Franciacorta – sparkling wine from Lombardia

Franciacorta is a sparkling wine made in Lombardia. It is widely known as Italy’s answer to Champagne.

Location, climate and soils

The climate is warm, continental with breezes from the Lake Iseo. It is located at latitude 45 degrees (Champagne at 49 degrees). The soils are diverse. The vineyards, 2800 hectares in total, stretch out over the hilly landscape of Brescia. The vines are planted at elevations of 100 to 500 meter (any higher is not allowed in the DOCG). The soils are very diverse due to the region’s glacial history. They are composed of sand, sandstone, gravel and limestone – overall, they have a good drainage.

Grape varieties

Franciacorta can be made of pinot nero, chardonnay and pinot bianco. Pinot bianco seems like what pinot meunier is to champagne; it’s the workhorse grape. Although, when taking seriously, can be of great quality (just like pinot meunier). Arcari e Danesi has 60% pinot bianco plantings, the rest being chardonnay. They only use pinot nero in exceptional years.

Viticulture

The rules for vineyards are very strict in Franciacorta. Well-drained soils are in favour and sites higher than 550 m are not accepted, as grapes would struggle to ripen. Pergolas were the way to go in Franciacorta, but are not allowed anymore for new plantings. Irrigation is only allowed in extreme conditions.

Grapes must reach a potential alcohol of 9.5%. It’s .5% higher than the minimum Champagne, but still too low – the grapes won’t be ripe at 9.5%.

Arcari e Danesi
Giovanni Arcari, who runs the estate with winemaker Nico Danesi, explains: ‘In Italy we must not think of producing “champagne”, especially because we actually can produce something radically different. Our style is based on the most banal of premises: wine is made of ripe grapes.’ It seems so logical, but hardly anybody in Franciacorta dares to go this way. ‘With 10% you cannot have fully ripe grapes, and hence you do not get a real expression of terroir’.Jancisrobinson.com

Vinification

The wine must be made following the traditional method, called metodo classico in Italy. Some producers of Franciacorta were and are still trying too hard to imitate champagne. In my personal opinion, I tried Franciacorta a couple of times and wasn’t really blown away – why would I choose it over a glass of champagne? Simply put, Franciacorta is lacking a USP.

So how can you make a copy of champagne in a much warmer climate? Picking unripe grapes and chaptalize the must or add more sugar during second fermentation. It seems silly to chaptalize in a region where grapes can ripen fully. There are other ways to preserve acidity, just as there are other ways to market the region.

‘We press much less from our grapes, which helps to retain the acidity’, Arcari explained.

Styles

There are five styles of Franciacorta made: non-vintage, saten, rosé, millisimato, riserva.

  • Non-vintage is made of chardonnay and pinot noir, and up to 50% pinot bianco. A minimum period of lees ageing of 18 months. Not released before 25 months.
  • Franciacorta Satèn is a Blanc de Blancs, made of chardonnay and up to 50% pinot bianco. Less pressure, maximum 5 bar (compared to 5-6 in Champagne). A minimum period of lees ageing of 24 months. Only brut style.
  • Rosé is made of chardonnay, pinot bianco and a minimum of 25% pinot nero (macerated on skins). From Pas Dosé to Demi-Sec.
  • Millisimato is a vintage (at least for 85%), aged for a minimum of 30 months. Can be made as Pas Dosé, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry.
  • Riserva is a vintage (Satèn or Rosé) that has aged for at least 60 monhts on the lees. Can be made as Pas Dosé, Extra Brut and Brut.

Producers

The biggest producers include Guido Berlucchi, Bellavista (Gruppo Terra Moretti), Cá del Bosco and Contadi Castaldi (Gruppo Terra Moretti).

A total of 13 million bottles are produced annually, compared to hundreds of millions for Champagne.

Challenges

The main challenge is to let the world (consumers and producers) know what Franciacorta is all about. Let them know it’s not the Italian equivalent of Champagne, but unique in its own form.

Arcari is not exactly shy when writing about what he feels are key issues the region needs to address: its marketing, its addiction to sugar, and the lack of expression of terroir in many of its wines.”JancisRobinson.com

Sources & suggested reading:

Walter Speller on JancisRobinson.com – The New Franciacorta and the battle against dosage
Walter Speller on JancisRobinson.com – What’s wrong with Franciacorta
Richard Hemming on JancisRobinson.com – Franciacorta seeks an USP – still
Mowse Blogspot – Franciacorta and Champagne – Comparisons & contrasts

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