FRANCIACORTA, Italy--That's 81-year-old Gualberto Ricci Curbastro on the receiving end of the magnum poured by his son, Riccardo. What you have to know about the Ricci Curbastro family is that they've been on this land--a corner of the Alpine foothills--since the 12th century. Back in 1969, Gualberto was one of nine cellar owners to enrol in the original Franciacorta DOC, which has since then been awarded DOCG status and become Italy's foremost producer of sparkling wine. Not by volume (that would be Prosecco), but in terms of quality.
Fast forward to the turn of the century. Ricci Curbastro's 26 hectares (65 acres) of vines are producing some 200,000 bottles a year of sparkling wine. It's a medium-sized winery by Franciacorta standards, and young Riccardo has taken a leadership role among his peers: succcessively assuming the presidency of the Franciacorta DOCG growers' consortium, the presidency of Italy's entire DOC system, and the presidency of EFOW, the European Federation of Wines of Origin.
For his part, Gualberto has traveled throughout Italy collecting ancient farming artifacts and assembling a museum to show the world how Italian wines have been made (and sold) over the centuries. France had a huge advantage: their wine-producing regions are all on waterways while Italy's are inland. Easy to roll a barrel aboard a transport ship, easy to find foreign markets and public acclaim.
"The land is a gift we must leave to the future generations," Riccardo says, explaining why practices low-imact agriculture in the vineyards and energy conservation at the winery. While he was at it, he bottled a special batch of Franciacorta Brut back in 2004 and hid it away in the cellars. Last year he disgorged the bottles for his father's 80th birthday, magnums labeled Cuvée Gualberto. Best Birthday Present Ever, right?.
But there's a topper to that story. Last month, the Italian sommelier association gave out its awards, the Oscars for the best wines in Italy. The three top-scoring wines in the Sparkling Wine category were all from Franciacorta. And the winner was, well, you've probably guessed it by now.
Hell, I'd give the story an Oscar, too. Members of the Academy, I'd like to thank the Consorzio for hosting this trip to Franciacorta. Grazie, grazie, grazie!