Officially the toast of Milan Fashion Week, Franciacorta is not only the name of one of Italy’s sparkling wines, but just like its French counterpart Champagne, describes the region in which it’s produced as well as the style of its production. And while for many, it’s Prosecco that first springs to mind when thinking about Italian bubbly, Franciacorta, previously one of the country’s best-kept wine secrets, is now starting to make quite a splash internationally.
Located just an hour east of Milan in the heart of Lombardy, with its rolling vineyards and hillsides dotted with medieval castles and Roman ruins, wine has been produced in the Franciacorta region since the sixteenth century, thanks to its favourable climate and soil conditions. And although sparkling wines were not produced here until the 1970s, it’s this unique geography, set in a valley surrounded by the Alps on one side and Lake Iseo on the other, that gives the local tipple its body and fragrant bouquet.
Made with chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot blanc grapes, Franciacorta is crafted using the classic “champagne’ method, known as Method Champenoise or the Traditional Method, which allows for a secondary fermentation to occur in the bottle. It’s this fermentation process, when the CO2 that’s produced is absorbed into the wine, which creates the stellar bubbles we typically associate with Champagne. Extremely labor-intensive, it involves each and every bottle being turned slowly at a 45-degree angle so that the yeast gathers in the neck and can be removed naturally.
Local winemakers adhere to strict rules of production and distribution, including hand-picking the grapes from their own vineyards, which since 1990 have been regulated by The Consortium, a body set up to oversee compliance. There are currently 116 official winemakers approved by The Consortium who can call their product Franciacorta, which in 1995 was granted DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) status, the highest classification for Italian wines, which denotes controlled production methods and guaranteed wine quality.
A recent visitor to the Franciacorta region herself, Athena Calderone, founder of Eyeswoon and one of Carmen’s friends, was struck by the strong sense of pride and passion held by the local vintners. “Each winemaker beamed about their own process,” she revealed to Harper’s Bazaar, “I visited about six winemakers, and while all were drastically different, they each shared the same respect and passion for the land and its history. The TLC here is extraordinary.”
So how does this TLC translate into taste? Drier with a more yeasty and less fruity character than Prosecco, Franciacorta is definitely more Champagne-like than its Italian cousin. However, as it is grown in a warmer climate than the French wine, which results in a fuller and riper grape, it has a softer acidity and finer bubbles. Simply put, if you like a dry, elegant wine with a delicate sparkle then Franciacorta could soon become your fizz of choice.
Given that 450 million bottles of Prosecco are produced each year and more than 300 million bottles of Champagne, the 17.5 million bottles produced annually by Franciacorta’s winemakers would seem to cement its niche status. Indeed, in the early 2000s, 95 per cent of production was still consumed in Italy. However, producers are keen to reach a wider audience, and given the lure of the region's unspoilt landscape, as well as its increasingly popular prized bubbly, more of us will undoubtedly be falling for Franciacorta’s charms very soon.