Franciacorta 2017 update
The Franciacorta Consorzio held a trade tasting in London on the first day of October 2017. I have not been to the region since 2012 – see my introduction here – and so this was an opportunity to catch up with old friends.
Tom Harrow is now the UK Ambassador for the region, which in itself tells you that Franciacorta is moving with the times. They know that they have a great product but in today’s crowded market, that is not enough. It needs someone with credibility in-market to communicate with Italians and Brits why they should consider Franciacorta. After all, there is no end of other sparkling wine on the market- cheap and expensive, non-Italian and Italian – and so Franciacorta needs a champion.
Consistently high quality
Why drink Franciacorta? The most obvious reason is the consistently high quality of the wines. Because Franciacorta is a relatively recent wine region and is in one of the wealthiest parts of Italy (between Milan and Brescia) it has aimed high. The first sparkling wine was produced by Guido Berlucchi in 1961, DOC followed in 1967, DOCG in 1995 and from 2003 the region won the right to write simply ‘Franciacorta’ on the bottle, just as Champagne does. Investment from wealthy northern Italian entrepreneurs has seen production rise to 21 million bottles with standards remaining high. These have been enshrined in the DOCG which requires a minimum of 4,500 vines per hectares, prohibits heavy cropping training systems such as Tendone (a form of pergola) and Geneva Double Curtain, and allows for a maximum yield of 65 hl/ha. For comparison’s sake, the maximum allowed in Champagne is 100hl/ha, though in reality, it is more likely to be around the same level as Franciacorta.
Organic fruit, second fermentation in the bottle
In the winery, only second fermentation in the bottle is permitted. The other factors which make for quality are:
- a warm climate with cooling influences ensuring that grapes ripen regularly. Cold air flows down the Val Camonica, the valley above the region which comes down from the Alps. Lake Iseo forms the northern boundary of the region and is a moderating factor in winter.
- a range of soil types giving different styles of wine which can then be blended.
- virtually all the fruit is estate grown and all is hand-picked.
- the wineries are all private companies
- 75% of production is now organically grown with a target to be the first wine region to be 100%.
- High standards for ageing on the lees: a minimum of 18 months is required for non-vintage; 24 months for the slightly lower pressure and Blanc de Blancs style here called Satèn; 30 months for vintage wines; and 60 for the Riserva category. And these standards are regularly exceeded.
- The Consorzio per la Tutela del Franciacorta is a very successful organising body which includes 98% of producers as its members. Unlike almost any other Italian region (except another newcomer, Bolgheri), Franciacorta speaks with one voice.
An approachable style
Franciacorta’s second big calling card is its ripe, approachable style. While Champagne (and Trento) purists might well argue that the very best sparkling wines come from cool climates, many consumers will love the softer acidity and riper fruit profile offered by Franciacorta. Green apple and chalkiness give way to ripe red apple and a hint of peach. This is also shown by the way that Franciacorta producers go low in relation to the standard dryness categories. While Brut can mean anything between 0 and 12 g/l of residual sugar, Brut here regularly means only 6 g/l; similarly Extra Brut (0-6 g/l) usually here means 2-3 g/l in practice. The ripeness of the fruit, supported by decent natural acidity, means that a low dosage tastes balanced and not overly sweet. This trend is capped by leading producer Ca’ del Bosco’s just released Vintage Collection Brut which is only 2g/l residual sugar! For the same set of reasons, zero dosage really works well here.
I have a particular soft spot for Il Mosnel and for Ferghettina as I had great visits there back in 2012. So it was good to see that they are still in top form. For example, Il Mosnel’s EBB, Extra Brut, 2012, 12% is superbly complex, layered wine with a powerful personality. It is 100% Chardonnay, the first 50% of the pressed juice, fermented in old oak barrique and aged on lees for a minimum of 36 months. But it was also encouraging to find new stars. Lantieri’s Arcadia Millesimato 2012 has covered itself in glory winning not just a Tre Bicchieri award for 2018 from Gambero Rosso but also ‘Best in class’ for Franciacorta from Tom Stevenson’s Sparkling Wine World Championships. 42 months on the lees during second fermentation shows in profoundly nutty, toasty nose with refined peach and dried citrus aromatics. Brilliant acidity gives this great length and verve.
The wines of Franciacorta are high-quality wines by any standard. They really deserve to be better known than they are.
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