Italy’s Sparkling Wine Secret | Franciacorta | Italy / by Cindy Swain

Cindy Swain is a certified sommelier, publishes italicana kitchen, a bilingual food, wine and travel blog and writes for a variety of food and wine publications. You can find her on FacebookInstagram, TwitterPinterestVimeo and Linkedin

Route to Franciacorta | Photo Credit: Artamonov Timor

Route to Franciacorta | Photo Credit: Artamonov Timor

What and Where is Franciacorta?

Champagne enjoys celebrity status around the world, while Franciacorta, Italy’s prized sparkling wine, is lesser known outside the peninsula. In fact, Franciacorta is one of Italy’s best kept wine secrets, and Italians are currently drinking more than 85 percent of the production.

Alas, it won’t be long before waves of foreign tourists flock to this pristine area east of Milan to sip the delicious bubbly, stroll along the rolling vineyards and gaze out to the hillsides dotted with Medieval castles and Roman ruins.

 

Located only an hour east of Milan in the heart of Lombardy, the Franciacorta wine region is an easy drive for a day trip or a lovely weekend getaway. It comes as no surprise that this area was once the rural escape for Milanese aristocrats. Nowadays, it has become a mecca for wine connoisseurs. Drive along the 40-mile Franciacorta wine trail, Strada del Vino Franciacorta, that is equipped with bike paths, hiking and horseback trails that guide you from one winery to the next, passing through lush vineyards and olive groves.

It may be surprising to see olive trees and other Mediterranean plants growing at the foothills of the Italian Alps. But Franciacorta’s unique climate and location in the celebrated Lake District -- the smaller Lake Iseo and larger lakes Como and Garda -- acts as a buffer against the harsh mountain temperatures. The Pianura Padana plains to the south of Franciacorta also provide a dramatic variation between daytime and nighttime temperatures that helps the grapes ripen while retaining the right amount of acidity. The cool, gentle breeze from the lakes also aids in keeping the vines aerated and healthy.

Harvest 2012 | Photo Credit: Fabio Cattabiani

Harvest 2012 | Photo Credit: Fabio Cattabiani

The Importance of Terroir

One of the most interesting elements of Franciacorta is the unique moraine terroir that was shaped by a huge glacier millions of years ago. After the glacier melted, large quantities of minerals, rocks and sand were deposited onto the indigenous terrain, enriching the soil with materials perfect for producing high-quality, complex wines. Although Franciacorta is similar to Champagne -- being that it’s both a sparkling wine region and a geographical area -- it is distinguished by its unique territorial identity and, of course, its size.

Contrary to the developed wine region in Champagne, which covers 76,000 acres, the Franciacorta production zone is tiny, just 5,400 acres. That said, Franciacorta is quickly becoming one of the fastest-growing wine destinations in Europe. In the early 1990s, there were only about 15 producers. Now, Franciacorta boasts more than 100.

Different Sparkling Wine Methods

Franciacorta is produced using the Méthode Champenoise style, called Metodo Classico in Italian or “Classic Method.” This production technique requires that the second fermentation takes place in the bottle, not in the steel tanks like the majority of Prosecco, Moscato d’Asti and Lambrusco—three other famous Italian sparkling wines that are largely mass produced following the Charmat Method. All three are generally less expensive.  

Two other main differences between the two styles are the bubbles and the aromas. The Charmat Method produces sparkling wines with larger, coarser bubbles and primary aromas that are fruity and floral. A Classic Method wine yields a fine perlage, or tiny strings of bubbles, and the long aging process creates complexities in the wine that go beyond primary aromas to tertiary aromas of butter, nuts and brioche.     

Franciacorta Brut | Photo Credit: Fabio Cattabiani

Franciacorta Brut | Photo Credit: Fabio Cattabiani

Franciacorta DOCG

Unlike many other Italian sparkling wines, the Franciacorta DOCG—the highest level of Italian wine classification—requires that all grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a limited amount of Pinot Blanc) are hand-harvested and aged on the lees and in the bottle for a minimum of 18 months for non-vintage wines, 24 months for rosé and satèn, 30 months for the vintage “millesimato” and 60 months for the wines marked riserva. Because of the limited production numbers and rigorous production methods, the price point of Franciacorta is relatively high, at times comparable to Champagne.

The measure of the wine’s sweetness or dosage levels, reflect those of Champagne: Pas Dosè, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Dry and Demi-Sec. The varying styles of Franciacorta allows you to pair different wines throughout a meal, from the unsweet Pas Dosè for the aperitif all the way to the Demi-Sec to be served with dessert.

Now that you know about Franciacorta, discover it for yourself. Here’s some useful information to plan your stay.

3 Historic Wineries Not to Miss + Many More to Have on Your List

Ca’ Del Bosco

Call to make an appointment or book online. | Tel +39 030 7766111

Ca’ del Bosco is a leader in innovation and winemaking technology. The modern winery is as much of an art gallery as it is one of the region’s largest Franciacorta producers. They believe in the “fusion of art and wine, nature and culture,” which makes for an enchanting and unique winery tour. Recommended tour: La Vie in Rose Tour with a tasting of Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige Rosé and Franciacorta Cuvée Annamaria Clementi Rosé.

Palazzo Lana Berlucchi | Photo Credit: Berlucchi Winery

Palazzo Lana Berlucchi | Photo Credit: Berlucchi Winery

Berlucchi

Call to make an appointment or book online. | Tel +39 030 984381

A trip to Franciacorta wouldn’t be complete without a tour at the first producer of the Classic Method sparkling wine. Located in the landmark 16th-Century Palazzo Lana Berlucchi, you step back in time as you stroll through the elegant palace corridors, noble gardens and historic wine cellar. Recommended tour Gli Esclusivi. After a guided tour of the winery, enjoy the tastings of the following three wines with a sommelier: Cellarius Franciacorta Nature 2009, Palazzo Lana Franciacorta Satèn 2006 and Palazzo Lana Franciacorta Extrême 2007.

Bellavista

Call to make an appointment. | Tel +39 030 77 62000

The Bellavista winery has been a major player in transforming Franciacorta into one of Italy’s most famous DOCGs. Composed of 107 organically farmed vineyard parcels, Bellavista wines have a distinctive house style: elegant, creamy palate and a long, flavorful finish.

Other wineries that have contributed to the high quality and success of Franciacorta include Cavalleri, Uberti, Monterossa and Mosnel. Additionally, there’s an array of numerous vignaioli (small producers that are vine dressers) who are making big contributions and raising the bar, like Enrico Gatti, Claudio and Mario Faccoli, Colline della Stella, Bosio and Ca del Vent.

The majority of the wineries in Franciacorta are small to medium-sized, which is part of the region’s allure. Often times you’ll have the opportunity to talk with the owners and learn their history and winemaking process firsthand.    

Places to Stay

If you’re looking for luxury and novelty during your stay, go no further than Albereta Relais & Chateaux Hotel.  Book the Cabriolet room in the Torre di Lago where, at the push of a button, you can open the ceiling of your room to gaze up at the starry night.  

Calice Con Frutta | Photo Credit: Fabio Cattabiani

Calice Con Frutta | Photo Credit: Fabio Cattabiani

https://www.relaischateaux.com/us/italy/albereta-lombardia-erbusco

For a less expensive option, stay at the delightful  Relais Franciacorta. Enjoy the lovely rustic decor mixed with endless views of the rolling vineyards. Some of the 50 rooms even have views of the charming Lake Iseo.

http://www.relaisfranciacorta.it/en/index.aspx

Places to Eat

Expectantly, in Italy, the list of places to eat is literally unending.  There are countless small trattorie, or simple restaurants in the area that serve up delicious local food. If you would like to learn how to prepare these traditional recipes, there are numerous cooking classes to choose from. Franciacorta also boasts Michelin-starred restaurants like the 1-star Due Colombe, where Chef Stefano Cerveni puts a modern spin on traditional Brescian cuisine. There is also the famous 3-star Ristorante Gualtiero Marchesi owned by Chef Marchesi, the so-called father of modern Italian cuisine. His dish Riso, Oro e Zafferanno (rice, gold, saffron) is one of a stunning signature dish served with a leaf of edible gold.

Not Just Wine

Franciacorta also features an array of non-vinous activities, both indoors and outdoors. Visit the nearby art city of Bergamo, meander the ancient Roman ruins in Brescia, rent a boat on Lake Iseo or relax at one of the many luxury spas. Franciacorta offers some of the best golf courses in Italy as well as tennis, biking, sailing, nordic walking, hunting, fishing, canoeing, skiing and water skiing.  

Special events are organized year round. Coming up for spring and summer are music festivals, “The Floating Piers” exhibition by artist Christo, Mille Miglia vintage car parade starting in Brescia and the Franciacorta summer food, wine and art festival.  

For more information, visit: http://www.franciacorta.net/it/news/2016