ONCE UPON A TIME IN FRANCIACORTA
In 2014, Philippine Tatler and Manila Bulletin published articles reviewing iPhor’s Franciacorta wines on the occasion of their launch at Seda Hotel, Bonifacio Global City, a tasting event promoting - for the first time in the Philippines - the Italian sparkling Franciacorta wines.
Six years later, however, most Filipino sparkling wine lovers are still not familiar with Franciacorta, the only wine in the world that rivals Champagne. Franciacorta achieves its elegant effervescence through a secondary fermentation in the bottle — a metod called “classico” or "tradizionale" in Italy — and takes its name from a specific geographic territory located in Lombardy, North Italy.
More precisely, Franciacorta occupies a section of rolling hills, moderate temperatures, calcareous and sandy soils in the province of Brescia, at the heart of the alluring Lake district with the Lago d’Iseo at its back and the larger lakes of Como and Garda acting as a buffer against the frigid climate of the Italian Alps.
Franciacorta has been produced in the area since the 16th Century.
In 1570 Girolamo Conforti, a doctor born in Brescia, wrote the Libellus de vino mordaci, literally: “the dissertation on biting wine”. His work, long preceding the insights of the illustrious abbot Dom Perignon, described the technique for preparing naturally fermented wines in bottle and their effects on human body, curiously defining the effervescent wines as “pungeant or biting”, which is to say zesty and bubbly.
The name Franciacorta probably derives from the Latin “Curtes Francae”, the 8th Century fortified Frankish Courts established along Lombardy’s trade routes which enjoyed through the 11th Century a “tax free” (franco) status, thus the “Franche Corti”.
The first written mention of the toponym “Franza Curta” appeared in 1277 in the chronicles of the Municipality of Brescia while later in 1429, under the Republic of Venice, a geographical map of Franciacorta was drawn with an outline similar to the boundaries determined in 1967 by the DOC wines statute granted then to the Franciacorta denomination.
In the Franciacorta area there are about 116 producers and only 11% of their 17,5 million bottles are sold abroad while 70% of the vineyards are cultivated without the use of pesticides, a figure marking Franciacorta as one of the most important areas for organic viticulture in the world.
The massive Alps mountains to the North and the Pianura Padana plains to the South induce in the Franciacorta vineyards a dramatic temperature variation between daytime and night time sometimes differing by as much as 16 degrees Celsius. This wide fluctuation directly influences the balance between ripeness and acidity in the maturing grape clusters making this great sparkler less acidic than Champagne. Gentle breezes from the lakes help mitigate humidity and keep the vines aerated and healthy.
This "metodo classico" wine shows in the glass fine and long-lasting pearls of bubbles given by the carbon dioxide captured in the bottle during the secondary fermentation. In fact, this vinification method usually delivers a dry, complex wine with typical yeasty, bready notes and restrained fruit character.
Professional Sommeliers never compare Franciacorta to Champagne simply because they are two totally distinct products with marked differences in their location, terroir, grape blends, organoleptic properties and aging methods.
Franciacorta is planted primarily to Chardonnay, Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco varieties with a 10% of native Erbamat grape. The great majority of acreage, about 85%, is dedicated to Chardonnay. The wines are either Non Vintage (NV, released at least 18 months after harvest) Millesimato (Vintage, released 30 months after the harvest) or Riserva, released 60 months after the harvest. A Rosato (Rose’) style has 25% of Pinot Nero in the base wine. All Franciacorta wines see prolonged contact with yeasts (lees) in the bottle for structure, persistence and elegance.
Dosage levels (a general measure of the sparkling wine’s sweetness) used by Franciacorta winemakers are mainly Dosaggio Zero (with only a gram or so of residual sugar), Nature, Extra-Brut and Brut, rarely Extra-Dry and Dry being the majority of the Franciacorta vinificated as Brut (below 12 grams of sugar per liter).
What sets Franciacorta apart is – also - a typical, original designation called Satèn (silk) which is basically a Blanc de Blancs made exclusively from white grapes (mainly Chardonnay but also Pinot Bianco until a maximum of 50% mix) vinificated only in Brut style and aged on the lees for a minimum period of 24 months.
This “silky” bubbly is really unusual: sparkling but smooth, dry but distinctly creamy. It’s probably the softest metodo classico sparkling wine on the market, with subtle bubbles that amplify the buttery mouthfeel of the Chardonnay grapes.The softness of the taste is the result of a careful selection of the base wines and a lower bottle pressure of below 5 atmospheres.
Fine and persistent, almost creamy effervescence, pale yellow colour with greenish highlights Franciacorta Satèn particular fragrance of ripe fruit is accompanied by delicate notes of white flowers, dried fruit and toasted bread.
Aging adds even more silkiness: at the very least, Satèn is aged on lees in the bottle for 24 months. For a Satèn Millesimato, make that 30 and for the Riserva, a full 60 months in the bottle treasuring a suppleness given by the right combination of grapes, pressure and time.
The wine is oak-aged in barrique, which gives it a dense, mellow flavor rounded by hints of vanilla and exotic fruits. Creamy and elegant sip, a good balance between the fresh taste and the rich structure. Persistent final, with scents of nut and citrus fruit, with a mineral edge on the finish.
Franciacorta wineries have been very effective in limiting growth in order to keep the focus on quality. Because of limited production numbers, the vinification process and the ageing, a bottle of Franciacorta wine costs on average more than Cava and is comparable to the pricing of a bottle of Champagne.
There are some very large producers in Franciacorta, like Guido Berlucchi, Ca’ del Bosco and others, with large property holdings and production facilities. The first-ever bottle with the denomination of Franciacorta metodo classico was produced by Guido Berlucchi in 1955. Franciacorta owes of its success also to Ca’ del Bosco’s Maurizio Zanella and other wine makers such as Bellavista, Barone Pizzini, Contadi Castaldi and Lantieri. Most of these wineries apply cutting-edge technology and the best of modern winemaking.
Any typology of Franciacorta has its ideal food match: the elegant Satèn is perfect with a fish starter, the Brut with a seafood risotto and the Rosato with white meat dishes while you could even pair cold cuts or red meat with a structured Millesimato or a Riserva.
Satèn is the most suitable Franciacorta to accompany dishes with a delicate taste. It is excellent as aperitif, perhaps with a bite of medium-aged Parmigiano Reggiano, and is a good pairing bet for a sushi and sashimi dinner going generally well with any raw fish with a delicate taste. Satèn is an ideal choice also to accompany seafood appetizers, mixed Italian antipasti, vegetable-based risotto and shrimp tempura.
Franciacorta crafts ultra-elegant, hand-harvested, bottle-aged sparkling wine with an increasing focus on organic viticulture along with distinctive ageing and dosage philosophies. These terroir-inspired wines are produced in a unique growing region and carry the distinct opportunity to truly reflect its territory and its people.