• Theresa Downs

Sparkling Franciacorta: Why You Would Drink It Rather Than Champagne


Image Franciacorta, Lombardy Italy Wine By Appointment LLC

What Is It?

Franciacorta is an Italian sparkling wine. Actually, it's a great Italian sparkling wine. In fact, it's so great that Italians consume 85% of Franciacorta's production. Unfortunately, since most people aren't familiar with it, they want to compare Franciacorta to Prosecco, but that's like comparing a Ferrari to a Honda Civic. Franciacorta, like Champagne, undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle. In fact, Franciacorta, again like Champagne, has the distinction of being known simply by Franciacorta (where it is) and not what it is (sparkling wine). Franciacorta, that illustrious liquid, is from a place called Franciacorta DOCG.


Where Is It?

Franciacorta is in Lombardy, northern Italy. It's about an hour east of Milan. It's located in the Brescia province, in the southeast hills at the foot of the gorgeous Lake Iseo. It stretches eastward for 15 miles from the Oglio River until it reaches the Mella River Valley and the western suburbs of Brescia.


Franciacorta is situated at the extreme northern edge of the Po Valley and is also part of the pre-Alpine system, south of Lake Iseo. Therefore, although it is affected by a continental climate, it also derives enormous benefits from the lake's proximity, which greatly mitigates temperatures in both summer and winter. What that means is it's great for grape-growing.


What's The Backstory?

Grape vines have been planted on the hills of Franciacorta since prehistoric times, according to archeological findings in the area. Classical period writings also reference the area by authors Pliny, Columella, and Virgil. The Napoleonic land registry of 1809 stated that more than 1000 hectares were devoted exclusively to grape growing.

The name Franciacorta originates from the Benedictine and Cistercian monks who arrived from Cluny, France, in the 1100s. Their powerful monasteries were not subject to taxation and were called "free courts" or "courtes francae" in Italian, monastic courts that didn't have to pay taxes. Over time, different peoples have also settled in the area, including the Cenomani Gauls, the Romans, and the Lombards. The name Franciacorta comes from “courtes francae”.

The first sparkling wine to bear the name Franciacorta was created by the Berlucchi winery in the late 1950s, emulating Champagne, and a star was born. Other producers followed suit, and the style developed quickly.


You have to admire the earlier settlers of Franciacorta for their sheer pluck and their determination to take on Champagne. The Franciacorta DOC was created in 1967 to cover the area's sparkling wines and non-sparkling counterparts. In 1995 Franciacorta was promoted to DOCG. The former DOC was renamed Terre di Franciacorta DOC for the still wines and then renamed again in 2008 to Curtefranca DOC to avoid brand confusion with the names.

One of the key reasons for Franciacorta's success, other than its quality-driven producers – is its combination of climate and soil types. Warm, sunny summer days are followed by cool nights here, creating ample opportunity for the grapes to ripen while retaining the acidity vital to the production of sparkling wines.

How Is It Made?

Franciacorta is a DOCG or has DOCG status (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) to be exact. That means it has the highest denomination of quality among Italian wines. As such, Franciacorta has strict rules about what and how it can be made.


Chardonnay, Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir), and Pinot Bianco are permitted grape varieties. About 85% of the plantings are Chardonnay. Grapes must be whole-cluster pressed except for Pinot Nero, which is to be used in Rosé. The Méthode Champenoise style, called Metodo Classico in Italian or "Classic Method", is the only permissible method used to make Franciacorta. This method requires that the second fermentation takes place in the bottle, not in the steel tanks like most other Italian sparkling wines like Prosecco, Moscato d'Asti, and Lambrusco. (Those sparklers are usually made following the Charmat Method, where the second fermentation takes place in a tank before bottling.) Rosé can be made by blending red and white wines after fermentation.


Franciacorta has some of the most strict rules about aging. Non vintage Franciacorta (NV) cannot be released until at least 25 months after harvest; 18 months of that time must be in contact with the lees in the bottle (compared to 15 months in the case of Champagne).

There are 5 styles of Franciacorta that are allowed: Franciacorta, Franciacorta Saten, Franciacorta Rose, Franciacorta Millesimato, and Franciacorta Riserva.


Franciacorta:

  • A blend of Chardonnay and or Pinot Noir, with the use of Pinot Blanc (maximum of 50%).

  • Secondary fermentation in the bottle with at least 18 months of aging on the lees. Bottle pressure between 5 and 6 atmospheres.

  • Dosage levels permitted: Pas Dosé, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec or Dry, Demi-Sec.


Franciacorta Satèn

  • A blend of Chardonnay and or Pinot Noir, with the use of Pinot Blanc (maximum 50%).

  • Secondary fermentation in the bottle with at least 18 months of aging on the lees. The softness of the taste is the result of a careful selection of the base wines and low bottle pressure of below 5 atmospheres.

  • Dosage levels permitted: Produced exclusively as a Brut type.


Franciacorta Rose:

  • A blend of Pinot Noir (minimum 25%), Chardonnay, and Pinot Blanc (maximum 50%).

  • Secondary fermentation in the bottle with at least 18 months of aging on the lees.

  • Dosage levels permitted: Pas Dosé, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec or Dry, Demi-Sec.

  • Note: Additional aging may be used for the above to add: complexity, sophistication, or taste characteristics.


Franciacorta Millesimato:

  • The word "millesimo" (vintage in Italian) indicates that all the wine comes from a single year (minimum 85%). A blend of Chardonnay and or Pinot Noir, with the use of Pinot Blanc, permitted up to a maximum of 50%.

  • Secondary fermentation in the bottle with at least 30 months of aging on the lees.

  • Bottle pressure between 5 and 6 atmospheres.

  • Dosage levels permitted: Pas Dosé, Extra Brut, Brut, and Extra Dry; except for Satèn Riserva, which is made only as Brut wine.


Franciacorta Riserva:

  • Franciacorta Riserva is made from particularly excellent vintage wines, and for them to fully unlock the potential of their fragrances and tastes, they must remain on the lees for many years.

  • Secondary fermentation in the bottle with at least 60 months of aging on the lees.

  • Dosage levels permitted: Pas Dosé, Extra Brut, Brut, and Extra Dry, except for Satèn Riserva, which is made only as Brut wine.


What's Dosage'

Dosage' is the addition of a small quantity of 'liqueur de dosage' to the wine. Dosage liqueur generally contains 500-750 grams of sugar per liter. The quantity added varies according to the style of Franciacorta:

  • Pas dosé ('Non-dosed,' with sugar up to 3 g/l from the natural residue in the wine) - the driest in the Franciacorta range;

  • Extra Brut (sugar up to 6 g/l) - very dry;

  • Brut (sugar less than 12 g/l) - dry but a little softer than Extra Brut, it's certainly the most versatile type of Franciacorta;

  • Extra Dry (sugar 12-17 g/l) - soft, with a slightly higher dosage than the classic Brut, making it a suitable pairing for a wide variety of foods;

  • Sec or Dry (sugar 17-32 g/l) - less dry and slightly sweet;

  • Demi-Sec (sugar 33-50 g/l) – has a sweetish flavor due to the relatively high dose of sugar, meaning it goes well with desserts.


How To Describe Its' Taste and What To Taste With It?

I love Champagne, but I adore Franciacorta and drink it as an alternative to Champagne. Franciacorta is elegant with an almost creamy effervescence. I find it lighter, with less of Champagne's autolysis or yeasty/brioche characteristics. And while I love the salty, flinty notes of Champagne, I find myself craving the dried fruit and hazelnut notes that are so prevalent in Franciacorta. Franciacorta is like drinking dried-fruit-tinged liquid silk. Too, the cost of Franciacorta is a bit easier on the wallet than Champagne.


Franciacorta is one of those magical wines that you can pair with just about any food. It pairs perfectly with soft-ripened cheeses (like brie), dried fruits (like apricot and cherry), and roasted salted nuts. It also is amazing with fresh salumi, prosciutto, mortadella, and hard cheese as Parmesan-Reggiano. Celebrating a birthday, anniversary, or graduation? Instead of reaching for your old standard, try a bottle of Franciacorta!