Tag: Franciacorta

Franciacorta: A different perspective on our favourite bubbles

When you think about sparkling wines and Italy, Prosecco will no doubt be the first thing which comes to mind. But for fine Italian bubbles, you should really look to Franciacorta.

Franciacorta, a wine region in Lombardy just south of Lake Iseo, is a place whose still wines have been noted in history by the likes of Virgil and Pliny the Elder for its exceptional quality. But in recent times, it is their sparkling wines which have brought the region back in vogue.

Wines of the region were only denominated as Franciacorta in 1957, when winemaker Guido Berlucchi released a still white wine called Pinot di Franciacorta. Then in 1961, with the help of Franco Ziliani, Berlucchi produced a sample 3,000 bottles of sparkling wines. The wines, produced via metodo classico (the same method as champagne), gained instant popularity and flew out of the Berlucchi cellars. The following year, production was increased to some 20,000 and has been steadily increasing since.

Standards of Franciacorta have always been maintained though. And in 1995, Franciacorta was awarded the DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) status as an indication of its superior quality.

Charcuterie and Franciacorta wine glass at Dego, London

These days, a handful of Franciacorta producers lay claim to an output of around 13 million bottles – only a tiny fraction compared to Champagne. But just like Champagne, it is the only Italian wine which doesn’t need to declare its appellation on the label.

The pedigree all looks very good on paper but what does it taste like?

In conversations and tastings with the sommeliers at the very Italian Amaranto and Degò, the feedback has always been very positive. The little known sparkling wine, hidden like an Italian secret, has quality that’s comparable to that of Champagne but at a snip of the price. And elsewhere, including in the likes of award winning journal The World of Fine Wine, the consensus is in agreement – Franciacorta is a more than worthy contender on the platform of sparkling wines.

I invited Tom Harrow of WineChap to Vini Italiani, a South Kensington wine shop specialising in Italian wines, for a tasting of Franciacorta. One of the owners, Matteo Berlucchi, is in fact a member of the Franciacorta making family Fratelli Berlucchi so bubbles were certainly in their veins.

Harrow, already familiar with Franciacorta, was immediately happy to declare 2012 as the year for it. I was inclined to agree.

Franciacorta at Vini Italiani

We tasted the Brut 25 NV Fratelli Berlucchi, Brut NV Il Mosnel, Prima Cuvee Brut NV Monte Rossa, Brut Rose Millesimato 2007 Fratelli Berlucchi, Pas Dose Riserva “QDE” 2004 Il Mosnel and Dosage Zero 2006 Ca’ del Bosco. Each had its distinct characteristic, minerality and a rich butteriness that the average Prosecco simply cannot comprehend. And fruit too, was surprisingly prominent.

Harrow, I think, was rather captured by their structure. The Dosage Zero 2006 Ca’ del Bosco, he says, would happily rest for a few more years before maturity. Generally finding pink to be a deterrent, I actually quite fancied the Brut Rose Millesimato 2007 Fratelli Berlucchi for drinking right now (Valentine’s Day in particular). All in all, a rather tasty afternoon’s work.

Of course that is not to say that this relatively young wine is comparable to the finest Champagnes, which by its very nature is in a superior category. But as Harrow rightly said, to compare Franciacorta with anything else simply doesn’t do it justice – it is unlike anything else on the market. And for something which has only been in production for a relatively short time, Franciacorta is already very good and has great potential to grow. Besides, a different interpretation of our favourite drink is never a bad thing

(First seen on BespokeRSVP)

Degò: Wine by trade, Italian by nature

Charcuterie and Franciacorta wine glass at Dego, London

An exploration of wine led me to Degò; an Italian restaurant and wine bar that’s so far removed from its Oxford Circus surroundings it leaves you disorientated.

How do you explain its concept? “Devil’s in the detail” perhaps, which is what might be invoked when your eyes set upon its red and black theme. So potent and masculine is the colour, and all hard wood and sleek granite. Yet, there’s also a hint of femininity – the curvature of the bar upstairs, and elsewhere, all moulded around the glass of Franciacorta. Incidentally this is the sparkling wine, produced via the same method as Champagne, you really ought to indulge in. Degò has chose to stock only Franciacorta by Villa and it stocks it exclusively.

The music in the wine bar, played on a bespoke sound system, always falls in the background facilitating ample conversation. The wine selection, mostly Italian, some French and a generous few exclusive to Degò, paired with the cheese and charcuterie is equally adept. In a rather unusual fashion, the board of cold cuts is served with a sauce of sweet chilli which works surprisingly well with the La Tur.

Steak tartare ingredients at Dego, London

Stairs, black marble inlaid with red, leads down to the restaurant itself where the theme continues in a more prominent fashion. Breathtaking is probably not the right word for it. Over a thousand panels of red hued leather adorn the walls, creating a womb of shimmery rouge. The low and boothy seats encourage the Casanova position – that is, a sideways seductive recline against the supple leather, one hand supporting the head and the other nursing the wine.

And wine is as big an aspect downstairs in the restaurant as it is upstairs in the bar. A fact which was obvious from the wine coolers built into all the tables; a considered design. The food, leaning towards Venetian, is no less important and Degò has been furnished with two AA Rossettes and a place in the Good Food Guide.

The bread platter is plenty and full of choice, but don’t fill up on these. Start with the steak tartare for something a little different. Made to order at the table rather than in the kitchen, the meat is coarsely ground (it’s an Italian thing I’m told) with a perfectly balanced proportion of ingredients. And while good, it doesn’t take your breath away in quite the same manner as the scallops with hazelnut cream and Amarone apples, which looks like a sandy rockpool artfully spilled across the plate. Drink Soave La Broia D.O.C. 2009 Roccolo Grassi for its crisp, balanced lightness.

Scallops with hazelnut cream and amarone apples at Dego, London

The veal chop serving as a main, though inspired by its Milanese counterpart, is much more generous in its portioning but no less tender. A side of frangipane potatoes, a dusting of lightly spiced crust, is a surprising addition but pairs beautifully with medium rare duck breasts and French beans. Opt this time for a dark and smokey I.G.T. Jeudi 15 2009 Vino di Anna, made by Anna Martens, the wife of Caves de Pyrène’s founder Eric Narioo.

If you can, make room for the Bigoli with duck ragu too. A buckwheat pasta with a rich, gamey sauce will surely leave you feeling wholesome and satisfied. Or indulge in their selection of desserts instead, it will give you the same pleasure.

The chocolate caramel meringue has the ginger sauce to give it a kick, though you might kick yourself for not ordering the rose parfait when romancing – it comes with a single red rose. Therein lies the detail of the whole operation. Call it cheesy if you like but really, it’s just flamboyant Italian.

(First seen on The Prodigal Guide)

Cocktails at the Amaranto Bar, Four Seasons Hotel

A deviously good time can be had at the Amaranto Bar of the Four Seasons, Park Lane. The Italian inspired bar was surprisingly masculine, offering a long list of martinis and negronis. Thankfully, there are rich desserts to sweeten the deal as well as a fine selection of Italian wines to fall back on. There were some soon to be on the menu cocktails, a tour of the kitchen with the Head Chef Davide Degiovanni and the sampling of a rosé Franciacorta with one of their sommeliers Rafael Peil. Quite an adventure.

Here are a selection of photos from the night:

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