by Jean Charles Viens photo by Yoshio Kato
That Maurizio Zanella is considered a visionary when it comes to Italy’s Franciacorta is conventional wisdom. That his vision also extends to East Asia is fascinating.
“Franciacorta is 250 years younger than Champagne and it is truly unique to Italy”
Visionary and uncompromising, determined and focused, Maurizio Zanella, the founder of Ca’ del Bosco, created one of the most respected wine estate in Italy today. Over two days of extensive tastings in Tokyo, Spirito diVino Asia had a close contact with this Icon of Italian wine and an exclusive and personal look at the secret of his success.
First, it begins with the wine. But, never compare Franciacorta with Champagne in the presence of Zanella. For him, each are “absolutely two different things”. For a starter, he emphasized that “Franciacorta is 250 years younger and second, it is truly unique to Italy”. Indeed, the region only came to be officially recognized in Italy about 50 years ago. However, the truly unique aspect of Franciacorta, other than its magnificent ripening conditions, is the fact that members of its Consortium, today comprising of 113 wineries, voluntarily and unanimously decided from the outset to produce sparkling wine in the traditional method with the most stringent rules in the world and with a focus of producing only the highest levels of quality.
Unquestionably at Ca’ del Bosco, the winery Zanella took charges of when he was only 18 years old, he has pushed quality wine making to a point that he does not use the expression “traditional method” when it comes to describing his modus operandi but rather calls it the “Ca’ del Bosco method”. With a maniacal attention to details, every step of the way is carefully managed to produce the purest and most delicate wine possible.
The impact of Zanella is deep in the region. With a laser beam focus on quality, he is a pioneer of many stringent rules both in the vineyard and the winery that raised Franciacorta among the best in the world. He was the first to create a style called Satèn, a blanc de blancs with slightly less pressure than other wines, which is today a category in the Appellation. During his 8 years as President of the Franciacorta Consortium, he was one of the fiercest advocates of transforming the entire area as exclusively organic, a work in progress that will soon be attained.
On his achievements as President of the Consortium, Zanella confided that his proudest is for having worked to convince 18 municipalities of the region to join together into approving a regional development plan that will become law in January 2017. This plan, unique in Italy and called “Terra Della Franciacorta”, envisions for all municipalities to act homogeneously in the urban and rural development of the region with a focus on its cultural valorisation and the respect of its environment.
If the secret of Ca’ del Bosco’s success begins with its wines, it follows with a relentless focus on market development across the world, especially in Japan which is today its best market outside of Italy. That its wines would be widely available throughout the country not only in Italian restaurants but also in the finest French and Japanese fine dining establishments is testament to the beauty and purity of its wines but also of the hard work Maurizio Zanella and its importer for 31 years, Foodliner, have accomplished together.
Tomomi Tsujimoto, its vice-president, confided in me over dinner at Les Saisons, the Michelin starred French restaurant of the Imperial Hotel, “Maurizio gave us tremendous support over the span of our relationship, even visiting Japan almost each year since our beginnings in 1985. This support was extremely important”, she continued”, “not only in terms of advertising, but also in training and events”.
Thirty-one years ago, the wine market was still very much in its infancy for all categories and efforts were focused in the Kansai area comprising Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. “I still remember our first tasting in Osaka in 1987”, Zanella recalled fondly, “we had 90 Certified Sommeliers at the Ritz. For them, we were a curiosity, like a Martian descended on earth!” Over the years, Zanella came to develop a deep respect for Japanese Sommeliers, “they do not suffer from the tyranny of wine critiques” he said. “For them”, he continued, “that an Italian wine would be equally good, if not superior to a French wine in a French or Japanese fine dining context is not surprising”. In fact, the previous week had been dedicated to touring the Kansai regions where Ca’ del Bosco is listed in many Japanese Michelin starred restaurants. Reminiscing over that leg of his tour, he mused, “what counts for Japanese sommeliers is that the wine meets their standards of quality which can be exact and of the highest order”. He continued, “if a wine match their requirements to give pleasure when paired with a particular dish, they are not afraid to go across geographical borders”.
The result is that, “Japan is the only place in the world where Franciacorta has its own dignity and stands on its own comfortably among the world’s best wines”, confided Zanella during the photoshoot for the magazine’s cover.
Today, the Kansai market has reached a higher level of maturity and most efforts are spent in the Tokyo region. It is therefore fitting that Zanella would choose this metropolis as the site of an important retrospective tasting of several vintages of the iconic Cuvée Annamaria Clementi, the flagship wine of Ca’ del Bosco, a key moment of our short stay in Tokyo earlier this fall. A tribute to his mother, who bought a little hillside house called “Ca del Bosc” in 1964, the Cuvée Annamaria Clementi was created with “uncompromising attention to details and outmost focus on quality”. Made only in the finest years from the finest grapes from the various crus earmarked for the wine, it spends a minimum of 7 years on lees. It is this very long ageing period that helps create a unique wine of beauty.
It was first elaborated by chef de cave André Dubois, a Champenois of origin who joined Ca’ del Bosco in 1979 at the tender age of 65 and remained firmly in charge of the wine making processes until his death in the 1990s. Of Dubois, Zanella said that “he was more than a wine maker, he was a mentor and a spiritual leader. He brought more than simply a technical contribution to our house, he brought a culture and a philosophy”.
There is no denying that the sparkling wines of Franciacorta can cross the culinary borders of any types of cuisines and be a delightful dining companion. Our last dinner at The Cellar, the private French dining experience of the Mandarin Oriental hotel was certainly a case in point. Around a sumptuous table comprising of only 10 guests and located literally in the “wine-cellar in the sky” of the hotel’s 37th floor.
Dishes after dishes prepared especially for the guests at the expert hand of Chef Nicolas Boujéma matched beautifully to the wines. Starting with the 1995 and 1989 Cuvée Annamaria Clementi and moving on to 2007 Chardonnay Curtefranca to the 2000 Maurizio Zanella Rosso del Sebino, it ended into a wonderful crescendo of sensations with the Cuvée Prestige Rosé. Inter- estingly, Zanella thought the 1989 Cuvée Annamaria Clementi tasted completely different than it had at the retrospective tasting the day before. Was it the sumptuous context of our dinner versus the more formal atmosphere of our tasting in a ballroom of the Shangri-La hotel? For Zanella, it was by far better during our dinner. Perhaps he was enraptured by the beautiful company, the exquisite dishes and spectacular surroundings?
In the end, when all has been said and done, this is perhaps what matters the most about such beautiful wines as those of Ca’ del Bosco. The essential is that they give pleasure and magnify the emotions of a perfect evening which wonderfully concluded an astonishing discovery of the Franciacorta wines of Ca’ del Bosco in Japan.
In a roomful with Japanese Certified Sommeliers at the Shangri-la Hotel Tokyo, Maurizio Zanella expanded on the particularities of his “Ca’ del Bosco Method” for making sparkling wines. With a maniacal attention to details at every steps, Zanella believes that wine should be akin to an art form, “where grape leads to marvellous harmony”.
For him, the Cuvée Annamaria Clementi, dedicated to his mother, is “an absolute Franciacorta”. With no compromise and no concession, it is made only in the finest years from the finest grapes from the various crus earmarked for this icon wine and it spends a minimum of 7 years on its lees. From its first vintage in 1989, it contributed to catapult Franciacorta into the hierarchy of the world’s greatest wines. In this historical event, we tasted:
【97】CUVÉE ANNAMARIA CLEMENTI 2006
A wine of contrast and confidence. Youthful still, but deep with notes of lemon curd, apple flesh, brioche and toast. The texture is beautifully creamy and mouth-filling with a perfect balance. Dense and tense, the wine has a long ageing potential. A long expressive finish.
【90】CUVÉE ANNAMARIA CLEMENTI 2001
A delicate wine. Showing slightly faster maturation than the previous with notes of dried hay, apple skin and a touch of smoke and butterscotch. Creamy texture with some density and excellent balance. With a subtle and long finish.
【96】CUVÉE ANNAMARIA CLEMENTI 1999
An expressive wine showing beautiful evolution. A complex nose with toast, a slight note of smoke, and delicate touches of chamomile, lemon curd and ripe apples, all finely interwoven. Creamy and beautifully proportioned mouth-feel. A complete wine with a still long ageing potential.
【93】CUVÉE ANNAMARIA CLEMENTI 1995
An elegant and integrated wine at the right moment in its life. Showing dried apples, chamomile, sweet spices, and butterscotch all delicately and elegantly interwoven. Creamy and fine texture. Long seductive finish.
【97】CUVÉE ANNAMARIA CLEMENTI 1989
A caressing and hedonistic wine. Beautiful complexity showing exotic spices, smoke, dried acacia and dried apples. Touches of flynt and lemon skin delight. Delicately creamy and sensual texture. Supple, yet lively and ethereal. Long finish with delicate notes of smoke, dried fruits and nuts. Beautiful and mesmerizing.
【92】CUVÉE ANNAMARIA CLEMENTI ROSÉ 2006
A youthful and delicate wine. Notes of wild strawberries, herbs, and rose petals with a touch of butterscotch. Lovely. Fresh and delicately creamy texture. Long, lively and sapid finish.
【95】CUVÉE ANNAMARIA CLEMENTI ROSÉ 2005
A sensual wine with density and ageing potential. Notes of flynt, wild strawberries, and orange skin. Creamy and mouth-filling with liveliness. Lovely density for further ageing potential. Long fruity finish with floral notes.
【95】CUVÉE ANNAMARIA CLEMENTI ROSÉ 2003
A delicate wine with vitality. Showing a delicate evolution with dried rose petals and dried wild strawberries with subtle notes of dried leaves, butterscotch and smoke. Creamy but lively and ethereal texture. Long finish with touches of smoke, dried fruits, and nuts.