Intent on letting us know that there is more to Italian sparkling wine than the sweetish, straightforward charms of Prosecco, the makers of Franciacorta are on a charm offensive in the UK.
Who’s the daddy?
The model for the wines of Franciacorta, in the region of Brescia, Lombardy, is not its fresh and fruity northern Italian neighbour, but rather Champagne.
Franciacorta, dating only from the 1960s, may not have the same historical pedigree as Champagne, but the determination to produce the highest quality, traditional method (ie bottle fermented) wines is obvious in everything they do. For example, maximum yields are lower and minimum maturation times longer than those required in Champagne – though of course most of the best Champagnes also mature for far longer than the legal minimum of 15 months.
And, ultimately, the wines of Franciacorta must plough their own furrow and develop a style that is unique. No-one is going to get far simply by apeing Champagne, especially when prices are roughly the same.
Is it for you?
The method and pre-dominant grape varieties – Chardonnay and Pinot Nero (ie Noir), plus a little Pinot Bianco (Blanc) – are familiar enough to lovers of sparkling wines. All Franciacorta is aged on its lees for a minimum of 18 months – rising to 30 months for vintage dated cuvées.
Thanks to its more southerly latitude, the grapes here have a ripeness and natural fruit sweetness which permits them to have a lower (and often no) dosage, giving the wines a purity of expression. Reductive styles (where the grape must and subsequent wine have been protected from oxygen) seem to be the norm – certainly on what I tasted at a Franciacorta event this week. Comparisons may be odious (or odorous, depending on your source) but think Ruinart.
What does Franciacorta have that others don’t?
In a word, Satèn. Wines thus labelled must be made from only white grapes – in practice most are 100% Chardonnay – aged on lees for a minimum of 24 months and bottled at a slightly lower pressure. Altogether this makes for a smooth (Satèn means satin or silk) creamy palate with elegant fruit – a superlative food friendly style.
If Franciacorta is to succeed in the UK – and it is not currently among the top markets for Franciacorta – then the Satèn style brings a unique and appealing quality which can help to set it apart from the bunch.