Franciacorta – Italy’s answer to Champagne

Oct 21, 2021 | Italy

In the region of Lombardia, approximately 50 miles east of Milan lies the Franciacorta and Brescia Hills region just north of the city of Brescia.

Vineyard near ErbuscoThe area is hilly, and the temperatures are moderated by Lake Iseo and the mountain ranges to the north protect the area from the cold air descending from the Alps. This moderate continental climate combined with mineral-rich soils composed of sand, silt, gravel, and limestone make this region ideal for Chardonnay and Pinot Nero.

The winemaking history in Franciacorta dates back to the 16th century. The name of Franciacorta, designating the land between Brescia and Lake Iseo, appeared for the first time in 1277, in reference to the ‘curtes francae’, a tax- and duty-free trade area. Legend has it that the “tax and duty-free trade area” was applied to the less fertile hillsides in an effort to discourage farmers from moving to the more fertile plain.

The modern history of Franciacorta started in the 1950s when Franco Ziliani, the young winemaker at the Berlucchi winery, experimented with the production of bottle-fermented sparkling wine made mostly from Pinot Bianco. The first official release, bottled as Pinot di Franciacorta, was in 1961.

Bottle of FranciacortaThe success achieved by the wine, and the quality and commitment shown by other local producers to produce metodo classico (traditional method) sparkling wines resulted in the region gaining DOC status in 1967 and DOCG status in 1995 making it the first DOCG in Italy exclusively for traditional method sparkling wine.

Franciacorta is produced from three varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco. Wines tend to be dominated by Chardonnay, which make up 80% of the plantings. Franciacorta has the highest ageing requirements in the world, non-vintage must spend a minimum of 18 months on the lees, whereas Champagne requires only 12 months. Vintage bottlings (millesimato) require a minimum of 30 months on their lees and Riserva bottlings, made only in exceptional years require 60 months of lees ageing!

This attention to high standards and quality became clearly evident at a recent visit to Ca’ del Bosco, one of the pioneers of Franciacorta that has taking the search for quality to extremes. The only winery I’m aware of the put all their grapes through a “Berry Spa” treatment where the grapes are meticulously washed and dried to remove fungi, dust and other material that can impact the wines’ character and quality.

Ca' del Boscos’ Berry Spa treatment line

Ca’ del Boscos’ Berry Spa treatment line

Even though the Franciacorta vineyards and traditions are still relatively young, top producers’ commitment to quality and distinctive traditional method sparkling wine was clearly evident. Our visit and tour ended with a fabulous video that showcases the strive for excellence on par with the great sparkling wine in the world.

John Opsina

John Opsina

Founder & Author