Wine Review: Franciacorta Brut ‘Le Terre’, Arcipelago Muratori

This is more of a mini-review as I was not able to gather much information about the wine from the restaurant (a small neighborhood restaurant in Milan) where I had it as they did not speak any English and I do not speak Italian. Looking at the bottle I did however quickly see that it was a Franciacorta sparkling wine so made with the traditional (champagne) method and that it was a Brut. It is made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but I could not see any information regarding the percentages.

The wine was pale yellow color and the aroma was one with nice lemon and lime with only the slightest hint of toastiness. It has a pleasant acidity and a slight citrus flavor. It lacks complexity and the flavor falls pretty flat. I would say that it works well as an aperitif and especially when it is hot (and that it was when I sampled it – Milan was a steaming +37 Celsius). Not a bad wine but not something I would necessarily seek out. Quality rating it deserves a 2.5 but it was attractively priced, €4.5 for a glass in a restaurant and that I think makes it great value for money so there it rates higher at 3.5

Wine review: Faccoli Franciacorta Extra Brut

Faccoli is one of the many sparkling wine producers in Franciacorta . The founder was Lorenzo Faccoli who in 1964 acquired land on the hills of Mount Orfano, in Coccaglio. At this point in time Franciacorta was in its infancy as a wine region. That year Lorenzo obtained 12 hectoliters of wine from grapes of an existing vineyard, making wine on his own and sold by measure. Soon he realized he wanted to do more so he arranged the terraces and planted vineyards of chardonnay and pinot blanc, according to the recommendations of the new registered designation of Franciacorta origin. Already in 1970 he bottled part of his own wine and in 1979 he produced 300 hectoliters from his own wine and grapes.

In 1983 a lot changed for the Faccoli house, the sons Mario and Claudio stepped into the business. The decision was made to make sparkling wine the focus. In 1989 the production was 45 000 bottles (15 000 still and 30 000 sparkling) but the company still struggled as returns were too low. They also made the decision to manage the sales themselves and to focus even more on bubbles. To facilitate the growth they invested in an expansion of the cellar and added a higher end vintage cuvee to the selection, the Vintage 10 Anni. In 1990, they uprooted the old red vines of Cabernet Merlot Barbera and Nebbiolo and reduced the production of still wine to 10.000 bottles of white wine. In 2000 they stopped producing still wine and made the sparkling the only focus of the company. Today the company produces over 50 000 bottles of sparkling wine and have added several cuvées to the selection, today these are: Rosè brut, Extra Brut, Brut, Dosage Zero and Vintage 10 Anni.

The Facolli Franciacorta Extra Brut was the one I sampled (at Monvinic). It is grown on the hills of Mount Orfano and it is a blend of 70 % Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Blanc and 5 % Pinot Noir. Facolli uses the méthode champenoise for producing their sparkling wine. No surprise as they are in Franciacorta , the only Italian sparkling wine appellation that must be made by méthode champenoise. This specific cuvee has been aged 21 months on the lees. The extra brut has minimal extra dosage and is very low in residual sugar (2.5g/l).

I have previously not been very impressed by Italian sparkling wines but this one I did find pretty decent. I sampled it side by side with a Pehu Simonet Champagne and a Albet i Noya cava and from that trio this was clearly the best (reviews of the others to come)

The color is pale yellow with fine bubbles. The aroma has nice brioche and bread notes as well as yeast and hints of mineral. On the palate it is very clean, bright with mineral and citrus. It works excellent on its own, as an aperitif, but also with some lighter food. As I did not have much expectations on it, I felt pleasantly surprised. Looking at quality I would rate it as a 3 (S was pretty fond of it, so she might say its a 4). It is nice but would perhaps not go out of my way to find it. It can be found online (mainly from Italian wine shops) for €13 to €20. In the lower end of that segment it is good value for money (a rating of 3.5).

Wine bar review: Monvinic, Barcelona

Monvinic is a lovely wine bar located in the Eixample neighborhood in Barcelona. It looks really sleek and classy from the outside and the feeling is the same when entering. The entire place is designed by interior designer Alfons Tost and it does feel like it is a fitting design for an upscale wine bar. I must however say that while it looks nice the chairs at the tables are not very comfortable so I always prefer squeezing together in the sofa instead.

There is an extensive wine library along one of the walls and it is from what I understand fine to browse the books. I have never really found a reason to do it as I have most of the wine books I want at home. While the books are impressive the reason to come here is the wine list. The wine list by the glass is constantly changing. Most of the time there are around 30 wines available by the glass and several hundred more by the bottle.

The list by the glass is a nice mix of both Spanish and International wines. There is usually three different sparkling wines, around 10-15 reds and whites respectively and then some sweet wines as well. The wine list is presented on tablets (not iPads but some other brand) and that is of course nice but I do wish they would have made better use of the technology. There is very limited information on the wines and the producers and it would be so easy to have something more there when they have the tablets. The use of tablets does however make it very easy to change and update the wine list and that means that they sometimes change the wine list by the glass during the evening.

All the waiters serving are also trained sommeliers so it is always possible to get knowledgeable service. Or I would rather say that it should be. At times Monvinic gets very busy and it is then sometimes not possible to really get the attention of the staff. It did not really use to be like that but since the Wall Street Journal piece on Monvinic it does seem like the place also draws in more people (and to some extent more the people that want to appear to be interested in wine). I would recommend coming either a bit earlier (before 19) or a bit later (after 21.30) to get the best service. The wines are usually interesting and the prices by the glass are decent. What i really like is that it is possible to order half-glasses. It gives a good chance to sample more wines and since many of the half-glasses are around €3 it does not have to be very expensive.

Recently I sampled some interesting wines from South African Mullineux (the white Kloof Street as well as the red Mullineux) as well as some great sparklings. Amongst them an Italian sparkling, Faccoli from Francacortia (if this was a blind tasting I would have picked it as a Champagne) alongside some, while not bad, more disappointing champagne from Pehu Simonet and cava from Albet i Noya. The international selection is pretty impressive but I would actually have expected more from the Spanish wines. There are however some interesting local wines there and I have on previous visits sampled lovely wines from Castell D’Encus (they make some lovely unusual Spanish wines in the Pyreenes, their Acusp is 100% Pinot Noir and the Ekam is a 100% Riseling).

Monvinic also serves food and while the quality is pretty good I must say that prices are rather steep for it. The food is a mix of set tapas menus and some larger dishes. I often struggle to find any set menus I like (as they usually contain something I do not want/like) and as I have come with the purpose to sample some wine I do not want a full main course so prefer to eat elsewhere. All in all I do however love popping into Monvinic for a few half-glasses, some wine talk with the sommeliers and then head elsewhere for dinner. It is without a doubt one of the best wine bars in Barcelona. I may not agree with the Wall Street Journal that it is the best in the world but it is clearly a good place for a glass or two.

Sipping wine at Charlotte Street

To balance out the lack of wine here in Asia, I have saved up a few (more like twenty) reviews on some wine action from our trip to London over New Year. Today I thought I would write about a new acquaintance, Vagabond Wines. Its a lovely mix of a wine store and bar. I just love the concept. It’s a place where you can go hang out, talk wine, and browse around sipping wine from their numerous tasting machines. This is the type of place I miss having in the Nordic monopoly-countries.

Vagabond has two locations, this review is about their second location on good old Charlotte Street (my star restaurant Bubbledogs is also there). The first one is in Fulham. This location has more of bar feel to it but they also have an extensive selection of wines to buy of the shelf. However, if you wish to browse for wines to buy with you to take home, it may be best to do this before the evening crowd wonders in. The selection is fairly broad both from traditional Europe and New world, especially the US. They have good descriptions for each wine making it easy to pick out something you like. The tasting machines also makes it possible for them to have some rare wines available for retail, as one can have a small sip before making the purchase decision.

The shop has seating on two floors (entrance and the basement). The entrance level is a bit nicer but can also get chaotic on a Friday afternoon and evening. They accept reservations so that’s probably a smart move if you want to be guaranteed a seat after 6pm, especially Thursday-Saturday. You can buy wine at the bar both by the glass (bubbly) and also via the sampling machines. To use the machines you load money onto a card. The card is then inserted into a machine and with a press a button you select which wine and size of glass you want to sample (three options from a small sip to a full glass of wine). The small tasters start at around £0.6 (and go up-to around £4) and the glasses of wine start at around £4 and then go upwards. All the bottles they have for retail sales can also be enjoyed in the bar for a small £10 corkage fee. They also have nibbles and shared platters of cheese and cold cuts. We tried the charcuterie board and I must say it was delicious. A perfect snack to fend of the hunger before heading for a late dinner. It was plenty of food for two to share, and made it possible for us to skip starters for dinner.

There are a lot of nice wine shops and bars in London, but the staff is often what makes a difference for me. At Vagabond they are friendly and really knowledgeable, we could have stayed for hours just chatting about wine. My recommendation is to stop by during the slower part of the day to have more of in-depth discussions on wine as the evenings tend to be a bit too busy for that.

The reason I do not give it a 5 is the price level. It’s a bit steep on some of the wines (saw a Gramona Allegro Cava for £20 and that is below €10 in Spain (and even in Sweden or Finland where the alcohol tax is notoriously high and the price level generally higher it would be cheaper). This may not be the fault of Vagabond, but rather the importer or how Gramona want’s to position themselves on the market, who knows. The atmosphere is however great and they do have other interesting wines: a house Champagne (did not try that one) and a very nice Franciacorta by the glass. So I am 100% sure I will be back. For anyone around Charlotte Street (Tottenham Court Road) in the mood for a glass of wine Vagabond is a great option. It may also be nice place to hang out while waiting for a spot at Bubbledogs.

Wine Review: Santus Brut Franciacorta Sparkling Wine

When holding tastings, people often ask me what is the difference between Cava and Prosecco. Perhaps it is because Prosecco has been, at least here in Sweden, more known amongst consumers than Cavas. I am not surprised, as the Monopoly selection is really weak on quality cava. But for those who are not acquainted with the subject, a very simple description of the difference is, that Proseccos are aged (“fermented”) in steel tanks (The Charmat Method), as opposed to Champagnes and Cavas being aged in bottles (the Champagne Method or Methode Champenoise). There are other differences as well of course, but I will leave the analysis to a future post.

Franciacorta is the main exception. It’s one of the few wine regions in Italy that produces sparkling wine with the Champagne Method, the others being Trento and Oltrepo Pavese. I am not saying one method produces better wines than the other (yes I am), but they bring out different characteristics in the wines. Steel fermented sparkling wines tend to be more “fresh” and fruity. The route from grape to wine is shorter than with the Champagne method, and the wines should be consumed young when their fruitiness is at it’s max. Champagne method on the other hand produces a different result. The fruitiness of the wine diminishes with age and aromas such as toast, nuts, caramel and yeast come out. These characteristics are developed over time contributing to a smooth and creamy texture to the wine.

However this is a wine review, not a deep dive into production methods. Santus Brut Franciacorta sparkling ended up on our table from M’s trip to Northern Italy. It was a recommendation from a local wine-shop. I tried to enter the producers web-site, but I run into a common problem that I often have (as I concentrate on small producers), the website is only in Italian. That’s a bit disappointing, as I would have liked to read about the producer.

Now about the wine itself: Santus Brut is a mix of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir, it has 7g/ liter residual sugar and it has been aged for 21 months. It’s actually a single vintage from 2009. Mmm. the ingredients are there for me to like it! The color of the wine is light yellow and the bubbles small (a characteristic common to the Champagne method). The nose of the wine is fresh and lemony, and the taste sour, sort of like biting into a Granny Smith apple. Its an easy sparkling wine. Perhaps value for money for 14 Eur.

If this wine would be available here in Sweden I would definitely buy it. I could imagine it as an aperitif (for a summer party) or pairing well with some white fish. I think for 14 Eur a bottle it is a really good choice. Perhaps I need to contact the producer and ask if they need a distributor (wink wink). I give this wine 3.5 stars.

Wineweek 5

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! We even got a “tree” this week. M was very much against a full sized one as they make such a mess. So I bought a nice vase and picked up a few branches (for a few kronor) from a tree-salesman, and tadah – good enough for me! I am not this creative myself, but I saw the concept at a shop and thought it looked nice. What a busy week otherwise; finishing up with work before the holidays, buying presents, and doing all the food shopping for Christmas eve (that when we celebrate Christmas here in the Nordics). I felt that I didn’t have that much time for writing. I definitely wanted to, but as there is always more one can do at home and at work, I have learned to always reserve enough time for my loved ones.

It has been an interesting week with the Winecalendar. It is definitely clear to me now that this is a very bubbly calendar with only sparkling coming out of the boxes this week. I am always interested in small producers as they sometimes have more courage to be bold with their wine-making. The larger houses have their signature tastes and high quality can also be about consistency. Not saying that the big houses don’t have great vintages, but they are often out of my price range. With the smaller producers you win some, you lose some. I enjoy the surprise nevertheless. I can see I am getting deeper and deeper into grower champagnes and artisan cavas. I wonder whats next, perhaps ports. I have already started reading up on them. And the real question is, how can M top this years calendar next Christmas? I can’t really imagine it getting much better than this.

We had several guests popping by this weekend. First a friend I have met in London came over for a few nights. We did some wonderful wining and dining both at home and out. We spent Friday just cooking at Casa Winecurious and tried out two interesting bubblies: A Drappier Brut Nature Champagne, ordered through the Monopoly; and Santus Franciacorta sparkling wine brought from Ms trip to Northern-Italy. Franciacorta is the only region in Italy that produces sparkling wine with the Champagne Method, so we have been curious to buy them whenever we get recommendations. Both were pretty good and I can’t wait to review them. On Saturday we went out for dinner and drinks at Pharmarium, a restaurant that is built into an old apothecary.

On Sunday, today, another pair of friends stopped by for a champagne brunch. We finally tried out a combination Richard Julin, one of the big wine critics here in Sweden recommended in one of his TV appearances: Bacon and eggs with Champagne. It’s a surprising combination and something I would definitely not have thought about without Richards tip. Not sure if I am as excited about the pairing as Richard is, but it wasn’t too bad, not too bad at all.

Yes a hectic week. However, the holidays are around the corner, and not a moment too soon. Some rest and relaxation is exactly what the doctor ordered.