Friday, April 29, 2011

Tasted at Vinitaly: Villa

Villa's Alessandro Bianchi was one of the first to believe in the Franciacorta region's potential for making great sparkling wines, and the estate continues to be a leader, both in terms of the quality of the wines, and in terms of promotion -- one of the major problems besetting sparkling wines in Italy is the perception that they are either suited to toasts, if dry, or to desserts, if sweeter. You will also encounter them as aperitifs, but are much less likely to be served one between the beginning and the end of the meal.

A pity, because a good sparkling wine can work wonders with all sorts of dishes, from risotti and pasta dishes through fish and meats, and to draw attention to this fact the Bianchi family has organized several editions of a program called Sparkling Menu, in which they ask chefs of top restaurants throughout Italy (and beyond) to build menus around one of their Franciacorta wines; the participants at the dinners rate the recipes (and the wine-food pairings), and the chefs who did the top-rated recipes in the various categories (antipasti, firsts, seconds and so on) are invited to Monticelli Brusati for a final dinner, at the end of which the most successful dish and pairing receive an award.

It's an excellent idea others should pick up on, and a few years ago I was enthralled by a delicately roasted bird prepared by one of the chefs for the finale -- a pigeon perhaps -- that was superb with bubbly. Wouldn't have thought it, but it was.

This year Roberta and Paolo (Alessandro's daughter and son-in-law) presented a couple of new wines, one of which would have gone perfectly with the above mentioned pigeon.

Villa Franciacorta Satèn 2007
100% Chardonnay, 30 months on the lees. Pale brassy gold with brilliant brassy reflections and fine steady perlage. The bouquet is rich, with mineral accents supported by sour lemon and some delicate breadcrumbs. Quite welcoming. On the palate it's smooth and rich, with fairly intense lemony fruit supported by acidity and peppery accents from the sparkle, and by sea salt that flows into a fairly long soft savory finish. Quite pleasant and very approachable; it will work well as an aperitif or with simple fish or white meats, and also with vegetable based risotti. It's a little too soft for fattier risotti along the lines of cheese & truffles.
2 stars

Villa Franciacorta Brut 2007
This is 85% Chardonnay, 5 % Pinot Bianco and 10% Pinot Nero; it spends 30 months on the lees. It's pale brassy yellow with fine steady perlage. The bouquet is pleasant, with elegant lemony citrus fruit supported by minerality and some breadcrumbs, and by slight gunflint as well. On the palate it's fairly rich, with the sparkle conferring a pleasant peppery fullness, while the wine is fairly rich, with savory sour lemon fruit supported by mineral accents that flow into a clean fresh savory finish. Quite pleasant in an approachable key -- it's a brut but is not tremendously acidic -- and will drink quite nicely as an aperitif, and will also be a nice wine to drink with a meal built around cheese (say an elegant cheesy risotto), fish, or white meats.

Villa Franciacorta Extra Blu Extra Brut 2006
A new entry, this is 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Nero; some of the base wine spends 3 months in wood, and then it spends 48 months on the lees. The name, Extra Blu, is a reference to the marine origins of the sediments in the vineyard, and in terms of positioning it's mid-way between the Brut and the Pas Dosé. It's pale brassy yellow with fine intense perlage, and has an elegant bouquet with bread crumbs and gunflint supporting savory minerality and some sea salt; there's also slight sour lemon fruit that provides depth. On the palate it's ample, and dry, with bright minerality and gunflint that gains support and airiness from the sparkle, and flows into a clean fresh gunflint laced finish with underlying minerality and sparkle, which continues at length. Quite pleasant, and though one could happily drink it as an aperitif, it will also drink nicely with foods, ranging from elegant first course dishes (white fish-based risotto comes to mind), cheese dishes, and also fish or white meats. It's versatile, and very pleasant to drink.

Villa Diamant Franciacorta 2005 Pas Dosé
85% Chardonnay 15% Pinot Nero. Some of the base wine ages in wood for 6 months, and then it spends 48 months on the lees. Pale brassy gold with brilliant brassy reflections, greenish highlights, and fine persistent perlage. The bouquet is elegant, with gunflint and minerality supported by wet bread crumbs and slight hints of butterscotch and sea salt; it's quite harmonious and pleasant to sniff in a bracing sort of way. On the palate it's full, with some of the fullness coming from the sparkle, and quite bracing, with powerful minerality and mineral acidity that flow into a clean mineral finish. It has zing, of the sort I look for in a quality sparkling wine. It's not as approachable as some of the other wines -- rather it demands one's attention -- but it has a great deal to say, and the cooler wetter weather of the 2005 summer only helps matters by increasing acidity and minerality. It's one of those wines one hates to pour out at a tasting.

Villa Cuvette Franciacorta Brut 2005
85% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Noir; some spends time in oak, and then it spends 42 months on the lees. Brassy gold with brilliant greenish gold reflections. The bouquet is powerful and rich, with sour lemony fruit supported by considerable gunflint and savory accents, with underlying wet bread crumbs. By comparison with the Pas Dosé it's a little more harmonious, and also has slightly more gunflint. On the palate it's ample, rich, and creamy, with fairly intense bitter gunflint supported by creamy sparkle and bitter mineral acidity that flows into a clean warm rather mineral finish. Very pleasant, with considerable character and harmony, and also extremely approachable; the Pas Dosé is a bit more demanding, whereas this is more welcoming. It's a question of degrees, and which you will prefer will depend upon your taste.

Villa Franciacorta Selezione Brut 2004
80 Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Nero, the base then spends 6 months in wood and 60 months on the lees. It's pale brassy gold with greenish highlights and brassy reflections, while the perlage is very fine and persistent. The bouquet is elegant, with savory mineral accents laced with sour lemon acidity and slight wet bread crumbs; great harmony and finesse., and quite pleasant to swish and sniff. On the palate it's, well, the word "good" comes to mind; by comparison with the 2005 wines it's a little less acidic, but displays beautiful gunflint minerality and savory notes supported by creamy sparkle and some bitter accents that flow into a clean fresh finish with underlying savory lemon and gunflint bitterness. Quite deft, and very elegant; it will drink nicely as an aperitif and it will be perfect for roasting or drinking with friends far from the table, or, if you want to be extravagant, you could drink it with crustaceans or even oysters.

Note -- this was the last wine of the second day at Vinitaly.

Villa Franciacorta Brut Rosé 2007
They have increased the pinot noir to above 40% and the wine spends 30 months on the lees. Pretty onionskin with brilliant brassy reflections and fine steady perlage. The bouquet is deft, with minerality and slight hints of forest berry fruit supported by gunflint, breadcrumbs, and savory accents. On the palate it's full, with the fullness coming from both sparkle and minerality, and quite refreshing, with bright minerality and acidity that flow into a clean dry finish. Very pleasant, and will drink nicely as an aperitif or with foods, and in terms of pairings I might think of delicate white meats, while a fellow taster liked it with spicy foods. The first wine of the day, and it's an auspicious beginning.

Villa Franciacorta Demisec
This isn't a vintage wine, because the Disciplinare says no vintages should be applied to sweeter bubbly, a policy one can agree with or not, but that must be followed. The wine is all 2007 however. Pale onionskin with fine insistent perlage. The bouquet is bright and rich, with sweetness mingled with some raspberry fruit and slight savory notes that add depth and freshness. Inviting. On the palate it's full and rich with dusky raspberry fruit supported by minerality and acidity, while the sparkle also confers fullness, and it flows into a clean bright fairly mineral finish. Quite pleasant, and is a wine that will work well with piquant cheeses, or with wild berry fruit and other fresh desserts. It's also a wine one could open on a summer evening while watching the stars come out.

Campei Sebino IGT 2010
Tank sample
This is a Chardonnay; it's brassy yellow with brilliant brassy reflections, and has an elegant bouquet with greenish vegetal accents mingled with heather and slight tart fruit, which is between citrus and slightly towards apple. Refreshing, and there is also underlying minerality. On the palate it's rich, with pleasant mineral laced heather and citrus that is quite smooth and flows into a ling delicate citrus with slightly greenish mineral underpinning. Quite pleasant, and promises very well. With respect to the last vintage, it's a little tighter and not quite as beckoning (the Italian word would be ruffiano, which -- in this context -- would be a girl giving a boy a come-hither look)

Pian della Villa Curtefranca DOC 2008
Brassy yellow with brilliant brassy reflections and white rim. The bouquet is deft, with elegant minerality and hints of butterscotch supported by some gunflint and underlying white fruit, which is towards apple. On the palate it's graceful, and quite mineral, with minerality and mineral acidity that are quite harmonious, and flow into a clean mineral finish. Pleasant, in a delicate key, and will drink nicely with fish, and also be a nice aperitif.
2 stars

Villa Curtefranca DOC Rosso 2007
This is the last vintage of Curtefranca Rosso -- they will be shifting to Sabino IGT because changes to the Disciplinare will further limit the amount of Barbera and Nebbiolo the wine can contain, something they don't want to do because on their lands Barbera and Nebbiolo grow well. The bouquet is bright, with rich red berry fruit supported by lively berry fruit acidity and some underbrush. Quite fresh. On the palate it's light, with lively slightly sour cherry fruit supported by tannins that have slight brambly accents and flow into a clean berry fruit finish with deft savory tannic underpinning. Quite pleasant, and quite versatile, from red sauced pasta dishes through simple grilled meats and light stews. You will want a second bottle.
2 stars

Villa Curtefranca DOC Gradoni 2007
Deep cherry ruby with lively cherry rim. The bouquet is rich, with elegant slightly jammy cherry fruit supported by brambly greenish accents and some vegetal notes. Nice depth and balance, and very fresh. On the palate it's medium bodied and quite elegant, with rich red berry fruit, sour cherries in particular, though there are also black currants and hints of blueberry, supported by lively berry fruit acidity supported by very smooth sweet tannins; it's quite graceful and very young. One could drink it now with a steak and be very happy, or -- if one has a case -- keep it for 5-6 years, and then open a bottle a year for a number of years.

Villa Querqus 2007 Sebino IGT Merlot
Deep ruby with violet in the rim. The bouquet is unmistakably Merlot, with rich cassis supported by some graphite shavings and hints of underbrush, and also some alcohol. On the palate it's deft, and very smooth, with moderately intense cassis fruit supported by tannins so smooth they seem smaller than they are, and by deft mineral acidity that flows into a fairly long deft finish with some graphite shavings and deft fruit that continues at length. Quite pleasant but one-track; it's a Merlot and with respect to the Gradoni lacks the complexity that the other varietals confer. If you like Merlot you will like it very much, but if you are less of a devotee you may find more satisfaction with the Gradoni.
2 stars

For more information on Villa (they have a beautiful agriturismo too) see their site.

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