I was in Tuscany three years ago on a Master of Wine trip and after three solid days of tasting red wine our faces lit up as we were served Franciacorta on arrival at a late afternoon winery. It was delicious, refreshing and complex. As one M.W. noted, “another sparkling wine to mix up with Champagne when you’re under pressure in the M.W. tasting exam!” Many a true word spoken in jest!There’s a buzz about the growth of Franciacorta sales, “up by 27% in 2013, up a further 5% in 2015 and still rising” (in the UK), but I’m always dubious about statistics as you can read into them what you want. Franciacorta’s production for example is relatively small; Champagne produces about 300 million bottles a year, Franciacorta about 17 million. But, that said, this Italian beauty is a cracking alternative to the King of Sparklers and often $15 cheaper …. the crisp, well defined, citrus, almond edged flavours with yeasty overtones went down a treat with my friends in the wine bar.

Global sales are growing; Japan continues to be a principal overseas market with about 22% of export sales, so too Switzerland and the USA which account for approximately 14% of the total (2015).  Consorzio Franciacorta, the region’s governing body, confirm that there had been an increased demand for Satèn (Blanc de Blancs) and Dosaggio Zero (zero dosage) categories of Franciacorta, with total sales up 17.5% and 28.8% respectively.

Franciacorta comes from the Lombardia region of northern Italy towards the Swiss-Austrian border, from vineyards to the south of Lake Iseo in Brescia province. For those snoothers who visit the Italian Lakes, Lake Garda is not a million miles away. Franciacorta gained D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) in 1967 and now boasts about 120 producers, the largest 20 of which make about 80% of the region’s production.

The best vineyards are on limestone based soils at an altitude of about 300 metres above sea level where our ol’ mate Chardonnay is a major player. Other grapes that can be used for Franciacorta include Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir to you and me) and Pinot Blanc. I seem to remember that the wine we had in the wine bar was Berlucci’s Brut 2008 which was made from all three varieties, (Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc accounting for 90% with the remaining 10% being Pinot Nero). Being a ‘vintage’ means that the grapes for Berlucci’s Brut were all from the 2008 harvest.

I was in Tuscany three years ago on a Master of Wine trip and after three solid days of tasting red wine our faces lit up as we were served Franciacorta on arrival at a late afternoon winery. It was delicious, refreshing and complex. As one M.W. noted, “another sparkling wine to mix up with Champagne when you’re under pressure in the M.W. tasting exam!” Many a true word spoken in jest!

Franciacorta’s made in the same way as Champagne with the second fermentation in the bottle giving a little more alcohol and a little more carbon dioxide – the fizz. In a world of increasing alcohol levels, it’s good to see that most Franciacorta weighs in at just 12.5% by volume.

After the second fermentation the exhausted yeast leaves a very fine sediment (the lees) in contact with the sparkling wine. The period of time the ‘lees’ are left in contact with the wine in the ‘second fermentation’ in the bottle is an indication of the wine’s quality; this is the source of the attractive fresh bread, nutty and yeasty aromas you get on good sparklers. The Franciacorta winemakers are proud that 14 million bottles of Franciacorta stay on the lees for 18 months, “that’s 3 million more than Champagne”, they smile.  

So, next time you’re looking for something different on the bubble shelf look for Europe, Italy, northern Italy, Lombardia and…..Franciacorta!

Read more about Franciacorta on Snooth:

Franciacorta is the Next Champagne