A frothy, fruity, lightly sweet tidal wave of wine from Italy has been rushing over the UK in the past ten years – and its name, of course, is Prosecco.
But Italy always has more tricks up its sleeve and if you are feeling the urge to explore its fizz further, Franciacorta could be your next destination.
Franciacorta doesn’t have a long history as a sparkling wine region. The first sparkling wines were made in 1961 and official DOC status came in 1967, followed by top of the tree in Italian wine law DOCG status in 1995. It lies in Lombardy, northern Italy, between the city of Brescia and the almost impossibly picturesque Lake Iseo (little brother to the more famous Garda and Como).
Commitment to quality is the hallmark of this small region. The wines are made in the same way as Champagne, with the sparkle deriving from a second fermentation in the bottle. The varieties grown are predominantly the classic Champagne varieties of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with a little Pinot Blanc. Maximum grape yields are lower and maturation time of the wines on their lees are longer (both factors considered important for wine quality) than they must legally be in Champagne.
You can see that this is an “aim high” strategy and quality is definitely there in the wines – to use a very broad brush, they have the elegance of Champagne, but with greater ripeness of fruit thanks to their more southerly location. These are wines that all sparkling wine lovers should look out for.
Franciacorta wines in the UK
Exports to the UK are still relatively small, but seek and ye shall find:
Berlucchi Cuvée Imperiale NV – Majestic £19.99, currently £13.32 a bottle as part of their mix and match offer
This is the biggest selling Franciacorta anywhere and it makes for a great introduction: a fairly typical blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir, it is light, pretty and zippy with elegant fruit - and incredibly good value.
Ca’ del Bosco’s Cuvée Prestige NV is in the same stylistic mould, but with more nuanced flavours of lemon, green apple and melon and is a touch drier. Available from independent merchants at around £30 a bottle, £39.99 from Selfridges.
Bellavista completes the trio of big producers of Franciacorta and their Cuvée Alma NV is £28.95 from slurp.co.uk and a range of independent merchants. Time on the lees gives it a lovely biscuit and savoury dimension, which, combined with the baked apple fruit, is beguiling and moreish.
La Valle Franciacorte Rosé NV - £22.49 from italyabroad.com
This small producer makes only 50,000 bottles a year, so distribution here is understandably restricted. But I would happily recommend any of their wines that you come across (and online merchants italyabroad.com seem to be the sole importer to the UK).
So often the rosé versions of sparkling wines, and especially Champagnes, offer no more enjoyment than the regular cuvée, yet we cough up a good few quid more for them. In contrast, I was particularly struck by the quality of rosé Franciacorta.
La Valle’s rosé is 100% Pinot Noir and combines a food-friendly broad spiciness mid-palate, with succulent fruit and a delicate finish. Quite delicious.