Wine making regions tend to be pretty, and Franciacorta is prettier than most; it's at the mouth of Lago D'Iseo, an alpine finger lake at the foot of the Val Camonica that would likely drain away into the Pianura Padana were it not for several imposing crescent-shaped end moraines whose height and breadth give a good idea of just how large the ancient Alpine glaciers were.
Within this panorama the Bersi Serlini family, which began making wines in 1886, has been quite fortunate. They are located in the Commune of Provaglio d'Iseo, a short distance from the Monastery of San Pietro in Lamosa (the land once belonged to the monks, who hosted travelers where the winery now stands). They have 34 hectares of vineyards that extend down to the lakefront, and while one might wonder at having vineyards along a shore line the effects are quite beneficial; the vineyards are laid out with rows perpendicular to the shore, and during the summer receive the cool nighttime breezes flowing down the Val Camonica, which eliminate the moisture that could cause mold or rot; Maddalena Bersi Serlini notes that because of these breezes they can limit treatments to just copper and sulfur in about half their vineyards.
The harvest in Franciacorta is timed differently than in most other appellations because good acidity levels are of paramount importance for making good sparkling wines. Since acidity decreases with increasing ripeness Franciacorta producers harvest at the beginning of August, and Maddalena says she is always one of the first, as a result her neighbors call her Lumicino, or signal light -- when they see her pickers in the vineyards they know it's time to get ready.
Once the grapes are picked they are soft-pressed and the resultant must descends by gravity feed into the tank hall, where the cellar masters keep it in steel holding tanks briefly, while cooling it, and then transfer it to fermentation tanks. Fermentation is by vineyard; since they are by now quite familiar with their vineyards they have tanks of the proper size for each vineyard. Almost all of their wine ferments in steel, though they do barrel ferment small amounts of wine for their top wines -- about 5% for the two Franciacorta Riserva wines, using year-old barrels purchased from a winemaker who ferments his white in new oak.
The varietal makeup in the vineyards is, as one might expect given Franciacorta, largely Chardonnay, though they do have a little Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero, in hillside vineyards. It is all fermented in white, and this brings up an important point. With the exception of a little red wine they make for local consumption, everything they make is white, and it all sparkles. "I decided, since we're in Franciacorta, that we should concentrate on Franciacorta," Maddalena says, adding that when she made the decision some of the sales reps, who were used to having Bersi Serlini their still wines too, objected.
To be honest, I think she made the correct decision, and expect that they have come around.
The wines, tasted September 18 2011
Bersi Serlini Franciacorta DOCG Brut
This is Non Vintage, Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco that ages on lees for 21 months, and the vineyards are 15-20 years old. Maddalena says it's their traditional wine, first produced in 1970. Pale greenish straw with fine persistent perlage. The bouquet is pleasant, with gunflint and heather supported by some sea salt and wet bread crumbs; pleasant to sniff. On the palate it's bright, with lively savory citric fruit supported by sparkle and some vegetal notes, and also the sour yeastiness of the lees; nice balance and quite approachable, and will drink quite well with foods, from elegant risotti through fish based pasta sauces, and also fish in general, including lake fish. It is eminently approachable, ripe but not too ripe, with acidity that keeps it on its toes. Expect it to go quickly.
Bersi Serlini Franciacorta DOCG Brut
This is a distinct from the Basic Brut, with a different label, and Maddalena calls it Dedicato, or Dedicated, in that it is a wine bottled for a special event or occasion, in this case Franciacorta's 50th anniversary. They decided to mark the even with a special edition of their Brut -- 100% Chardonnay that spends more time on the lees -- as it is their best selling wine, with a label that reflects their older labels, which were all Liberty. Production is 50,000 bottles, and they view it as an important success, and a reflection of the fact that they believed in and have concentrated exclusively on Franciacorta. The wine is delicate straw yellow with fine perlage. The bouquet is elegant, with rich savory gunflint supported by some vegetal accents and clean fresh bread crumbs; and brings to mind hammer-struck granite. On the palate it's full, rich, and creamy, with deft mineral laced sour lemon fruit supported by creamy sparkle and fairly pronounced underlying bitterness that carries at length into the finish, Quite elegant, and is a wine that will work well with foods, though to be quite honest I would rather sip it as an aperitif, or with friends while talking far from the table, lest the food distract.
Bersi Serlini Brut Cuvee N°4 2006
Lot 1210 CV
This is from their four oldest vineyards, all Chardonnay, and a small percentage is fermented in wood. Rest in steel. They consider it to be their most representative wine, and make it in all formats. Since it is a vintage wine it rests longer on lees. Pale straw yellow with greenish reflections and fine intense perlage. The bouquet is deft, with considerable gunflint laced minerality supported by slight hints of citrus and breadcrumbs with slight vanilla accents as well; quite elegant. On the palate it's full and rich, with clean soft sour lemon fruit supported by sparkle and gunflint laced bitterness with an underpinning of butterscotch and some wet bread crumb yeasty accents, which flow into a clean savory finish with lasting gunflint bitterness. Pleasant, and quite welcoming, displaying pleasing deftness and grace; it's a wine that will work with foods, though like the Dedicated Brut it's perhaps better suited to being sipped with friends far from the table. It's the sort of wine one can hold a conversation with.
Bersi Serlini Franciacorta Satèn
Lot 0210 S; it's Non Vintage.
Pale slightly greenish brassy yellow with fine steady perlage. The bouquet is delicate, with herbal notes and gunflint mingled with some sea salt and heather. Quite welcoming. On the palate it's ample, approachable, and soft, with moderately intense savory sour lemon fruit supported by sparkle that's not as creamy as the Cuvee 4° though one really cannot expect that, it has a little more backbone and the vegetal accents emerge a little more strongly, making it better suited to accompanying foods; it will be quite versatile at table and go very fast. Easy to drink (though not simple; if you want there is much to think about) and expect people to want more.
Bersi Serlini Franciacorta Extra Brut Riserva 2003
They started making this in 1971, when the only thing one could call it was Extra Brut, and they have kept the name rather than adopt Pas Dosé or Dosage Zero -- they consider it to be their heart & soul, because they don't think Franciacorta requires liqueur or sugars. Well kept vineyards, and that's enough, says Maddalena, adding that of her wines it's what comes closes to what she looks for in Franciacorta . Deeper gold with slight greenish reflections and fine persistent perlage. The bouquet is elegant, with rich green sour lemon supported by savory accents and bread crumbs, and by some gunflint as well. Quite elegant and very enjoyable. On the palate it's deft, with rich sour lemon fruit that has some greenish accents and is supported by sparkle and savory minerality supported by some mineral bitterness that flows into a long bitter finish with slight peppery accents from the sparkle. Quite pleasant, and will drink very well as an aperitif; one could also press it into service with foods but it doesn't need the distraction. A friend occasionally says wines are "lovely," and I think he would say so here.
Bersi Serlini Franciacorta Brut Vintage Riserva 2003
This is a vineyard wine, from their oldest vineyard -- 46 years old -- and is a Chardonnay, and spent 7 years on lees. It's pale straw gold with slight greenish highlights, and has fine intense perlage. The bouquet is powerful, with gunflint and hammer-struck granite mingled with bitterness and bread crumbs, and with some smoky accents and slight sour lemon. Nice balance and enticing; it has quite a bit to say. On the palate it's full and creamy, with fullness coming from both bitter minerality and fine sparkle, and flows into a clean rather bitter finish. It's quick to write but quite impressive, with minerality playing very well with sparkle and the acidity, which -- thanks to harvesting at the proper time -- is quite sufficient to hold its own despite the heat of the 2003 summer. A delightful sipping wine, and beautiful minerality.
Bersi Serlini Franciacorta Rosé Rosa Rosae Brut
Lot 1210 R
Salmon with some onionskin in the rime, and fine perlage. 30% pn, 24 months on lees. The bouquet is deft, with savory minerality mingled with some gunflint and sea salt, and slight wet bread crumbs. Pleasant in a savory zesty key. On the palate it's bright, with lively minerality and sour berry fruit laced with barest hints of raspberry and supported by mineral acidity and sparkle that flow into a clean rather mineral finish with some peppery notes from the sparkle. It's quite approachable in a fairly muscular, powerful key, and will drink very well with foods; and because it has a bit more body and fullness, will also work well with delicate white meats, for example Spiedo Bresciano, the slow-cooked spitted birds traditionally enjoyed for the winter holidays in Brescia, Expect it to go quickly, and it is versatile too.
Bersi Serlini Franciacorta DOCG Nuvola Demi Sec
This is their Demisec, which they have been making for a while -- since 1980. Few wineries make it, but it gives an opportunity to those who want to finish the meal with something less dry. Chardonnay and Pb, on lees for 21 months, and 20-25 g liter of sugar that makes it more balanced. It's pale straw yellow with greenish reflections and fine perlage. The bouquet is fairly rich, with some bread crumbs and slight yellow fruit mingled with citric accents and some gunflint; it has nice depth and there are hints of sugar though it's not obviously sweet. On the palate it's elegant, with deft citric accents mingled with gunflint minerality and sweetness that adds body and fullness, and complements the sparkle, flowing into a clean sweet gunflint laced finish that in some ways brings sweet licorice root tio mind -- there's a lot to say, and it is enjoyable and the licorice in the finish carries at length. A fine wine for after a meal, or perhaps with cheeses. Very pleasant.
An Alternative dessert made with this Demi Sec by clubs in Cesena, a coastal area of Romagna also known for its fruit trees: Slice very ripe peaches cut use the slices to line a balloon glass. Let them rest in the glass for an hour, then add Demi Sec and serve.
As we closed Maddalena said she is much more interested in acidity than alcohol, and firmly believes in low sugar levels for her bubbly. I certainly can't object.