This is the second part of a short series about the wine trip I made with a group of the Dutch association of Vinologists (Verenigde Vinologen Nederland). The first part was about our tour of Oltrepò Pavese. After that we continued our trip in Franciacorta, which is one of the three wine producing zones with a DOCG denomination in Lombardia (the others are Oltrepò Pavese and Valtellina). It is located between the Iseo lake and the city of Brescia.
Our first stop in Franciacorta was at the Consorzio per la tutela del Franciacorta in Erbusco, where a representative of the Consorzio gave us an introduction to Franciacorta. The name “Franciacorta” can refer to the wine, to the production area, as well as the production method. Which is again the metodo classico, just like in Champagne and Oltrepò Pavese, with a second fermentation in the bottle. The minimum aging period on the lees for Franciacorta DOCG is 18 months, which is longer than Champagne (15 months). Franciacorta does not have a long tradition for Italian standards, as the first Franciacorta was produced in 1961. It has held a DOC denomination since 1967, and was upgraded to DOCG in 1995. Franciacorta is a small production area, with only 3000 hectares of vineyards. The word means “free courts”, and refers to the historic freedom of duties in the 11th century.
The deep morenic soil, formed in the ice age, is very well suited for viticulture. Most of the hills are about 300 meters above sea level, but most of the vineyards are in the flat areas. About 80% of the vineyards is planted with Chardonnay, followed by 15% Pinot Nero and 5% Pinot Bianco. The amount of Pinot Bianco is decreasing. Since Pinot Nero and Bianco have tighter bunches than Chardonnay, they are more susceptible to rot. Franciacorta has an average production of only 7,600 bottles per hectare, which is less than Champagne (10,000 bottles per hectare) and a lot less than Prosecco (17,000 bottles per hectare).
The three different types of Franciacorta DOCG are:
- Franciacorta, without vintage, Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, maximum 50% Pinot Bianco and maximum 10% Erbamat, aged minimum 18 months on the lees;
- Franciacorta Rosé, Chardonnay maximum 65%, Pinot Nero minumum 35%, Pinot Bianco maximum 50%, Erbamat maximum 10%, aged minimum 24 months;
- Franciacorta Satèn, minimum 50% Chardonnay, maximum 50% Pinot Bianco, aged minimum 24 months, and with less bubbles than regular Franciacorta.
Franciacorta from a single vintage (millesimato) must be aged for at least 30 months, and riserva for at least 60 months. Still wines from the same production area fall under Curtefranca DOC. Satèn has only 4.5 bar of carbon dioxide pressure, rather than the usual 5.5 bar, and thus the bubbles are softer. This is achieved by adding only 18 grams of sugar per litre for the second fermentation, rather than the usual 24 grams per litre.
Climate change is worrisome for Franciacorta, as enough acidity is required to be able to make high quality sparkling wines. For this reason, the local grape variety Erbamat is now allowed to be used up to 10% in Franciacorta DOCG (not in Satèn). It has been selected because it is an autochthonous late ripening variety with high acidity. Due to the very hot and dry summer, the harvest began already on the 4th of August in 2022, which is very early.
The metodo classico includes the possibility to add sugar at the time of the disgorgement (removing the yeast used for the second fermentation in the bottle, and inserting the final cork). This is usually cane sugar in Franciacorta, but some wine makers use the solo uva method, and use grape sugar instead. Most Franciacorta is Brut with a maximum of 12 grams of sugar per litre, but there is also Extra Brut (less than 6 grams per litre) or Dosaggio Zero (no sugar added).
We tasted 8 different Franciacorta:
- Contad Castaldi Satèn 2018, 100% Chardonnay, fermented in steel and oak, 30 months on the lees, dosage 6 g/l. Fragrant, elegant, creamy, and mineral.
- Quadra Satèn 2017, 90% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Bianco, fermented in steel, 43 months on the lees, dosage 5 g/l. Less fragrant than the first Satèn, but with more structure.
- Monterossa Brut Cabuchon, 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir, fermented in oak, 36 months on the lees, dosage 5 g/l. Because of the fermentation of the base wine in oak, this wine was in a more oxidative style.
- Fratelli Berlucchi Brut Freccia Nera 2017, 60% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Bianco, 10% Pinot Nero, fermented in steel, 60 months on the lees, 7.5 g/l. Mineral, crispy nose but creamy taste, complex with a long finish.
- La Montina Extra Brut, 75% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir, fermented in steel, 24 months on the lees, 3.5 g/l. Delicate, elegant and balanced.
- IBarisèi Dosaggio Zero Natura 2015, 80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir, fermented in steel, 45 months on the lees, 0 g/l. Mineral, elegant, balanced, dry finish.
- Vezzoli Rosé, 100% Pinot Nero, fermented in steel and oak, 48 months on the lees, 7 g/l. Crisp and mineral.
- Santus Rosé Dosaggio Zero 2016, 100% Pinot Nero, fermented in steel, 40 months on the lees, 0 g/l. Aged and dry.
The first winery we visited in Franciacorta was Ca’ del Bosco. The winery is located in an impressive park with a long driveway. It has 268 hectares of vineyards, mostly Chardonnay, but also Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco. They produce 1.8 million bottles per year, of which 1 million of their ‘work horse’, the Cuvée Prestige.
Instead of using Erbamat, they are expanding their vineyards to higher altitudes. Ca’ del Bosco has a very specific style of making Franciacorta and does everything to make the wine as ‘pure’ as possible.
This starts by washing the grapes after the harvest with water and a bit of citric acid. This means that no clarification is needed and that less sulfites are required to preserve the wine. It also removes the wild yeast, which could lead to unwanted aromas. They use neutral oak, again to avoid strong aromas from the wood.
Ca’ del Bosco has ample facilities in order to process the grapes as quickly as possible after the harvest. The first 25% of juice that is extracted from the grapes is vinified in wood and used for Satèn. The next 25% fraction is vinified in steel and used for the Cuvée Prestige. To keep the aromas in the wine as much as possible, no mechanical pump is used to blend the wines. Instead they use a wine elevator, so that gravity can move the wine from one cask to the next.
They use the solo uva method for the liqueur d’expédition, i.e. grape sugar instead of cane sugar, to avoid the caramel aroma of cane sugar. The corks are tested, both optically and with water, before they are used. Thus, Ca’ del Bosco has problems with only 0.4% of the corks, compared to the average of 1.5% in Italy.
Ca’ del Bosco has its own barrel maker in France, where oak from Allier is used and seasoned for 3 years. They produce both barriques (225 litres) and pièces (228 litres). The new barrels are only used for the still wine (Curtefranca DOC), never for Franciacorta. Barrels are used for 4-5 times before they are replaced.
Riddling is only done by hand for large formats (magnums etc.); for the regular bottles gyropalettes are used. A final touch to preserve the aromas (reduce oxidation) and reduce the amount of sulfites is to add nitrogen at the disgorgement, a patent of Ca’ del Bosco.
We tasted three wines:
- Cuvée Prestige Edition 34 Franciacorta DOCG (2019), disgorged in 2021, Chardonnay 84%, Pinot Nero 14%, Pinot Bianco 2%, aged 24 months on the lees, first fermentation in steel, extra brut 1.5 g/l. Elegant and mineral.
- AnnaMaria Clementi 2010 Franciacorta DOCG, disgorged in 2019, Chardonnay 55%, Pinot Bianco 25%, Pinot Nero 20%, first fermentation in French oak with malolactic, aged 9 years on the lees, no dosage. Delicious. Golden color, beautifully aged, balanced, elegant, creamy.
- Chardonnay 2017 Curtefranca DOC, aged in barriques for 9 months with weekly stirring of the lees, very oaky but well integrated, tropical fruit, butter, aromatic, structured, fresh. Still young.
The second and final winery we visited in Franciacorta was Bellavista. This winery has has 210 hectares of vineyards, spread out over 120 different plots in Franciacorta. The production is 1.5 million bottles per year. Bellavista does not use Erbamat, because it is too acidic and the bunches are not uniform enough.
Unlike Ca’ del Bosco, Bellavista is very traditional. For instance, they use these corks rather than crowncaps during the second fermentation in the bottle. According to the winemaker it does not make any difference in the flavor, they just do it for the tradition. The style is to make the wine as natural as possible, with as little interference as possible. Bellavista allows some contact with oxygen during the wine making process. This will remove some of the fresh and fruity aromas, but the aromas that are left will be more stable. Other differences with Ca’ del Bosco are that Bellavista uses less vines per hectare, with more leaves on the vines, and that Bellavista produces Franciacorta Riserva only in the best vintages rather than every year.
They even do all of the riddling by hand, for which they have 10 full-time employees!
There is 1 kilometer (3,300 feet) of underground tunnels to age 6 million bottles.
Bellevista also has non-vintage ‘entry level’ Franciacorta sold under the label Alma, aged for 28 months on the lees. During our visit we tasted only the vintage (millesimato) Franciacorta. The more exclusive the wine at Bellavista, the more Pinot Nero is used and the more wood rather than steel.
We tasted five Franciacorta DOCG at Bellavista:
- Satèn 2017, 100% Chardonnay, first fermentation for 40% in used wood, 60% in steel, aged 48 months on the lees, 5-6 g/l. Fragrant and full of flavor.
- Teatro Alla Scala Brut 2017, 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Nero, first fermention in wood and steel, aged 48 months on the lees, 5 g/l. Full of almond flavor.
- Pas Operé 2016, 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, aged 60 months on the lees, 2 g/l. Can be bottle aged for 10-15 years. Fresher and a fine mousse, almond flavor.
- Riserva Vittorio Moretti 2013, 50% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir, aged 72 months on the lees, 2.5 g/l, made from old vines in the best vineyards, only in the best vintages, only 40,000 bottles produced, disgorgement in 2021. Almond flavor.
- Riserva Vittorio Moretti 2008, same as above but 5 years older, disgorged in 2016 and so aged for 6 years in the bottle after 6 years on the lees. Very complex and elegant, creamy, with beautifully aged aromas.
It was really interesting to visit the two benchmark producers of Franciacorta that together have made Franciacorta famous, and to notice the huge difference in style. Fresh and modern at Ca’ del Bosco, traditional at Bellavista.
Coming up next: Valtellina.