Make the Holidays Sparkle with Franciacorta

logo-franciacortaNothing says festive like a bottle of sparkling wine.  Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Festivus, or any other holiday, we all love to ring in the new year with a sparkling libation.

Sparking wines are made all over the world.  From the world famous Champagne region in France, to surprising sparkling Shiraz from Australia, there are delicious options everywhere.  But none of my favorite classic sparklers comes from Italy.  No, it’s not Prosecco, or even Asti Spumante, but rather something that is made in the Methode Classico (or champagnoise), from the Lombardy region in the north:  Franciacorta.

I have been fortunate to experience the many colors and flavors of Franaciacorta with Franciacorta USA’s partnership with Balzac Communications.  We have been treated to an annual tasting of several different examples of this iconic Italian bubbly; recently, I was able to attend an informal and delicious tasting of three very special wines at A16 in San Francisco.

contadicastaldi_roseFrst up, one of my favorite producers from previous tastings, the Contadi Castalidi Franciacorta Brut Rosé NV, which is a blend of 35% Pinot Noir and 65% Chardonnay.  This budget friendly pink is a great example of why you should pay attention to this region.  With light fruity flavors, brioche notes, and velvety plum notes, you will love the holiday wallet friend price point of under $25.

 

 

 

 

 

img_2207The next selection was a gorgeous 2012 Le Marchesine Saten, which in the DOGCG of Franciacorta, must be a Blanc de Blanc from Chardonnay and or Pinot Bianco (Blanc). Slightly more expensive than the the other two at $30, it’s still a very friendly price point for sparkling of this quality.  With spicy white flowers and bright notes of citrus layered over fresh cream, this is the perfect mid point in this lovely trio of wines.

 

img_2204Finally, the all-star of the evening was the Biondelli Franciacorta Brut, an elegant 100% Chardonnay start hat is bottled aged no less than 2 years.  Officially certified organic since 2014, the 8 hectare vineyard is hand harvested and gently pressed and fermented in stainless steel barrels.  The gorgeous floral notes of this sexy sipper give way to peach blossom, toasted almonds, hazelnuts, and just a hint of citrus.  This is my top pick and even at an average price of $20 (if you can find it) you should be buying it by the case.

Franciacorta is not the poor man’s Champange.  Despite the user friendly price points on many of these fine wines, the quality and flavor profiles are world class.  Franciacorta wines are widely available at better wine shops as well as online.  Experiment, try a few, and enjoy this holiday season!

Special thanks to Franciacorta USA for sharing these delights!

 

 

 

Tastemakers: Italian Focus with a diverse history!

One of my favorite stops the last time I was in El Dorado was Miraflores, a sprawling hilltop winery with a beautiful terrace and expansive views.  On the day we next visited, it was raining, but that wouldn’t deter our delicious tasting of Italian focused winemakers here in El Dorado.  There is a long history of Italian immigrants in the area, largely due to the Gold Rush and enterprising folks who started restaurants, businesses and other ways of striking it rich supporting the miners, and maintaining cultural ties to the homeland.  Today, we tasted through some examples of modern day Italian winemakers:

MirafloresMiraflores is located on the Pleasant Valley Wine Trail, in the heart of El Dorado wine country.  Winemaker Marco Cappelli is both an artist, and a scientist, like any good winemaker, and focuses on creating wines of distinction that reflect the varying terroir of the region.  With 12 years of experience at Miraflores, Marco also has been a winemaker in Italy, France, and Australia – learning about terroir, wine styles, and the uniqueness of each region.

Mirafloras sits at 2700 feet, on granite based, well drained soils.  The 2012 Barbera is clone 4, which is lower in acid than other clones, which creates a richer, more mellow final wine.  Fermented in opt top vats, it aged 22 months in neutral oak to allow the fruit to show through.  Rich, and bold red fruit, with chewy and dense figs, leather and coffee give way to bright Bing cherry and a zippy finish.  A great example of what elevation can do!  $28

C.G. Di Arie VineyardC.G. Di Arie Vineyard and Winery was founded in 2000, when Chaim and Elisheva Gur-Arieh purchased the 209 acre property in the Shenandoah Valley.  With the rolling hills averaging about 1,700 feet, they knew that this area had the potential to create world class wines.  Today, they are able to produce up to 15,000 cases of wine, in the state of the art gravity flow facility that also houses an art gallery.  With 40 acres currently planted, they plan to put 30 more to vine by 2020.  Chaim strives to make wines that have balance and style.

The 2012 Primativo is a lighter style wine, mimicking the Zinfandel that so many immigrants to this region planted.  It’s spicy gingerbread flavors are uniquely different than the classic California Zinfandel from this region.  The bright acidity make this an excellent wine for burgers, BBQ, and general enjoyment.  $25

Nello-Olivo-175Nello Olivo is a character straight out of a Hollywood movie.  Larger than life, and full of verve, this second generation Italian-American has wine in his blood.  Born to a large brood in the Bay Area, Nello started a successful property development business in Los Angeles, where he raised his family before the real estate market crashed in the early 1980s.  Heading north to the Cameron Park area near Sacramento, which was near his beloved Lake Tahoe retirement dream, Nello and his family purchased 21 acres in 2000.  Here, he planted seven varietals, focusing on the historical Italian grapes that he is so connected to.  Initially selling most of his grapes to the newly founded El Dorado wine community, Nello kept a small amount for himself for some home winemaker experiments.  Eventually, he was enticed to begin his own winery, and in 2005, produced his first vintage of commercial wine.

Leaning on the skills of winemaker Marco Cappelli, Nello decided to set his sights on an obscure grape of his ancestral home in Umbria – Sagrantino de Montefalco.  This unique wine is representaitve of the family history, and is a an unusual varitety to be planted in California.  Fortunately, it took, and a successful venture was born.  Sagrantino is native to Umbria, and is only grown in the Monte Falco region.  It is considered the most tannic wine in Italy, and can be sharp and bitter while young, yet ages marvelously.  The 2012 Sagrantino is full of plum, berry, cherry and cloud berry flavors, followed by tangerine and milk chocolate.  While this was a young wine, I can see the aging potential and look forward to trying a glass in 5 years.  $79

Mastroserio WineryRuggero Mastroserio has degrees in engineering, geology and music, and also trained in enology in Italy.  Phew!  After crafting wines in the area for 10 years, Ruggero founded Mastroserio Winery in 2010.  The region of Fair Play is idea for producing varied, nuanced wines, sitting in a granite bowl high atop the El Dorado Hills.

The 2010 Barbera is a bowl of dark chocolate covered cherries, rich and opulent.  With dark berry, fig and plum character, it is soft and plush on the palate, with a touch of acidity at the end, as Barbera should have.  This soft cashmere sweater warms you with dried herbs and crushed black pepper, waking up the palate and piquing your curiosity.  $77

With so many wineries and varieties in El Dorodo, I hope you will take a road trip and discover them for yourselves!  Special thanks to the El Dorado Winery Association and Solterra Strategies for arranging a varied, and complex look at the region.  There are so many wineries to choose from, I look forward to more trips and more posts soon!

 

Celebrate with Franciacorta!

During the holidays, more often than not, we celebrate with something sparkling.  For some it might be the old classic Champagne; others, California Sparkling.  But have you tried Franciacorta?

Franciacorta, the DOCG region in Lombardy, Italy, is known for it’s excellent sparkling wines made in the traditionally method – meaning, the secondary fermentation occurs int bottle and not by, shall we say, the soda stream for wine or a bulk method.  Lombardy is perfect for sparkling wine, where the Alps meet the Lago d’Iseo, moderating temperatures and making the traditional grapes for sparkling wines grow so well.  Since Franciacorta was the first Italian sparkling wine to have the secondary fermentation int he bottle, and since the producing region is the first traditional method sparkling wine in Italy to reach DOCG status, they really are a treat.

Since becoming a DOCG (the highest level of regional wine designations in Italy) in 1995, Franciacorta has set strict rules governing the production of it’s sparkling wines.  Using the same Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc (Bianco) and Pinot Noir grapes that are traditionally used in France, Franciacorta requires lengthy aging and hand harvesting, to maintain in increase quality.

With five distinct styles, there is something for everyone!

Some of my favorite products that I have been enjoing this season are reviewed below.  So this holiday, go out and say Cin Cin to Franciacorta!

Berlucchi Franciacorta Brut – 90% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Nero (Noir).  Yeasty, buttered toast, crisp lemon curd.  Beautiful bright acidity with the richness of cream and ripe pears.  This would be fantastic with oysters or brunch, and at $30, an affortable alternative to Champagne.  With only 12.9% ABV, this is a sipper you can enjoy all day!

Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Brut – 80% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Nero (Noir), 10% Pinot Bianco (Blanc) –  a field of flowers, with rich  yellow and green hues, Tuscan melon and lime jump out of the glass along with stone fruit and a slight green herbal note.  $23 for this beauty rivals some of the better Proseccos and would be lovely in a Spritz or other cocktail.

If you would like to check out some of the other styles of Franciacorta, they range from dry to sweet, and have a host of other style elements such as the typically 100% Chardonnay Saten.  A Millesimato is vintage sparkler that is aged at least 30 months.

So, the next time you are having a party, consider stocking up on some Franciacorta, and wow your party guests with Italy’s fastest growing sparkling wine category!

 

These bottles of deliciousness were provided as PR samples, but all sips and tips are mine!

 

 

 

 

Pitars – a modern winery in an ancient town

Pitars

Pitars visitor Center

       Pitars Winery comes out of the low slung houses of the town of San Marino al Taliamento, nestled in the heart of the Friuli wine region of Italy.

The Pittaro family has been making wine in Friuli since 1880, with Roman origins going back to 1510.  The passion of this family for the Fruiliano wine culture is clear, and Pitars expresses this passion beautifully.

Pitars is both near the alps and the Adriatic sea, as well as the largest river in the region, giving a rich combination of stony and alluvial soil.  The closer you get to the sea, the more limestone is present in the soil, making it the perfect location to grow the white wines of Friuli.

As many wine lovers know, the poorer the soil, often the better the wine.  Being in such a rocky and stone filled area, it’s a difficult task to grow crops, but a wonderful place to grow grapes. Here in San Marino, there was a wine revolution in the 1960s, and now they are known world wide as a source for clonal development and vines.

Pitars has 140 hectares of vineyards, and is primarily estate bottled, but they do buy some fruit as well.  While they bottle 1/2 – 1/3 of their total production, much of the fruit is sold to large producers.  

A unique point about the winery and operation is that they are one of the greenest wineries in Friuli.  With solar power providing 90% of the electricity to the tasting room, this covers the energy bill for 9 months of the year.  Additionally, they are pursuing biodynamic and organic methods, using birds and insects, as well as other sustainable practices.

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After touring the property, we sat down to taste through the wines.  First off, we had a side by side of sparkling wines.  The Ribolla Gialla Spumante Blanc was bursting with green apple and bright citrus, and was a refreshing departure.  Comparatively, the classic Prosecco was light and crisp, with a touch of sweetness on the finish.  While I enjoyed them both,  I actually kept a glass of the sparkling Ribolla as a palate cleanser on hand as we sipped away the afternoon.

IMG_0379-2Next up, the Tureis IGT, is a blend of the classic Friulano, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  Pitars names it’s flagship wines after stars, and Tureis is the Arabic name for a binary star system.  The symbol of the star system and a white blend is beautiful to me.  This wine was vinified separately, with the Chardonnay being barrel aged for 16 months.   The deep golden color had caramel and honeysuckle notes, with tropical fruit and a richness.  It was quite and interesting blend, and would be IMG_0396great with a richer fish dish.

IMG_0397Named after another star, the Naos is a brilliant ruby red blend, made of  Refosco, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.  (Did I say Cabernet Franc?  YUM!)  The process for this wine is unique in that the grapes are actually dried slightly before vilification, creating an intensity of flavor that you don’t normally expect.  This dark brooding wine had lots of espresso flavors followed by black pepper, dark plum, leather, and blackberry.  

As luck would have it, our gracious host also opened several other wines for us to try.  Most notably, the Cabernet Franc, which aside from being a personal favorite of mine was simply delicious.

IMG_0334Be sure to make time for a visit to Pitars if you are in the Friuli area, as you will not be disappointed!

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Happy New Year!

The Thursday before New Year’s Eve, my office was a dead zone.  Being that I work in the dungeon of a six story building, and that the Marketing and IT departments are here on the 2nd Floor, we like to party.  So, around 2pm, I decided to pen a  bottle of Prosecco that I had stashed in the fridge.

This bubbly wine from Villa Sandi in Italy, and retails for around $12.99.  It was quite a dry Prosecco, which i LOVE and went down a dream at our little party.  Imported by Folio Wines, this is a great sparkler for those on a budget, or who drink a lot of bubbles.  The pale straw color is followed by a light, refreshing green apple flavor, with a slight floral note.  It was crisp and refreshing and a fun wine.

Very pale straw yellow and fine, persistent perlage. The aroma is fruity and flowery with hints of ripe golden apple and small mountain flowers. The dry, fresh and flavoursome sensation on the palate is followed by a fruity and harmonious aftertaste.

Enjoy!

This wine was a sample provided by Folio Wines for tippling.  My office mates appreciate your generosity and immediately ran to Safeway to buy more!

Pop! Goes the tweet

The other day, I was sitting at home after a typically whacky day at work, trying to decompress, when the nice UPS driver popped by.  After I got over my shock and amazement at the fact i was actually HOME at the time, since this is against UPS edict in my world, I was pleasantly surprised to find a “tweet” of Zonin Prosecco waiting for me.

What is a tweet of Prosecco you ask?  In this case, is it a 187ml bottle of Zonin Prosecco, packed up by an enterprising creative team at Benson Marketing Group.  my happenstance, and happy coincidence, the sender was actually another Thea, which makes this bubbles from Thea to Thea.

Prosecco is one of the Italian sparkling wines, which has grown over 15% in market share since 2009.  At $4 for the split, and $15 for the bottle, this is a great alternative to champagne in these budget conscience times.

The Prosecco OG Brut is the palest of straw colored, and is 100% Prosecco.  This is one of several Italian sparklers, and is the best selling sparkling wine in Europe.  Prosecco is typically off-dry, so it a great brunch wine, aperitif, or anytime treat when you don’t care for the Extra Brut offerings elsewhere.  This wine was made in the Charmat method.  This is the typical Italian way of making sparking wine, in which the wine undergoes its secondary fermentation in tanks, instead of in the bottle.  the resulting sparkling wine is then bottled under pressure.

On the palate, I taste brioche grand marnier french toast, apples, and marzipan, while I smelled apple blossoms and ginger.  Considering that this is only $15, my Prosecco snobbery has been broken.  Gone are my thoughts of sweet, cheap sparkling wine, and in are my mm mm good tweets!  You can follow Zonin at @zoninprosecco.