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Discovering Italy's Other Sparkling Wine: Franciacorta

In the heart of Lombardy, Italy, nestled between the picturesque shores of Lake Iseo and the rolling hills of Brescia, lies the small wine growing region of Franciacorta. While somewhat in the shadow of Italy’s venerable Prosecco, the refined sparkling wines of Franciacorta have been quietly crafting a legacy of their own, offering a taste of sophistication and effervescence that captivates the palates of wine enthusiasts in the know.


The history of Franciacorta sparkling wines is a tale of resilience, innovation, and a relentless pursuit of excellence. The roots of this winemaking tradition can be traced back to the 1950s, when a handful of visionary producers set out to challenge the status quo and create a sparkling wine that could rival the world-famous French Champagne.

In the post-war era, the Italian wine scene was dominated by still wines. The concept of a high-quality Italian sparkling wine was relatively unexplored. However, a group of winemakers, inspired by the success of Champagne, sought to prove that Italy was more than capable of producing world-class sparkling wines. Among the pioneers were names like Guido Berlucchi, and Franco Ziliani, who paved the way for the birth of Franciacorta.


Guido Berlucchi, often hailed as the "father of Franciacorta," produced the first vintage of Franciacorta in 1961, using the traditional method of sparkling wine production, known as Metodo Classico. This technique involves a secondary fermentation that occurs in the bottle, allowing the wine to develop its effervescence naturally. His implementation of traditional method techniques have become the foundation of Franciacorta winemaking responsible for the distinct quality and complexity of the wines.

Over the decades, the Franciacorta region evolved into a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), Italy's highest classification for wines. The appellation encompasses 19 communes, each contributing its unique terroir to the character of Franciacorta wines. The cool climate, limestone-rich soils, and the moderating influence of Lake Iseo all play a role in shaping the elegant profile of these sparkling wines.


The grapes used in Franciacorta wines are primarily Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc, carefully cultivated to achieve optimal ripeness and flavor. Regulations also permit up to 10% of a virtually extinct local variety called Erbamat, a high acidity indigenous variety grown in Lombardy as far back as the 1500’s, to address the increasing challenges of climate change.


One of the distinguishing features of Franciacorta is a dedication to aging. Franciacorta’s regulations for non-vintage production require 25% longer lees aging than non-vintage Champagne (15 months vs 12 months minimum), and one month longer total aging than Champagne for vintage releases (37 months vs 36 months minimum). Further, Franciacorta's additional Vintage Riserva tier requires at least 60 months lees aging. Yet, these requirements are merely starting points as many producers age their wines on the lees well beyond these minimum standards. This patient aging approach imparts depth, complexity, and a refined effervescence to the final product.


Today, the Franciacorta Consortium oversees production standards and quality control of all producers in the region ensuring that each bottle bearing the Franciacorta name upholds the region's rich winemaking heritage. The wines are classified into various styles, including Brut, Satèn - a Blanc de Blanc variation, and Rosé, each offering a unique expression of the terroir and winemaking techniques.


As the global appreciation for sparkling wines continues to grow, Franciacorta stands as a shining example of Italian craftsmanship and dedication to excellence. The history of Franciacorta is a testament to the vision and tenacity of those who believed in the potential of this region to produce sparkling wines that rival the best in the world.

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