Franciacorta, The True Italian Champagne
France has Champagne and Italy has . . . Franciacorta? While Prosecco is wildly popular Stateside, the sparkling wines of Italy’s Franciacorta region, located an hour’s drive northeast of Milan, are much truer to their French brethren, made according to the same principles of méthode champenoise. Unlike Prosecco, they undergo a second fermentation in the bottle, riddling, and long aging, all of which contribute to their refinement, as does the minerality brought forth by the area’s glacial, fossil-rich soil. “We’re tiny, with only 7,500 acres and 113 wineries,” says Maurizio Zanella, president of the Consorzio, the Franciacorta regulatory board. “We use up to three grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Bianco, with Pinot Bianco often being the secret ingredient, as it brings structure and finesse to our sparkling cuvées.” If you get a kick out of Champagne, then you’re bound to bubble over with enthusiasm for these five favorites.
Barone Pizzini Animante Brut ($23) is aged 30 months and features beautifully balanced floral, citrus, honey, and apricot notes and a creamy finish. Founded in 1870 by a noble Hapsburg family, Barone Pizzini is the oldest continuously operating winery in Franciacorta and pioneered organic viticulture in the region.
Lantieri de Paratico Satèn ($27) is produced from 100 percent Chardonnay grapes (the word satèn suggests it’s “all white”) and exudes ripe fruit and white floral aromas, a hint of herbs and minerality, and hazelnut and vanilla flavors. Rumor has it that the Lantieri castle once produced a red wine favored by the Italian courts as far back as the 16th century.
La Valle Naturalis Extra Brut ($28), a classic Franciacorta blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Bianco, is a crisp wine with a low dose of added sugar and a beautiful minerality. Only 25 years old, La Valle is run by Stefano Camillucci, who takes an artisanal approach, using fully ripened grapes and minimal intervention in the cellar.
Ca’ Del Bosco Cuvée Prestige ($35), made from old-vine Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Bianco, is blended with 30 percent reserve wines from past vintages and then aged in the bottle for two years. The result is a complex wine with a lively mouth-feel.
Villa Crespia Extra Brut Rosé ($26), a blend of Pinot Nero and Chardonnay that’s aged on its lees for 30 months, has fragrances of citrus, pastry, and spice. Also boasting a low dosage of sugar, it has a rich, intense personality and consistent bubbles. Villa Crespia owns vineyards in all six micro-regions of Franciacorta and is known for its zero dosage wines, which winemaker Francesco Iacono calls “liquid landscapes,” or expressions of the land.
A version of this article appeared in the December/January 2016 issue of New York Cottages & Gardens with the headline: Franciacorta Fever.