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“Come quickly! I’m tasting stars!” Dom Pierre Perignon, when he first tasted his newly created Champagne.
(Champagne)”…it gives you the impression that every day is Sunday.” Marlena Dietrich
The word “Champagne” has long conjured up images of luxury and pleasure as attested by these two quotes. Even the color of champagne is associated with richness and luxury. Can other countries produce a sparkling wine that will delight us as much as Champagne? Seven of us met at Dorland Mountain Arts Colony in Temecula to embark on a taste test of Italy’s finest sparkling wine region to taste the Franciacorta wines from the Lombardia region (where Milan is the leading city).
However, to truly compare Franciacorta wines with the most common Italian wine, Prosecco, our first taste was the Nino Franco Prosecco Rustico ($20) from the Valdobbiadene area of the Veneto region. This wine is rated a 90 by Robert Parker, Jr. of The Wine Advocate. All Prosecco is made from the Glera grape and fermentation is completed in a large stainless steel vat instead of the bottle. Owner/winemaker Primo Franco states, “Never approach Prosecco in the way you would Champagne. Other than bubbles, they are completely different. They are for everyday and best from a white glass (no flute).They are fruity, fresh, fun and will elevate your everyday!” We found this Prosecco to have flavors of peach and pear with a minerality that provided a clean and gripping finish. It makes a good aperitif. The food pairing was a Smoked Salmon Mini Bagel because the Prosecco counter balances the richness of the cream cheese and the saltiness of the salmon and capers.
After our test taste of a quality Prosecco, we were on our journey to compare the Prosecco with four Franciacorta sparkling wines.
The first poured was Ricci Franciacorta Saten Brut ($42) The term “Saten” comes from “silk” because the wine looks like silk (soft) and from “with cloth” (large or full-bodied). The Ricci Franciacorta Saten Brut is 100% Chardonnay and remains in the pile for at least 48 months after harvest. We found this sparkling wine to be minerally and acidic with a nose of vanilla, fruit, and yeast and a taste of almond and tangerine peel at the finish. Ham, Manchego and Fig Puff Pastry Twists provided the perfect accompaniment.
La Montina Franciacorta Brut DOCG ($29) consists of 95% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Nero (Italian for Pinot Noir). This is a cuvee blend (non-vintage) made of the two grape varieties planted in seven locations and two different vintages. The wine is elegant with finesse as well as structure and body. The mousse (size of the bubbles) is soft, persistent, and long. The olfactory notes we found were stone fruits and lemon zest with a taste of gingerbread. We enjoyed the bigger, full bodied feeling in the mouth with a nice acid balance. La Montina Brut was one of our favorites. A Lemon Tart with Pinon Crust accompanied the sparkling wine. However, we found the seafood appetizers balanced the La Montina Brut and enhanced the lemon zest flavor better than the lemon tart which fought with the acidity of the wine.
Monte Rossa Cabochon 2008 ($55) composition is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Nero. The wine displays a bright golden yellow color. The mousse appears very fine in the glass. The Monte Rossa Cabochon tastes of hazelnuts and coffee with a spicy mineral closure. It speaks of elegance, personality, and a powerful persistence. The pairing consisted of Marscapane Cheese with Fig Preserves on Toast. The creaminess of the cheese and the sweetness of the preserves paired well with the minerality and nuttiness of the wine. This sparkling was a hit with our group.
Bellavista Gran Cuvee Operee 2006 ($47) won hands down as our favorite sparkling wine of Franciacorta and receives much praise by wine connoisseurs.
Upon pouring this wine, we noticed the golden hue and the fine and persistent bubbles. The taste is of yellow fruit and lemongrass as well as ginger wrapped with notes of toasted almond and yeasty bread. Our thoughts were that this sparkling is full and dry, providing a sophisticated, delicate and creamy taste affording the perfect balance.
The Dungeness Crab and Mango Bruschetta paired extremely well, lending a delicately sweet and nutty flavor from the crab as well as the fruitiness of the mango.
The seven of us were thankful for the opportunity to explore the wonderful sparkling wines of the Franciacorta area and look forward to serving some of these to guests on special occasions. Dom Pierre Perignon truly conveyed it best when he described sparkling wine tasting like stars!