Here’s a tip – if you ever have to learn about wine-producing countries then don’t leave Italy until last. With its weird and wonderful collection of local grape varieties and numerous regions, the boot-shaped country has the potential to become a student’s worst nightmare.
Studying wine can be hard at the best of times, with each country seeming to have a different name for each grape variety. Languages, production techniques and the labels of obscure producers can conspire to create a challenge for even the most studious drinker.
So it’s always good to get a helping hand and a bit of insight into a region, which is exactly what was on offer in Edinburgh recently from the Consorzio Franciacorta and the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino. Wine expert Tom Cannavan was on hand to guide participants through the delights of Franciacorta, arguably Italy’s flagship sparkling, and Brunello di Montalcino, one of its best reds.
When we think of bubbles from Italy, we tend to concentrate on Prosecco, the sparkler that has swept through Scotland’s wine bars and supermarkets. When Prosecco is produced, the second fermentation – which creates the bubbles – takes place in a tank and then the wine is bottled under pressure. With Franciacorta, the second fermentation takes place in the bottle, just like in the Champagne region in France.
The result is more pronounced “autolytic” flavours – like bread and toast – to accompany the fresh fruit notes. While Prosecco is made from the Prosecco grape in the area around Treviso in North-East Italy (also called Glera when grown outside its heartland), Franciacorta is made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and some Pinot Blanco (or Pinot Blanc) in Lombardy, again echoing other sparkling wines made using the traditional method, such as Champagne, French Cremant and many New World sparklers.
Two bottles really stood out for me at the tasting. The first was the 2011 Ferghettina Milledi (£26, Woodwinters), with lots of fruity flavours of pears and green apples balanced by richer and deeper notes of biscuit, bread and toast. Tom noted that Franciacorta has less aggressive acidity than Champagne, which he suggested was due to the regions’ more southerly latitude, with the grapes getting more heat and sun to convert their acids into sugars. The Milledi was certainly rounded, but still retained refreshing acidity.
The other Francicorta that caught my eye was the 2011 Barone Pizzini Rosé (£24, Vintage Roots). This wine had a beautifully deep pink colour, with sweeter strawberry and raspberry aromas and flavours. Its richer and rounder style made it a great match for some of the salamis on show at the tasting too.
Turning to the second half of the tasting and we switched from sparkling wines to reds, with Brunello di Montalcino taking centre stage. Made using the Sangiovese grape in Tuscany, Brunello wines spend a minimum of two years ageing in oak and are usually aged for four years in barrel and bottle before being released, allowing time for their powerful tannins to become more integrated into the rest of the wine.
The 2010 Altesino (£26.95, Roberson Wines) was a real crowd-pleaser, with lively red cherry and raspberry fresh fruit flavours and richer aromas of roast meat, smoke and tobacco. The tannins were velvety and combined well with the warming alcohol and sweet spicy notes of cinnamon and cloves.
In a similar vein, the tannins in the 2010 Caparzo (£33.99, AG Wines) were just as well-integrated, with the red cherry and redcurrant fruit balanced by a twist of refreshing acidity. The wine spent three years ageing in a mixture of Slavonian and French oak, creating a rounded feeling in the mouth.