Italy is well known for its success with the sparkling wines of Prosecco and Asti, and Franciacorta is long overdue for inclusion in that esteem. Situated at the base of the Alps, Franciacorta is protected by those mountains, and the rocky soil left over from glacial travel as well as the numerous lakes in the region combine to provide perfect growing conditions for the grapes. The region is designated DOCG (denominazione di origine controllata e garantita) which ensures high standards of production and quality control.
I recently attended an incredible event at the Waldorf-Astoria, the Italian Trade Commission's VINO 2011. An absolutely overwhelming number of wines from hundreds of producers were available for tasting, and even though I began the day with a plan, I quickly succumbed to the inordinate task before me and only ("only"!!!) managed to taste 86 different wines. A few producers really stuck out in my experience, and one was Contadi Castaldi, the producer of some amazing Franciacorta wines. Contadi Castaldi is unique in that they have vineyards in each of the nineteen municipalities of the region, covering diverse soil types and microclimates.
Each of the three wines they were offering for tasting was excellent in its own right, the first being the NV Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta DOCG Brut. This wine has its first fermentation in stainless steel and then spends 20-26 months on the lees. It is 80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco. The wine has a great mousse and wonderful notes of lime and florals with a lovely balance and crisp, clean finish. ~$25
Minxy is a sucker for good sparkling wines, and a HUGE sucker for good sparkling rosés! I was really taken by the NV Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta DOCG Rosé. In the past, the winemakers only produced a vintage rosé, but they realized that having such a specialized offering was denying the wine-drinking public an opportunity to enjoy their gorgeous rosé blends, and have transitioned now to only make NV rosés. This is 65% Chardonnay and 35% Pinot Nero. It is fermented mostly in stainless steel, and has a beautiful pinky-peach color, with great light berry fruit. Nice acidity, rich mousse and a long finish. ~$25
Finally, there was the 2006 Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta DOCG Saten. The 100% Chardonnay Saten was fermented in both stainless steel and in oak, and spent 30-36 months on lees. It has gorgeous lemon and lime notes, with an herby understructure. Huge mousse, nice acidity - a very lovely and elegant wine. ~$35
Minxy will admit something a little unprofessional: at the end of the event, this overwhelmed Wine Minx was getting ready to leave after tasting for five hours, but first returned to the Contadi Castaldi table for one more little pour of the rosé. And then she drank it (rather than professionally utilizing the spitoons,) and enjoyed every drop. Yum!