Franciacorta: what it is and how to drink it

Still looking for a bubbly for New Year’s Eve? How about a bottle of Franciacorta?

When I took the WSET level 3 wine course in Rome, there were only two other students in my class, both women. One was a sommelier at a two-star Michelin restaurant in Italy, and the other was a bartender in Paris who had studied wine extensively in Bordeaux.

Wine study requires experience. The more you taste, the more you know, and these women knew a lot.

They were also confident that opening a bottle of champagne with a sword is extremely easy. The woman working in France said she did this all the time at work as guests loved it. She was a champagne lover as well, but much to my surprise, had never heard of Franciacorta.

This is all to say that if you have no idea what Franciacorta is, you’re not alone. Even some wine professionals don’t know. Of course, that’s the beauty of studying wine, there is always more to learn.

Franciacorta is Italy’s answer to Champagne. Sort of. If we get into the nitty gritty details, living in France with ample access to Champagne probably justifies the student’s lack of knowledge of this Italian bubbly. The production of sparkling wine in the Franciacorta area of Lombardy in northern Italy only goes back as far as the 1950s, about 300 years less than the history of sparkling wine in Champagne.

However, Champagne and Franciacorta do have some similarities beyond bubbles. Both are made made using the traditional method of fermentation which means that the wine is fermented twice with the second fermentation happening in the bottle in which it is sold. Wines made using this method are sold for higher prices as their production is the most costly and time-consuming.

Sparkling wines like Prosecco, on the other hand, are made using the cheaper tank method. The second fermentation in this method happens in a sealed tank instead of in the bottle. While this process is less labor intensive and results in cheaper wines, with care and high-quality grapes, it can produce fine wines. The process also better retains the flavor of the base wine and is used to make wines in a fruity-style, like Prosecco.

Franciacorta, like Champagne, is also made primarily from a blend of three grapes with two of them being Chardonnay and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir in French), but the third grape differs, Pinot Blanc for Franciacorta and Meunier for Champagne.

While Franciacorta is lesser known, it is often said to be Italy’s highest quality sparkling wine and can be an interesting choice if you are looking to try something different. We’re chilling a bottle of Franciacorta rosé to ring in the new year later tonight.

Sparkling wines should be served well chilled, between 43-50°F (6-10°C). While chilling will slightly reduce the pressure inside the bottle, it can still be dangerous. Always hold the cork firmly in place and away from people once the wire cage has been removed. To open, tilt the bottle at about 30°, hold the cork with one hand and the bottle with the other and remember to turn the bottle and not the cork, and to gently ease the cork out of the bottle.

You also don’t need any fancy flutes and can serve sparkling wines in white wine glasses. According to some experts sparkling wines are actually better served in a normal white wine glass than in a flute. While a flute makes the bubbles look very pretty, the argument is that it doesn’t do much for the flavor as it limits the wines access to oxygen.

Happy New Year’s Eve!

Photo by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

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