Franciacorta, the Italian Sparkling that Gives Champagne a Run for its Money

Franciacorta, the Italian Sparkling Giving Champagne a Run for its Money

Let’s play a game: name five Italian sparkling wines. There’s Prosecco, of course, probably the first one to come to mind; and Lambrusco, the red fizz that some love and some love to hate. Keep going and there’s Asti, a low-alcohol bubbly often served with dessert and also, Trentodoc, which last month went viral after wine expert Nick Passmore suggested on Forbes that it might be the best Italian sparkler. Last but not least, there’s Franciacorta, a DOCG Spumante that is not as famous as its cousins but which is likely to be the best sparkling wine from Italy.

Franciacorta is named after the eponymous region located in the Province of Brescia (Lombardy, northwest of Italy) which was established as a DOC in 1967 and achieved DOCG status in 1995. According to figures from Il Consorzio Franciacorta, the region covers 2,714 hectares and produces approximately 18 million bottles of wine per year. This area is less than a tenth of Prosecco’s DOC 23,000 hectares and an even smaller fraction compared to Champagne’s 35,000 hectares.

We spoke with Vitiliano Tirrito, Export Director at Grupo Terra Moretti, a company that represents two important producers of Franciacorta, Contadi Castaldi and Bellavista. While he’s aware that “Champagne is the benchmark” in the world of sparkling wines, he feels confident about Franciacorta’s quality and considers it “real competition” for the world’s most famous fizz.

Regarding the tendency of comparing both types of wine he acknowledges that “It’s an obliged step”, and as consumers are often more familiar with Champagne, Franciacorta “has to compete with them to get space in the clients’ minds.”

Franciacorta, the Italian Sparkling Giving Champagne a Run for its Money

Heritage-wise, Champagne is definitely on the lead, “they have three centuries of history while we are a quite young denomination being born in 1960’s”, explains Vitiliano.

At some point we will stop talking about Champagne while presenting Franciacorta, just like you don’t hear Barolo producers talking about Burgundy while presenting their Nebbiolo wines anymore.

For this reason, the priority in the region is set on communicating their identity. “We think the entire Franciacorta region is now ready to get the customers’ attention. Therefore our efforts will pay off once the wine lists of restaurants have our wines in a dedicated Franciacorta section, and not like it often happens today under the generic ‘sparkling wines’ section where all the non-Champagne products are.”

When it comes to winemaking and quality, Franciacorta has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. The wine’s price tag reflects this and for Vitiliano, the “high cost of production coming from a method that is the strictest one, even stricter than Champagne”, justifies it. “Uniqueness comes out from selective thinking: we source grapes from only 19 districts, pruning and harvest only by hand. So it’s an artisan product in whole!” he adds.

Compared to Trentodoc, another Italian Metodo Classico sparkling wine, Franciacorta also has strengths. “Franciacorta was a DOC from 1967 to 1994, then from 1995 we became a DOCG” explains Vitiliano, adding that Trento is way younger, receiving the DOC status in 1993. “So in terms of Denominations we are at the same level of Amarone, Brunello and Barolo.”

The other factor that makes Franciacorta special is of course the terroir. “Franciacorta is proud and conscious of its vocational essence and therefore has been striving to exalt the Mediterranean unique character of its wines.”

Franciacorta, the Italian Sparkling Giving Champagne a Run for its Money

Quality, not quantity

Producers go beyond caring for the quality of the grape, the soil’s health is a very important matter. Avoiding the use of chemicals and planting other fruits and vegetables for biodiversity are common practices in the region.

The varieties allowed are Chardonnay, Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) and Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc). The first two are also used for the production of Champagne, while the third one is a fresh and light white grape very closely related to the popular Pinot Grigio.

Another common trait that Franciacorta shares with France’s finest is the use of the Method Traditionelle or as Italians call it Metodo Classico, in which the second fermentation takes place in the bottle. This is the method of choice for the most complex and refined sparkling wines in the world. The other popular method, the Tank Method or Charmat (the is used to make Prosecco), is more cost-efficient and can deliver very pleasant wines, but when it comes to character and depth it falls short in comparison.

And the other technique that adds to its complexity is the time the wine is left to age on its lees. For non-vintage Franciacorta, the legal minimum is 18 months. Cava’s time on the lees is 9 months at least and Champagne’s calls for a minimum of 15 months (although this is often surpassed by winemakers depending of the house style).

Types of Francicorta

There are five classifications for Franciacorta: the non-vintage blended, which is pale, fresh and with persistent bubbles and frothy mousse, and shows aromas of citrus, almonds and freshly baked bread. Satèn, which is made only with Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc and exclusively produced as in Brut dosage.

Rosé, which should contain at least 25% Pinot Noir; Millesimato, made with wine a single year (minimum 85%) and can only be sold at least 37 months after the harvest; and Riserva, which is made by blending wines from exceptional vintages only and is released on the market at least 67 months (five and a half years) after the harvest.

Experience Franciacorta – June 2017

If you want to experience the pleasures of this Italian sparkler, this month the region is organising a festival dedicated to their Spumante. The Festival Franciacorta D’Estate, running from June 17th to 18th, when guests will be able to attend a series of specially‐themed micro‐events, guided tours, and tastings.

One of the highlights will be a Sunday picnic brunch with dishes by celebrity chefs. The event’s page is in Italian but here’s all you need to know if a bit of wine tourism in Italy catches your fancy.

TASTING TIME

Bellavista, Franciacorta Alma Gran Cuvée BrutBellavista, Franciacorta Alma Gran Cuvée Brut
Lombardy, Italy – 12% ABV
€52.99 – Available at Terroirs, 64 Wine, Donnybrook Fair, Green Man Wines, Jus de Vine, The Corkscrew, Mitchell & Son, The Wine Centre, Baggot Street Wines, Clontarf Wines, Searsons Wine Merchants

Bellavista is one of the most well known wineries in the region. Their characteristic bottle holds a beautiful blend of Chardonnay (80%) with Pinot Noir (19%) and Pinot Blanc (1%).
White flowers, green apple, almonds, zesty lemon peel and a pleasant taste of lemon biscuits combine in this elegant and vibrant Spumante. It has a persistent mousse and bubbles that last for long.

ARTICLE BY GABY GUEDEZ

Gaby ProfileGabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.

Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.

Gabriela Guédez Gabriela Guédez

 

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