People load up on sparkling wine in December for the holiday bender, but quickly eschew the bubbly after the ball drops. It’s heresy. I get it, we all eat and drink too much during the holidays and want to clean up our act in the New Year, but let’s be realistic. We all need a few glasses of wine, even in January.
I’ve got a recommendation for something to add to your juice diet: Franciacorta.
Franciacorta is Italian sparkling wine made in the same way as Champagne with essentially the same grape varieties. Born in northern Italy, this bubbly traces its roots to the 16th century when winemakers made highly acidic still wines in the cool climate. Today, the prestigious sparkling wine is as omnipresent with Milanese fashion models as Marni floral prints.
Despite its quality, history and prestige, Franciacorta gets little attention compared to its famous cousin, Champagne. Here are a few things to know about Franciacorta:
Where is it made? Franciacorta is the name of the wine region or appellation awarded Italy’s highest status, DOCG. It is located in the foothills of the Alps an hour’s drive east of Milan, close enough for it to be a staple at the AC Milan football matches. The mild climate and cool nights let the grapes develop the crisp acidity that is so desired in sparkling wine.
What is it made of? Franciacorta DOCG wines are made with a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Nero, aka Pinot Noir grapes, just like Champagne. Where it differs is that it is also made with up to 50% of Pinot Bianco, a grape not used in Champagne.
How is it made? Like Champagne, Franciacorta DOCG wines are made in the “traditional method,” meaning that still wine is produced first, then secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle. It’s that second fermentation that gives the wine its fizz.
How should it be served? Like any sparkling wine, Franciacorta is great as a celebration wine, but it is also a fantastic accompaniment to any meal. Serve it chilled to about 45 degrees (fridge temperature) in flutes or white wine glasses. It pairs well with just about any food including soft cheeses, sushi, classic Italian dishes, pork and fruity desserts.
Where is it sold? Franciacorta is readily available at wine shops around the country. In Austin, you can pick it up at places like Austin Wine Merchant, Central Market, East End Wines, Specs, Twin Liquor and Whole Foods Market in the sparkling wine section.
How much does it cost? Because of its high quality, Franciacorta costs more than the other famous sparkling wine from Italy, Prosecco. However, it’s often cheaper than Champagne. Prices range from $20 to $100, with great wines going for less than $50.
Here are a few wines to try:
This non-vintage Brut is a cuvée of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir aged for at least 24 months on sur lie. The spirited bubbles happily shimmer straw yellow until the glass is drained. It has lush scents of ripe apple, pear, citrus and apple blossoms balanced with fresh baked biscuit and vanilla. Both velvety soft and perky with zippy acidity, Ronco Calino tastes like red delicious apples, lime zest and nutty bread with a vanilla crème brûlée finish. It sells for about $30.
Millesimato means vintage-dated for Franciacorta. Only 10,000 bottles of this 2007 Lo Sparviere Extra Brut were made using 100% Chardonnay grapes from 20 year old vines. The wine is aged for a minimum of 60 months sur lie (with the yeast still in the bottle) giving it a lovely gold color, creamy texture and rich nutty flavor. It has concentrated aromas of peach, lemon, pineapple and toasty pecans. The silky smooth wine tastes like lemon meringue, green apple, white peach and vanilla with toasted bread crust. It’s as vivacious as it is elegant. It’s a bargain at $34 a bottle.
Cabochon is the most prestigious in the Monte Rossa Franciacorta line up. It is made with the winery’s best selection of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir from the hill of Monte Rossa. It’s aged in oak barrels for the first fermentation and then bottle aged sur lie for more than 40 months. This sophisticated and intricate wine has intense aromas of toasted hazelnuts, coffee, candied apples, Meyer lemons and dusty limestone. The energetic bubbles tickle the palate with golden apple, pineapple, toasted nuts an caramel flavors. This Franciacorta rivals even the finest Champagnes at a fraction of the price at about $55.
This year I resolve to drink more Franciacorta.