Last week, Thursday evening, our Fine Wine manager Regan McCaffery hosted our first ever tasting of 100% Italian sparkling wines. It’s not too long ago when you were hard pressed to find any region but Prosecco in New Zealand! It is still their most famous sparkling wine though, so we started with two Prosecco Superiore DOCG (The top category) from the famed village of Valdobbiadene, inland from Venice. The Brut and Extra Dry ‘52’ were both made using the Charmat method by Santa Margherita who helped established the area in 1952. Being Italy things are a bit back to front, so ‘Extra dry’ (The most common category in NZ) is actually sweeter than Brut!
Next we headed all the way south to Sicily, high on the northern slopes of Europe’s highest and most active Volcano, Mt Etna. Terrazze dell’Etna was only established in 2007 but their vineyard and terracing at 750m-950m dates back to Roman times. Their oldest vines are over 150 years old, growing directly on the Volcanic lava-flow. Both the Cuveé Brut and the Cuvée Brut 50 Mesi are made by the traditional classic method of bottle fermentation, from 100% Chardonnay. The former is made from younger vines aged 30 months on lees, vs older vines with 50 months on lees. Everything here is done by hand, including the riddling and disgorgement. The combination of Volcanic soil, at low latitude and high altitude, produces a Blanc de Blancs with a flavour profile unlike any other region.
We then move back north to Lombardy and a bottle from one of the greatest winemakers in history, Bruno Giacosa. He was famed for his incredible Barolo and Barbaresco, made from the Nebbiolo grape, but few connesurs now about this sparkling wine, one of the finest in Italy. His Spumante Extra Brut 2007 is made in the traditional style from 100% Pinot Noir (Blanc de Noir). First produced in 1983 it has a first fermentation in stainless steel followed by 30 months on the lees, a low dosage, and long aging on cork before release. This was the oldest wine in the tasting and was showing the most complexity and power, a serious sparkling for the dinner table.
Not far from where the Giacosa is made is the DOCG territory of Franciacorta, the Champagne of Italian sparkling wines. These are absolutely world class bubbles. We tried two wines from their leading producer, Ca’del Bosco. The Cuvée Prestige is a classy ‘Non Vintage’ made from 75% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Blanc, with 25% Reserve wine. This is one of the most technologically advanced wineries in the world, the berries coming in graded and chilled, then washed and sprayed using three soaking vats and a drying tunnel. Everything is gravity fed and done in the complete absence of oxygen, including the crushing and disgorgement. Their prestige cuvee is the Annamaria Clementi 2008, produced from their oldest vines with a first fermentation on its lees for at least three years in small seasoned oak casks. Only the best barrels are then selected, and secondary fermentation on the lees continues for more than seven years in the cellar. It is then bottled with extremely low sulphur levels and zero dosage. This is a stunningly complex wine with a decade of possibility ahead of it.
We finished with a cheeky little Moscato d’Asti 101 from Ca’del Baio. This is made around the town of Asti in Piedmonte from the Moscato bianco grape, and is one of the most famous sweet wines in Italy. Despite having a normal cork this is a sparkling wine, but it is made in the Frizzante style (lightly sparkling). At only 5.5% alcohol, this fruity and refreshing wine is traditionally drunk by winemakers and workers over lunch. It also is the perfect digestive before dessert after a long multi course dinner. Ca’del Baio’s example is one of the best, and comes from land registry plot 101, planted in 1953.