Franciacorta sparkling wine comes from Lombardy, with DOCG status produced from grapes grown within the area of Franciacorta, south hills of Lake Iseo, in the Italian Province of Brescia. It was awarded DOC status in 1967, the designation then also including red and white still wines. Since 1995 the DOCG classification has applied exclusively to the sparkling wines of the area.

Grapes for Franciacorta are grown in strictly delimited vineyards in the communes of Adro, Capriolo, Cazzago San Martino, Cellatica, Coccaglio, Cologne, Corte Franca, Erbusco, Gussago, Iseo, Monticelli Brusati, Ome, Paderno Franciacorta, Paratico, Passirano, Provaglio d’Iseo, Rodengo Saiano, Rovato and Brescia, with soil conditions described as mineral-rich, granular-sized, calcareous gravel and sandy morainal soils that cover a limestone bedrock.

Cadel Bosco italian sparkling 157x280 Franciacorta sparkling wineThe DOCG declared vineyards extend 2,200hectares (5,400 acrres) and the distribution of permitted grape varieties are 85% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot nero and 5% Pinot bianco.

Nonvintage Franciacorta (NV) may not be released until at least 25 months after harvest, of which 18 months must be in contact with the yeast in the bottle (compared to 15 months in the case of Champagne). Franciacorta Vintage or Millesimato may not be sold until at least 37 months after harvest, of which 30 months must be in contact with the yeast (similar to Champagne). A Franciacorta rosé must contain at least 15% Pinot nero, and may be made by blending red wine. Franciacorta Satèn must be a Blanc de blancs with only the use of Chardonnay and/or Pinot bianco permitted, with only 4.5 atmospheres of pressure instead of 6.

Recently our friend and wine guru Gary Chevsky participated in a tasting event and these are his thoughts:

“On the heels of a great Champagne tasting this weekend at Santana Row’s Vintage Wine Merchants, I was itching for more sparkles. Kudos to Vintage for putting together an excellent line-up of Champagnes for a meager $40 ($25 for members) – they certainly packed the shop, and the punters were not disappointed.

Bellavista italian sparkling 210x280 Franciacorta sparkling wineThis was the first time I had the 1999 Dom Perignon, and it was probably my fave Dom P, showing the classical well-developed nuttiness. Compared to it, the just released 2002 was too young and simple at this stage. Other notables were the always reliable and incredibly inexpensive Hiedsieck & Co “Blue Top” ($25-30), the elegant Delamotte ($35, Salon’s little sibling), and the well-regarded higher-end Champagnes by Pol Roger (Reserve), Egly-Ouriet (Brut Tradition Grand Cru), and Gosset (Brut Grand Reserve).

That was Sunday. On Monday, my faith in Champagne re-affirmed, it was now Italy’s turn to impress.

I am a big fan of Franciacorta. Italy’s answer to Champagne, it can be every bit as profound. Made in the traditional method (aka Champagne method) where the second fermentation and ageing on the lees take place in bottle, Franciacorta can evolve beautifully over many years, especially vintage examples, and can also be enjoyed young. Last night my wine/tennis group had a re-union (after I tore my achilles tendon earlier this year) at our local de-facto standard seafood hole-in-the-wall – the legendary Old Port Lobster Shack in Redwood City. To grease the wheels, we brought two of the most highly regarded Franciacorta producers – Bellavista and Ca’del Bosco. And the good news – Franciacorta, although being unknown in the non-wine circles, is readily available in this country. I got mine from (Bellavista and Ca’del Bosco). Seafood, fries and sparkling wine – how can you go wrong with that combo?!
Cadel Bosco Bellavista italian sparkling 202x280 Franciacorta sparkling wineWe didn’t. The Lobster Shack’s naked lobster roll is fabulous, and their beer-battered fish and chips are out of this world. But the dish that both Franciacortas really shone with was steamed mussels – petite, tender, flavorful in a great broth begging for dipped bread. Eric suggested that the wine really brought out the minerally tones in the mussels. I thought it went well even with the creamy New England clam chowder – another not-to-be-missed beauty from the Shack.

I gotta say – on a relatively quiet Monday night, we spent three hours chilling at this characterful joint. The folks there, especially the hostess Shay, are so friendly, she reminded me of my mom. Everyone had a great time, and with tongues un-tied, we reminisced of the old tennis follies and the crazy things that happen in the wine circles.

Bellavista is an old classic Franciacorta producer, and their non-vintage cuvee was a more serious expression than Ca’del Bosco’s floral and lemony entry level cuvee “Prestige” – an all-time dependable friend, that I always keep stocked in my cellar. Just for the heck of it, we followed with beers, and agreed that Franciacorta was a better, lighter, more elegant match. Enjoy!”

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