Franciacorta has become one of Italy’s leading producers of premium, traditional-method sparkling in the short period since its inception.
Unlike Champagne’s long and category-defining history, the Italian region Franciacorta is a relative newcomer to the sparkling wine scene—officially designated in 1967. It was conceived with an eye to making higher-quality Italian sparkling wine, very much following in the footsteps of its august French cousin. Key to that aspiration is the region’s required use of the metodo classico: formerly known as the Champagne method. With it, the secondary fermentation happens in the bottle, giving both Champagnes and Franciacortas their characteristically soft, foamy bubbles. This contrasts with the vast majority of Italy’s sparkling wine production (almost entirely for that brunch mainstay, prosecco), which uses the charmant method, wherein secondary fermentation happens in large vats, and the wine is then bottled when it’s already fizzy.
While both methods have their benefits and drawbacks, the use of the metodo classico is crucial to Franciacorta’s efforts to be understood as a step above everyday Italian sparkling. In addition, the region requires that producers use the traditional selection of Champagne grapes: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero in Italy). Pinot Bianco (a white variant of Pinot Noir) is also allowed, but only makes up 5 percent of the grapes planted in the region.
Franciacorta also produces an additional subcategory of sparkling wine, termed Satèn (which means silk in Italian). Made only from white grapes, Satèns are also bottled at a lower pressure than typical sparkling wine or Champagne—about 4.5 atmospheres as opposed to 6 or 7. This lends satèn a soft mouthfeel that feels similar to more ‘casual’ sparkling wines, like pét-nats and lambruscos.
We’ve tried a broad selection from some of the best producers in Franciacorta—here are seven of our favorites.
NV Mirabella Satèn ($30)
The Satèn from Mirabella is a trip through lush yellow apples and the bite of green ones. It’s a great example of fruit that changes as the wine goes over your palate—and while fruit-forward wines like this one can sometimes feel one-note, the bright acidity here allows the wine to stand on its own, or with a selection of your favorite hors d’oeuvres.
2013 Villa Franciacorta Brut Vintage ($30)
This clean, bright bottling seems suited to a sunny spring morning; it’s dominated by bright lemon and citrus notes. But it balances that zestiness with savory brioche notes—one of our editors thought it recalled lemon bars.
NV 1701 Brut Nature ($35)
“Brut nature” or “zero dosage” are French terms, now used internationally, referring to the level of residual sugar remaining in a sparkling wine after the final bottling. Despite tasting dry (which is what the word means), standard brut sparkling wine have anywhere between 7 and 15 grams per liter of residual sugar (literally, grape sugars left over after fermentation). Brut Nature must have less than two. That’s good news for those who like their sparklers ultra-dry—and this bottle is no exception. It’s a wine defined by its laser-like acidity; perhaps not for everyone, but our panel found it refreshing and lively.
NV Ca’ del Bosco Cuvee Prestige Brut ($38)
Ca del Bosco’s Maurizio Zanella has been one of Franciacorta’s most important voices for decades, but that level of recognition doesn’t come if your wines aren’t excellent, too. His are. The brioche-toasty Cuvee Prestige, with its balance of crisp acidity and soft elegance, is an excellent introduction to the winery’s range.
2013 Mosnel Extra Brut Vintage ($40)
Extra brut splits the difference between Brut Nature and Brut: sparkling wines with between 2 and 6 grams per liter of residual sugar are classified as Extra Brut. Mosnel’s 2013 has a chalky, dusty nose, underlaid by an appealing earthiness—an excellent example of the complexity that this region can produce.
2012 Bellavista Brut Vintage ($45)
Bellavista’s brut vintage leans into a classically Champagne-like flavor profile: savory and yeasty, with hints of brioche. Soft and approachable, it would be perfect as a glass with friends on a quiet midsummer’s night.
2012 Monte Rossa Cabochon Brut Vintage ($50)
Monte Rossa’s 2012 is lean and focused, with bright notes of lemon zest and limes. It’s a structure that begs a pairing with something fatty and rich—foie gras, or better still, some piping-hot fried chicken.