Franciacorta

November 1, 2011 at 11:24 am 13 comments

Vineyards of Le Marchesine, Passirano, Franciacorta

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.

Matteo Vezzola, winemaker, Bellavista (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Here is a short list of the finest producers of Franciacorta:

Bellavista

Ca’ del Bosco

Le Marchesine

Monte Rossa

Ricci Curbastro

Ferghettina

Enrico Gatti

San Cristoforo

Le Cantorié

Vezzoli

Guido Berlucchi

Il Mosnel

Camossi

Andrea Arici

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!

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13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. jjmusto  |  November 1, 2011 at 11:36 am

    Hello Tom,

    I am an MBA student living in Rome, interested in getting involved in the business side of Italian wines. I am looking to improve my knowledge of Italian wine and was hoping you could let me know a few solid resources to start with. Thanks for your help and keep the posts coming, they are highly informative and I have enjoyed them.

    John

    Reply
  • 2. Marius  |  November 1, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    congratulations Tom!
    this is one of the best sites in english about italian wines.

    Marius(Romania)

    Reply
    • 3. tom hyland  |  November 1, 2011 at 12:46 pm

      Marius:

      Thank you for your kind words! It’s nice to know you appreciate my work.

      Reply
  • 4. bobzaguy  |  November 1, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    Tom,
    Enjoyed this writing and also the seminar about these wines.
    I remember the one winemaker, maybe the same, who said he makes Franciacorta and then revealed that he had a French Champenois as a consultant.
    I think some of this protest, if you will, is the semi-wild fury which the Champenois have dispensed around the globe about people using their place name for wines. So the Franciacortans are publicly required to say they aren’t making Champagne for the record.
    bobz

    Reply
    • 5. tom hyland  |  November 1, 2011 at 6:02 pm

      Bob:

      Thanks for the kind words. It was indeed the same person who made that comment at the seminar.

      Your point about the Champenois doing all they can to protect their name is an excellent one; that may indeed have something to do with it. I also wonder if there isn’t some local pride here as the producers of Franciacorta may be saying, “we’re proud of our product and what we’ve accomplished so far.” So perhaps the thinking is that the name Franciacorta can stand on its own. In other words, why compare it to Champagne in the first place?

      Reply
  • 6. Peter Bernstein  |  November 2, 2011 at 10:00 am

    Tom. Not a comment per se but a question about importers.
    Do you have importer info for Le Marchesine?

    Reply
    • 7. tom hyland  |  November 2, 2011 at 1:39 pm

      No one yet. Le Marchesine and four other producers appeared at a seminar in Chicago I moderated to present their products. They are all starting their business journeys in America!

      Reply
  • 8. Robert Kennedy  |  December 2, 2011 at 5:18 am

    Tom,

    I actually stumbled onto your blog whilst reading an article published by Franco Ziliani on his blog “Le Mille Bolle”, which I follow. I have recently become devoted to Franciacorta and visited a few cantinas in September with my wife (Ca’del Bosco and Lantieri de Parataco). It is great to know that Franciacorta is becoming known in the States as it certainly the top sparkling Italian wine, although I must add that I am not that well-versed with all Italian sparkling wines (my colleague is a big fan Almerita and I have, as of yet, not tasted any). You are certainly right that Franciacorta, i only 50 years of existence, is arriving at the level of Champagne, if not already at the same level.

    Who were the other four Cantinas present at the seminar in Chicago??

    Reply
    • 9. tom hyland  |  December 2, 2011 at 11:39 am

      Our seminar in Chicago included Le Marchesine, Camossi, Vezzoli, San Cristoforo, Le Cantorie and Andrea Arici.

      Reply
  • 10. Jonas Landau  |  December 6, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    I agree with Marius Tom – your blog is wonderfully educational. Since your feature on Soave, I’ve tried the entry level Gini at $13.99 and a Suavia entry level also at $13.99 and repped here on the east coast by Vias. Both are outstanding Soaves in the lower end price range. The Amarone article above is very interesting, especially the info on current drying techniques. Keep up the great work. Cheers.

    Reply
    • 11. tom hyland  |  December 6, 2011 at 1:30 pm

      Thanks for your kind words, Jonas!

      Reply
  • 12. Angela Ellis  |  July 11, 2012 at 11:58 am

    Really interesting read, I just want to taste now!!

    Reply
    • 13. tom hyland  |  July 11, 2012 at 12:03 pm

      I’m with you! Let’s have a glass right now!

      Reply

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