The wines of Franciacorta are produced with the classic method and have the recognition DOCG (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin). In fact, their production is allowed only in the territory of the province of Brescia.
Franciacorta is the most famous wine area in Lombardy. It is a wine growing region of approximately 200 km² overlooking the southern shore of Lake Iseo in the province of Brescia. This area is mainly hilly and is bordered to the west by the Oglio river, an emissary of the lake, to the north east by the slopes of the Rhaetian Alps and to the south by Monte Orfano, about 450 meters high.
Although all of morainic origin, the soil and environmental conditions are not homogeneous. Studies dating from the mid-twentieth century by Professor Attilio Scienza identified 6 different areas or different vocational units into which to divide the territory.
The centuries-old tradition of wine-growing
The production of wine dates back to ancient times. Prehistoric material of grape seeds has even been found, testifying the presence of vines already dating from those times. The practice of viticulture was already mentioned in the writings of Roman authors such as Pliny the Elder, Columella and Virgil. In the Middle Ages, monastic orders devoted considerable time to the reclamation and cultivation of the land. One such example is the famous nunnery of San Salvatore, founded by the Lombard King Adelchi and his wife Ansa in 753 AD.
Evidence dating back to the thirteenth century recounts the trade of sparkling wines from Franciacorta at the courts of the lords of the area. In the ancient ” Franzacurta “, so-called by people long ago, wine was greatly appreciated at the courts of the lords and noblemen of the time. The production of wine with effervescence and bubbles is described as early as the sixteenth century, a time when the famous “Libellus de vino mordaci” was published by the Brescia doctor Girolamo Conforti in 1570, several years before the work and insight of the abbot Dom Perignon at Hautvillers in 1668.
The rebirth of sparkling wine in Franciacorta dates back to the end of the 1950s, when production focussed on excellent base wines suitable for the classic method of second fermentation in the bottle. It was in 1967 that the DOC Franciacorta denomination was established, one of the first in Italy, while in the 1990s the Consortium was set up and the Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin was recognised in 1995.
The classic Franciacorta method
In the classic or champenoise method, the harvest is brought forward to pick bunches of grapes which are acidic and not yet fully ripe. The taste of Franciacorta comes from a mix of wines from different vintages and grape varieties, to find the right balance. After bottling the wine, must and yeasts are added, the bottle is closed and left to rest for at least 18 months. During this time, second fermentation takes place, with refermentation in the bottle; the bottles are kept in cells or secret cellars.
After this stage called refinement, there is remuage, where the bottle is tilted at 45 degrees upside down, and then gently rotated. In this way the remains of the yeasts accumulate under the cap, and are eliminated by uncorking the bottles, through disgorgement.
What are the grape varieties allowed by production regulations?
The grape varieties that can be used to produce Franciacorta sparkling wine include:
- the white grape varieties Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Erbamat, with the latter variety particularly appreciated for its rich acidity.
- The most widely cultivated red grape is Pinot Noir, which must make up at least 25% in the Franciacorta rosé version.
Some distinctive features for each type of Franciacorta DOCG
The Franciacorta DOCG regulations contemplate different versions of sparkling wine. In all Franciacorta wines, the disgorgement and ageing times for each type must be indicated on the label:
- Franciacorta: a fresh, mineral, base with a minimum ageing on the lees of 18 months;
- Franciacorta Rosé: a wine which can be produced with Pinot Noir alone, or together with Chardonnay and Blanc, with a minimum ageing time of 24 months;
- Franciacorta Millesimato: at least 85% of grapes of the declared vintage must be used and the ageing period must be at least 24 months;
- Franciacorta Riserva: a vintage wine with a superb quality, that requires ageing of at least 60 months.
What is Franciacorta Saten?
Saten is a type only contemplated for Franciacorta DOCG wine. It is characterized by an overpressure of CO2 of less than 5 atmospheres, so it is creamy and silky to the taste. The minimum ageing is 24 months and there is only the “brut” version with a sugar dosage between 6 and 12 grams per litre.
The historic wineries producing Franciacorta
The idea of trying to make wine from the grapes grown in Franciacorta to establish an excellent classic method was presented by the young wine-making expert Franco Ziliani (who passed away in December 2021) to Count Guido Berlucchi. It was the sixties and since then the Fratelli Berlucchi company has been a standout name for this wine denomination.
Another important name in the production of Franciacorta is Cavalleri. The Erbusco family can boast a centuries-old tradition in agriculture and is famous for its fine Blanc de Blancs wines.
The Bersi Serlini winery produced the first bottle of sparkling wine in the seventies, as did the Barone Pizzini company, one of the first to farm organically, and greatly appreciated also on the international scene.
Located in Adro, the Ferghettina winery is one of the most productive in the area, with vineyards spread over lands with very different compositions, while the Contadi Castaldi company specializes in Saten wine and has its headquarters at the old Biasca furnace, which it requalified thanks to commendable renovation work.