Tag Archives: champagne

Better Bubbles

This holiday season we reprise the following post which we filed after our visit to Franciacorta in April 2018. On that trip we fell in love with franciacorta, Italy’s emphatic answer to champagne, and dedicated ourselves to spreading the word about what we consider to be the most delicious sparking wine available anywhere. Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah or New Years, we can’t imagine a better way than by popping the cork on a bottle (or more) of franciacorta. If you are curious, stop by Via Umbria. We have the largest selection of reasonably priced bubbles in the DC metro area.

— Bill and Suzy

It’s franciacorta.
It’s not champagne. It’s franciacorta.

And it’s definitely not prosecco.

Franciacorta 19

If we learned one thing during our visit last month to Franciacorta, the sparkling wine producing district in Lombardia, about an hour east of Milan it is that franciacorta is not Italian champagne. It is tasty, elegant and refined. It’s a sparkling wine that deserves its own name, free from the shadow of champagne

What is franciacorta? In a word, franciacorta is delicious.

Franciacorta 22Following four memorable days in Verona last month, we spent four glorious days in Franciacorta, unpacking our bags at the lovely Hotel Rivalago located, as the name suggests, on the shores of Lake Iseo. One of the lesser known lakes in this, Italy’s lake district, Iseo is a stunning backdrop that forms the northern boundary of Franciacorta. The mountains that surround the lake create a unique microclimate that, paired with the area’s poor rocky soil render the area unfit for growing much of anything. Execpt, to our good fortune, grapes and olives.

Franciacorta 15Until 1961 Franciacorta labored under relative obscurity, known mostly as a lovely weekend escape for wealthy Milanese and an area of good but unremarkable white wines. But in 1961 one of those wealthy residents, Guido Berlucchi, seeking a way to improve upon his modest local white wines decided to reach out to winemaker Franco Ziliani who posed a fateful question to his new partner. “What if we were to make a sparkling wine as the French do?” What was born from that question was franciacorta, and today nearly 200 producers annually riddle by hand and machine 17 million bottles of Italy’s best sparkling wine.

Franciacorta 6

Franciacorta 9Compared with the over 300 million bottles of champagne produced in the eponymous region in France, the growth of franciacorta (the name has nothing to do with France but instead was the name given to this middle ages tax free trading zone) has been remarkable, establishing itself as one of the world’s premiere sparking wines in just fifty years. Much of that no doubt has to do with the fact that it was championed and promoted from its beginnings by some of Italy’s most influential, fashionable and cosmopolitan families. Today people love drinking franciacorta as much for its silky, seductive taste as for its elegant packaging and branding.

Franciacorta 11Franciacorta 3Franciacorta 20On our visit to the region we got to experience first hand just how elegant and personal the winemakers’ hospitality can be. We were treated to a tour of the Berlucchi winery, where franciacorta was invented, by none other than Cristina Ziliani, daughter of the original winemaker, enjoying Berluchi’s 61 franciacorta brut and saten in the ancestral home of Guido Berlucchi.  Ca’ del Bosco, one of the most recognized names in Franciacorta introduced us to the area with a tour of their winery and treated us to a memorable lunch at the spectacular il Priore restaurant overlooking the vast and stunning Franciacorta landscape. At Bellavista we were not only treated to a visit to a winery that could just as easily double as an art museum and a private tasting that was among the most elegant we’ve ever enjoyed, we experienced a homecoming of sorts for our lunch at l’Albereta, a relais et chateaux property one of the finest Italian resorts we’ve ever stayed at. If you haven’t read of our memorable visits there, check out our blog post.

o

By now you should be getting the picture. Franciacorta is a region and a type of wine. But no matter what you mean when you utter this magical word, it is elegance and beauty personified, offering a sense of wellbeing that we find so often when we travel to Italy, but which comes so easily and automatically in this unmatched corner of our favorite country. We look forward to experiencing it over and over on future visits to Franciacorta and to sharing it with our customers through special dinners and wine tastings. Come join us and enjoy franciacorta with us. Just be sure to not call it champagne.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

What is franciacorta? In a word, franciacorta is delicious Read more

This holiday season we reprise the following post which we filed after our visit to Franciacorta in April 2018. On that trip ...

Happy Slow Year

IMG_1605

As we crack open a bottle of champagne for the New Year (or for a more Umbrian twist, how about some Scacciadiavoli Brut Rose instead?), we can’t help but think about the New Years resolutions we should and could be making…and then breaking.

An old Italian tradition, practiced more in the South than the North, is to throw your old unwanted dishes and any other small items out of the window on New Years.  Out with the old!  Better to break a dish than a resolution.  (Yes, we realize we may be a bit self interested in perpetuating this tradition given that we sell ceramics, but hey, tradition is tradition.)

But kidding aside, it can be helpful to give some thought about what we want to metaphorically toss out the window, to shed in the new year. It’s a whole lot easier to get rid of something than to resolve to add something new to our already too busy lives. Instead of focusing on what we want to improve upon in the New Year (go on a diet, go to the gym, get up earlier, drink less!), perhaps it would be more helpful to recognize what is weighing us down, holding us back or cluttering up our life.   And resolve this year to slow down a little.

Perhaps by sweeping away just a little of the bad, the old or the unnecessary we make room for just a little bit more of the good in our lives.  As this New Year arrives, we are busily setting out plans for the ambitious 2015 that lies ahead of us.  It promises to be every bit as busy, complex and financially risky as this year was – even more so. But part of our ambition is to make 2015 and the next phase of Via Umbria enjoyable – for all of us as well as our customers.

So while we can’t promise to exactly live the slow life in 2015, you should expect us to stay focused on the truly big things, the things that really matter and not to “sweat the small stuff.”  And while you won’t find us throwing Geribi dishes out the window on New Year’s eve, we will be resolving how we can slow down and smell the espresso more in 2015 than we did in 2014.

We hope you’ll join us.

Buon anno!

Bill and Suzy

New Years Resolutions Read more

As we crack open a bottle of champagne for the New Year (or for a more Umbrian twist, how about some Scacciadiavoli ...

Dancing with the Stars

Back in my youth there was a period of a couple of months when I owned a Corvette.  It was pretty cool.  I felt pretty invincible and like I had arrived, driving around with the top down, not a care in the world (other than getting bombarded with gnats in the face).  One day I remember driving along the Rock Creek Parkway in DC with a friend of mine when we passed a Mustang and he exclaimed, “the enemy!”

This scene was repeated automotively a number of years later when I purchased a BMW sedan.  Driving along Connecticut Avenue to work, every Mercedes I saw made something race in my heart.  Mercedes seemed to be the natural antagonist to BMW.  (Years even later I would buy a Mercedes and suddenly they were no longer the enemy).

Every great thing has its natural, not so much opposite, as opposition.  Yin has its yang.  Hertz has its Avis.  The Red Sox have their Yankees (although until the 1990s the Yankees may not have realized it).  And so for Italy it is – perhaps and in some contexts – France.  Italians tend to live their lives in the moment without thinking too much about how others live their lives and for the most part are accepting other cultures without giving them too much thought.  True, they do bristle at others occasionally (perhaps reserving most of their ire for the German).  But in my mind the one people that they seem to silently compare themselves to the most are the French.

Both value food.  Value art and culture and their proud histories.  They both produce olive oil and wine – boy do they produce olive oil and wine.  In a way they are like close cousins who like each other but are probably happier when the other one is not in the same room with everyone else.

So please don’t tell our Italian friends, but for the past days we snuck away from Italy and have spent time in the capital of enemy territory – Paris.  Taking up refuge in an apartment in the 7th arrondissement, in the shadow of the Eiffel tower we have walked eggshells trying not to enjoy France too much, while trying to sup all the pleasures it has to offer before returning to Umbria tomorrow.  I wonder how Jimmy Carter would judge us.

So being in France has caused us a little uneasiness to balance our joy, but we are completely unapologetic in having arranged a day trip to Reims and Epernay, the epicenter of the Champagne region of France.  Put simply, we love champagne and any and all sparkling wines.  To not visit the land where brother Dom Perignon accidentally discovered the secret to making sparking wine (reputedly exclaiming upon drinking the elixir for the first time, “it’s like drinking stars!”) would be a sin of the highest order.   I certainly don’t want that blot on my permanent record.

Day 8 001

And so we spent the day in Reims and Epernay devoted to one thing only.  Learning about and drinking – mostly drinking – liquid stars straight from the black hole that produced them.

One of our favorite champagnes is Veuve Clicquot.  There are many followers out there with whom we have shared a bottle or case in the past, and so a visit to the old widow Clicquot’s estate in Reims not just made sense, it seemed like a religious pilgrimage.  It was just that.

Day 8 008

Arriving at the estate, a modern but mostly modest reception area decked out in glass and the ubiquitous orange (Clicquot calls it yellow) color, we spent an hour or so on tour, learning about the widow’s contribution to modernizing and expanding the reach of champagne (God bless her).  Then the tour of the caves, underground chalk caverns originally excavated by the Romans two thousand years ago to obtain building materials but which now form a vast network of chambers where sparkling wine is aged, bottle fermented, and refined.  Here fermented wine is fermented a second time in the bottle, producing champagne’s unique taste and signature bubbles.  Here it is riddled or rotated over time to move the spent yeast to the neck of the bottle where it is ultimately degorged, the mass of solids ejected from the bottle and replaced with a secret elixir of sugar and liqueur.  Here is where the magic happens, below ground, out of sight, as if by some magic hands or ancient spirits.

Day 8 004

And what happens in the bottle, underground is truly the work of some benevolent spirits.  Back in the tasting room we sample the grande dame, Clicquot’s prestige vintage.  Its color and appearance reminded less of a gold liquid than soft, liquid gold itself.  And the taste was the same.  Pure gold.  Pure heaven.

Day 8 005

Suzy and I posed for a few obligatory photos in front of the iconic orange (yellow) signs, savoring the gift that was present in our glasses.  Whether Dom Perignon actually uttered those words he is said to have exclaimed, it truly was like drinking stars.  And whether you call them etoiles (French) or stelle (Italian), the stars undeniably look kindly upon all – French or Italian, or even American – who untwist the cage (six turns), ease out the cork, fill up a flute and pay homage to those brilliant men, women and even widows whose brilliance brought us stars in a bottle.

Day 8 007

Day 8 010

Ci vediamo!

Bill and Suzy

(and Drinking) Read more

Back in my youth there was a period of a couple of months when I owned a Corvette.  It was pretty cool.  ...