You may not realize it, but sparkling wine is produced throughout Italy, from many different varieties. From Campania to Piemonte, from varieties such as Falanghina and Aspirinio to even Nebbiolo, there is a wide variety of bubblies that can be found in various locales in the country. But for world-class quality, there is no question as to which Italian sparkling wine is the finest – the answer is Franciacorta.
What makes Franciacorta so special is the fact that this is a sparkling wine made in the classic method – as in Champagne – where the secondary fermentation is made in the bottle and not in a tank, as with sparklers made according to the Charmat process. Franciacorta can be produced from three varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) and Pinot Bianco and is it made in many different versions, be it a traditional Brut or a Rosé (minimum 25% Pinot Nero for a Rosé, though most bottlings have a much higher percentage of this variety) to Satén (literally “satin”), a wine produced solely from white grapes. If a Franciacorta bears a vintage on the label, it is known as a Millesimato. Franciacorta was awarded DOC status in 1967 and the DOCG designation in 1995.
The Franciacorta production zone is in the province of Lombardia in northern Italy with vineyards located south of Lago d’Iseo. The plantings are on low-lying hills and are primarily in modern planting systems such as cordon spur or Guyot, the ancient overhead system of pergola, though still present in small numbers, is disappearing.
Franciacorta, by the way, refers to three things: it is the name of the growing area, the name of the production process and the name of the wine. There are only ten such wines in all of Europe and only three of them are sparkling wines made by refermentation in the bottle: Cava from Spain, Champagne and Franciacorta.
As for the production method, there are strict regulations, as the minimum aging on the yeasts in the bottle is 18 months (most special bottlings are aged for a much longer time) and as stated before, secondary fermentation must take place in the bottle. The long aging on the yeasts certainly increases complexity and adds a note of minerality that is found in most examples.
Here is a short list of the finest producers of Franciacorta:
Ca’ del Bosco
As with most sparkling wines, the products are best enjoyed within 2-3 years of disgorgement. Some of the finest bottlings, made from vines with as much as 40 years of age as well as those aged longer on their yeasts, can be enjoyed for 5-7 years after disgorgement and perhaps even as long as a decade. Even the most straightforward examples of Franciacorta have lovely natural acidity and some examples are extremely high in acidity, with the result being wines that edge toward being a bit austere in the mouth.
Given the production methods as well as the overall quality of these wines, there is the inevitable comparison with Champagne. Yet many producers shy away from this assessment. At a recent seminar I moderated in Chicago, Andrea Biatta of Le Marchesine stated, “We are not trying to make Champagne, we are making Franciacorta.” When I asked him about the comparison of the two sparkling wine types, he seemed as he wanted no part in making such an evaluation.
I can understand that, but when I taste a product such as the Le Marchesine Rosé Millesimato, the Pas Dosé (no dosage) from Bellavista, the Cuvée Annamaria Clementi from Ca’ del Bosco or the 2008 Zerodosaggio from Andrea Arici, I can’t help but think of Champagne, both in terms of quality and style.
However you view this, you can’t help but admire the work these producers have done in making Franciacorta one of the world’s great sparkling wines in a period of less than half a century.
On a separate note, I reached a bit of a milestone recently, as there were more than 5000 hits for this blog in October, making this the first time that has happened. I want to thank everyone that stopped by to take a look and read what I wrote – it is greatly appreciated!
Now I’d like to ask all of you for a comment now and then, as I’m interested to read what people think. It doesn’t have to be anything profound, as a simple, “nice post” or “enjoyed it” will suffice. You’ll make a middle-aged wine writer happy and you know what? You’ll feel better about yourself after leaving a brief comment. Try it and you’ll see what I mean!