Hello friends. We tend to taste A LOT of sparkling wine this time of year. Late September and early October are when just about every producer and importer and wholesaler are trying to convince Seattle restaurants to program their particular bubbly for the holiday season. It’s a true embarrassment of riches, especially for an avowed bubblehead like me.
Some of the best QPR sparkling wines I’ve tasted so far in 2016 have been from Italy, so today I thought it would be fun to roll together a trio of Italian bubblies: one Lambrusco, one rosé from a Prosecco house, one Franciacorta. These are all in differing degrees of short supply; much like we tend to offer our rosés in March and April (ahead of true rosé drinking season), I want to offer these now, while they’re available, so that we can all stock up and have these ready to pop during the festive months ahead.
I’ve mentioned before that a decent rule of thumb for Italy is: if a region is better known for wine than food, expect to pay top dollar for the wine (think Tuscany and Brunello di Montalcino; think Piedmont and Barolo). If a region is better known for food than wine, expect to find serious value. To wit: Emilia Romagna. Many of the best-loved foods of Italy come from ER. Parmigiano-Reggiano. Prosciutto di Parma. Balsamico di Modena. Lasagne alla Bolognese. All products of this region. But what do they drink? They drink Lambrusco.
And not the crap that was exported to the United States (and became hugely popular) in the 1970s and 1980s. That was sweetened into oblivion for the American Coca-Cola palate. I’m talking about dry, juicy, lightly sparkling, slightly bitter red wine. Lambrusco is squarely in comeback mode, and as serious importers begin bringing in more serious Lambruscos, these wines are only going to grow in popularity. They are well-priced, insistently versatile wines. They go with a whole host of foods, including some categories that are devilishly difficult pairings (hard cheeses, cured meats). Because they’re such killer food wines, people who love to cook (or even just love to eat) tend to swoon when they first try them. This one is chockful of black cherry and raspberry fruit, cherry-pit bitters and loads of minerality. It’s dry, intense, and impressively palate-staining at its very moderate weight (11% listed alc), with just-right scrubbin’ bubbles. I mean, seriously: is there a better pizza wine in the world?
This is the outstanding Prosecco house Bortolomiol applying the same Charmat method used to make Prosecco, but here working with 100% Pinot Noir grapes from one of their neighboring regions to the west, Oltrepo Pavese. It clocks in at 10 g/L dosage and 12% listed alc, and it pours into the glass a pale delicate pink. The nose is a marvelous mix of cherry and blood orange fruit, anise spice, and earth tones. The palate pairs bright acidity with creamy texture, Pinot Noir earthiness with lovely floral tones. This is mouthwatering rosé, with a crisp clean finish and an overriding sense of elegance.
Franciacorta is generally regarded as the finest sparkling wine region in Italy. Established as a DOC in 1967 and then as a sparkling-only DOCG in 1995, it puts Champagne-level restrictions on the wines, and produces wines that can act as Champagne ringers in blind tastings. I should know. I incorrectly identified multiple Franciacortas as Champagne during practice sessions for the WSET Diploma Sparkling Wine Unit.
So if the wines are so good, why have we never offered a Franciacorta? The answer is almost always supply-related. These get gobbled up in Europe, with very few escaping the continent in any meaningful number. Even today’s parcel size is marginal. We have a hold on the entire remainder in Seattle, but it’s not much, and I won’t be surprised if we end up needing to allocate.
Non-vintage Franciacorta must spend at least 18 months on lees (compared to 15 months in Champagne), but this particular bottling was aged on the lees for 30 months. A “Saten” in Franciacorta means a Blanc de Blancs, and this is indeed 100% Chardonnay. It clocks in at 12.5% listed alc and offers a head-turning, autumnal nose: apples and cream, woodsmoke and fresh baked bread. There’s so much to love about the palate: the fine mousse, the insistent intensity, the depth and richness, the savory chicken-stock subtleties, the long salty finish. It’s really an awful lot to expect at this price point, but in my experience, that’s Franciacorta for you, a must-try category for lovers of sparkling wines.
For the Franciacorta, please limit order requests to 6 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The other two are first come first served up to 24 bottles total, and all the wines should arrive in the next week or two, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window