Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Villa In Verticale: Villa Franciacorta Cuvette

The folks at Villa held their first vertical 16 years ago, and it was a thing among friends, to get an idea of how their wines aged. Well enough that they decided to hold another the next year, and with time the gathering of friends morphed into Villa in Verticale, which is an eagerly awaited and quite popular June event.

This year Alessandro Bianchi decided to showcase Cuvette, the wine he introduced in 1986 to celebrate his daughter Roberta's marriage to Paolo Pizzol. At the time the wine was a Sec, in other words several steps up from Brut in the sweetness scale, and as such was groundbreaking for Franciacorta, where most of the wines being made were Brut or drier. But Alessandro wanted a wine that could be drunk during the meal, and since few Italians at the time drank sparkling wines at table, he decided to go with something richer and more approachable than a Brut.

Cuvette is a cru, from grapes grown in a hollow on a hillside vineyard, and is primarily Chardonnay, with about 15% Pinot Nero, The wine is in part briefly barrel aged, and then spends 3-4 years on the lees prior to disgorgement. While its primary composition has remained constant over time, as Italians have become more comfortable with the idea of drinking sparkling wines with foods they have adjusted the liqueur d'expédition, gradually reducing the sugar content, so the wine passed from Sec to Extra Dry, and finally to Brut. As such, we were presented with a moving target as it were, with the 2005 though 2002 vintages Brut, the 2001-1999 vintages Extra Dry, and the 1997, 1994 and 1991 vintages Sec.

All the bottles were production bottles, disgorged 3-4 years after going onto the lees, and as such offered an excellent opportunity to evaluate the longevity of Villa's wines. Which is impressive.

Villa Franciacorta Cuvette Brut 2005

Brassy golden yellow with greenish reflections and highlights. And fine perlage. The bouquet is elegant, with rich slightly greenish gunflint and spice with rich heather and hints of butterscotch and savory notes as well. Beautiful balance. On the palate it's rich, with powerful slightly greenish gunflint minerality supported by creamy sparkle and pleasant underlying savory bitterness and bitter acidity that flow into a clean bitter finish. Quite elegant, and very pleasant to sip; one could drink it as an aperitif, but it will also drink quite well with creamy dishes.

Villa Franciacorta Cuvette Brut 2004
Pale brassy gold with brassy reflections and greenish highlights, and fine intense perlage. The bouquet is intense, with heather and savory accents mingled with slight wet breadcrumbs, and some gunflint as well; as it opens it gains in intensity opens. Beautiful balance and tightly woven, very fine definition. On the palate it's full, rich, and creamy, with elegant minerality and some mineral acidity supported by creamy sparkle and rich mineral acidity, and also some butterscotch bitterness that flows into a long elegant finish with underlying savory notes that add depth and interest. Quite pleasant, and will drink very well with foods, though I might be more tempted to sip it away from the table.

Villa Franciacorta Cuvette Brut 2003
Pale brassy yellow with brassy reflections and slight greenish highlights, and fine persistent perlage. The bouquet is richer than that of the 04, and this is to be expected given the heat of the 03 summer, with more floral accents (honeysuckle, in particular) and less minerality, and also hints of butterscotch sweetness; there's also white berry fruit and some greenish accents. Nice balance is a slightly more voluptuous key. On the palate it's ample, smooth, and creamy, with rich butterscotch minerality supported by creamy sparkle, and flows into a clean bitter butterscotch laced finish with creamy underpinning from sparkle. It's softer than the 03, with less acidity, and this is again to be expected given the heat. A very fine expression of a difficult vintage, and will drink quite well as an aperitif.
2 stars

Villa Franciacorta Cuvette Brut 2002
Pale brassy gold with brilliant brassy reflections and fine perlage. The bouquet is rich, with considerable savory minerality supported by some wet breadcrumbs, gunflint, and some greenish acidity; it's quick to write but extremely harmonious, and invites sniff after sniff. On the palate it's steely, with rich granitic gunflint-laced minerality that gains creaminess from sparkle and flows into a long mineral finish with some butterscotch and slight sour lemon; it's extremely fresh and bracing and has a long, exciting story to tell. Great regret when the glass is empty.

Villa Franciacorta Cuvette Extra Dry 2001
Brassy gold with brilliant brassy reflections and fine intense perlage. The bouquet is rich, and slightly sweeter than the 2002, but then again it is an extra dry; there's greenish white berry fruit supported by some breadcrumbs and bitter accents with some greenish spice as well, with underlying lemony acidity. Pleasant in a richer key, and requires a mental shifting of gears. On the palate it's ample, with rich sour breadcrumbs laced with butterscotch and some gunflint bitterness and slight bramble, while there is also an underlying sweetness that confers roundness, and supports the sparkle, flowing into a clean rather voluptuous finish with underlying sweetness that's pronounced, but not cloying. Quite elegant, and will work very well as an aperitif, with cheese based antipasti or cheese dishes.
2 stars

Villa Franciacorta Cuvette Extra Dry 2000
Brassy gold with brassy reflections and fine perlage. The bouquet is rich, though not quite as rich as I had expected; with sweetness and minerality but not as much fruit, laced with savory butterscotch and slight bread crumbs; I found myself wondering if the extreme fry heat of August 2000 had an impact upon the ripening of the grapes. On the palate it's ample, and soft, and creamy, with butter apple and fruit supported by minerality more than acidity, and by creamy sparkle that flows into a clean rather bitter gunflint mineral finish. Pleasant, though a little more settled than the others, and this is due to the heat, which knocked back the acidity some. Quite nice, but it's more of a wine for a wine lover than for the general public; it's not as immediate as the 2001, but has more of a story to tell those who are willing to listen.

Villa Franciacorta Cuvette Extra Dry 1999
Brassy gold with brilliant golden reflections and fine insistent perlage. The bouquet is fairly intense, with slight greenish mineral accents and savory spice, and clean greenish minerality as well. Impressive, with considerable depth, and though it's an extra dry it's not as sweet on the nose as some are. On the palate it's ample, and quite mineral, with some lemony accents and minerality supported by sparkle and mineral sweetness that flow into a clean savory mineral finish with slight bitter underpinning.

Villa Franciacorta Cuvette Sec 1997
Brassy gold with brilliant golden reflections and fine perlage. The bouquet is clearly mature, with savory mentholated accents underlying by a slight pungency that comes with age to some whites, and clean minerality; though it's a Sec it doesn't come across as sweet. By comparison with some of the younger wines it is less approachable, and takes more attention to plumb. On the palate it's ample and sweet, with rich butterscotch laced yellow fleshed fruit (apricot with hints dried peach) supported by sparkle and some savory minerality, and flows into a clean fairly sweet mineral finish with slightly pungent apricot-butterscotch overtones. It's a bit over the top, and this is a characteristic that's actually fairly common in 97 (which was hailed as the vintage of the century at the time) wines; it's very charged, with tremendous concentration, and takes things a little too far.
2 stars

Villa Franciacorta Cuvette Sec 1994
Slightly paler brassy gold with greenish highlights and fine perlage it looks fresher than the 97. The bouquet is rich and fairly sweet, with fine floral fruit accents supported by sweetness and some sweet butterscotch, also some candied citrus and some warm milky accents as well. Graceful, and very nice to sniff. On the palate it's ample and sweet, with graceful white fruit that's not at all overripe, and is supported by bright lemony acidity and slight hints of butterscotch, while the sparkle also adds creaminess to the texture, and it all flows into a clean bright finish. The wine is less charged than the 1997, and much more graceful; it has a great deal to say and is, most impressive, one of those wines one enjoys, ignoring all else, and feels considerable sorrow to have finished.

Villa Franciacorta Cuvette Sec 1991
Brassy gold with brassy reflections and fine perlage. This is from a cooler, wetter vintage. The bouquet is fairly rich, with lemony fruit mingled with sour lemon, gunflint, and savory accents. Quick to write, but pleasant to sniff and one wouldn't guess it is entering adulthood at this point. On the palate it's ample, with rich savory minerality supported by lemony acidity that is quite intense, enough that the sweetness of its being sec really doesn't stand out, and supported by some bitter savory notes as well, and flows into a clean long savory finish with considerable lemony acidity and some gunflint bitterness. A very pleasant, and completely unexpected surprise; it doesn't seem like a sec thanks to its acidity, but has a pleasing fullness to the palate and will drink very well with foods, especially rich grilled fish. Having said this, the 94 is more about finesse, whereas this is a bit coarser and broader shouldered. It's not a wine most people would want to drink far from the table, but does have quite a bit to say and will work well with foods. I would expect it to age well for at least 5 years more.

More Villa in Verticale Villa's Site

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