Franciacorta: one wine, one land

From the heart of Lombardy, Franiacorta was the first traditional method sparkling wine in Italy to be awarded DOCG status.  I reported extensively from a visit to many of the top estates in 2014, and again from a brief visit in 2016. After a few years absence it was great to have this opportunity of a tasting with the Consorzio’s President, Silvano Bresciannini (pictured).

Silvano began by describing the conditions that make Franciacorta an ideal region for the production of sparkling wine, particularly its proximity to the huge Lake Iseo. Though massively popular in Italy, Japan is their leading export market with rapid growth in the past few years.

Silvano is also proprietor of Barone Pizzini. He gave a brief overview of the production of the region. In 2019, 17.5 million bottles were sold. Although the Coronavirus and closure of so much hospitality dented production and sales, since 2021 things have looked promising.

On my 2014 visit Silvano was very positive about an indigenous variety called Erbamat. He had hoped it would be allowed to join Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero as permitted varieties. That permission was granted, and the first wines using Erbamat are likely to appear from the 2020 vintage. The grape ripens up to six weeks later than Chardonnay or Pinot, though still does not accumulate too much sugar. For now it can be up to 10% of both Franciacorta and Franciacorta Rosado.

Wine Styles

Our first wine was one of my favourite Franciacorta styles called ‘Satèn’. Satèn is a blanc de blancs, bottled with slightly lower pressure – below five atmospheres –  to give a creamier mouthfeel. We also tasted a Rosé, where there must be a minimum of 35% Pinot and maximum of 65% Chardonnay. Both Pinot Bianco and Erbamat are also allowed.

We finished with a zero dosage vintage wine from 2013. To qualify, residual sugar must be below 3g/l, though in fact Franciacorta tends towards dry wines; Silvano pointing out that even the Brut wines of the region typically have only 6 – 7 g/l. This certainly suits the wines which tend to be made from slightly riper fruit than might be typical in Champagne for example.

“In Franciacorta the fathers did not travel widely and experience other regions,” Silvano told me, “but the new generation of winemakers are 25 or 30 years old. Many have travelled in New Zealand, or America or Champagne to learn. They will bring new energy to the region.”

The Wines

(2022) From a avery small winery this is all Chardonnay, with fermentation in French oak barrels, followed by six months ageing in the barrels and a minimum of 30 months on the lees. Fine almond and mineral flecked creamy nose, with plenty of biscuit and fresh lemony flavour. The palate has lovely juiciness and succulence: lots of fresh-squeezed lemon running through peach, that light creaminess of texture adding some mouth-filling texture, the acidity very fresh with a touch of salinity. Only 6g/l dosage, disgorged in October 2020.
(2022) This blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir is partially fermented in oak and spends a minimum of 24 months on the lees. It is Brut, and opens with a very fine sense of minerals and small, summer blossom aromas. The fruit is elegant, with raspberry and redcurrant. In the mouth the mousse is cushiony and rich, with rosy red apple and those fragrant summer fruit and floral notes, ending with some richness but very good clarity, a pleasing touch of mouth-watering bitterness. A delicious, elegant and successful style.
(2022) Composed of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir, this was fermented in steel but the finest musts then matured six months in French oak. The wine then spends a minimum of five years on the lees plus five more in bottle before release. Very fine mousse, with a custard apple creaminess, some yeasty biscuit notes and a fat lemony fruit. With virtually no residual sugar it is taut, driven by citrus, and though there's a certain lean, wiry character, it is not mean or under-fruited. It is all about mouthwatering citrus and acid thrust, but the inherent ripeness avoids any suggestion of lacking generosity.

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