The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Go-To-Wine Tuesday: Fantinel Prosecco Extra Brut

A bright, bubbly, flexible $16 Prosecco

SPK91-2I am extremely biased when it comes to any sort of bubbly and quite frankly there is never a bad time for it. Great Prosecco offers decadence without a big price tag—stick with solid producers and you can grab a case for the price of one or two great bottle of Champagne. For anytime moments Fantinel’s Prosecco Extra Brut is the perfect go-to bubbly. Just $16 a bottle, it’s ideal for parties, groups, or gifts, but it also pairs well with a bubble bath and book.

I had the great pleasure of meeting Marco Fantinel in Hong Kong, when he was on his whirlwind wine tour of Asia. IWM’s outpost in Hong Kong worked with private clients as well as restaurants and hotels, and I have to say that Marco’s extra dry Prosecco was a hit across all groups. We hosted a dinner together in one of Macau’s largest hotel casinos and I had guests on all sides of me asking me how much Marco’s “Champagne” cost.

When I told them that it was not Champagne and revealed the price, they all gasped and said, “You should raise the price, this should be more expensive otherwise people may not buy it!” In certain parts of Asia it is not uncommon to think that reasonably priced wines are automatically considered cheap and inferior; in fact, restaurants often create a high combination of “lucky” price numbers and always point out the most expensive bottles as these are clearly the “best.”

This vibrant Prosecco quickly became the “go-to” sparkling wine choice for many of the top restaurants, hotels and private clubs in Hong Kong and Macau, and I had to ask Marco time and time again to ship more wine to meet the growing demand. On the nose and palate, the wine offers fresh stone fruit character without being sweet, vibrant bubbles and acidity without being too “dry” and a mousse-y finish that leaves a soft trail of bubbles and minerals. It’s a chameleon in the kitchen and pairs very well with fresh seafood, cured meats, pizza, spanikopita, roasted chicken, fish & chips and many other dishes. Just open and bottle and don’t be bashful.

I still recommend this wine to my clients, bring bottles to personal events, send them as gifts and keep bottles stock in my own little cellar for popcorn and movie nights. You really cannot go wrong here, so I invite you to grab a glass, bottle or case, whatever strikes your fancy) and toast to the holidays and a great 2016!

Expert Picks: Barone Pizzini and Louis Roederer

Two expert selections from Garrett Kowalsky

Garrett_8.6.14_72dpiTomorrow marks the start of fall. Many of you might lament the impending cool weather, but I don’t. I welcome the cool nights, seasonal treats and the dazzling array of colors in the foliage. Below you will find two tremendous sparklers. You might say to yourselves, “Aren’t sparkling wines summery?” I am of the belief that Cava, Prosecco, Franciacorta and Champagne are all-season wines, and I intend to drink them in celebration of the arrival of autumn. I strongly encourage you to do the same.

Barone Pizzini 2009 Rosé Franciacorta $49.50

Unlike Prosecco, which uses the Italian grape Prosecco and a different production method, Italy’s Franciacorta, located in Lombardia, is actually quite similar to Champagne from France. This Rosé uses Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (both champagne grapes) and the secondary fermentation, the process that gives the wine its bubbles, happens inside the bottle (this is known as méthod champenoise). The noble family of Pizzini and their relationship to the Franciacorta region date all the way back to 1870 and this estate was among the first in the region to go organic. This is wine presents an incredibly fine mousse and red berries dance across your palate. Drink now until 2018.

Louis Roederer 2006 Cristal $249.00

You would be hard pressed to find a wine drinker across the globe that is not at least familiar with the name “Cristal.” The brand has become so famous that you might start to think there’s no way it would match the hype—but you’d be wrong. The family-owned Louis Roederer estate owns grand swaths of vineyard and it has access to some of the finest and most refined microclimates, all of which find their way into this detailed, floral and rich offering. Time will only make this prime vintage Champagne better. Drink 2016 to 2026.


Go-To-Wine Tuesday: Fantinel Prosecco Extra Dry

Your perfect picnic Prosecco popper at $16!

SPK91-2Aspen Colorado is blessed with amazing music venues. The Benedict Music Tent at the Aspen Meadows is one of these beautiful spots. Most Friday and Sunday afternoons during the summer, the Aspen Music Festival holds a concert in this amazing structure, which is completely covered yet open to the air. Outside the tent, the rolling green lawn hosts picnickers clustered close to the tent, blanket spread and baskets open. A picnic in Aspen is a fantastic affair, full folded tables, mason jars holding flowers, locally sourced charcuterie and cheese, and, of course, wine.

This week I spent some time deciding bottle to take with me to my weekly picnic. We would be listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and I would be meeting a journalist friend, who would be laden with a selection of cheeses from across the US. We were planning on tasting and evaluating the cheese, paired with bread made that morning at a local shop. I wanted a wine that would not overpower the cheese, that would cleanse our palates between each bite, and that would enhance the picnic atmosphere. A dry, slightly sweet, bubbly wine sounded perfect.

inside music tentI decided that out of all the bottles in my cellar, the Fantinel Prosecco Extra Dry would fit the best. This is a lively, dry and fruity sparkling wine made with Prosecco grapes grown in lush Fantinel vineyards that lie in the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) areas of Collio Goriziano, Grave del Friuli and Colli Orientali del Friuli in the famed Friuli-Venezia Giulia wine region of northern Italy. As with most Prosecco, Fantinel makes its in the Charmat or tank method secondary fermentation in bucket tanks and bottled under pressure. The Fantinel Prosécco is a pale straw color with light aromas of fruit and honeysuckle followed by crisp flavors of citrus, pears, and peaches.

BMT tentSitting on our blanket listening to beautifully played classical notes, my friend and I both agreed that I made the right choice. The crisp, dry bubbles stripped the fat from the cheese from our palates and allowed each bite to feel fresh and delicious. We enjoyed soft cheese from New England, fig wrapped and whiskey dipped hard cheese from Tennessee, and a blue from somewhere in the middle—everything went perfectly with the Fantinel Prosecco! In Aspen, this wine retails for $20, and this Prosecco makes a perfectly delicious, perfect picnic wine.

Franciacorta, Italy’s DOCG That Reinterprets Champagne

All that bubbles is not Champagne

Bottiglia e calice di franciacorta, or bottle with Franciacorta DOCG label, from Wikipedia

Bottiglia e calice di franciacorta, or bottle with Franciacorta DOCG label, from Wikipedia

In the province of Lombardia, south of Lake Iseo in the low hills between Bergamo and Brescia, sits the 3,500 acre DOCG region Franciacorta, home to Italy’s only méthode champenoise sparklers. Sparkling wine requires two fermentations–and while the first is always in a vat of some kind (traditionally wood or clay, now most often stainless steel)–vintners have a choice about where they carry out the second. Most of the sparkling wine made in Italy is made by the Charmat, or autoclave, method where the secondary fermentation takes place in a stainless steel vat, but the vintners in Franciacorta carry out their secondary vinification in the bottle as winemakers do in Champagne, France, hence the term méthode champenoise. The resulting wine is very much on par with Champagne, though as the producers themselves would be quick to tell you, it is not a copy of Champagne.

However, there is a sense of perhaps protesting too much. The winemakers of Franciacorta do more than just accept the French method of producing their sparkling wines; they embrace French grapes and the French system of sparkling classification. Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir are the varietals that comprise the vintages of Franciacorta, and not coincidentally they are the grapes of choice for Champagne. Similarly, DOCG rules employ French terms for their wines–nowhere on a bottle of Franciacorta will you find the word “spumante”; in fact, it’s forbidden. You will, however, find the terms “Extra Brut,” “Brut,” “Sec” and “Semi-Sec,” and you’ll find the designation “Rosé” rather than “Rosato.” This implementation of non-Italian terms can make the marketing, finding, and even introducing of Franciacorta wines difficult, but their bouncy bubbles, happy acidity, elegant structure and proper sparkling “feel” to make quick converts of wine drinkers.

While it’s likely that French grapes are not new to the region, the production of sparkling wine is. Despite receiving its DOC status in 1967, Franciacorta has been making its now emblematic bubblies since just after WW II; although the region had made primarily only still red wines until 1950, by 1995 it had proven itself well enough to receive DOCG elevation. In many ways, however, the terroir is perfect for sparklers. Situated in a natural bowl that looks across Lake Iseo to the Alps, Franciacorta has lower temperatures than the rest of the very fertile Lombardia. In addition, its gravelly, glacial moraine both forestalls ripening and imparts a piquant acidity to the wines. Certainly, the explosion of producers in the once-sleepy area attests to its viability.

The DOCG rules for Franciacorta are among the most comprehensive in the entire system. This stringency means that there is very little identity crisis in Franciacorta. There are rules for cultivation, rules for harvesting, rules for fermentation, rules for ageing, and rules for labeling. It is simply a machine of organization. But given that méthode champenoise requires labor-intensive processes and a concomitant amount of money to fund it, this regimentation is neither surprising nor detrimental.

Essentially, there are three main types of Franciacorta: Brut, Rosé, and Satèn. Each comes in two varieties, one regular and one millesimato, a kind of superiore; the regular version is aged for 25 months, the millesimato for 37. The Brut, which also appears in Extra-Brut, Sec and Semi-Sec versions, is comprised of Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco; the Rosé of Pinot Nero (at least 15%) and the remainder either Chardonnay or Pinot Bianco; and Satèn, which is another word for Crémant, or a version that has a lower concentration of carbon dioxide and is thus less fizzy, is comprised of Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco.

Today’s IWM eLetter offer presents one of our favorite, organically produced Franciacorta sparklers from Barone Pizzini at exceptional pricing, so you can put this knowledge into delicious practice.

Go-To-Wine Tuesday: Barone Pizzini Franciacorta Brut NV

A bright, delicate Italian sparkler that’s perfect to share

vongoleOn a warm summer night, one of my favorite appetizers is called “sauté di vongole,” a dish that I discovered spending some time with my friends in Naples, Italy. This dish is as simple as it is delicious. While you can pair it with a dry and refreshing white wine, it’s even better with a bubbly one, turning your simple first course into something unique!

My favorite alternative to “vongole veraci dell’Adriatico,” the clams you find on the Amalfi Coast, are Manila clams, which despite their name you can find everywhere. I prefer them to cockles because they are more delicate and closer to the original Italian vongole. First, carefully clean all the clams—one bad clam can ruin your dish and the rest of your night, so be very careful. I find that one pound of clams to serve two people is perfect for an appetizer. Keep your clams in the fridge covered by a damp kitchen towel so they can breath and stay humid.

Then, in a large pot, make a “soffritto” with extra virgin olive oil and two cloves of garlic split in half. Gently fry the garlic at medium heat for two minutes and add the clams into the pot. Cover the pot and increase the heat. After a few minutes, the clams will start to open and release their water and create the steam. Gently stir to make sure all the clams open. Once all the clams are open, add one glass of dry white wine, stir gently and let the alcohol evaporate without the lid. After 3-4 minutes serve the vongole in a small bowl. Use a small ladle to pour the “jus” on the clams and avoid the sediments you might find on the bottom of the pot. For a final touch, sprinkle fresh-cut Italian parsley at the very end.

When I served this dish over the weekend, a Franciacorta, Italy’s answer to Champagne, was at the table with us: Barone Pizzini Franciacorta Brut NV. This vibrant pale golden bubbly offers a smooth and persistent sparkle and the classic character that you would expect of a wine fermented in the bottle. With hints of minerals and toasted bread enhanced by delicate citrus notes, this wine is a fantastic combination of clean and fresh while smooth and harmonious.

My wife and I absolutely enjoyed this under $30 half bottle of Franciacorta from Barone Pizzini; it turned a simple dinner into something truly special. I highly recommend it!

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