Friday, January 13, 2012

Franciacorta: A "sparkling" wine region

The 2011 European Wine Bloggers Conference was held in the ancient city of Brescia (Italy), the closest urban center to the Franciacorta zone, home of Italy's (and one of the world's) finest sparkling wine.  The region, which attained its DOCG classification for sparkling wines in 1995, has gained a reputation for producing high-quality sparkling wines using the classical method (second fermentation in bottle).  This post will provide some background on the Franciacorta wine zone.

Franciacorta (the name means either "little France" or "tax-free zone," depending on the publication consulted) is located in the "gentle" hills in the area of Brescia and is bounded thusly: to the east by rocky hills; to the west by the Oglio River; to the north by Lake Iseo and the foothills of Alpi Retiche; and to the south by the Brescia-Bergamo Highway.  The region lies in an amphitheater which was carved out by a falling glacier and encompasses all or part of 19 Brescian municipalities.   The zone is approximately 18,000 hectares in size with 2665 hectares under vine.


Franciacorta is mild in the winter and hot in the summer.  The climate is moderated by winds blowing in off Lakes Iseo and Garde which protect the region from the autumnal and hibernial fogs that threaten from the Brescian plains.  Rainfall in the region is concentrated in the spring and fall.

Thanks to exhaustive zoning studies conducted in the region in the late 1990s by the University of Milan, a very clear picture of soil differentials -- and the differing contributions of each type to the finished product -- has been established.  The figure below shows that the combination of landscape units (formations by geologic era) and soil types results in six distinct regional terroirs.  The figure illustrates that the soil, vegetative productive, qualitative, and organoleptic characteristics of each terroir has also been identified.  The details of those characteristics are contained in the table following.

Formulation of Terroirs  Derived from Franciacorta: un vino, una terra, p. 28-33

Characteristics of Franciacorta Terroirs. Derived from Franciacorta: un vino, una terra, p. 28-33

The sparkling wine is produced under the DOCG classification from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Bianco grapes.  As indicated previously, the wines are produced using the classic method and, depending on the terroir in which it was grown, or the blend of terroirs, will exhibit some subset of the organoleptic qualities indicated in the last column of the table above.  The wines can be either non-vintage (white, Rosé), vintage (white or Rosé), Riserva (white, Rosé, or Satèn), or Satèn.  Non-vintage wines are aged for a minimum of 25 months with 18 of those months being on the lees in the bottle.  Vintage wines are aged for a minimum of 37 months with 30 of those months being in the bottle on the lees.  In addition, a minimum of 85% of the wine must be from a single vintage.  Riserva wines are aged for 5 years on the lees.  Satèn is made from Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco and, as a result of lower bottle pressure, manifests a satiny feel with tinier bubbles.  Rosés must contain a minimum of 25% Pinot Nero.  Wines are labeled in terms of sweetness much the same as is the practice for Champagne.

Still wines are produced in the zone under the Curtefranca DOC.  White grapes are produced as blends or varietals from Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco while reds are produced from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Nebbiolo, and Barbera.

The most respected producers in the region are Bellavista, Berlucchi, Ca' del Bosco, Cavalleri, Facoli, and Monte Rossa.


  1. Thank you for the wonderful report from the conference, and we hope that the next time we will be there as well!
    Judit & Corina

    1. You are welcome and look forward to seeing you in Tutkey

  2. Great info here, Keith! Other regions could learn a valuable lesson from Franciacorta - there is virtue in requiring long aging. I do wish that Franciacorta wines were easier to find here in Virginia (they are not carried here in my little corner of Southeastern, VA). See you next week.

  3. Thank you. Franciacorta was also difficult to find in Orlando then suddenly it began appearing at a number of outlets. I am loving this new found access.