A Glass of Mirabella Rosé Franciacorta
In the northwest part of Italy in the region of Lombardy, a small area called Franciacorta is tucked away making top quality, traditional sparkling wine. It is not only a delimited wine zone that has been given the highest Italian wine quality status, DOCG, it is also a very environmentally conscious place with many of the Franciacorta DOCG sparkling producers farming organically – unique for Italy. But they take it a step further by having a lower amount of sulfites compared to the average and one family producer in particular, Mirabella, has been pushing the limits of low sulfite levels in their wine. Mirabella has even created a sparkling wine that is so low in sulfites (3-6 mg/L) that it legally doesn’t even need to display “contains sulfites” on the label as any level below 10 mg/L does not need to be declared.
Franciacorta is a cool continental wine zone that is specifically located in the province of Brescia, in Lombardy, and the place takes on the shape of an ampitheatre that overlooks Lake Iseo, moderating the temperatures. It is considered a young wine area, especially in Italy, as it was started in the 1960s with the first generation of producers laying down the foundation yet Franciacorta has wine roots going back to the Middle Ages. A document from 1277 (Statuta Communis Civitatis) points to this area producing wine as far back as the 13th century. Even more interesting, a doctor named Girolamo Conforti living in Brescia published a text in 1570 about sparkling wines that were naturally fermented in bottles (the traditional method for sparkling wines such as Champagne and Franciacorta) and their affect on the human body that was titled “Libellus de vino mordaci” (Dissertation on Sparkling Wine).
Yet it wasn’t until the ‘60s when ambitious producers saw the potential for great traditional sparkling wine from the Franciacorta area and made the investment to make it possible for them to be officially recognized as a quality DOC zone in 1967 and then became part of the elite highest quality wine zone group when it was awarded DOCG status in 1995. There are three main grapes used in Franciacorta: Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir), Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc). There has been some experimentation with an ancient native white variety called Erbamat that produces low alcohol, high acid wines that are aromatically neutral. But in the meantime it cannot represent more than 10% of a blend in an official Franciacorta sparkling wine. The main three varieties are already well-known for having an affinity to express a sense of place, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay being the most famous for such an attribute, and the prehistoric soils of the Franciacorta, made up of mineral-rich stony soils that were left behind by the glaciers during the last ice age, are extremely complementary to such varieties.
Mirabella is a family winery in Franciacorta that is run by a father and two sons who are all enologists. The father, Teresio Schiavi, worked in Champagne after university before he came back to Italy to focus on great Italian sparkling wine in Franciacorta. Despite being firmly grounded in technology and science, Teresio with his original partner, Giacomo Cavalli, named the winery Mirabella after the oldest vineyards as there was nothing more important to them than the land. This sentiment is further displayed by that symbol of the goddess of harvest, Demeter, on all of the Mirabella bottles. Teresio couldn’t be more thrilled that his sons (Alessandro and Alberto) have taken on running the business yet he does not hesitate to speak fondly of his late partner, “I am proud to have founded this winery in 1979 together with the late engineer Giacomo Cavalli who made available his lands, his vineyards, his cellar and his passion.”
Alessandro, Teresio and Alberto Schiavi
Certainly having three enologists running a winery colors how they view every step that is taken in the vineyards and the cellar yet their deep devotion to the land, which is the foundation of Mirabella, makes then analyze all the numbers and reports with an ultimate goal of preserving, not covering, what is in the grapes. They know they need to take care of Mother Earth and so not only are they 100% organic without the use of copper (despite being allowed for organic practices) but from 2012 all of their energy has been renewable; one of the reasons they use concrete tanks for fermentation, unconventional vessels for Franciacorta producers, is that it keeps naturally low temperatures without needing external cooling devices and hence they use no energy for cooling. Teresio’s oldest son, Alessandro, who has taken on the role as head enologist by being responsible for everything that happens in the vineyards and cellar says, “being an enologist runs through my veins” and so it is up to him to solve all the problems as well as chart a path to their ultimate goals.
Mirabella Pinot Bianco Brut Nature
As temperatures have slightly become warmer in Franciacorta, the Teresio family has decided to use more and more Pinot Bianco in their blend that is made in a “fresher” style than those richer Pinot Blanc wines made in other parts of the world. Pinot Bianco has the ability to be harvested earlier, retaining high acidity, without showing green notes that can cover the sense of place that they are trying to achieve. Actually, Mirabella just released a new 100% Pinot Bianco Brut Nature (officially it cannot be called Franciacorta as Pinot Bianco can only makeup 50% of the blend) that has juicy peach flavors and floral notes that give a sense of minerality while being fresh with no austerity. Mirabella has also been consistently lowering the amount of sulfur dioxide (SO2) they add in their wines with them noting that the average for Italian organic sparkling wines is around 120 mg/L (milligrams per liter) yet they range from 35 to 40 mg/L; although they note that Franciacorta wines on average are around 80 to 90 mg/L as there is a trend there to make “aromatically open wines”. Mirabella produces less than 40,000 cases of wine which makes them a medium sized producer that makes enough to have a devoted following in Japan, Switzerland and the U.S. yet small enough volume to only allow pristine fruit which is essential for such low SO2 levels.
Mirabella has even gone as far as to make a Franciacorta Extra Brut called “Elite” that is fermented in a way that creates no more than 6 mg/L of SO2 as the total amount of SO2 in a wine is not only present due to addition but the act of fermentation can create a certain amount of it that can easily surpass the 10 mg/L that makes it legally required to state “contains sulfites” on a bottle, as mentioned previously. But Mirabella does not believe in such low sulfite levels because it may effect the health of the consumer as they know that the moderate amounts found in wine are not harmful to most wine drinkers and that in general, people consume more sulfites in various things they eat on a daily basis than what is found in wine. Mirabella believes in lowering sulfites as to not cover what the land and grapes are expressing in the glass. Teresio’s second son, Alberto, has taken on the sales and marketing role of dealing with their customer’s feedback while expressing those consumer needs to his brother and father in enologist’s terms. “When we really appreciate the raw material in the case of cooking without going over the top with the dressing or using too much fat for no reason then we are showing it respect. It’s the same with wine: the less sulfites we add, the less sugars we add, the more we end up with a pure product,” Alberto explained.
Science Uncovering the Truth
The whole idea behind additives was to preserve the original state of wine by protecting it from oxidation as well as killing off any unpleasant aromas and flavors caused by unwanted bacteria and spoilage yeasts – although these bacteria and yeasts are harmless, they do change the profile. Of course there are many disagreements among the winemakers of the world whether these bacteria and yeasts are part of the terroir (sense of place) of a wine and each side has a fair point but for Mirabella, it is not part of what they want to express. But as they have gotten to the place where they wanted to keep the purity of their wines while allowing them to be more expressive, they have found more innovative ways as three enologists with ten years of research experience among four universities to achieve such a feat. Alberto described Elite as a traditional sparkling wine where each consumer can “be free to describe this wine with a brushstroke because nature is the inspiration.”
Sometimes advancement in science can get a bad reputation for turning food, or in this case wine, into something it is not. This criticism can even have a broader implication that is placing the human race in a difficult position with their relationship to the earth but in the end it is science that will save humans from science. And this is what these three men of science are doing, they are finding a way to please Demeter, the goddess of harvest, by being kind to the earth and having the humility to know the greatest value they bring is allowing her to shine.
Mirabella Edea and Rosé Franciacorta Wines
Mirabella is not only striving to lower SO2 but also sugar, as the addition of sugar for traditional sparkling wines is common practice for continental areas such as Champagne and Franciacorta so as to balance out the high acidity; as for example, Brut ranges from 0-12 grams per liter of residual sugar (g/l rs) and often averages around 10 g/l rs. But as Mirabella is achieving more balance between more ripeness with softer acidity in the vineyards, they find that they need to use less and less sugar.
Mirabella Pinot Bianco Brut Nature: 100% Pinot Bianco. Mirabella is known as an advocate for the Pinot Bianco grape and pointed out that when the foundation for Franciacorta was created in the 1960s, Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco were the two main varieties used before Chardonnay took over most of the plantings. And they believe that Pinot Bianco is the future for Franciacorta and hence they are planting more in their vineyards. This wine had zero sugar added during dosage as they felt it was not needed and that is evident by the juicy peach and mango flavors with intense stony minerality and beautiful orchid floral notes. Aged 24 months on the lees and three months after disgorgement.
Mirabella Satèn Franciacorta
Mirabella Satèn Franciacorta: 100% Chardonnay. Satèn is a name to express the Crémant style of Franciacorta that has lower pressure than other Franciacorta and so the bubbles are gentler creating a creaminess on the palate as well as only white grapes being allowed in the blend. The playful bubbles did have a creamy mid-palate yet it still had a linear drive with citrus and green apple flavors with a touch of baking spice and vanilla. Only six grams per liter of residual sugar. Aged for 36 months on lees and three month after disgorgement.
Mirabella Edea Franciacorta Brut Blanc de Blanc: 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Bianco. This wine is from the 2015 vintage and the 2016 blend will change to 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Bianco. Intense chalky minerality with orange blossoms and spice toast with a long, flavorful finish of pristine stone fruit. Only four grams per liter of residual sugar. Aged for 24 months on the lees and three months after disgorgement.
Mirabella Rosé Franciacorta
Mirabella Rosé Franciacorta: 45% Pinot Nero, 45% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Bianco. Last year, Mirabella Rosé Franciacorta was placed on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list becoming the first Franciacorta sparkling wine to ever make the list. Lilacs with ripe red cherries that had a zing of blood orange flavors that was rich and bright. Only six grams per liter of residual sugar. Aged for 36 months on the lees and three months after disgorgement.
Mirabella DØM Rosé Franciacorta Dosaggio Zero Riserva
Mirabella DØM Rosé Franciacorta Dosaggio Zero Riserva: 60% Pinot Nero, 25% Pinot Bianco and 15% Chardonnay. This is from the 2009 vintage and the grapes were selected from their oldest vines in the Mirabella vineyard. This wine is a rarity as only a handful of producers make a Franciacorta Riserva Rosé. This is the first release of DØM and it is meant as a tribute from Alessandro and Alberto to their father Teresio. Complex nose with white pepper and hazelnuts that is electric with cranberry notes that are balanced by ripe strawberries that had a stony minerality on the elegant finish. Aged for 100 months on the lees and six months after disgorgement.