Franciacorta is the luxurious, beguiling, somewhat rare sparkling wine from Italy’s region of the same name. I’ve been fangirl-ing hard ever since my first sip and when I recently had an opportunity to attend a Franciaorta and caviar class, well, no one had to ask me to twice.
Franciacorta the Region
Franciacorta is located in northern Italy, in the Lombardy region, in the province of Brescia. It is at the foothills of the southern Alps, and is bordered on the north by Lake Iseo, and to the west by the Oglio river. An hour from Milan or Lake Como, and even closer to Lake Garda, it sounds like perfection doesn’t it? And we haven’t even gotten to the wine yet.
Carved out by glaciers and being in the foothills of the Alps the region is home to undulating terrain, pure water sources, and a diverse range of soils. The maps give you an idea of the diversity of terrain that Franciacorta has.
Grape growing has been happening here continuously since the Roman times, but modern winemaking history began when the region first gained DOC status in 1967, with the highest quality designation, DOCG, not happening until 1995. The Franciacorta DOCG applies only to the sparkling wines of the region. The still wines fall under the Curtefranca DOC. There are 2,902 hectacres of vineyard dedicated to the DOCG wines, and a mere 327 hectacres dedicated to the DOC still wines, I have never even seen a still wine from this region, but I would love to get my hands on one.
Covering only about 77 square miles, the tiny size, coupled with the most rigorous aging requirements is a case study for the law of supply and demand. Couple this with the fact that the region is exceptionally suited to grape growing, and its no wonder that Franciacorta has become the region of high quality sparkling wine that is sought the world over.
Franciacorta the Wine
Franciacorta is made in the metodo classico method, meaning that like Champagne, the bubbles come from a second fermentation that happens in the bottle. Due to the strict laws of the region the term metodo Franciacorta is often used, implying that the Franciacorta method is a step above and beyond any other traditional method. There are 4 grapes used in Franciacorta production: Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, Pinot Bianco (max 50%), and a grape native to the region Erbamat (max 10%). There are 5 styles of Franciacorta, three that relate to the wine itself, and 2 that indicate age –
- Franciacorta – this entry level version must be aged on the lees for at least 18 months and can include any combination of the permitted grapes.
- Satèn – This wine must be Brut in style and have less than 5 atmospheres of pressure for the bubbles – other styles have between 5-6 atmospheres. This version must be aged for a minimum 24 months on the lees. Usually Chardonnay dominant, it can have up to 50% of Pinot Bianco.
- Rosé – must also be aged for a minimum of 24 months on the lees. Roses can be produced by blending a white and red wine together (as in Champagne), or it can be produced by the saignee method.
- Millesimato – this is a vintage version of Franciacorta. All of the grapes come from one harvest, and the wine undergoes a longer period of fining. It must be aged for a minimum of 30 months on the lees and cannot be released for sale prior to 37 months after harvest.
- Riserva – only made from particularly excellent vintages, it must be aged for a minimum of 60 months on the lees, and cannot be released for sale prior to 67 months after harvest.
The wines vary from zero dosage to Demi-Sec with the exception of Satèn which must be Brut.
All of the grapes in Franciacorta are hand harvested, in August and September. The region is largely organic, thanks in large part to Mother Nature, organic and biodynamic viticulture is the norm throughout the region. Production is around 1.5 million cases a year – to put that in perspective, there are large Champagne houses that individually produce more than the entire Franciacorta region.
In the class, taught by Jacob Gragg, Brand Ambassador for Ca’del Bosco, we learned that even Italians can’t always get their hands on as much Franciacorta as they’d like. An appertivo in Milan and the Lombardy region is most often a spritzer or Franciacorta. In Venice it would be a spritzer or Prosecco. Outside of the region, it is a spritzer or Prosecco or Champagne because both are so much easier to come by. According to the Franciacorta Consortium, only 11% of the region’s production is exported, and the United States receives about 4%.
I’m going to admit I’m a sucker for the romance of rarity. I decided to splurge on a Riserva bottle, and rosé at that, but I’m holding on to that one for a special occasion in June. I did open a bottle of the Satèn on Easter, details below.
Ca’Del Bosco is one of the best known producers in the Franciacorta region, but, this history does not go back hundreds of years like many Italian wine stories. The winery and vineyards were the vision of Maurizio Zanella, only 15 years old in 1968, he approached his parents about planting a vineyard. The first wine was released in 1972, but the first sparkling wine was not born until 1989, and not released until 1994.
That same year, well known Santa Margherita winery becoming an investor, and the beginning of Ca’del Bosco becoming a state of the art facility. Today the winery is home to a 2 story gravity fed system, thanks to “flying” tanks that are attached to an elevator system allowing them to gain a story at will.
The winery also boasts a “berry spa” in which the hand picked and hand sorted grapes are washed. Wait. What? Yes, they are washed and dried, before being crushed in a zero oxygen environment. This is a mind blowing process considering in most wineries across the globe, the introduction of water at the time of picking is considered a heinous act.
Despite the spa treatment, base wines are still able to be fermented with only native yeasts. Following barrel fermentation, the cuvees are assembled, the bottles are rotated daily, eventually disgorged (also in a zero oxygen environment) and each bottle is then individually marked.
This harmonious marriage of nature, tradition, and state of the art production is best summed up on the winery’s website:
It is nature’s decision. Nature shows the way to transform wine into art. But human hands and skill expedite the transformation. The Metodo Ca’ del Bosco is comparable to no other. It’s an individual, idealistic and perhaps even inspirational take on the Metodo Franciacorta.
“Tradition” does not mean standing still in sterile adoration of the past. It means combining innovation with naturalness and quality, aspiring to create a truly noble wine that exalts its variety and terroir.
Speaking of art, Ca’del Bosco has an impressive collection of art in both sculpture and photography. This hanging sculpture of a rhinoceros is called The Weight of Time. That really makes you think doesn’t it?
I did say this was a caviar class as well, and the story of the caviar was no less interesting – it is Franciacortan caviar – who knew right? I have very little knowledge or experience with caviar, so I found this story absolutely fascinating.
Calvisius Caviar is also located in Brescia. You now what’s really crazy? They received their first Pacific White Sturgeon in 1983 from UC Davis, and now, the world’s largest population of this fish live at the Calvisius farms in the Franciacorta region. In fact, Calvisius is the largest producer of farmed caviar in the world. The farms are in the natural waters of the Po River, and all of their practices are sustainable.
Caviar is a match made in heaven with any sparkling wine, but how cool it is to pair both from the Franciacorta region?
Ca’del Bosco Vintage Collection Satèn| 2015| 12.8% ABV|$80
The Satèn must be produced in the Brut style, and this one has .5 grams of sugar per liter. Since it also has vintage designation (Millesimato) it must be aged on the lees for a minimum of 30 months, but this one far exceeds that with 48 months.
By definition, the style of Satèn’s bubbles must stay under 5 atmospheres of pressure, and this is controlled by the amount sugar used in the liquer de tirage that causes that 2nd fermentation in the bottle. I swear to you when I tasted this in the class, it tasted more bubbly than the others. It definitely isn’t it, but it’s a fun learning experience for me that my palate interpreted it that way. I think maybe the gentleness of the bubbles somehow makes them more noticeable?
The cuvee for this wine is 85% Chardonnay, and 15% Pinot Bianco. The grapes were hand harvested and sorted from a total of 18 different lots, in the 2nd 10 days of August 2015. I love to think about these things as I’m sipping the wine – what was I doing on these dates? I was moving my youngest daughter in to her Freshman college dorm. She is now 2 years graduated and about to get married. It’s fun to think about the transition of both grapes and people. Also, my birthday is during this period so I am drinking wine made from grapes picked on my birthday 6 years ago! Do you ever do this? Surely its not just me?
This wine had aromas of a delicious pastry, with honeysuckle and vanilla notes. On the palate the bubbles are so incredibly lively but gentle, with a creamy note. Pineapple, lemon, apple, toasted bread – absolute yumminess – this wine disappeared before I even knew what happened. Sparkling wines pair will with just about any food, but I particularly enjoyed this wine with deviled eggs and crab cakes.
At $80 it is certainly not an everyday wine, but it is worth the splurge for those occasions when you want something a little special.
There is just something about Franciacorta that makes it my favorite sparkling wine. Perhaps I am just drawn in by the relative scarcity, but I don’t think that’s it. It is somehow more complex, with more to offer, than wines of equal price from other sparkling wine regions. It’s nothing against any other region, I do love them too, it’s just that Franciacorta is my favorite.