Lake fish & Franciacorta at the “dispensary”

best fish restaurant italy

Marinated coregone (Coregonus lavaretus, European white fish) served with an “ice cream marinade.”

When you really get down to the thick and thin of it, “there’s really nothing unique about the terroir of Franciacorta,” as one prominent producer told me when I was visiting there over the Thanksgiving weekend.

With its marittime influence (thanks to Lake Iseo) and its alternance of morainic (glacial-era) and calcareous subsoils, it is indeed an ideal place to grow acidity- and minearl-driven Pinot Nero and Chardonnay. But in fact, those conditions can be found in many spots of the pre-Alps.

italian perch

Gently fried perch (Perca fluviatilis) served over a potato “millefoglie.”

The tradition of sparkling wine there is owed to a small group of wealthy, industrialist landowners who began making classic-method wines in the 1960s (Franco Ziliani of the Guido Berlucchi winery was the first).

In my view, the thing that really sets Franciacorta apart as a producer of fine bubbles is the local, fresh-water cuisine there.

European white fish

Vittorio called this superb however simple dish “bread and salt” coregone fillets.

And there is no one who can rival the fresh-water fish mastery of chef Vittorio Fusari at his amazing Dispensa Pani e Vini (“Bread and Wine Dispensary”) in the village of Torbiato di Adro (in the province of Brescia).

The restaurant is a temple to locally sourced lake fish and sparkling wine (including many French labels).

Especially when Franciacorta is made in a mineral-dominant style, the pairing can be sublime.

barone pizzini brut nature franciacorta

We paired with Barone-Pizzini Franciacorta Nature. In my notes I wrote: incredible balance, very nuanced nose, some tropical fruit, some red fruit, extreme freshness in the mouth, great balance here.

I had the great fortune of being treated to lunch at the “dispensary” by colleague Silvano Brescianini of the Barone Pizzini winery during my recent and very short trip to Italy.

I love the intelligence and elegance of Vittorio’s cooking (I ate there once before, in 2008, with Franco and Giovanni).

And he expresses his devotion to local fisherman through the eloquence of his menu.

I can’t recommend his restaurant highly enough. This meal alone would have made the trip worthwhile…

I have seen Franciacorta future and its name is…

…Giovanni Arcari.

Above: Giovanni Arcari, the Bruce Springsteen of Italian sparkling wine. This man is crazy and I thank goodness for him.

We first met in September of 2008, when he, Franco, and I visited Ca’ del Bosco together, where we tasted 1979 Franciacorta by Ca’ del Bosco (owner of Ca’ del Bosco, Maurizio Zanella, was just elected president of the Franciacorta consortium, btw).

We connected again at Vinitaly, where we got thrown out of the fair for hanging around his booth after hours, drinking Franciacorta and eating salame.

Above: In March, Giovanni led a tasting of artisanal “grower-producer” Franciacorta bottlings at Ceri Smith’s excellent wine shop in San Francisco, Biondivino.

The last time I saw him, he still hadn’t launched his new blog, Terra, Uomo, Cielo (Earth, Man, Sky), “a small man, on a small plot of land, under a small sky.” The blog is now live and so I felt it time to share my vision of the future with you: Giovanni has spearheaded an innovative winemaking program and agenda in Franciacorta, consulting with grape-growers who previously sold their fruit to the large commercial producers of Franciacorta. In doing so, he has helped to create a new genre of grower-producers who make excellent hand-crafted, artisanal expressions of Franciacorta.

Above: Ceri Smith (left) with Giovanni at their March tasting in San Francisco. One of the things I like the most about Giovanni is that he doesn’t just help the growers to make great wines. He also helps them to market the wines. There’s no point in writing a song that no one will ever hear and while there are plenty of reasons to make wines that will never make their way to the market, Giovanni’s wines are too good not to share with the world.

That day in Verona, we tasted a number of bottlings by Andrea Arici’s Colline della Stella and the Dario and Claudio Camossi’s Camossi di Camossi, each tasting better than the last. When sampling these terroir-driven wines, you cannot help but be impressed by their freshness and their structure. The secret, Giovanni will tell you, lies in when the wine is disgorged.

Chapeau bas, Giovanni!

The wines are not currently available in the U.S. but you can find them at Vittorio Fusari’s excellent restaurant and food and wine shop, Dispensa Pani e Vini in Torbiato di Adro in the province of Brescia (Lombardy). Even if you don’t read Italian, check out the photos is this review of legendary chef Vittorio’s new enterprise.