Franciacorta is a small but mighty Italian wine appellation currently making waves on the sparkling scene. Though wine has been produced here since the sixteenth century, Prosecco is the Italian sparkling wine that jumps more readily to the international mind. Franciacorta, however, is made via the traditional method and was the first region to gain DOCG status for its traditional method sparkling wine in Italy. This is a region and wine to watch, not least since its recent partnership with the Emmys where it was the Award’s celebratory wine of choice.
Maurizio Zanella is the fascinatingly charismatic character who, as President of the Consortium of Franciacorta from 2009 to 2015, pivoted this wine into the spotlight, positioning it as a premium lifestyle product and making it the official wine of Milan Fashion Week annually. A wayward youth, at the age of 15 and after two expulsions he was sent to work on a farm by his father. Seeking an escape from farm life and the promise of a trip to glamorous Paris he joined a tour of Italian winemakers visiting cellars in France. He had no idea of one day becoming a key player in his country’s wine history, in fact he was so unimpressed that he at first refused to get off the bus to visit “some dark, old cellar”.
Eventually however, he was convinced and the cellars turned out to be those of Romanée-Conti, or DRC as it is colloquially known. These wines are some of the most unobtainable and expensive in the world and most people will never set eyes on a bottle, let alone taste the wine. The 17 year old Zanella not only tasted it, but decided he wanted to take some home with him. The cost of three bottles was more than he had for the entire trip, which he approximates was around 1000 francs, but he was not to be dissuaded. He asked the bus driver if he could borrow a further 50 francs and left with his three bottles tucked proudly under his arm.
On the drive back the driver asked why he had needed to borrow the money and when Zanella told him the cost of the wine he screeched to a halt exclaiming that the cellar had ripped off a naïve young boy and insisting they turn around and return the wine. The fellow winemakers on the bus agreed and offered him hundreds of bottles of their wine for the same cost. Again, Zanella was determined and unbowed by peer pressure, showing character traits that would serve him well in the future, and kept those three bottles of DRC kickstarting his love of and appreciation for good wine.
Zanella took the little farm of his mother’s and founded Ca’ del Bosco Estate, a stunning premium Franciacorta which at this year’s Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships won five gold and four silver medals.
Here Zanella favours innovation and experimentation, finding unique ways of creating better wines. He initiated a very dense style of grape growing which was considered “rash and revolutionary” at the time and practised low intervention viticulture, with the vineyards becoming certified organic in 2014. He invented a “berry-spa” which soaks the grapes in an air-bubbled, jacuzzi-like environment, believing that clean fruit leads to greater purity in the wine. Like much of Franciacorta the grapes are ripe enough to forgo too much sweetness in the dosage with the wines currently at around 2gm/l and Zanella is creating not only sparkling wines, but still too.
A passionate advocate of Franciacorta’s prestige, as President of the Consortium he implemented and executed strict regulations to ensure the quality of the region’s wines. A vocation in the truest sense, wine critic Luigi Veronelli wrote over 20 years ago that “the success of Franciacorta is mainly due to that boy’s efforts. He threw himself into it with a raging desire for the best, for meticulous selection, for quality to extremes”.
This year marks the 44th release of the estate’s multi-vintage Cuvée Prestige Edizione but the Cuvée Prestige Edizione 43 is the one to keep an eye out for this Christmas. Made in 2007 from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero grapes this is elegant and lively with notes of brioche, lemon shortbread, fresh ripe peaches and flower blossom. The perfect aperitif to toast with this winter.
Libby Zietsman-Brodie is the Founder of Bacchus & Brodie, an independent wine consultant and co-creator and presenter of Boozy & The Beast: How To Drink Better – an irreverent series on wine, without the snobbery. Instagram: @a_little_sip_of_me_time