Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In bubbly's worst week, try Franciacorta

This is the worst week for sparkling wine, though most people think the opposite.

This is the week when casual drinkers walk into the grocery store, or the warehouse, looking for an obligatory bottle.

It's not what they want; it's what they feel they must. So they go cheap; wouldn't you? Why pay $20 for something that isn't what you feel like drinking anyway?

They buy cheap bubbly. If they're lucky it's inoffensive like Sprite. But it's not going to inspire them to want to drink bubbly again until they have to.

It's like the impact Beaujolais Nouveau had on Cru Beaujolais. Yet that's a better situation because the grapes are the same, and so are the producers. Not so sparkling wine: people making quality ones are working in different regions with different grapes than people making the ones most people will drink on Dec. 31.

Which brings me to Franciacorta. The region has the strictest regulations for any sparkling wine in the world -- longer bottle aging on the lees; smaller yields in the vineyard. It's the subject of my Palate Press column this month. I started this rant just wanting to write an intro and link to that, because it was published the day after Christmas and I think not many people saw it. But I just had to get the rest off my chest.

It sucks to be a bubbly lover this week. You answer all sorts of soul-sucking questions ("which is better?" between two $4.99 specials) and give unheeded advice and see people either rewarding the mass producers with their economies of scale, or splurging on marketing rather than craftsmanship.

But enough of the rant. I intended to talk here about this delicious pair of wines, two of my favorite bubblies of the year. They're distinctive because they take a position: sensual. The Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Satèn 2007 is unabashedly rich, opening with ripe golden apple and finishing toasty and hazelnutty. Mmm. The low-pressure Satèn style -- that's an official trademark now owned by Franciacorta -- is alluring, because this wine is a textural delight, not heavy because of the light bubbles, but not aggressive in any way either.

The Contadi Castaldi “soul” Franciacorta Satèn 2005 tastes much older, in a good way, perhaps the result of lower pressure over time. It's quite complex, with a clean-old-kitchen feel: dried apples, toasted hazelnut, clay, cedar character, and that delicate, low-pressure mouthfeel.

UPDATED: My reader Glenn found the Contadi Castaldi Satèn for sale at this Texas wine shop, which ships throughout the US. It's $39 a bottle, which I think is very reasonable, considering that you should compare the price to vintage Champagne. It's not too late to try it for New Year's, if you want to spring for overnight shipping. But bubbly shouldn't be restricted to a single night; consider ordering some by ground shipping to enliven the dark days of January.

Read the Palate Press column.

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Todd - VT Wine Media said...

Good call paisano. Better bubblies from the less heralded regions, are a delight to explore. Have had great experiences with the Franciacorta from
Lucious and texturally rich, I especially liked the Brut Nature and the Rose. Cheers, and Happy New year.

W. Blake Gray said...

Todd: If I'm not mistaken, Barone Pizzini's Franciacortas are organic. I also liked the Brut Nature.

Happy New Year to you too.

Kent Benson said...

I share your love of Franciacorta. For those who want to spend a little less, the Contadi Castaldi NV Brut is also very good and only $20-$25.

Alfonso Cevola said...

good stuff, Maynard....I love the wines, hate the battle to get them in peoples hands (and hearts). Not really. I actually love to convert folks from Prosecco to Franciacorta

Todd - VT Wine Media said...

Yes, Barone Pizzini is organic production for about 20 years now. We got to meet and dine with Silvano Brescianini here in VT a couple of summers ago, and he's really passionate and focused on producing the best bubbles Italy can offer. Ciao.

W. Blake Gray said...

Alfonso: The way industrial Prosecco is going these days, the conversion should only take one bottle.

I get the privilege of going to big tastings and I know decent Proseccos are out there, though they don't have the high-end potential of Franciacorta. But the mass-market Proseccos most people are buying this week -- man, that's plonk.

Kent Benson said...


W. Blake Gray said...

Kent: I'm assuming reruns of Dobie Gillis are still popular wherever he is.

Fred Aliano said...

Blake, thanks for saving us from ourselves. I picked up Bellavista Gran Cuvee N.V. in a small shop in Minneapolis for weekend holiday parties and they were a big hit.