After Napa, another favorite “misunderstanding”: Zachary Sussman takes a fresh look at Franciacorta for SevenFiftyDaily.

Above: the Arcari + Danesi flagship vineyard on Mount Orfano on the southern edge of Franciacorta.

It was wonderful to read Zachary Sussman’s fresh take on Franciacorta for SevenFiftyDaily last week, “In Search of the New Franciacorta.”

Zachary, one of the brightest stars in the new generation of English-language wine writers (and a lovely man, btw), is arguably the first to take a closer look at the new wave of Franciacorta producers who have (not so) quietly begun to reshape the appellation. (Interested readers should also check out a series of posts by Walter Speller for JancisRobinson.com, “Franciacorta – are unripe grapes really the key?” published in 2018 and “What’s Wrong with Franciacorta,” 2015.)

“Ever since the 1960s and ’70s,” writes Zachary, “when a well-financed cadre of winemaking estates set up shop in this hilly patch of Lombardy with the goal of transforming it into a powerhouse of premium sparkling wine, Franciacorta’s identity has revolved around a single imperative: to imitate Champagne.”

But “a small but growing cohort of winemakers… have made it their mission to carve out an alternative path…. [T]hey’re asking a simple yet revolutionary question: what would it mean to reimagine Franciacorta not as a ready-made style inspired by somewhere else, but as a singular expression of place?”

Reading Zachary’s excellent piece, it’s nearly impossible not to think of critical theorist Harold Bloom’s 1973 landmark book, The Anxiety of Influence. In his seminal work, the Yale scholar argues that some of the greatest titles of the Western Canon are the result of a reactionary or “antithetical” approach to the creative process. Dante viewed Virgil as his literary model and his allegorical guide while he was writing the Commedia, one could posit. And so his work can be interpreted as a “reaction” to Virgil and even Homer, the author who was the putative source of the Latin author’s “anxiety.”

Bloom calls this a “misreading” or misunderstanding of the text that can produce spectacular results (the term he uses is “poetic misprision”). After all, Dante’s Commedia, a “misreading” of his precursor Virgil, makes for some darn good reading.

It’s also nearly impossible not to think of another historic “favorite mistake” in the annals of western wine: California’s obsession with Burgundy and Bordeaux, two appellations that couldn’t be more climatically different from the Napa Valley where growers felt compelled to plant the same grapes that their favorite wineries grew. Analogously to what’s happening on the ground in Franciacorta today, a new wave of younger California winemakers (most of whom buy their grapes) have been trying to forge a new path for their wines over the last 15 years or so. Like their counterparts in Lombardy, they speak of a new quest to “express place” and “terroir” where their predecessors were blinded by the enodominance of France.

Hegel (via Marx) might have called French wine (in both cases) the “thesis.” The Italians’ and Californians’ “reaction” to the French wine model (their inspiration) could be called “antithesis.” And then, following the Hegelian dialectical model, the wines that result from this misunderstanding could be called the “synthesis.”

As Zachary notes, “this evolution continues to unfold”:

    the contours of an alternative Franciacorta paradigm are now coming into view. And at a time when authenticity has become the most valuable form of currency among the next generation of wine drinkers, the groundbreaking bottles that have emerged from this shift have recently started to claim their rightful place on progressive wine lists and retail shelves across the U.S.

I can’t recommend the article highly enough and not least of all because of Zachary’s superb writing. And beyond his immense and welcomed ability to render the technical nuances of the “classic method” into intelligible and elegant winespeak, he also features the wines and reflections of my close friends Giovanni and Nico of Arcari + Danesi.

As we all gear up for the sparkling onslaught of Christmas and New Year’s, we could all use a fresh take on Franciacorta and the many new wines that are finally making it to the U.S. Check out the article here.

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