Franciacorta: Italy’s Sparkling Wine Answer to Champagne

Italy makes a wide variety of sparkling wines that are wonderful values and great tasting wines suitable for the holidays. In the last article, we discussed the sparkling wines of Asti in the Piemonte (Moscato d’Asti and Asti Spumante). I would like to continue to explore the sparkling wines of Italy. The first region one encounters when heading east from the Piemonte is the region of Lombardia.

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Lombardia is a landlocked region surrounded by mountains. Lakes Garda, Iseo and Como temper the climate. Lombardia is Italy’s largest and most populated region.  It is most famous for its leading city, Milan, a sleek urban center that is one of the world’s fashion capitals. Although very little wine is made here, Lombardia makes one of the finest sparkling wines in Italy. It is called Franciacorta. This region also produces its share of nice white wines and some very good and under-appreciated red wines, but a discussion of those will be for another day.

Franciacorta wines are made using the méthode champenoise style. That is to say, they are made in the same way Champagne is made; by allowing the secondary fermentation to take place in the bottle. And like Champagne, the wines of Franciacorta are made from the international varieties of Pinot Noir (known as Pinot Nero in Italy), Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc (know as Pinot Bianco). Although these grapes are certainly not native to the area, they have been there at least since Napoleonic times and probably before. We know they have been there at least since Phylloxera destroyed the vineyards in Franciacorta the end of the 19th century. At that time, the vines were replanted with today’s varietals.

In another similarity to Champagne, the producers often use French descriptors like Rosé to describe the wines instead of the commensurate Italian word like Rosato. When labeling the wines for their level of residual sugar (which tells the consumer how sweet the wines will be), the same designations used in Champagne are used. From driest to sweetest they are: Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec and Demi–Sec. Not much Franciacorta is made, only 1/6 the amount of Prosecco for example. Occasionally a consumer will also see a wine labeled as Satèn. These wines are not made in the méthode champenoise style. Often a bit less expensive, Satèn’s are made exclusively from white grapes and typically they are a bit less bubbly and less costly.