The SOMM Journal

February / March 2016

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22 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } FEBRUARY/MARCH 2016 { sparklers } Berlucchi Takes Manhattan CRISTINA ZILIANI BRINGS HER FRANCIACORTA STATESIDE, WHERE IT'S INCREASINGLY POPULAR Cristina Ziliani of Berlucchi in New York City. The Berlucchi Franciacorta Brut and Rosé have DOCG status. "It was a long time before the area was understood for quality wine," says Ziliani. by Lana Bortolot IT SEEMED APPROPRIATE TO MEET CRISTINA ZILIANI near the top of Columbus Circle, where the clouds seem closer than the ground. Ziliani herself was walking on Cloud Nine, having just met Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett as part of the Columbus Day festivities sponsored by the Columbus Citizen's Foundation—one of the reasons she was in New York City. The other reason: A local check-in on the wines of Franciacorta, the sub-Alpine region of Italy known for its high-quality sparklers made in the traditional method. And, specifically, Ziliani—nearly as bubbly as the stuff in the bottles she brought—was narrating the story of Berlucchi, the region's pioneering producer that put the region on the DOCG map. Franciacorta is a lesson in geography and history says Ziliani, who directs communications and public relations for the winery, which her 84-year-old winemaker father, Franco, co- founded with Guido Berlucchi, a member of an aristocratic family. They formed a partnership in 1955 and produced their first sparkler in 1961. They made 3,000 bottles, and for lack of a better name, called it Pinot del Castello di Bornato after the village in which the winery is located. When they changed it to Pinot di Franciacorta, it was the first time the region name appeared on a label. But, says Ziliani, "It was a long time before the area was understood for quality wine." The region achieved DOCG in 1995, and Ziliani now calls it, and especially Satèn— Franciacorta's proprietary version of Blanc de Blancs—"Italy's answer to Champagne." And, indeed, it not only mimics aspects of Champagne—long aging on the lees and typically five atmospheres of pressure (Champagne has five to six)—but has more rigorous standards than Champagne in some regards, with longer time in the bottle. Between lees and bottle, non-vintage Franciacorta Satèn ages at least 24 months, vintage for at least 30 months, and Franciacorta Riservas Satèn at least 60 months. Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc are the only two white grape varieties allowed in Franciacorta Satèn, which has lower (4.5) atmospheres of pressure—closer to France's Crémants. Ziliani says, "It drinks like a still wine, revealing itself in layers in the glass." The long-time face of the winery, Ziliani leads the company with her brothers, Paolo, the Export Manager, and Arturo, who acts as winemaker. They began replantings 15 years ago, certified organic for their 85 estate hectares, and next year will certify the 400 hectares of their contract growers, with the aim of becoming the largest organic territory to produce traditional method sparkling wine. Ziliani visits the New York market with some regularity and noticed that in just the past year, the needle has moved favorably in her direction, seeing it at wine bars in the city's hippest neighborhoods—Chelsea and the East and Greenwich villages. "Things are changing a lot. I saw for the first time Franciacorta at Bar Veloce, whereas last year no one heard of it." Total regional production is about 15 million bottles of which Berlucchi is about 30 per - cent. It launched nationally in the U.S. market in 2011. "We are not looking for big numbers, we are looking to educate people and making them understand what they're drinking—it's not Prosecco and it's not Champagne," she said. Berlucchi is imported by Terlato Wines. PHOTO: LANA BORTOLOT

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