Posted: Mar 18, 2019
This unsung sparkler has much more in common with its French cousin than Prosecco.
Every sparkling wine fan knows that the world of bubbly doesn't begin and end in the Champagne region: America produces some delicious sparkling wines, Spain has it's famous cava, German's drink sekt, even France has its own sub-genre on non-champagne sparklers known as cremant. And, of course, Italy has prosecco; it's own version of champagne, right?
Certainly that's what we were all told when prosecco started taking over the brunch scene in the '00s. But as anyone who has ever sipped prosecco on its own can attest, though prosecco is certainly sparkling, flavor-wise it doesn't seem to have much in common with its bubbly brethren, and there's a good reason for that. When it comes to styles of wine, prosecco isn't Italy's take on champagne — franciacorta is.
WHAT IS FRANCIACORTA?
Like prosecco, franciacorta is (you guessed it) a sparkling wine from Italy. Made in the Franciacorta territory, an area just south of Lake Iseo in the Lombardi region, franciacorta is a hand-harvested, bottle-aged sparkling wine with both DOC and DOCG recognition (meaning that wines with the franciacorta name have to meet a particularly stringent set of regulations and quality standards.) Unlike some other sparkling styles, franciacorta is fairly young on the world stage, established as a DOC in 1967 and a DOCG in 1995, according to Silvano Brescianini, president of the Franciacorta Consorzio and executive vice president of Barone Pizzini. But that youth doesn't mean that the Franciacorta territory is light on vintner history. "The region of Franciacorta has deep roots in the wine-making tradition, with 115 wineries and wine production dating back to the Middle Ages," Brescianini says.
HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM PROSECCO?
Though franciacorta and prosecco are both Italian sparklers, their similarity pretty much ends there. Franciacorta is made using the metodo classico aka the method champenoise. It's the same process used to make champagne, in which the wine goes through an initial fermentation like still wine, and then is bottled and left to rest on the lees, a yeast that causes a second, in-bottle fermentation, leading to all those bubbles we love so much. The wine then ages in-bottle for at least 18 months (for franciacorta's riserva style that can be up to 60 months) to develop a deeper, more complex flavor profile.
"In contrast to the classic method of franciacorta, prosecco is made using the charmat or martinotti method, in which the wine is fermented [for the second time] in vat before it’s bottled," explains Brescianini. As a consequence, prosecco is generally younger, with a lighter, more fruit-forward flavor profile. The fact that the secondary bubble-producing fermentation occurs in a vat instead of individual bottles makes the process, and thus the resulting wine, less expensive; making prosecco a winner for mixing mimosas, but less nuanced to sip solo.
WHY IS FRANCIACORTA "THE CHAMPAGNE OF ITALY"?
The similarity of the methods for producing champagne and franciacorta mean that the two styles have plenty in common. Like champagne, franciacorta can only be produced in a specific geographic region, and only with particular grape varietals: in franciacorta's case chardonnay, pinot nero, and pinot bianco (though Brescianini points out that up to 10% of erbamat grapes are now allowable in most styles as well.)
"The most significant difference between champagne and franciacorta lies in the characteristic of these two geographical regions," he says. "Each has a diverse range of climates and especially soils – Franciacorta mostly has morainic (glacial) soil."
Just as terroir plays a role in the specific flavors present in still wines, it also reflects onto sparkling bottles. So while you might expect some of the same classic tasting notes from both champagne and franciatcorta — citrus, hints of dried fruit, and toasty flavors of brioche and pastry — the differences in their growing regions will provide interesting favor facets for even the most experienced champagne tippler to explore.
The bottom line: if you love champagne, it's time to add some franciacorta to your collection.
By Lauren Hubbard
March 15, 2019
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