Unveiled cellar secrets: the story of Berlucchi’s Franciacorta reserves – Live from Vinitaly 2024

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Lovers of bubbles, this one is for you! We are at Vinitaly 2024 again. A packed room of 80 guests, all excitedly awaiting a tasting from historic winery Guido Berlucchi from Franciacorta, with a set of six incredible reserves to taste from their Palazzo Lana line of sparkling, classic method wines. Leading the tasting was Arturo Ziliani, son of legendary Franco who created the first Franciacorta wines at age 21 with Guido Berlucchi in 1961. Filippo Bartolotta, renowned Italian wine journalist and presenter, helped to give the audience a sense of the history and territory behind one of Italy’s most prestigious wine areas.

Palazzo Lana was built in the 1600’s by the Lana de’ Terzi family, ancestors of Guido Berlucchi, in the stunning territory south of Lake Iseo, where a wine culture had already existed since the 8th century AD. The speakers described the beauty of the region with the Alps visible from all the Berlucchi vineyards and cooled by breezes from the lake, as well as explaining the importance of the morainic Franciacorta soils and microclimate of some of the most crucial parcels.

Franciacorta, which takes its name from the 12th-century politics which created a tax-free zone here, is a tiny appellation, with only 3000 hectares of vineyards (out of the 718,000 hectares of vines in Italy as a whole). Grapes grown here include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Erbamant. Berlucchi has more Pinot Noir than most Franciacorta producers, including the “Brolo” vineyard, directly across the road from Palazzo Lana. Brolo refers to “a garden surrounded by walls,” a traditional rural architecture where the most prized crops were planted. The Brolo vineyard at Berlucchi produces Pinot Noir with high acidity, necessary for sparkling wine of quality, and is densely planted, producing low yields of very high-quality grapes.

Ziliani explained his father’s vision, to make wine in a French manner, and his collaboration with Guido Berlucchi, who believed in his ability even at such a young age. Together they created the first vintage of Franciacorta wines in 1961, with a rosé following in 1962. He went on to say that Berlucchi’s “Major shareholder is the sky. Every year we change the recipe for the wine according to the grapes and the harvest.” Using 100kg of grapes to produce 30 litres of wine, Ziliani says, “How can you be delicate? Choose the berries, the freshest fruit, straight to the press in minutes.”  He uses a soft press for clean must, no malolactic fermentation ever and a first fermentation in 2 or 3-year-old barriques for 30-40% of the base wine.  After the assemblage, the wine matures for 120 months on lees, which is double the legal requirement for a Riserva wine in Franciacorta. Ziliani said, “No malolactic produces truly pure Franciacorta.”  

Ziliani admitted that his father loved Chardonnay, while he himself is devoted to Pinot Noir. He remarked that “Time gives smoothness. Pinot Noir is normally very very strong but, after time, the acidity slows down. Some vintages are not interesting until they evolve and mature.”  Bartolotta pointed out that “In the last 25 years there’s been a drastic change in climate but some vintages at Berlucchi are similar to wines made 20 years ago because their vineyards are perfectly cooled by breezes and protected by mountains.”  The first vintage of Palazzo Lana Riserva was in 2004, 100% Chardonnay, as it remained until 2008 when Arturo and Franco both created wines from the same vintage. Franco’s Cuvée Franco Ziliani 2008 Franciacorta Riserva was 100% Chardonnay, matured on lees for 139 months. Arturo’s Palazzo Lana Extreme 2008 Franciacorta Riserva was 100% Pinot Noir and matured 108 months on its lees. He explained the name includes “Extreme” because he wanted to emphasise the extreme difference of his wine from the typical Franciacorta wines, which are primarily Chardonnay-focused. To make the wine, he takes 250 batches selected for the cuvée all the way down to 25 batches he ultimately uses. The work takes 3 months, with between 6 and 10 tastings before he is satisfied. The wine then undergoes 10 years of autolysis before disgorging.

The tasting covered the 2013, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008 Franciacorta reserves vintages, with a side-by-side tasting of the 2008 along with Cuvée Franco Ziliani 2008. Bartolotta commented that the colder vintages were showing better fruit. The 2013 was from a cold vintage with lots of rain, every step of the grape ripening process was delayed by 15 days and harvest was the second week of September. The wine was a very pretty pale gold colour with a rose gold hue and had a flinty, earthy, juniper and acacia, cedro zest character. Sensations of bakery, pastry and a mineral briney quality balanced well with the vibrant acidity and slight astringency from a touch of phenolics. Despite being 11 years old, the wine was totally fresh, showing no signs of ageing, utterly delicious and wonderfully accomplished.

The 2011 Franciacorta reserve was from a much warmer spring and a cool rainy summer. The wine was more golden and bronze in colour, fruity, full of crusty bread notes and grapefruit peel, it felt much riper, softer and more generous on the mid-palate, with a strong spine of minerality and what Bartolotta called “cracking” phenolics. The long finish had a delectable black currant crunch.

2010 was very golden with a pale peachy tone and felt rich on the palate with an almost tropical red fruit quality, along with herbaceous notes and an earthy character returning.  The wine was less open, not as fruited, and more focused on the impressive autolysis characteristics.

2009 was pale gold in colour with more herbaceous elements that were somehow Alpine, with notes of camomille, resin and tea tree oil.  The seductive phenolics were pronounced and accentuated by hints of white truffle, wet stone hydrocarbons and cedar.

Finally, the side-by-side tasting of Arturo’s Extreme 2008 and Franco’s Cuvée 2008. The Extreme showed a bewitching pale apricot stain in the colour and gave a wonderful botanic, balsamic nose, along with notes of unripe apricot and cassis, a dragon fruit tropicality and a chewy phenolic texture. Flavours of saffron and camomille tea, acacia and yellow broom flowers evolved into a beautifully floral, soft and almost soothing palate. Cuvéè Franco Ziliani was a pure pale gold colour, with a smooth, creamy, round mouthfeel. This wine was pas dosé (zero residual sugar, the driest of the dry) and presented an acacia and cedar character, with a supple acidity to balance the subtle peach-skinned fruit.

Summarising this unforgettable tasting on the story of Berlucchi’s Franciacorta Reserves, Arturo Ziliani said, “The future of Franciacorta is the purest, the cleanest, the no malolactic, the zero dosage – this is how Franciacorta needs to continue to express.

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