Franciacorta is a high-quality sparkling wine made in the Méthode Champenoise from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (with limited amounts of Pinot Blanc), It is Italy’s answer to Champagne. Produced in both non-vintage and vintage forms, there is a standard white, a rosé (minimum 25% Pinot Noir) and a blanc de blancs equivalent called Franciacorta Satèn, made exclusively from Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco. The taste of Franciacorta Brut wines is very similar to Champagne (biscuit, brioche, lemon and lees), but there are two clear differences, history and scale. Franciacorta’s history dates back just 50 years with annual production of around 27,000 hectolitres. Champagne is closer to 350 years old with annual production of about 2,700,00 h/L (100 times as much)..
The Franciacorta sparkling style and DOCG designation are both relatively new to Italy’s wine portfolio. The first Franciacorta sparkling wine of note was created by the Berlucchi winery in the late 1950s. The wine was very well received and other producers soon followed. The Franciacorta DOC designation was created in 1967, to cover the area’s sparkling wines and their non-sparkling counterparts.
Franciacorta’s sparkling wines were promoted to DOCG status (the highest level of Italian wine classification) in 1995. This was primarily the result of hard work and lobbying by the local consortium. In order to increase quality, the consortium pushed for lower yields, gentler grape-pressing techniques and to gradually eliminate Pinot Grigio from the wines.
All Franciacorta wine is bottle-aged on its lees to increase its complexity and flavor integration. The ageing period is 18 months for the non-vintage wines, 24 months for the rosé and satèn, 30 months for the vintage-marked millesimato and an impressive 60 months for the riserva wines.
The production methods described above (coupled with small production volumes) help justify the relatively high price tag of Franciacorta wines, some of which cost in the hundreds of dollars.
Franciacorta’s success can be attributed not only to its quality-driven producers, but also to the combination of climate and soil types. Warm, bright, summer days are followed by cool nights here, creating ample opportunity for the grapes to ripen, while retaining the acidity so vital to the production of sparkling wines. Although temperatures fluctuate between day and night, they remain relatively consistent throughout the growing season, thanks to the moderating effects of Lake Iseo.
Topography is also very important to the area, both the macro-topography of the Alps (which protect northern Italy from continental influences of Central Europe) and the local, rolling hills sheltering the vineyards. The gravely, stony soils are well drained and rich in minerals – ideal for high-quality wines. They were formed, just like the topography, by glacial activity.