Franciacorta Italian Sparkling Wine Review
I had the pleasure of presenting a wine tasting of five incredible Italian sparkling wines at a food wine and travel writers conference (www.ifwtwa.org) in Montgomery, Alabama at the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa * . The wines were from the Franciacorta region of Italy. The tasting proved to be one of the special moments of the conference.
Anytime a group of wine writers can gather to learn more about their craft is a good thing. However, when the writers can immerse themselves in the learning process, the educational program becomes memorable.
This tasting event began with dialogue about the special features of the Franciacorta wines, then came the interactive tasting.
Just because you weren’t there, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy and learn about wines as the group of 15 wine writers did. Follow along with the lecture and the tasting below, then think about sharing this information and wines with your own circle of friends.
Champagne, Cava and …Franciacorta? Most lovers of classic method sparkling wine are familiar with the famed first two in the list, but few know of Franciacorta, Italy’s best-kept secret from the Lombardy region of northern Italy. Like Cava and Champagne, Franciacorta achieves its elegant effervescence thanks to secondary fermentation in the bottle—the “classic method”—and is limited to a specific geographic territory.
Franciacorta is to Champagne what David is to Goliath. The French region boasts production power that is almost 20 times larger than Franciacorta (5,400 acres of vineyard compared to 80,000 acres in Champagne). The Italian region counts just over 100 producers next to 19,000 vignerons and Champagne houses in France. Franciacorta’s marketing footprint is also inhibited by small export numbers. Only 11 percent of its bottles are sold abroad, compared to 40 to 60 percent in other important Italian wine regions.
The elite group of winemakers drives what is one of the most dynamic and fastest-growing wine region in Europe. Production numbers soared from 2.9 million bottles to 6.7 million bottles in the 10 years starting from 1996.
Franciacorta is distinguished by a unique territorial identity that is defined in equal measure by geography and social-economic demographics. In this regard, it is a unique phenomenon in the greater world of wine.
At the heart of Italy’s celebrated Lake District with the petite Lago d’Iseo immediately at its back, and the larger lakes Como and Garda acting as a buffer against the frigid climate of the Italian Alps, Franciacorta occupies an isolated spot of rolling hills, moderate temperatures and calcareous and sandy soils.
Thanks to the big mountains to the north and the Pianura Padana plains to the south, Franciacorta experiences dramatic variation between daytime and nighttime temperatures. Sometimes differing by as much as 60˚ Fahrenheit, this huge variance helps achieve balance between ripeness and acidity in the maturing grape clusters. Gentle breezes from the lakes help mitigate humidity and keep the vines aerated and healthy.
Interesting is Franciacorta’s great position at the center of northern Italy’s main economic corridor. The area including Milan (Italy’s banking capital) and Brescia (the country’s industrial capital) is populated by like-minded entrepreneurs who are characterized by unity and a can-do attitude.
Metodo classico in Italian is synonymous with Méthode Champenoise or Méthode Traditionnelle in French. It refers to a specific school of sparkling wine production in which each individual bottle becomes a closed environment for a second alcoholic fermentation. Carbon dioxide becomes trapped within the wine, eventually reaching 6 bars of atmospheric pressure within the bottle.
The “classic method” results in fine and long-lasting pearls of bubbles. Prosecco and many other more affordable sparkling wines are made using the Charmat method (or Metodo Martinotti) in which secondary fermentation occurs in large pressurized tanks instead. The difference in taste is the Charmat method gives big rough bubbles similar to a soda drink, while Méthode Champenoise produces fine bubbles that tickle the tongue and rise in elegant streams from the bottom of the glass.
Franciacorta is planted in Chardonnay, Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco varieties. About 85% of the acreage is dedicated to Chardonnay. Local Consorzio officials limit growth in order to keep the focus on quality. Because of limited production numbers, a bottle of Franciacorta wine costs more than Cava on average and is comparable to the price of Champagne.
Some Franciacorta wines are non-vintage, being released at least 25 months after harvest. Vintage Franciacorta is released 37 months after the harvest, and like Champagne, must have prolonged contact with yeast in the bottle for increased depth and elegance.
Rosé Franciacorta contains at least 15% Pinot Nero, while Satèn is a Blanc de Blancs. This means it must be made entirely from the white grape varieties Chardonnay and/or Pinot Bianco and is produced with 4.5 bars of pressure instead of 6 for a slightly softer and creamier mouth feel. Producers have the option of making a Riserva, the fourth category of Franciacorta.
Dosage level terms (a general measure of the wine’s sweetness) are as follows
Extra-Brut: Very Dry; 0-6 grams/liter residual sugar
Brut: Dry; 0-12 grams/liter residual sugar.
Secco: Dry (same as Brut)
Extra-Dry: Off-dry; 12-17 grams/liter residual sugar.
Semi-Secco: Off-dry (same as Extra-Dry)
Amabile: Sweet: (sweet)
1. NV Villa Crespia-Muratori Franciacorta Dosaggio Zero Numero Zero, $25
CHARDONNAY: Blanc des blancs has a pleasant train of bubbles announcing the extra-brut nature a fresh interesting minerality which becomes evident when you come to the after-taste. The winemaking team at Villa Crespia makes fully 20% of its sparkling wines in this ultra-dry style, which they predict will eventually become the leading category for all of Franciacorta. Made entirely from Chardonnay, this shows an aromatic and flavor profile recalling apple skin and lemon that works very well with this lean, fresh, driving style. Strikingly bright and crisp but neither austere nor sour, this is terrific.
2. La Montina Franciacorta Brut Lombardia, $30 Colour of white gold with small bubbles. Nose a little bit sweet – ripe pear and dried apple. Very balanced sparkler – you can feel the round sweetish taste but has an acidic spine. Obtained from grapes picked in the best vintages. Composed of Chardonnay, which gives the wine elegance and finesse, and Pinot Noir which imparts structure and body. This blend combined with a very gentle pressing produces a distinctly golden hued wine of unmistakable personality. The mousse is soft and the bubbles persistent and long. The olfactory notes and hints of unripe fruit combine with engaging stone fruits and a whiff of vanilla. In the mouth the racy acidity balances with a full body and depth of flavor.
3. Azienda Agricola Il Mosnel Franciacorta Brut, $30
60% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Blanc and 10% Pinot Noir this “entry level” Franciacorta was first produced by Il Mosnel in 1979 and today just under 150,000 bottles a year are produced. 30% of the still base wine was fermented in small oak barrels rather than stainless steel and 24 months of “sur lie” aging was enforced ahead of disgorgement. Impressive for what is nominally an “entry level” release, this non-vintage Il Mosnel Brut offers a real intensity of both flavor and aroma as it is tasted. Zesty lemon citrus and white peach notes define the nose, with richer lemon curd flavors combining with nuances of hazelnut and a fantastically creamy mousse to produce a compelling palate
4. RICCI CURBASTRO Franciacorta Satén, $45. it was spectacular and came in #1 in the group’s review. Blended from 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir, it shows lots of dramatic yeasty aromatic complexities but is extremely crisp and fresh on the palate, with flavors of fresh lemons and green apples driven by electric acidity.
5. Fratelli Berlucchi Brut Rose, Franciacorta DOCG, $30 10% Pinot Noir added to the Chardonnay of the “basic” Fratelli Berlucchi Franciacorta and the use of grapes only from a single vintage, this Brut Millesimato from the 2008 vintage marks the next stage in Franciacorta quality for the Fratelli Berlucchi winery. An extended period of “sur lie” maturation is applied, although the dosage is maintained at 8g/l. Pronounced overtones of toast, pineapple and cider apple.
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