For anyone who is interested in learning more about a place in the world, travel and immersion is the purest way to make sense of it all. For me, Italy is one of the most complicated wine producing countries to study. There are 20 regions, all of which produce wine, including over 70 DOCG classifications (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – The highest classification for Italian wines). There are also 329 different DOC classifications (Denominazione di Origine Controllata – a more basic classification level for Italian wine). A 3rd classification exists, known as IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) and is the most relaxed classification that an Italian wine may carry. This allows producers greater freedoms for varietal selection and aging, and is often a winemakers canvas for innovation, rather than tradition. All of these classifications which have different rules, aging requirements, permissible grapes, and iconic producers. Sticking my nose in a book and hoping that I can absorb all this information simply isn’t enough for me. That’s not an effective way for me to learn. I need to go to the regions, visit the winemakers, walk through the vineyards, and experience the culture. This August happens to be my 10th wedding anniversary, and to celebrate this milestone my wife and I planned a return to Italy, to the same places we spent our honeymoon 10 years ago. I’m hoping that this trip can help me gather a greater understanding of the global wine trends, to help me be a better wine professional, and a more informed wine Importer. Blue Crane Imports specializes in the wines of South Africa, but over the next couple weeks I will be focusing my blog on the country of Italy, and my experiences traveling across this picturesque landscape from North to South.
Lombardy is a region in north central Italy, at the foot of the Alps on the border of Switzerland. The capital of the region is Milan – home to Malpensa International Airport, and that’s where the story begins. Overall the region considered a “cool climate” for grape growing and produces a wide array of wines (red, white, and rosé) made from grapes like Nebbiolo, Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir), Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc), Chardonnay, and Moscato di Scanzo, but the region is especially well known for the quality of its sparkling wine. Franciacorta DOCG is the considered to be the greatest sparkling wine in all of Italy, and yet doesn’t quite carry the same name recognition as the less expensive Prosecco or Moscato d’Asti to the general wine drinking public. Produced in the traditional “Champagne” method, where a secondary fermentation takes place in bottle with the addition of sugar and yeast, Franciacorta may be the closest thing to Champagne you can find without being called Champagne.
On the 4th day of my trip to Italy, I drove the little black Fiat I rented along the twisted coastline of Lake Como through Lombardy to thenwinery of a smaller Franciacorta producer called Le Marchesine, and the 5th generation winemaking Biatta family that owns it. The property is small, not a mass producer of bottles for the shelves at your local grocer, but is more focused on smaller production wines from roughly 50 hectares (around 120 acres) of vineyards across the Franciacorta DOCG zone. We sat and talked about the winery, the history, and the method of production for their multiple selections. One of the more interesting topics of conversation (and I have heard this on more than one occasion on this trip) is the shifting generational winemaking mindsets. Fathers pass long standing traditions along to their sons year after year until the sons start to ask deeper questions about why things are done that way. That is when innovation takes over. Breaking tradition, and pushing the limits on what your family has been doing for centuries, yet being mindful of these traditions is what makes an interesting wine producer. Meeting people like this and sharing these ideas is one of the many reasons I love the business I am in. This is not solely an Italian concept. A little closer to home for me, South Africa has been producing wine since the 17th century, and continues to grow and evolve, yet maintain an original identity that is purely South African. Not dissimilar to Franciacorta, South Africa also has to deal with its own identity in the global wine trade, as people don’t think of it as a 1st option for drinking, and often miss an opportunity for a new wine experience. In short – break tradition, and drink something different!
I would like to thank the kind people of Lombardy, and especially the Biatta family for the hospitality they showed me and my family during our brief visit. I will look forward to the next glass of Franciacorta I have in front of me, and I will continue to sing its praises when I’m stateside again. Thanks for reading!