Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Flights of Franciacorta (i) - Il Mosnel

 An hour's drive or so from Milan, on the south shores of Lombardy's Lake Iseo, Franciacorta has been on the radar of oenophiles internationally since just the late 1960s. Then, the important house of Guido Berlucchi decided to concentrate on sparkling wines. It was a far-sighted move, for in the half century since, with wealthy Milanese pouring money into new or revitalized wineries, this compact region has established itself as the home of Italy's finest spumante, no expense spared, to vie with great Champagne at much the same full prices. Warmer than the Marne, with fewer problems of ripeness, Franciacorta is withal a fairly temperate sub-alpine climate, Lake Iseo being on average one or two degrees Celcius cooler than Lake Garda to the east. The main quality challenge tho' is to temper the natural richness and assertive character of mainstay Chardonnay in the blends by tending higher altitude vineyards close to the lake and staying loyal to floral, delicate Pinot Bianco/Blanc in the grape mix. Some of the most glamorous wineries (notably Bellavista) now feel they don't need PB  anymore - I suspect what they really mean is that it's a tricky grape to grow, thin-skinned and prone to rot in humid summers. For me, still the greatest of Franciacortas, Ca'del Bosco, doesn't make this mistake: as its presiding creator Maurizio Zanella insists, "an element of  Pinot Blanc is essential to maintain the finesse of the wines." Music to my ears when bigness is too much the order of the day, as much in Lombardy as in Champagne. Another estate which clings to the old virtues of elegance and restraint is the historic house of Il Mosnel,  still family run by a brother and sister,Giulio & Lucia,children of the matriarch Emanuella Barzano Barboglio who died in 2007.

Giulio & Lucia Barzano
Vyds below Franciacorta's Morainic hills
Il Mosnel has been a wine estate in Franciacorta since the Renaissance, reflected in its 16th century cellars and a captivating clos now planted in Pinot Nero/Noir, framed by beautifully tended roses - if you think the wine experience should be all about emotion, this is the spot to rekindle your feelings. For the historian, the original name Franzacurta, first recorded in 13th century documents probably referred to exemption from commercial taxes - in the Latin,franca curtes- which was a privilege of local villages under the protection of influential clergy. Il Mosnel has been in the Borzano family since 1836, and it was Emmanuella who carefully guided the winemaking for 40 years since 1967 Today, there are 40 hectares in production, two of which are reserved for still wine making. The estate is a model of high density planting and restricted yields: the vineyards are in the third year of conversion to organic viticulture. Guilio, the winemaker, ferments the wines in a mix of stainless steel and barrels. Dosage is about 7 g/l, though as at other leading Franciacorta estates he makes an excellent pas dose (Brut Zero), which I think is generally more successful in this clement place than in Champagne.

Three strong recommendations:

The entry level Il Mosnel Brut NV - 60 Chard., 30 Pinot B., 10 Pinot N. 30% fermented in barriques, 24 months on lees, Dosage 7g/l (October 2012) Subtle pale yellow, green lights; captivating white flower aromas; lovely soft-textured mousse caresses the tongue; yet the wine has energy, freshness, mineral drive, length. Brilliant with local Grana Pardana Lombard cheese and better still with Lucia's Casoncelli tortellini with vegetables,oil and herbs. Impressive ***(*) 16.5+

Il Mosnel Saten - 100 percent Chardonnay from the 2009 vintage. The category where the great white grape shines, certainly here. Less pressure, akin to the old cremant style of Champagne. A feminine wine, for once the right word. All silk and satin, fine-drawn, creamy; subtle persistence of flavour makes for a fine finale. A grand aperitif, par excellence/  **** 17

Il Mosnel Riserva 2007  - 40 Chard, 40 Pinot Blanc, 20 Pinot N Welsh gold, a real sheen; at this stage of maturity a captivating note of strawberry; but this is more fine wine than spumante\;,elegant, aromatic, supple, made more complex by good phenolic maturity. No green edges  The bees' knees. Exceptional. **** 18

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