The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

All About Franciacorta DOCG

Posted on | April 4, 2016 | Written by IWM Staff | No Comments

Bottiglia e calice di franciacorta, or bottle with Franciacorta DOCG label, from Wikipedia

Bottiglia e calice di franciacorta, or bottle with Franciacorta DOCG label, from Wikipedia

In the province of Lombardia, south of Lake Iseo, lying in the low hills between Bergamo and Brescia is the 3,500-acre DOCG region Franciacorta, home to Italy’s only méthode champenoise sparklers. Sparkling wine requires two fermentations–and while the first is always in a vat of some kind (traditionally wood or clay, now most often stainless steel), vintners have a choice about where they carry out the second. Most of the sparkling wine made in Italy is made by the Charmat, or autoclave, method where the secondary fermentation takes place in a stainless steel vat, but the vintners in Franciacorta carry out their secondary vinification in the bottle as winemakers do in Champagne, France, hence the term méthode champenoise. The resulting wine is very much on par with Champagne, though as the producers themselves would be quick to tell you, it is not a copy of Champagne.

However, there is a sense of perhaps protesting too much. The winemakers of Franciacorta do more than just accept the French method of producing their sparkling wines; they embrace French grapes and the French system of sparkling classification. Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir are the varietals that comprise the vintages of Franciacorta, and not coincidentally they are the grapes of choice for Champagne. Similarly, DOCG rules employ French terms for their wines–nowhere on a bottle of Franciacorta will you find the word “spumante”; in fact, it’s forbidden. You will, however, find the terms “Extra Brut,” “Brut,” “Sec” and “Semi-Sec,” and you’ll find the designation “Rosé” rather than “Rosato.” This implementation of non-Italian terms can make the marketing, finding, and even introducing of Franciacorta wines difficult, but their bouncy bubbles, happy acidity, elegant structure and proper sparkling “feel” to make quick converts of wine drinkers.

While it’s likely that French grapes are not new to the region, the production of sparkling wine is. Despite receiving its DOC status in 1967, Franciacorta had only been making its now emblematic bubblies since just after WW II; although the region had made primarily only still red wines until 1950, by 1995 it had proven itself well enough to receive DOCG elevation. In many ways, however, the terroir is perfect for sparklers. Situated in a natural bowl that looks across Lake Iseo to the Alps, Franciacorta has lower temperatures than the rest of the very fertile Lombardia. In addition, its gravelly, glacial moraine both forestalls ripening and imparts a piquant acidity to the wines. Certainly, the explosion of producers in the once-sleepy area attests to its viability.

The DOCG rules for Franciacorta are among the most comprehensive in the entire system. This stringency means that there is very little identity crisis in Franciacorta. There are rules for cultivation, rules for harvesting, rules for fermentation, rules for ageing, and rules for labeling. It is simply a machine of organization. But given that méthode champenoise requires labor-intensive processes and a concomitant amount of money to fund it, this regimentation is neither surprising nor detrimental.

Essentially, there are three main types of Franciacorta: Brut, Rosé, and Satèn. Each comes in two varieties, one regular and one millesimato, a kind of superiore; the regular version is aged for 25 months, the millesimato for 37. The Brut, which also appears in Extra-Brut, Sec and Semi-Sec versions, is comprised of Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco; the Rosé of Pinot Nero (at least 15%) and the remainder either Chardonnay or Pinot Bianco; and Satèn, which is another word for Crémant, or a version that has a lower concentration of carbon dioxide and is thus less fizzy, is comprised of Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco.

The best way to get to know Franciacorta is, of course, to enjoy some. IWM offers a wide array of this unique Italian sparkler, and we’re particularly fond of vintage bottles from Ca’ del Bosco, as well as the more wallet-friendly wines from Barone Pizzini. Franciacorta is a the ideal way to toast to new adventures, with all the sophistication of Champagne and all the style of Italy!

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