As many of you have already heard, Robert, Ryan and I took an intense few days last week to explore the region of Franciacorta. However, unlike many of the places we’ve hosted the European Wine Bloggers Conference, including: Rioja, Lisbon and Vienna, our knowledge of Franciacorta was limited at best – adding to the mystery and allure of our scouting adventure! So, like 3 rambunctious children with butterflies of excitement and anticipation fluttering in our bellies, we landed in Bergamo, north of Milan, with nothing more than an itinerary, a list of names, a map and enough tech equipment to scare off any sane winemaker (love our job!).
In the coming weeks, I’ll do my best to share some of our findings about the wine region of Franciacorta, the city of Brescia and some of the amazing culinary and vinous delights we experienced over the course of 48 hours. And if you don’t think this is enough time to fully understand the region, you’re absolutely right, it’s not. But it is enough time – assuming sleep is minimal – to crave more, which is exactly what I’m hoping to inspire in you. So without further delay, let’s wrap our minds around Franciacorta.
To keep it simple, a “Franciacorta wine” is a sparkling wine from Lombardy with DOCG status produced from grapes grown within the boundaries of the territory of Franciacorta.
The territory of Franciacorta is located in the Province of Brescia, set in the heart of Lombardy, which covers the north central region of the swanky knee-high Italian ‘boot’. Franciacorta is a relatively small territory, for comparison it is slightly smaller than Brooklyn (NY), and of this area only a tenth (2,483 ha) is under vine. Seen from above, you’ll see breathtaking undulating hills, gorgeous lakes and vast green valleys spotted with olive trees. The region is right on the boundary between the foot of the Alps and the lakes to the North, and the flat Po Valley to the South.
However, although the region today is thought of as having great viticultural conditions for sparkling wines, this is actually a relatively new development in Franciacorta’s story.
For centuries prior to 1961, the wines were usually still or merely “frizzante”, typically losing their effervescent characteristics around the 5 month mark. It wasn’t until the mid 1950′s when a local landowner & car fanatic, named Guido Berlucchi, invited a recently graduated enotechnician, Franco Ziliani, to help stabilize and de-haze his white still wines that Franciacorta’s story truly takes off.
Having solved Guido’s problem, Franco suggested they create a sparkling wine in the style of Champagne. Guido, a competitive type (including taking part in the famous Mille Miglia 6 times!) accepted the challenge, and in 1961, they produced the very first 3,000 bottles of a sparkling wine using the classic methode champenoise under the Berlucchi label. Ziliani named the 1961 wine ‘Pinot di Franciacorta’, the very first time this geographical name appeared on a wine label, and needless to say, it was a great success, and why in 2011 we are celebrating its 50 year anniversary.
By 1967 the interest in these sparkling wines was such that they established the original DOC for the region, eventually justifying the elevation to DOCG in 1995 – the first sparkling wine to achieve this in Italy.
Of course, neither the DOCG status, nor the 2011 European Wine Bloggers Conference, could happen without the hard work and existence of the ‘Consorzio per la tutela del Franciacorta‘. Founded in 1990, the Consortium now has a total of 191 members belonging to the three professional categories of growers, winemakers and bottlers. The 104 Consortium members that produce Franciacorta represent 97% of all producers – an incredible figure that speaks volumes for the organization.
Over the course of the EWBC, you’ll have a chance to taste an incredible amount of wines from Franciacorta, if not their entire range of production. Mind you, we tackled over 1,000 wines last year, so I’m confident we can make a healthy dent in Franciacorta too. That said, as I gear up to write about Franciacorta’s various wine styles, I hope you’ll do some market research to find out what Franciacorta wines are located in your neighborhood, and let us know if there are any that have already become personal favorites.
We will be showing a gallery of photos in the near future, but for now, the photo above is thanks to Simone Garza.