal, lovely though the wine was – I loved it on its own and would have liked to try it with the cheese.
By the way, talking of the roast veal, I had no idea veal crackling existed or that it would be so good.
I was very impressed by these wines, so if you think all Italian sparkling wine is a toss up between Asti and Prosecco – lovely though they can be, think again. Roughly midway between those wines, as the crow flies, sparkling wines of real depth and quality are being produced by the traditional method.
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