If you enjoy Prosecco, the world’s most popular sparkling wine, then you will surely enjoy Italy’s premier bubbly, Franciacorta, mirroring the finest Champagne, but without the hefty price tag.
Franciacorta describes the name of the place, wine, and production method. Once called “Franzacurta,” a name derived from corte franca (meaning free land) referring to its status at the time as a tax-free area.
Still and sparkling wines have been produced in this region for centuries, but local producers didn’t get serious in sparkling wine production until the early 1960s.
Franciacorta is located in Northern Italy about an hour’s drive from Milan in a section of the Province of Brescia in the Lombardy region. It is a compact area sitting in the foothills of the Alps alongside Lake Iseo, northern Italy’s fourth-largest lake.
The region resembles a large amphitheater. This natural feature, including the closeness to the mountains and Lake Iseo, is a superb location for producing the best quality grapes. The local topography was formed by glaciers with six different soil types containing glacier sediment and limestone.
The climate is ideal for sparkling wines. The lake effect brings cool breezes during summer and buffers cold breezes in the winter. Even more important than the lake’s influence are the winds from the nearby mountains that carry fresh air at night, creating strong day and night temperature swings that support optimal grape ripening. Also, winds keep grapes healthy which helps in organic farming - 70% of Franciacorta’s wine is organic, making the region one of the largest areas for organic production in all of Italy.
The Franciacorta DOC status was created in 1967 for their still and sparkling wines, and in 1995 Franciacorta earned DOCG (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin) status, the highest designation for Italian wines, for their sparkling wines.
Franciacorta is made in the traditional method where the second fermentation (which creates the bubbles) happens in the same bottle the wine is served from. The process is long and labor intensive but ultimately creates wines that are among the finest in the world, rivaling Champagne.
While Franciacorta is made the same way as Champagne, with similar flavor profiles, there are many differences. Most importantly, Franciacorta is boutique-sized compared to its French counterpart, only producing one tenth of the amount of bubbly.
The primary grapes used in Franciacorta are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero), Pinot Bianco, and the newly approved native grape Erbamat (up to 10% of the blend) has been added. This results in wines that are soft, creamy and fragrant with floral aromas and flavors of tropical fruits, apples, dried fruits, brioche and nuts.
Franciacorta comes in both non-vintage and vintage labels. The ageing period is 18 months for non-vintage wines, 24 months for the Satèn (meaning silk) and Rosé, 30 months for the vintage labeled Millesimato, and 60 months for Riserva wines.
These wines are characterized by different levels of dosage (the mix of base wine and sugar added after disgorging)which gives them their own original and distinctive personalities. Pas dosé is the driest, Extra Brut is dry, Brut being the most popular, Extra Dry pairs easiest with foods, Dry or Less Dry offers a bit of sweetness, and Demi Sec tastes sweet. www.franciacorta.net
There are about 200 producers in Franciacorta. One of the first and most known is Ca’ del Bosco. In 1968, Maurizio Zanella, then only 15 years old, approached his family about transforming a parcel of forest land into a vineyard. The land locally known as Ca del Bose (house of the woods) became Ca’del Bosco. Zanella has been one of the pioneers of Franciacorta. He patented their own innovated techniques guaranteeing purity by providing consumers a more natural wine with some of the lowest presences of sulfites and residual sugars on the industry.
Everything Ca’del Bosco produces is top quality, especially the Cuvee Prestige Extra Brut and Roséare easy to drink and perfect for summer menus. The Vintage Collection wines – Satèn, Dosage Zero and Dosage Zero Noir are full-bodied, very dry and excellent. The two Annamaria Clementi wines - named in honor of Maurizio's mother - are two of the finest sparkling wines in Italy. www.cadelbosco.net.
Select bottles of Ca’ del Bosco are available at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets – on sale until July 28. Other suggested producers are Bellavista, Berlucchi, Contadi Castaldi, Le Marchesine and Mirabella. Wines range from about $25 - $80 a bottle.
JoAnn Actis-Grande travels to many great wine regions all over the world writing about wine, travel, and curious lifestyles. She lives in Portsmouth and can be reached by email email@example.com. Find more of her Let’s Talk Wine columns online at www.seacoastonline.com/topics/Lets-talk-wine and/or at her website with blog www.winejag.com.