Franciacorta Wine – A Guide to Organic Franciacorta Wine
Franciacorta is a sparkling wine made in Italy’s Northern Lombardy region, close to Milan. Considered by many to be Italy’s answer to Champagne, Franciacorta wine is produced using the traditional method, or ‘metodo classico’. This means that like Champagne, all bottles, undergo a second fermentation and lees ageing.
Franciacorta wine is one of Italy’s 70-something DOCGs, or ‘Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita’. This means that Franciacorta wines must be made in a specific way. For example, the grapes must be hand harvested and a classic Franciacorta sparkling wine must contain a minimum of 50% Chardonnay and/or Pinot Nero.
We’ll cover the following in this blog post. Note you can click on these links to be taken to these topics straight away.
- A quick history of Franciacorta winemaking
- Where exactly is the Franciacorta region?
- What type of wine is Franciacorta?
- What’s is the difference between Prosecco and Franciacorta? And is Franciacorta better than Champagne?
- What about organic Franciacorta wine? All about organic Franciacorta wine
- Organic Franciacorta wines to try
- What does Franciacorta wine taste like and what does it pair well with?
Franciacorta Winemaking: A quick history
Grape growing and winemaking has long been a part of Franciacorta’s fabric. Sparkling wine being produced in Franciacorta is mentioned as early as the sixteenth century (the 1500s). In 1570, a Lombardy doctor even wrote a book about sparkling wine that predates the life of the French monk Dom Pérignon.
Franciacorta became a DOC and 1967 and then a DOCG in 1995. As of 2019, the region had a vineyard area of 2,958 ha / 7,306 acres. Founded in 1870, Barone Pizzini is one of the oldest wineries in the appellation, and was the first to produce Franciacorta wines using organically farmed grapes.
Where exactly is the Franciacorta region?
The DOCG of Franciacorta covers an area of just 23×13 kilometres south of Lake Iseo in northern Italy’s Lombardy/Lombardia Region. It is situated at the northern edge of the Po Valley and is also a part of the Alpine foothill belt south of Lake Iseo. Although its climate is a continental one, it derives plenty of benefits from its proximity to the lake. This unique landscape is said to endow Franciacorta wines with excellent freshness and minerality. The map above is from the Consorzio Franciacorta.
What type of wine is Franciacorta?
Franciacorta wines are sparkling wines. There are five types of sparkling wines that can be made in the region: Spumante, the classic sparkling wine similar to Champagne, Rosé, Satèn Spumante, Millesimato and Riserva. Franciacorta wines are made with Chardonnay, Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco, with up to 50% of this latter allowed. A new grape, Erbamat, has recently been added, to a maximum of 10%.
Franciacorta wine regulations also stipulate that the permitted grape varieties be picked by hand. A natural second fermentation in the bottle and then slow ageing on the lees for no fewer than 18 months must also take place. Single vintage wines must be aged for 30 months and Riservas for 60 months (or five years total). More information about the DOCG of Franciacorta can be found here.
What’s is the difference between Prosecco and Franciacorta? And is Franciacorta better than Champagne?
Many people ask these questions. For starters, Prosecco is also an Italian wine, but made in a different region (Veneto) and with a different grape (the Glera grape). A second major difference is the way the wines are made. Franciacorta sparkling wines are made using the traditional method of bottle fermentation and lees ageing (shown above at Barone Pizzini). Prosecco, on the other hand, is fermented in large tanks. Thus, being made from a different grape and fermented in a different way, these two wines vary in style and their flavours will differ. Another difference is sugar levels, and generally, Prosecco is sweeter with most around the 15-17g of sugar/l mark for Extra Dry, Franciacorta Extra Brut and Brut will have less sugar. Prosecco wines are quicker and easier to produce, hence they are cheaper on the shelf, adding to their all-round popularity. Find out more about our organic Proseccos here.
Is Franciacorta better than Champagne? We would say Franciacorta is very similar in style to Champagne. Whether it’s ‘better’ or not all depends on your preferences, and we recommend trying both Champagne and Franciacorta wines to see if you prefer one over the other. In our opinion, both Franciacorta wines and Champagne are excellent sparkling wines and deserve to be celebrated.
What about organic Franciacorta wine? All about organic Franciacorta wine
We source our organic Franciacorta wines from Barone Pizzini, an organic vineyard with roots dating back to 1870. This estate’s 30 vineyards are distributed at different locations across Franciacorta and the average elevation of the vines is 200/250 metres above sea level. Each vineyard has its own characteristics due to its exposure, altitude and soil composition. Barone Pizzini’s vineyard soils are rich and complex, with some being morainic in nature and others enriched by glacial river deposits.
Today Barone Pizzini is headed by Silvano Brescianini, whose great great-grandfather was a winemaker and produced wine in Erbusco long before Franciacorta was recognised as one of the most important wine appellations worldwide. After growing up on a vineyard, Silvano embarked on a sommelier course and gained experience in the restaurant business, leading him to Barone Pizzini, first as a partner and head of the winery, and then as CEO in 1994.
Silvano made the decision to begin experimenting with organic grape growing in 1998, and was the first winery in Franciacorta to do so. In 2002, after the transition to organic period, the first organic Franciacorta wine was made by Barone Pizzini. For Silvano, organic winemaking allows the greatest expression of terroir to be achieved and respect for nature is the best tool for obtaining grapes rich with life and expressive potential. Find out more about what makes a wine organic via our Guide to Organic Wine here.
The winery also strives to reduce its environmental impact and carbon footprint as a whole. Barone Pizzini’s architectural choices have also been green, with two-thirds of their main building lying underground to preserve energy and climate impact. The organic winery has also been among the first in Italy to participate in a project to monitor its CO2 emissions and measure the environmental impact of the winemaking process. Silvano has also made the decision to invest in solar panels for a greener energy choice.
Silvano Brescianini is very active and is also the president of the Consortium for the Franciacorta Wine Region (Franciacorta Consorzio). Click here to read a quick interview below with Silvano about winemaking in Franciacorta.
Trying Franciacorta Wine – Organic Franciacorta Wine
If you would like to try organic Franciacorta wine, we have two outstanding choices from Barone Pizzini: their Franciacorta Brut ‘Animante’ and their Franciacorta Rosé, which was awarded the best organic wine in the world at the 2012 International Wine Challenge.
Subtly perfumed with green apple and lime fruits with the lovely toasty edge that you’d expect from a wine that has spent two years ageing on its lees. The bubbles aren’t overly effervescent, making it one of those sparkling wines that you can enjoy as an apéritif as much as with lightly flavoured foods. This fresh and clean sparkler has a lovely balance between the medley of citrus, floral and exotic fruit and the palate-pleasing creamy, nutty texture. Matured for 24-30 months in the bottle on its lees, this is clearly a very worthy alternative to quality Champagne or English Sparkling wine. Blended from 83% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Noir, 7 % Pinot Blanc and 5% Erbamat. Awarded Wine of the Week by The Independent, 90 points from Decanter and a Gold Medal Winner at the 2015 Sommelier Wine Awards – find out more.
Another award winner, this organic Franciacorta Rosé is made from grapes grown in vineyards lying on the edge of woods. Made from a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, this sparkling rosé has notes of dried fruit and jam. On the palate, it is soft and fresh. Aged for six months in stainless steel tanks followed by 30-40 months on the lees, this impressive sparkling rosé has rich flavour and acidity. Awarded 91 points by Wine Enthusiast and best organic wine in the world at the 2012 International Wine Challenge. Find out more about this rosé here.
What does Franciacorta wine taste like and what does it pair well with?
Franciacorta wines can vary in flavour, but you can expect fruity flavours of green apple, peach, white cherry, lemon, lime and currant, along with floral notes and so much more. Because of the lees ageing, you’ll also find bready and nutty notes too, along with creaminess. Like Champagne, Franciacorta wines are regarded as high-quality sparkling wines.
When it comes to food pairings for Franciacorta sparkling wines, similar to its cousin Champagne, these wines can pair with a range of dishes. Try Franciacorta wines with fish and seafood dishes, a range of cheeses, from soft and more ripe ones to aged ones too, white meats and vegetarian dishes, pasta dishes, deep-fried foods, mini toasts or canapés and so much more! As you can see, there’s really no shortage of foods to pair with Franciacorta wines.
Is Franciacorta wine sweet?
Franciacorta wine can be made sweet, medium sweet or dry. Both of the Franciacorta wines shown above are drier in style. If you’d like to try sweeter Franciacorta wines, look out for ‘Extra Dry’, ‘Sec’ or ‘DemiSec’ on the wine labels.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post all about Franciacorta wine and organic Franciacorta wines! Note that Barone Pizzini also produces organic wines in Marche and Maremma (Poderi di Ghiaccioforte) on the Tuscan coast. View all of their organic wines here.
In conversation with Silvano Brescianini, CEO of Barone Pizzini and President of the Franciacorta Consorzio
We had a quick conversation with Silvano about winemaking in the Franciacorta region. Here’s what he had to say!
VR: What obstacles do you see in developing the UK market in comparison to other countries?
S: The UK has a long tradition linked to Champagne, it’s very difficult for us to make ourselves known, even if things are changing. We are small and little known, but the curious public of enthusiasts is growing.
VR: To what degree is climate change affecting (if at all) the quality and style of Franciacorta wines?
S: The climate has been changing for many years, harvest is no longer in September but at the beginning/mid-August, summers are getting hotter and we have known about extreme atmospheric events. Despite this, we think that choices made over 25 years ago are helping to face all of this. Our vineyards, through organic viticulture and respect for biodiversity, are strong and able to deal with drought. Every 1% of organic substance means +30% water available in the soil.
Change has also led us to new research and discoveries, such as Erbamat, an ancient native grape, able to bring acidity and finesse, the grape we need in the hottest years. Organic farming gives rise to high-quality grapes, rich in flavour and character. If you respect nature, it will give you good fruits.
VR: In terms of production standards – what would you like to see introduced in the region over the next 5 years?
Everything to guarantee respect for biodiversity, but we are already well advanced.
VR: How should (or should not) Franciacorta be compared to Champagne?
S: Franciacorta and Champagne cannot be compared, they are produced in different areas, the territory of origin is all in the wine. Wine is an agricultural product that best highlights the differences between two pieces of soil. How can two wines produced in completely different areas be compared? Furthermore a wine is the expression of history and culture of a territory, Franciacorta has its history and Champagne another one. The best way to compare them is to understand their uniqueness.
VR: What is your favourite way to enjoy a glass of wine on a night in?
S: As an aperitiv with friends, or to match with dishes of Italian tradition, like pasta and fish, or as a drink after an evening at the theatre.