David 22 October 2015
The weather’s warming up and Melbourne Cup’s almost upon us… definitely time to pop the cork on something bubbly. And whether you’re celebrating or just enjoying the company of good friends, I have a couple of delicious alternatives to the regulation bottle of Champagne.
Jo Landron… what a moustache and what a winemaker!
Domaine de la Louvetrie was established by Jo’s father Pierre in 1945 near the tiny town of La Haye-Fouassière in the heart of Muscadet. This region, the Oxford Companion to Wine observes, “is currently undergoing a revolution,” thanks largely to the inspiration and vision of winemakers like Jo Landron.
The region of Muscadet is large, covering about 32,000 acres around the city of Nantes, at the very western end of the Loire Valley. Close to the mouth of the Loire River, it enjoys a strong maritime influence from the nearby Atlantic. Muscadet (not to be confused with Muscat) is not just a place, it’s a wine, a light and thirst-quenching white with a vibrant and tangy mineral edge, made from a variety known as Melon de Bourgogne. This is the only variety allowed in wine labelled under the Muscadet AOC (appellation) and nowdays more Muscadet is produced than any other Loire wine.
Jo joined his father in the estate in the mid-1980s, at which time it was producing some rather unexciting wines. He took the reins in 1990 and made changes… big changes. He slashed yields, adopted manual farming methods, moved to certified organic by 1999 and certified biodynamic by 2008. Also, he’s at the extreme end of biodynamic, setting him apart in the otherwise high-yielding and commercially oriented region. In the winery he uses wild yeasts, runs cool ferments and ages his wines in glass lined, temperature controlled concrete vats. This sort of winemaking, combined with his obsessive desire to express the terroir, results in wines that are fresh and alive, yet minerally and textural.
‘Jo Landron remains one of his region’s most conspicuous over-achievers and his name on the label a virtual guarantor of fine quality.’ David Schildknecht for Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate #190.
1. Landron Brut Atmosphere NV
Jo makes some of the region’s best Muscadets, which I offered last year, but it’s not widely known that he also makes a nice little fizz called Cuvée Atmosphères.
Having found Melon de Bourgogne unsuitable for sparkling, he uses a blend of Folle Blanche (around 80%), with Pinot Noir and a little Chardonnay. The vine ages vary between 18 and 30 years, and the yields are low, typically 50-60 hl/ha, far lower than in Champagne. The fruit is biodynamic, estate grown and hand harvested, and the base wines fermented naturally using wild yeasts. Jo uses the same méthode traditionelle used in Champagne, where secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle. The dosage (sugar added immediately after disgorgement and before corking) is a low 5g/l, so it’s dry and the wine spends 24 months on lees. Label artwork is by French artist Michel Tolmer. This regime sounds more like that of big name champagnes than a Muscadet producer - but that’s Jo Landron for you.
Given the fastidious level of care, it’s no surprise this wine has impressive structure, clarity and depth. You'll love the racy citrus and fresh peachy fruit flavours that meld with an earthy complexity and delicious breadiness. The finish is fresh and super-crisp.
“The aromatics are just lovely, delicate, floral, with a white stone and white peach character. A very gentle palate follows, showing some lightly honeyed fruit cast against a minerally background and a fine pétillance too. A very attractive wine, a delicately poised style, but with plenty of acid and grip to give it form.” 16.5/20 points, Chris Kissack, winedoctordotcom.
Whether it’s picnics or aperitifs, you’ll love this naturally fermented, low dosage fizz. A low profile wine with a high profile taste. Terrific value.
I can offer it for $35 a bottle. Click here to order.
The last few summers have seen a surge in the popularity of Prosecco - hardly surprising given its light, fresh and simple appeal. With this new wave of Italian awareness, I’m hoping it’s only a matter of time before Italy’s best sparkling wine, Franciacorta, starts getting the attention it deserves.
Like Champagne, Franciacorta is both a place and the sparkling wine produced there. Located in the hills on the southern shore of stunning Lake Iseo, (still relatively undiscovered, compared to its high profile neighbours, Como, Maggiore, Lugano and Garda), Franciacorta sits east of Milan within Lombardy, the most populous and rich region in Italy.
Table wine has been made in the area for centuries, but Franciacorta’s success as a sparkling wine producer is relatively recent with the first commercial release in 1961. Such was its success that DOC (appellation) status was granted in 1967 and DOCG (top appellation level) status followed in 1995. Franciacorta does produce smaller amounts of red and white wine, however the DOCG applies only to sparkling wines. The area is over 2,000 ha and main varieties are Chardonnay (accounting for over 80% of plantings), Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco.
Similar to Champagne and unlike nearly every other Italian region, several regulations are in place here to ensure quality. These include controls over vineyard location, yields, vine density and methods of production. The méthode traditionelle used in Champagne, or metodo classico as it is known in Italy, is stipulated. Non-vintage Franciacorta must not be released for 25 months after harvest, 18 of which must be on lees (Champagne must see 15 months). Vintage Franciacorta must not be released for at least 37 months after harvest, 30 of which must be on lees (similar to Champagne). Descriptions of dosage levels, (the amount of sugar added immediately after disgorgement, but before corking) are similar to those used in Champagne - Extra Brut, 0-6/gl, Brut 6-15g/l.
Interestingly, in the same way Champagne does not have Champagne AOC on its label, Franciacorta is the only DOCG not obliged to declare its appellation status on its label… the name alone should suffice.
Bellavista was founded by Vittorio Moretti in 1977, with the first vintage released in 1984. Taking its name from the spectacular view, the estate's highest vineyards overlook the Po Valley and across to the distant Alps.Vittorio’s daughter, Francesca Moretti is now in charge and under her guidance Bellavista continues to be widely recognised as one of the world’s finest producers of sparking wine.
The estate is 455ha, of which about 190ha are vineyards, covering the best sites and accounting for an astounding 10% of the appellation. The winery is a dazzling affair - a cutting edge, computer-controlled facility, with kilometres of underground aging cellars. This remarkable operation is overseen by Mattia Vezzola, Italy’s 2008 Oenologist of the Year, who manages despite the scale, to bring an artisanal-like attention to detail. Even with the abundance of technology, harvesting, pressing, tank fermentation, bottling, corking, remuage and dégorgement are all still carried out by hand.
Each year Gambero Rosso, the bible of Italian wine, awards its highest and most coveted award ‘Tre Bicchieri’ (3 Glasses). Bellavista has received an amazing 22 Tre Bicchieri, their range described as “wines of incredible elegance and finesse.”
2. Bellavista ‘Alma’ Cuvée Brut NV (Franciacorta DOCG)
I can still remember the first time I tried this wine back in the 1990s. Rather naïvely I was stunned that such good fizz could come out of Italy. I love this note from Robert Parker, whose reaction seemed quite similar when he first tasted it.
“I have been tasting wines since 1968, first as a serious amateur, and then, since 1978, as a professional critic. I can unequivocally state that this is one of the finest Italian sparkling wines I have ever had. It establishes a new reference point for this category in Italy. It would unquestionably hold its own in a blind tasting against the finest French Champagne... something I always thought to be impossible. In short, it blew me away. The non-vintage Brut is an amazing sparkling wine exhibiting gorgeously precise, persistent pinpoint bubbles, as well as a creamy, superbly concentrated texture, a terrific, complex bouquet of bread dough and ripe fruit, and a long, pure finish. Although it looks like French Champagne, smells like French Champagne, and tastes like French Champagne... it's Italian!” Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate #130, Aug 2000.
Sporting a vibrant new label including ‘Alma’ an “affectionate term for the land that produces wonders” (where do marketers get this stuff?) this wine is going to surprise you.
Like all non-vintage wines, this one represents the house style of Bellavista. Made from 80% Chardonnay, 19% Pinot Nero and 1% Pinot Bianco, the key to the exceptional quality of this wine is the breadth of available blending stock. The blend is made from about 60 different micro crus chosen from a selection of about 120. An amount of aged, or reserve wine is also added. The ability to hold back a portion of wines, to create this reserve speaks of commitment to quality… and money. Having this amazing asset provides additional complexity, texture and depth to wines and is what distinguishes a great house. About 15% of the initial ferment of the base wine was carried out in small old oak, once again adding complexity, texture and depth. Finally, the wine was left to mature in bottle, in those amazing cellars, until at least 4 years from time of harvest - almost twice as longas required by DOCG laws.
“The sparkler just oozes freshness and vitality with pear, white flower and nectarine. The medium finish ends with toasted nut and honey. It is hard to beat this good value.” Drink: 2014-2017. Dec 2013, Monica Larner, The Wine Advocate #210.
It's on the list at Merivale’s top Italian joint Ucello for $150. Go on...
I can offer it for $70 a bottle. Click here to order.
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