Get To Know Franciacorta Wines
With the holidays upon us, it’s a good time to explore a lesser-known sparkling wine region; one that drinks in the style of Champagne, but at a more approachable price point.
Franciacorta DOCG, an Italian appellation designated solely to the production of traditional method sparkling wines – the method used in Champagne, wherein a second fermentation in the bottle gives the wine its bubbles – stands as an outlier in Italy for a number of reasons.
First of all, it’s located about 50 miles east of Milan in Lombardy, a region in north-central Italy better known for its cheeses than wine. Flanked by the noble, Nebbiolo-based reds of Piedmont to the west, and the pure mountain whites of Trentino-Alto Adige to the east, Lombardy is comparatively barren, in terms of the vine, with more land devoted to cattle than grapes. And in a country of wine traditions dating back centuries, Franciacorta has a rather modern story attached to it.
A Brief History Of Franciacorta Wines
The first vintage of a Franciacorta sparkling wine, crafted in the image of Champagne, came from the 1961 harvest. After a few years of trial and error, winemaker Franco Ziliani and estate owner Guido Berlucchi finally achieved their shared vision of crafting Italy’s supreme sparkling wine, producing 3,000 bottles that year. Today the winery produces a non-vintage expression that aims to not only honor, but also replicate, the elegance and precision of that inaugural 1961 vintage.
Burlucchi’s success served as a template for others. In the succeeding years, well-heeled investors, from nearby Milan and elsewhere, heavily financed both existing and new projects throughout the region. This was all done with the aim of establishing Franciacorta as the Champagne of Italy.
Franciacorta Wines Today
Thanks to this fast and heavy influx of capital, Franciacorta today is home to some of the most advanced wineries in the world, most notably the state-of-the-art facilities at Ca’ del Bosco, whose Cuveée Prestige is a Franciacorta benchmark, and whose exuberant Cuvée Annamaria Clementi stands as a peer amongst Champagne’s best Tête de Cuvées.
Franciacorta obtained DOCG status in 1995, which codified production and farming requirements often in excess of those required in Champagne. For example, the DOCG mandates a minimum of 18 months spent on the lees – expired yeast cells that create sediment in the resting bottle and contribute increasing depth of texture and flavor the longer they remain in contact with the wine – whereas Champagne AOC requires only 12 months.
Franciacorta’s departs from Champagne in one other notable way: while they do use Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Champagne’s most famous grapes, they exclude Pinot Meunier, the lesser-known third-wheel of Champagne, and instead include Pinot Blanc in their blending regiments.
For a uniquely Franciacorta expression of bubbles, look for bottles labeled Satèn. This term designates Franciacorta blanc de blanc wines that are produced with a slightly lower pressure, making for a more soft and supple palette. These wines are ideal as an aperitif or can be served with a wide range of cuisine.
Franciacorta Wine To Try
In our next article, we will be exploring field blends, an age-old style that has been largely replaced by varietal wines and Cuvée blends. We’ll find out why some winemakers believe this approach produces wines that offer a more authentic expression of terroir.
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About The Author -
Ryan Kraemer is a Los Angeles-based certified sommelier working a 71 Above, Chef Vartan Abgaryan's downtown seasonal fine-dining restaurant. When he's not at work, or studying wine, he enjoys cooking, travel, and strolls around Echo Park Lake with his girlfriend and their pup. He's never been able to answer the question, 'So what's your favorite wine?' because it feels too much like picking a favorite child.