On Friday and Saturday mornings of last week, I had the great pleasure of being a panelist at the Aspen Food and Wine festival, one of the most prestigious events in the world of food and wine held each year in beautiful Aspen, Colorado (playground of the rich and powerful).
The theme of the seminar, organized and led by Master Sommelier Shayn Bjornholm, was “Italy: The Big & The Bold.”
And the flight included at least three wines that — everyone would agree — fit that description: Antinori Tignanello (no brainer), GD Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole (a classic), Casanuova delle Cerbaie Brunello di Montalcino (a relative newcomer but definitely big and bold), and Allegrini Amarone (another no brainer).
When Shayn approached me about participating in the seminar, he suggested that instead of doing a “big” Italian red, we use a Franciacorta.
I was thrilled, of course, to be able to pour a great expression of Franciacorta for this elite crowd.
And I believe wholeheartedly that Franciacorta, because of its breadth and its ability to deliver powerful wines, has every right to be presented along side a Super Tuscan, a Brunello, a Barolo, and an Amarone.
There were roughly 120 guests at each tasting.
On the first day, celebrity chef Rick Bayless was in the audience!
My wine was the first in the flight and so I was the first to speak after Shayn made his introductory remarks.
I asked the crowd — again, roughly 120 persons in attendance — how many people in the audience had ever tasted a Franciacorta. Only one person raised his hand.
Keep in mind. Aspen Food and Wine fairgoers are among the most sophisticated (and wealthiest) wine lovers in the U.S. The overall level of wine awareness is pretty high among them.
I was blown away to learn that only one in 120 had tasted a Franciacorta.
The next day, 3-4 persons raised their hands when I posed the same question. But again, I was nonplussed by the fact that so few had ever experienced Franciacorta wines.
Of course, when I asked how many people had ever tasted a Prosecco or Champagne, everyone raised her/his hands.
Franciacorta, you’ve come a long way, baby. But we’ve got a long way to go!
The greatest reward came at the end of the second tasting on the second day of the fair.
There was one bottle of each one left over from the event. And Master Sommelier Shayn offered them to us.
“But do you mind if I keep the Franciacorta?” he asked.
How could I say no? I was overjoyed that he liked my selection enough to want to take to whatever collector dinner he was attending that evening.
The experience made me reflect on how hard we are going to have to work to build awareness of Franciacorta beyond Italy and Italian wine enthusiasts, lovers, and professionals.
I’m proud to say that at least 240 persons, including a couple of Master Sommeliers (one of the other panelists was an MS as well), learned about a wine and a winemaker they had never tasted before. And one of them enjoyed it at dinner…
One step at a time, baby…