I recently had the good fortune to be introduced to Franciacorta. That introduction came by way of a webinar hosted by Napa Valley Wine Academy. Giammario Villa, Master Taster and Franciacorta Brand Ambassador, shared his detailed knowledge of the region and its wines. Peter Marks, MW joined in the discussion. We tasted three styles of Franciacorta, all of which were provided as tasting samples. I’m happy for this introduction and want you to introduce you to Franciacorta!
Where is Franciacorta?
Franciacorta lies in the heart of Italy’s Lombardia (Lombardy) region. Lombardy lies south of the Swiss border at the foot of the Alps. Milan is the financial, fashion and cultural hub of this northern part of Italy and just to the north is picturesque Lake Cuomo.
Lake Iseo, to the northeast of Milan, is smaller than Lake Cuomo and not as well known, yet charming and impossibly pretty. The Franciacorta wine region cozies up against the southern shores of Lake Iseo and is characterized by rolling hills dotted with stone villages and historic monasteries.
Vineyards have been planted in the region since pre-Roman times. The origin of the name Franciacorta dates back to the Middle Ages when monks set about developing and revitalizing the area’s farmland. In exchange for this effort the monasteries were allowed a tax exemption or francae curtes (courts free of tax). Francae curtes became Franzacurta and eventually Franciacorta.
This small region, only 77 square miles with just under 8,000 planted acres, is defined by weather mitigated by Lake Iseo, complex soils deposited by glaciers and many small producers, the majority of whom farm organically. And all Franciacorta is sparkling wine made in the traditional method, called metodo classico in Italy. Franciacorta describes the region, the winemaking and the wine.
Franciacorta earned DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) status in 1967 and was promoted to DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) in 1993 making it the first metodo classico so designated.
How Franciacorta is Made
Chardonnay, Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco (maximum of 50%) are the primary grape varieties allowed in the making of Franciacorta. Recently Erbamat, a variety native to Brescia, was added (may comprise up to 10% except in Satèn – see below). This low alcohol, aromatically neutral variety ripens late and is high in acid. It should provide a hedge against the warming climate in the region. Grapes must be harvested by hand and pressed without destemming, except for Pinot Nero to be used for rosé.
Still wines are made and blended based on variety, vineyard site (this where complex soil types lend signature flavor profiles) and vintage. The blend is then bottled with sugar and yeast for the second fermentation in the bottle. The wine ages for a minimum of 18 months before it is disgorged and the dosage (liqueur d’expedition) is added.
Ronco Calino Brut NV, Franciacorta DOCG — medium yellow with fine, persistent bubbles. Aromas of pears, oat hay and toast are followed by toasty, citrusy flavors that follow the aromas. Lively acidity keeps the finish clean. 12.5% abv. $33
Grapes are sourced from estate vineyards in village of Calino in Cazzago San Martino and the Sera vineyard in Torbiato di Adro. The blend is 80% Chardonnay 20% Pinot Nero with a minimum of 30 months on the lees and 6-months aging after disgorgement.
2015 Barone Pizzini Satèn, Franciacorta DOCG — medium yellow with generous, soft bubbles. Aromas of oat hay, crushed flower stems and dried herbs are echoed in the flavor profile along with toasted almonds. Acidity is notable and persistent on the finish. Very unique flavor profile. 12% abv. Only 4277 cases made. $33
The flavor profile is very unique and complex with creamy bubbles. This vintage Satèn is comprised entirely of Chardonnay sourced from four vineyard sites.
Faccoli Rosé Brut NV, Franciacorta DOCG — blush pink in the glass with generous, fine bubbles. Aromas include raspberries, cherries, strawberries and citrus zest with toasty notes in the background. Mixed berry flavors follow with a bit of toast and citrus. Plenty of acidity keeps the finish clean. 12.5% abv. $26
Faccoli winery has been making Franciacorta rosé since 1984. Vineyards are located on the slopes of Mount Orfano, the oldest outcropping in the Po Valley and the only geologic presence of marine origin in Lombardy. The blend is 60% Pinot Nero, 30% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Bianco with a minimum of 24 months on the lees.
Franciacorta is serious bubbly. It’s a long, laborious winemaking process and, as an indication of just how seriously they take their bubbly, Franciacorta has the disgorgement date printed on the bottle.
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These are wines with enough complexity, body and acidity to accompany a meal. Don’t hesitate to begin sipping them before a meal, just know these are not strictly aperitivo wines. And the low alcohol level is very attractive as well.
Thanks to Giammario, Peter and the folks at Napa Valley Wine Academy for this delicious introduction to Franciacorta!