Franciacorta | Italy’s Answer To Champagne

Harry Lambourne
29th February 2024

Franciacorta is one of the world’s great sparkling wines, but it isn’t as widely known as many other Italian wines.

Italy is, (as you well know), responsible for many of the world’s finest wines. Piedmont boasts the brooding red wine of Barolo. Veneto has glorious Prosecco and Pinot Grigio. Tuscany is responsible for the ever-popular Chianti and the rarified Super-Tuscans. Puglia, Abruzzo and Sicily have also become names on everyone’s lips and even the lesser known Italian wine regions are responsible for some truly glorious offerings.

Amongst all of these, in the little known Lombardy region, you have the truly special Franciacorta. This is Italy’s answer to Champagne. A rich and complex traditional method sparkling wine that can rival the world’s greatest sparkling wines.

We love Prosecco and Asti, (perhaps the more well known Italian sparkling wines), yet we think Franciacorta deserves far more attention than it receives. So, we are going to take some time to introduce you to this delightful drink. This will include a quick tour of the region in which it is found, as well as information on how the drink is made, key terms to look out for and the common tasting notes for Franciacorta.

If you’re after a treat, pick up some of this wonderful drink. We are certain that you will not regret it! Let’s learn about Franciacorta.

Where Is Franciacorta Produced?

Lombardy sits in the northern-central portion of Italy. It is both the most populous area and the leading industrial area, which is showcased through the city of Milan – Italy’s financial and fashion capital.

These factors often don’t go hand in hand with the production of wine, but Italy still finds a way. There are a number of grape varieties which have found a home in Lombardy, as well as several styles of wine. However, one stands above all others – Franciacorta.

Lombardy can be divided into three smaller sub-regions. In the north you have Valtellina which is just a small drive away from Switzerland. Then, there is Oltrepò Pavese which sits in the south-west by the Emilia-Romagna region.

The Valtellina wine region has found some success with the Nebbiolo grape variety, (known as Chiavennasca in Lombary). It could either be through the fresher Rosso di Valtellina wines and the Sfursat wines which are made from dried grapes.

Then, Oltrepò Pavese is actually considered the Pinot Noir capital of Italy, (or Pinot Nero in Italian). It is light and fresh and actually a great fit for sparkling wine, which is good for the neighbouring region of Franciacorta. Outside of Pinot Noir, you can also find wines from Barbera, Croatina, Malvasia, Cortese and even some Cabernet Sauvignon.

Finally, we come to the fabled Franciacorta DOCG region which sits in the east and neighbours Veneto, (who are responsible for one of Italy’s other great sparkling wines – Prosecco). The DOCG, (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), is reserved for the finest Italian wine regions and is an indication of the quality of the wines which it produces.

Franciacorta Vineyards
Franciacorta Vineyards, Lombardy

The name doesn’t have anything to do with France. Rather, the name is said to come from the region’s towns, (or ‘Curtes’), which were exempt from taxes during the Middle Ages. Exempt translates to ‘Francae’. Francae-Curtes, (or exempt towns), becomes Franciacorta, (MacNeil 404).

Sparkling region is made throughout the north of Italy. You have Prosecco in Veneto, Pignoletto in Emilia-Romagna and Asti in Piedmont. Yet, none are quite as rarified and complex as the finest offerings of Franciacorta – Italy’s answer to Champagne.

Franciacorta Wine

Franciacorta can really reach the highest of peaks. Intensely flavoured and complex with creamy mousse and palpable freshness to keep it light. You can expect many tasting notes which overlap with Champagne and Crémant. The grape varieties are often similar with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay regularly being used. Pinot Blanc is also regularly used.

Franciacorta often spends a large amount of time being aged on lees which helps to contribute to some of these aromas. Generally, non-vintage wines will spend 18 months of lees, whereas riserva wines may spend up to 60 months.

The usual labelling terms for sparkling wines of this style will appear, as you can see from classification such as Non-Vintage and Riserva. You’ll also find Vintage examples in the best years which are labelled as ‘Millesimato’. One unique labelling term is ‘Satèn’. These particular offerings of Franciacorta have less carbon dioxide and provide a softer wine, with less intense bubbles, (MacNeil 405).

‘Metodo Tradizionale’ or ‘ Metodo Classico’ will also appear on the label which denotes the traditional method of production. This is the same method used in Champagne and Crémant and accounts for the similarities in the final flavour profile.

With the traditional method, a dry still base wine is trapped in a bottle before it is done fermenting and secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle which provides the effervescence in the final wine. At this stage, dead yeast cells known as lees begin to collect which adds toasted notes. Then, these cells are frozen and ejected in a process known as disgorgement. Finally, the wine is topped up with another wine which determines the level of residual sugar in the final product.

Franciacorta Wine
Franciacorta Wine

In terms of common tasting notes, there is a great deal of overlap with the traditional method wines of France. Examples which heavily focus on white grapes will include delicate floral notes of white flowers, as well as green, citrus and stone fruit flavours. These include apple, pear, lemon, lime, grapefruit, peach, nectarine and apricot.

Then, examples which are made primarily red grapes will ramp up the red fruit flavours. Typical notes include cranberry, redcurrant, raspberry, strawberry and cherry, as well as floral notes of rose. Citrus flavours of orange and pink grapefruit are also common.

Beyond that, the wine will be aged on lees, go through MLF, (also know as Malolactic fermentation), and even be aged on oak. This will impart a number of unique tasting notes. In Franciacorta, this could include notes of brioche, toast, biscuits, cream, butter, charred wood and subtle spiced aromas.

We hope you are now more familiar with Italy’s most special form of sparkling wine. It is rich, elegant and wholly delicious. Few wines will match the absolute delight that is a well made bottle of Franciacorta. Don’t delay and get some for yourself as soon as possible!

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