The 2,800-hectare wine region of Franciacorta in Northern Italy was carved out of the sedimentary rock between 50,000–150,000 years ago, by the toing and froing of an Alpine glacier. Franciacorta the wine was created in 1985, although it only ‘won’ its DOCG status in 1996. The grapes now used are predominantly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with Pinot Bianco (aka Pinot Blanc) making up the numbers.
Learn more about Franciacorta
Located northeast of Milano, close to Brescia, the 2,800-hectare wine region of Franciacorta in Northern Italy was carved out of the sedimentary rock between 50,000–150,000 years ago by the toing and froing of an Alpine glacier. The glacier’s ‘tongue’ left a fan-like mark on the land, along with moraine debris deposits and a lake. Its path down from the Alps, 50 km away, also created a corridor down which cooling air shuttles, skimming over Lake Iseo’s surface and ventilating the vineyards beyond. In turn, a southern rim of hills, in particular Monte Orfano, blocks the warm air currents travelling up from Italy’s south.
Franciacorta the wine was created in 1985, although it only ‘won’ its DOCG status in 1996, at which point it was forced to handover (to the French) the words ‘Metodo Champagne’ in return for registering the marks ‘Franciacorta’ and ‘Satèn’. Prior to the 1980s boom, Franciacorta made still wine (dating back to the 16th century) and then tested the spumante market during the 1970s with fruit bought from Trentino e Oltrepò Pavese. The grapes now used are predominantly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with Pinot Bianco (aka Pinot Blanc) the ne’er-do-well relative making up the numbers. In fact the story goes that with the surge of interest that followed the release of Berlucchi’s Pinot di Franciacorta (that’s Pinot Bianco) during the 1970s, nurseries soon ran out of Pinot Bianco cuttings, so they sold the thirsty cantine Chardonnay instead.
The way of making Franciacorta is very similar to that of Champagne: the traditional method with the second, carbonic fermentation happening in bottle. Yields are at 100 hectoliters versus 150 hectoliters for Champagne. Time sur lattes has to be a minimum of 18 months (versus 15 in Reims). The maximum amount of must allowed from the press is 85 percent. The maximum residual sugar per litre is 12 grams, although now the trend is towards drier styles.
Some but not all estates have the luxury of using ‘reserve wines’, and even then the wines are not that old (ie one to two years), so they tend to be fresher than their Champagne counterparts. A key point of difference is that Franciacorta producers are obliged put the date of sboccatura (disgorgement) on the back label to inform consumers. The other being that annual production of Franciacorta is currently at 15 million bottles – tiny when compared with Champagne’s 340 million.
Prices are in line with worthy Champagne, which is bullish you might say given the wine style is as good as unknown in the UK. Yet the market is changing: in the early 2000s, 95 percent of Franciacorta was consumed in Italy; 10 years on, producers have become keen to reduce this dependency on the home market.
There appears to exist in Franciacorta, as in Champagne, three categories of producer: ambitious brands making finely-tuned ‘bubbles’ (eg Bellavista, Monte Rossa, Berlucchi); ‘wannabe’ brands keen to flee the nest (eg Lantieri de Paratico); and those that are more interested in making high-quality artisan wines than in the sparkle itself (eg Uberti, Cavalleri, Biondelli).