Northern Italy’s Big Little Secret Wine Region Is Making History

Vittorio Moretti Is Putting 21st Century Franciacorta On The Map

 


“When was the land first used to grow grapes?” This is a common question addressed to New World wine regions. The United States, in all of her blushing youth, wears a thirty year-old vineyard plot like a badge of honor. But to ask the same question in Italy’s Franciacorta wine region would be absurd. Grape growing has been a part of life in the region since the beginning of recorded time, and winemaking is a culturally embedded practice contributing to the region’s spirit and character. In the sixteenth century, Franciacorta wines were fated for the palates of Venetian kings, queens, and members of the wealthy elite. Indeed, the wines of Franciacorta have always been identified by their premium quality – but the story doesn’t end here. The history of this acclaimed sparkling wine region is still being written. And one of the main scribes in the current era of Franciacorta is Vittorio Moretti, proprietor of Bellavista and Contadi Castaldi wineries. Sparkling wine drinkers worldwide are taking notice, and the word Franciacorta is fast becoming an American household name associated with superior sparkling wine.
Open a bottle of sparkling wine and you will trigger a Pavlovian response of celebration. Perhaps this fact of nature has spurred our collective appetite for sparkling wines, specifically from the Franciacorta region, to grow over the past few years. We’ve already declared that Franciacorta is the next Champagne. But how did this evolve? Suffice it to say that other regions within Italy have inadvertently stolen its thunder. (Let’s reminisce about those wicker Chianti bottles from the 1970s, shall we?) While regions like Chianti ramped up production in the mid-to-late twentieth century, Franciacorta remained dedicated to exacting quality in the absence of over-farming. Nearly forty years ago, Vittorio Moretti set out to show the world that Franciacorta can produce age-worthy exemplars of fine sparkling wine that will hold up against any other premier sparkling wine region in the world. Finally, Mr. Moretti’s efforts are getting the press they deserve on the international wine scene. His passion, patience, and dedication to the cause have helped create enormous buzz about the wines of Franciacorta.

Quick Facts About Franciacorta for the Curious Consumer
 
They say you can’t make wine where you can’t grow olive trees. The Franciacorta region is the northern-most point in Italy where it is still possible for olive trees to thrive. The region’s sparkling wines are made in the Champagne method. But while Champagne and Franciacorta share high marks on quality, their styles are distinctly different. The key is acidity. Champagne has no problem achieving levels of acidity suitable for aging, but struggles to ripen grapes due to the limitations of climate. In Franciacorta, each vineyard parcel produces grapes with their own unique level of acidity. In order to achieve adequate acidity in Franciacorta a great deal of care and attention must go into vineyard plot and grape selection. And while Champagne struggles to achieve minimum levels of alcohol, Franciacorta does not due to warmer temperatures in the region. The result is a Franciacorta wine that is highly-detailed with incredible depth, richness and mineral substance. 
 
Start Your Franciacorta Wine Journey
 
Vittorio Moretti’s two Franciacorta wineries, Contadi Castaldi and Bellavista, represent two sides of the same sparkling coin. Here’s why:
 
Contadi Castaldi Winery
 
Mr. Moretti’s second winery in the Franciacorta region, Contadi Castaldi, was founded in 1987 with a view toward innovation and value coupled with consistently high quality. Contadi Castaldi sources the best grapes from all ninety Franciacorta municipalities, producing one million bottles per year. All bottles are of a wider berth to encourage aging. (This is also true at Bellavista.) Yeast love the excess surface area. Contadi Castaldi is amply available in the United States and a perfect way to begin acquainting yourself with Franciacorta. These wines are incredibly affordable in light of the quality they offer. What’s more, within the next five years Contadi Castaldi will be completely organic.
 
The tremendously popular Satèn-style Franciacorta wines were first conceived under Mr. Moretti’s direction. This is Contadi Castaldi’s most sought-after selection. Satèn is a high-end silk produced in Italy’s Como province. Satèn style wines have an inordinately silky texture, largely owing to their Chardonnay base. Franciacorta Satèn must be blanc de blancs; only Chardonnay or Pinot Bianco grapes are permitted. The term Satèn was first applied in the early 1990s when it was decided that the term Crémant should be discontinued. Instead, the distinguishing Satèn title was deemed a perfect fit for this strain of Italian sparkling wine. If you like wines on the creamier side of the line, this is your jam. 
 
Start here and work your way through the Contadi Castaldi portfolio: 
 
Bellavista Winery
 
Bellavista Winery predates Contadi Castaldi by ten years. It is the yin to Contadi Castaldi’s yang: While Contaldi Castaldi represents innovation, Bellavista harkens to heritage and tradition. Bellavista’s wildly popular wines are created to preserve Italian identity and values. Winemaker Mattia Vezzola believes in simplicity, respect for the natural state of Franciacorta’s terroir, and the nobility of manual work. Bellavista wines demonstrate an especial quality only found in wines made using traditional methods. Grapes are crushed by hand in a systematic fashion; vertically and horizontally, but not diagonally. (A diagonal crush will create friction that causes the ripest grapes to be crushed first.) Furthermore, the phase of the moon is one of many considerations made during harvest. Bellavista reminds us of a time before the Industrial Revolution; when our intuition, heart and hands did the bulk of the winemaking work.
 
Two for you to try: 
 
 
Mr. Moretti and his Franciacorta winery gems show that the sparkling wines of Franciacorta -- when produced, bottled and stored under the correct circumstances -- are venerable, age-worthy selections to be held for decades. High quality base wines made with thoughtfully selected grapes, mixed into a complex cuvée and stored in the appropriate vessel, are required. This past November, Mr. Moretti unveiled his Meraviglioso magnum. It was created with carefully selected base wines from only the best vintages of the past thirty years: 1984, 1988, 1991, 1995, 2001, and 2002. Just 4500 magnum bottles of Meraviglioso have been produced, and only one thousand of those will be released on the export market. While it may be hard to get your hands on a glass of Meraviglioso, its release definitively shows that Franciacorta wines have secured an enduring and commanding presence in the zeitgeist of fine wine. When it comes to Franciacorta and Vittorio Moretti, you’ll want to say you knew them when. 

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