Satèn is Franciacorta's reply to Champagne's Crémant, a softer, more seductive sparkling wine initially developed by Cà del Bosco and Bellavista (they allowed all to use the term after the French were given rights to Crémant) to attract those who might be put off by drier sparkling wines such as Brut or Pas Dosé. As such one might expect it to be less interesting than its drier cousins. And in some cases it is.
But not as many as one might think, however, because it quickly became quite popular, and Franciacorta's sharper producers realized it had become one of their most important calling cards, a way to get people to try their wines, and then (hopefully) move up the scale towards their top bubbly. One doesn't stint with a calling card, and when Villa's Alessandro Bianchi decided to introduce his Satèn in 1995, he didn't cut corners in the slightest.
What he did do was favor approachability over complexity and depth, because at the time the Italian taste for sparkling wines was much less sophisticated than it is now. We will get to the 95 presently, because the vertical was for a general audience, and started with the youngest wine:
Villa Franciacorta Satèn DOCG 2005
Pale brassy yellow with fine intense persistent perlage. Rich nose, with some breadcrumbs, moist spice, savory accents and minerality. It seems quite soft, and is still developing. On the palate it's rich, with elegant minerality supported by gunflint bitterness and savory accents, with slight pepper from the sparkle, and flows into a clean bright savory finish. Considerable depth and more complex than many Satèns I've tasted; it will be a good aperitif, and offers an excellent introduction to Satèn if you have never tried it. There's a touch more acidity than in some years, because 2005 was a cool summer. Quite graceful.
Villa Franciacorta Satèn DOCG 2004
Pale brassy yellow with fine intense persistent perlage. The bouquet is rich, with deft spice and breadcrumbs laced with clean freshness, tart mineral acidity, and some gunflint. Quite nice, with excellent balance; it's richer than the 05, and this is in part the vintage and in part greater age. On the palate it's fresh with clean bright savory accents and more structure than the 05; it's supported by clean savory acidity and sparkle, whose softness confers the creaminess typical of Satèn and flows into a clean savory finish with some bitter accents. Very pleasant, and will work beautifully as an aperitif or at table. Impressive.
Villa Franciacorta Satèn DOCG 2003
The wine is a richer brassy gold than some, and this is because of the long, hot 2003 summer; there's fine, intense, bubbly perlage. The bouquet is full and fresh, with minerality and hints of sweetness mingled with sea salt, spice, and slight breadcrumbs, with underlying vegetal notes and tart acidity laced with softness. It's richer and riper than the others, again because of the summer, but not excruciatingly ripe. On the palate it's ample, rich, and full, with minerality and gunflint bitterness supported by sparkle and some savory accents; there's less acidity and this makes it softer. Good, but less interesting than this is the vintage at work.
Villa Franciacorta Satèn DOCG 2002
2003's mirror image, the child of a cold wet summer. Pale brassy yellow with brassy reflections and fine persistent perlage. The bouquet is intense, with breadcrumbs and minerality mingled with acidity and some greenish gunflint accents. More mature than those preceding it, and also much livelier, with more depth and zest -- a brilliant wine, that also reveals honey and walnut skins. On the palate it's bright, with rich lemony fruit supported by sea salt and bright acidity, with some walnut skin bitterness, and sparkle that confers creaminess. Quite nice, rich, lively, and deft. They say sparkling wines shine in cool vintages because they have more acidity, and this vintage certainly confirms the saying. Beautiful freshness and youth, too.
Villa Franciacorta Satèn DOCG 2001
Brassy gold with brassy reflections and abundant persistent perlage. The bouquet is elegant, and mature, with rich savory breadcrumbs and spice mingled with some walnut rind bitterness -- what is called mallo in Italian -- and some gunflint. Quite a bit going on, and quite elegant. On the palate it's full, rich, and powerful, with savory minerality supported by walnut-laced sour lemon acidity and clean peppery spice, while the sparkle again confers creaminess that flows into a long bitter finish supported by deft acidity. Quite elegant, and has quite a bit to say, with a nice balance between acidity and savory, and has aged very well. It is approachable, but also displays considerable depth, and will work equally well as an aperitif or at table. An impressive wine that is mature, and anything but tired.
Villa Franciacorta Satèn DOCG 2000
Pale brassy yellow with brassy reflections and fine intense persistent perlage. The bouquet is fairly rich in a softer key -- August 2000 was searingly hot -- with minerality and some gunflint but less acidity; there are also some tertiary aromas, including greenish walnut skin. Nice depth, and elegant albeit in a softer hot summer key. On the palate it's ample and rich, with minerality and savory notes supported by bitterness and sparkle; it's softer, and the heat of the vintage comes through in the relatively lesser acidity, and as a result it comes across as flatter than the others. Quite approachable in any case.
Villa Franciacorta Satèn DOCG 1999
Pale brassy gold with fine intense persistent perlage. Mature colors; there's more gold to it. The bouquet is rich, with deft breadcrumbs and bitterness supported by chestnut honey and some greenish accents, also walnut rind. Impressive and quite elegant; there aren't many 10-year old Satèns at this level. On the palate it's rich and full, with bright mature lemony fruit supported by walnut skin bitterness and clean fresh creamy sparkle that flow into a pleasant rather bitter finish. It's graceful, deftly balancing minerality and acidity, with a lot to say. Impressive.
Villa Franciacorta Satèn DOCG 1998
Brassy yellow with brilliant brassy reflections and fine persistent perlage. The bouquet is rich, and elegant, with clean spice, minerality, and some savory balsamic notes. Quite harmonious with acidity and minerality plying off each other. On the palate it's full, and rich, and sweeter than the younger vintages, and this is because of a course correction -- the initial vintages of Satèn were intentionally sweeter and softer to appeal to the tastes of Italian wine drinkers of the time -- there's clean bright slightly savory citrus fruit supported by deft acidity that flows into a clean savory finish with some balsamic accents. Graceful, and has a lot to say; it has held up quite well and will continue to age well for years to come. It's more approachable and softer than the younger vintages, with a fine balance between bitterness and acidity.
Villa Franciacorta Satèn DOCG 1996
Pale brassy yellow with brilliant brassy golden reflections and fine persistent perlage. The bouquet is intense, with breadcrumbs and wet bread supported by greenish accents, walnut rind, and some gunflint, with underlying balsamic accents. On the palate it's a bit duskier than the younger vintages, ample, soft, and quite approachable, with a deft balance between sweetness and sparkle; it's a classic and very approachable Satèn, and is what one expects of the wine: while it is pleasant (and better on palate than nose), it's not as interesting as some of the more recent vintages that have a defter acid balance, and this is why Villa's Satèn has evolved. This said, hats off; it is a fine wine that laid the groundwork for the vintages that followed.
Villa Franciacorta Satèn DOCG 1995
This was their first Satèn, and as such is not quite an experiment, but almost. Brassy gold with fine persistent perlage, and a rich bouquet with minerality and spice, coupled with savory accents. It comes across as rather soft, but is quite elegant, a study of harmony. Quite nice, and I would certainly never have guessed it was 14 years old. On the palate it's full, rich, and savory, with clean bright white fruit supported by savory accents and sweetness, while the sparkle provides creaminess, and the whole is beautifully balanced. A most auspicious launch for a wine, and though some of the other wines were perhaps better, it offers much room for thought. I see, in my notes, the word "superlative."
Winding down, it was a most impressive tasting, which clearly showed how the wine developed, gaining complexity and depth from vintage to vintage, and following a path that is in some respects more interesting than those traced by other sorts of Franciacorta, for example Brut.
Villa's Franciacorta Selezione Brut: Another Vertical, and a more thorough presentation of Alessandro Bianchi and his winery.
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