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 Editorial  Share this article     Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 32, Summer 2005   
FranciacortaFranciacorta  Contents 
Issue 31, June 2005 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 33, September 2005

Franciacorta

In the Iseo lake area, in the province of Brescia, are being produced the great Italian bubbles, a history which came a long way and that today is also expressed by excellent table wines

 In Lombardy there is a small region, just below the Iseo lake and near the city of Brescia, that since many years has been successful in spreading its fame worldwide for the quality of its precious bubbles - be careful not to call them spumante - and which are called Franciacorta, a historical wine area having ancient origins and its wines, since past times, were known and appreciated for their qualities. Today the noble bubbles of Franciacorta belong to the small group of excellent wines of the world, a remarkable success achieved thanks to tenacity and seriousness and in a relatively short period of time, in less than 40 years. The way walked by producers in Franciacorta is a brilliant example of how sharing seriousness and passion in order to achieve quality in the wines of the area, allowed reaching truly high goals in a short time, and to confirm all that, there are facts, those facts which undeniably are confirmed in a good glass of Franciacorta. In this area - today famous for bubbles - are also produced white and red table wines, once again, examples of good quality.

 Franciacorta and wine have been connected since many centuries, not only still table wines, but also the ones which could be defined as the “ancestors” of modern sparkling wines and at those times were called mordaci wines, in other words, slightly sparkling wines. In the Franciacorta area were being produced and commercialized slightly sparkling wines since 1200's and few centuries later, around the half of 1500, Agostino Conforti wrote in his documents about a slightly sparkling wine called Cisiolo. They certainly were wines so different and distant - not only in time - from modern and bubbly Franciacortas, they however are enough to prove here bubbles have a long history. However it should be remembered the recent production style in Franciacorta has no traditional and historical connection with slightly sparkling wines of the past: it was - to tell the truth - the introduction of the classic method in this area following the commercial success of bubbles produced in the neighboring France.


Franciacorta area
Franciacorta area

 The name with which this important wine area is being defined - Franciacorta for sparkling wines, Terre di Franciacorta or Curtefranca for table still wines - has a controversial origin and many are the hypothesis and legend about its meaning. The most probable hypothesis comes from franchae curtes, that is corte franca, cities and towns that were under the protection of Benedictine monks and which obtained the exemption of paying taxes. However there also are other hypothesis about the origin of Franciacorta name, some of them being legendary - such as the name piccola Francia (little France) given by Charlemagne, as well as the cry “Francese fuori! Qui Francia sarà corta!” (French get out, here France will be short) of the revolting people to the occupation of Charles of Angiò - or derived from local expressions to emphasize the not truly florid conditions of people “a curt de franc”, that is “short of money”. Legends and hypothesis apart, in the historical documents of this place - the Municipal Statute of Brescia - the first mention of the name Franzacurta - or Franzia Curta - is dated back to 1277, and since those times it already was an important area for the production of wines and from which the city of Brescia got its wine.

 The success of the precious and noble bubbles of Franciacorta is however a fact of recent history. Everything began at the end of the 1950's when a young wine maker, Franco Ziliani, conducted his first experiments in the famous cellars of Guido Berlucchi. In 1958, Franco Ziliani - considered the father of Franciacorta - after some attempts, is successful, without having never been in French Champagne, to make sparkling wines, by means of the technique of the refermentation in bottle, thanks to the techniques learnt during the lessons he attended at school. By using a still table wine produced by Guido Berlucchi, he decided to make use of Pinot Blanc for his sparkling wine and soon after that wine - spumante Pinot della Franciacorta, produced in white and rosé styles - became famous all over Italy, and the requests forced Berlucchi to buy grapes outside the Franciacorta area. In the 1970's, the fame of Berlucchi's spumante, convinced other producers of the area to start the production of this wine, including Domenico De Filippo, Barone Pizzini Piomarta, Fratelli Lenza, Lantieri de Paratico, Bersi Serlini, Riccafana and Ca' Del Bosco. At those times - precisely in 1967 - Franciacorta was already recognized as DOC Denominazione di Origine Controllata (Denomination of Controlled Origin).

 Among the many figures who have contributed to the recent history of Franciacorta's bubbles, a fundamental role for the development of the image and quality of these wines was played by Maurizio Zanella, founder of the renowned Ca' del Bosco. In 1980, the volcanic Maurizio Zanella - after having studied at the Station Œnologique de Bourgogne and at the University of Enology in Bordeaux, by taking inspiration from the famous wines of Champagne, he decided to start his business about the production of sparkling wines. A striking success and soon after Ca' del Bosco's Franciacorta became an important reference point for the whole area. In 1980 was established the Consorzio per la Tutela dei Vini Franciacorta (Consortium for the Safeguarding of Franciacorta Wines), and in 1985 the area is recognized - thanks to the important efforts of Ricci Curbastro and Comolli - as Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin), the only Italian classic method spumante to which was recognized such a high appellation. An important characteristic of Franciacorta is represented by its producers. As opposed to other areas in which are being produced classic method sparkling wines, here there are no big wineries which gather grapes from other producers, in Franciacorta are mainly found small wineries which produce wines with the grapes harvested in their vineyards and the yearly production for each of them rarely exceeds 400,000 bottles.

 Franciacorta is not bubbles only. In the same area are also produced still table wines, both white and red, to which is recognized the appellation Terre di Franciacorta or Curtefranca, to honor two of the names with which the area was known in past centuries. The choice of not considering the past of Franciacorta - although important - and not to stick to ancient traditions, has allowed producers in this area to develop an innovative production model in order to achieve quality: a choice which favored the introduction of specific grapes for the production of sparkling wines - Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir - as well as grapes for the production of red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Nebbiolo and Barbera. The production of white wines is obtained from Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay grapes. Today Franciacorta - with its table and sparkling wines - represents an important Italian wine making model, a remarkable success obtained by means of tenacity and qualitative reliability of its producers, a great Italian proud today known worldwide.

 

Classification of Franciacorta

 The qualitative classification of Franciacorta wines is recognized and regulated by the Italian system according to type. Still table wines - both red and white - belong to the Denomination of Controlled Origin (DOC) “Terre di Franciacorta” or “Curtefranca”, whereas the renowned sparkling wines belong to the Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin (DOCG). Franciacorta sparkling wines are all produced according to the classic method of the refermentation in bottle and are the only Italian sparkling wines produced with this method to belong to the DOCG appellation. According to the disciplinary regulating the production of these wines, in Franciacorta labels cannot be mentioned neither the generic term spumante, nor references to the production method, such as metodo classico (classic method) or metodo tradizionale (traditional method). For this reason Franciacorta must exclusively be called - by law - Franciacorta only, with no other definitions.

 The production disciplinary of Franciacorta can be considered among the strictest and more scrupulous in the world for the production of sparkling wines. For example, non vintage Franciacorta must be aged for a minimum of 25 months, of which at least 18 in the bottle on the lees, whereas for vintage, the minimum aging time is 37 months, of which at least 30 in the bottle on the yeast. Franciacorta can be produced both as senza annata (non vintage) or millesimato (vintage) - white or rosé - as well as in the Satèn style, characterized by a lower pressure. Franciacortas are produced in many levels of sweetness: Non Dosato (or Pas Dosé, Dosage Zéro, Pas Opéré or Nature), Extra Brut, Brut, Sec and Demi-Sec. It should be noticed Satèn - exclusively obtained from white berried grapes Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc - is uniquely available in the Brut style, whereas Franciacorta Rosé does not include the Extra Brut style.

 

Production of Franciacorta

 Franciacorta is produced according to the Metodo Franciacorta (Franciacorta Method) - basically, classic method - in which the production procedures, control and aging follow pretty strict and scrupulous criteria, probably like no other sparkling wine in the world. Exactly as set by the classic method, the production of Franciacorta begins with the preparation of base wine - or cuvée - which must have, by law, a minimum alcohol volume of 9.5%. The production of the base wine can also be done with any possible aging in cask of different sizes, and for non vintage Franciacorta, is also allowed the use of wines belonging to different vintages, whereas for vintage Franciacorta, can be used grapes belonging to the vintage mentioned in the label only. Grapes allowed for the production of Franciacorta are three, of which two white berried ones, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc, and one red berried variety, Pinot Noir. These grapes can be used for the production of wines in different percentages, however for Franciacorta Rosé the minimum percentage of Pinot Noir is of 15%, whereas Franciacorta Satèn can exclusively be produced with white berried grapes.


 

 The production of base wine from Pinot Noir is made in white, that is by avoiding any contact of the must with the skin, whereas for rosé wines it is allowed a maceration of the skins according to the color and the organoleptic qualities wished by the producer. During springtime, base wines begin their journey inside a bottle in order to be enriched with refined bubbles. To the base wine is added the so called liqueur de tirage, a mixture of sugar and yeast in order to start the second fermentation. It is good to remember every 4 grams of sugar added to one liter of base wine produces a pressure of one atmosphere, therefore the quantity of sugar usually added is of 24 grams in order to obtain the usual pressure of 6 atmospheres. Exception to this rule is Franciacorta Satèn, whose pressure cannot exceed 4.5 atmospheres. The base wine is then bottled and therefore beginning the next phase of the refermentation. During fermentation, yeasts consume sugar, therefore producing alcohol and carbon dioxide, responsible for the effervescence in Franciacorta.

 At the end of the fermentation yeast sediments on the side of the bottle - left in horizontal position - and begins the phase of aging sur lie, that is on the lees. For non vintage Franciacorta the minimum aging period is of 18 months, whereas for vintage Franciacorta it is 30 months, periods which are - in general terms - prolonged in order to give the wine more complexity and structure. During this period, the yeast - by means of a process called autolysis - gets decomposed and gives the wine its aromas and flavors, therefore giving Franciacorta a higher complexity and finesse. After the aging period, it is now the time to remove the sediment of yeast. Bottles are then put downside in special wood supports (pupitres), where the patient process of remuage will begin, the famous operation of shaking and rotating the bottles in order to push the sediment towards the opening. At the end of remuage, when the bottles get a vertical position in pupitres, sediment is now ready to be removed.

 At this point the neck of the bottle is being plunged in a liquid solution at a temperature of about -20°C (-4°F) in order to rapidly freeze the sediment. The next operation - disgorgement or dègorgement and which allows the elimination of the sediment - consists in opening the bottle. The internal pressure will expel the frozen mass of exhausted yeast, while ensuring a very limited loss of wine and leaving the wine perfectly limpid. At this point the bottles are refilled with a special solution - called liqueur d'expedition or dosage - which also has the purpose of giving the right sweetness to the wine according to style. Dosage is usually made of the same wine, or even by wine aged for a long time, to which is added sugar: a secret recipe giving the typical producer's style. According to the quantity of sugar added to the dosage, are being obtained Extra Brut, Brut, Sec or Demi-Sec styles. It is good to remember Franciacorta Satèn can uniquely be produced as Brut and the dosage used for Pas Dosé does not make use of any sugar. At this point the bottles are closed with the typical mushroom shaped cork and shaken accordingly in order to mix the dosage to the wine and, after a proper period of aging in the cellar for some months, Franciacorta is ready for commercialization.

 

Terre di Franciacorta or Curtefranca

 In this area are produced - besides wines with noble bubbles - table wines classified as “Terre di Franciacorta” or “Curtefranca” DOC. The production is both about white and red wines. White Terre di Franciacorta is produced with Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc grapes - alone or together - to which can also be added Pinot Noir vinified in white. Red Terre di Franciacorta is produced with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Nebbiolo and Barbera grapes. Because of the confusion that could exist between the two denominations of the area - Terre di Franciacorta for table wines, Franciacorta for sparkling wines - it was recently proposed the denomination “Curtefranca” for table wines, and that should help consumers to distinguish the two appellations. Table wines produced in this denomination, both white and red, have pretty interesting organoleptic qualities, in particular red wines, where Nebbiolo and Barbera give pleasing touches of crispness to Merlot and Cabernet.

 




 Editorial  Share this article     Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 32, Summer 2005   
FranciacortaFranciacorta  Contents 
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