Visit Franciacorta Wine Region: Italian Sparkling Wine For the Win!

Lake Iseo

Franciacorta Wine Region — an hour drive from Milan takes you to one of Italy’s best kept wine secrets.

Italian sparkling wine is far more than Prosecco and Moscato d’Asti. If you aren’t familiar with the Franciacorta wine region, you are not alone. These rich and meaty Italian sparkling wines are sold almost exclusively in Italy with only 5 to 10 percent exported to other countries.

Not only are the wines amazing, the area also offers an idyllic lakeside tourist destination in Lago d’Iseo or Lake Iseo.

If you are planning some Italy wine country travels, make sure you add Franciacorta to your list.

Franciacorta Wine Region Quick Facts:

Name: Franciacorta

Location: On a map you will find Franciacorta in Northern Italy, in the region of Lombardy.

Topography: Franciacorta’s macro-topography benefits from the Alps, which offers protection from Central Europe’s continental influences. Local rolling hills shelter the vineyards. The mineral rich soils are well-drained gravel and stone.

Franciacorta Wine Production Style: The region is known for metodo classico sparkling wine (the traditional method), using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Bianco.

Production Zone: 7000 acres; 85% Chardonnay.

Annual Production: Around 15 million bottles of wine. About 1.5 million bottles come from Ca’ del Bosco and 1 million bottles from Bellavista.

Franciacorta Designations:

  • Franciacorta DOC status was granted for sparkling and still wines in 1967.
  • The area’s metodo classisco sparkling wines were elevated to Franciacorta DOCG designation in 1995.
  • Today the still wines are labeled Curtefranca DOC.
Metodo Classisco Franciacorta
Tasting the 2015 vintage from the tank at Vezzoli.

A Brief History of the Franciacorta Wine Region:

Franciacorta is considered a young region with its commercial origins starting in the 1960s. However, its Italian sparkling wine production dates back to the 16th century. You see, up until the late 1950s the wines were primarily made for personal consumption.

In the beginning, the area made their sparkling Pinot di Franciacorta DOC from Pinot Bianco — Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir were optional. Regulations allowed for natural fermentation in the bottle or in the vat. In 1961, the first metodo classico wine from Franciacorta was released by Guido Berlucchi. These wines created an unprecedented demand and attracted new investors and entrepreneurs to the area.

In the 1970s and 1980s, outsiders bought up land to plant vineyards with visions of fine wine production, seeking to emulate the success of pioneer Guido Berlucchi. The aim was to utilize the more challenging secondary fermentation process of metodo classico.

Many from this group did not have a winemaking background so they enlisted the help of wine experts and specialists to develop their wines. It was at this time that Chardonnay overtook Pinot Bianco as the area’s primary grape. Incoming wine makers and consultants found Chardonnay to be more harmonious with the terroir of Franciacorta. Slowly, the once popular Pinot Bianco lost favor; today it is used sparingly.

In 1993 new production regulations were established making metodo classico the only recognized sparkling wine making method in the region.

Barone Pizzini Vineyards
Originally Pinot Bianco was the grape of choice in Franciacorta, but as the region became more popular and was further explored by wine experts, Chardonnay took over. Today, 85% of the grapes in the area are Chardonnay.

Franciacorta and Metodo Classico

The Franciacorta wine region models itself after Champagne. The name literally translates to ‘short France’; this is just the literal translation as a few theories exist as to the true origin.

As noted, this brand of Italian sparkling wine is only done in metodo classico – the traditional method for sparkling wine production.

Metodo Classico Explained: 

Wine undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle to produce bubbles. This method tends to be more labor- and resource-intensive due to more involved storage and man-power needs. 

The better known Italian sparkling wine of Prosecco is produced in the Charmat method, whereby secondary fermentation happens in bulk tanks. These wines are often sweeter and are best consumed younger. One reason producers started using the Charmat method was to realize sales sooner.

Sparkling Wine Production Methods

sparkling wine methods

Franciacorta’s Sparkling Wine Model 

While the production regulations of Franciacorta continue to evolve, the area prides itself on being at least as strict as their French counterparts.

  • Vine Density: 3,300 vines / hectare.
  • Yield: 65 hl / ha.
  •  Lees aging:
    • Non-vintage: Minimum 18 months.
    • Vintage dated: 30 months.
    • Riserva: 60 months.
    • Sáten: Blanc des blanc wine that has spent at least 24 months on lees.
  • Dosage: A key contrast in Franciacorta to Champagne is with its zero dosage wines (no added sugar after disgorgement). The region does them well with its summer conditions of warm days and cool evenings, supported by Lake Iseo’s moderating influences.

Franciacorta Wine Tasting

The SoloUva Method: All we need is grapes! 

During our last trip, we visited several producers utilizing the SoloUva method – exclusive to the Franciacorta wine region. Disgorgement takes places after secondary fermentation for lees removal. Before the final cork closure is added the wine is topped up, typically with cane sugar. With SoloUva the bottle is replenished with grape must that was frozen and reserved at the time of harvest.

Solo Uva Franciacorta
The SoloUva method was developed by Giuseppe Vezzoli; after disgorgement lost wine is replaced with grape must, frozen after harvest.

Visiting the Franciacorta Wine Region

Where to Stay 

On both of our visits, we stayed in beautiful Lake Iseo. It’s not as touristy as the rest of the Italian Lake District (think Como, Bellagio). Staying here cuts down on your chances of bumping into George Clooney, but let’s face it ladies, he’s taken.

Our first trip we stayed in the charming town of Iseo. I certainly recommend it. Our second trip we stay in the hills of Sale Marasino with an incredible lake view. The prices here were much lower than the town of Iseo and there is a train to get back and forth. Just remember that it stops running early, so plan accordingly.

Sale Marasino Lago d'Iseo
The incredible view from our Airbnb rental in Sale Marasino. A short train ride from the town of Iseo.
Lake Iseo in Iseo
Lake Iseo from the town of Iseo. A popular tourist destination with Italians.

Franciacorta Wineries to Visit

Arcari + Danesi: More than just incredible wines, a fantastic view of the Franciacorta wine region. The winery’s cellar is carved out of the south side of Mount Orfano, a geological landmark overlooking the border of Franciacorta to the south. Tour and tastings by appointment only.

Find it! Arcari + Danesi

Arcari + Danesi
We finished our first day of winery visits with aperitivo at Arcari + Danesi, overlooking the Franciacorta wine region.

Barone PizziniThe first in the Franciacorta wine region to adopt organic farming practices. We were unsure what to expect at the grand facility, as we tend to prefer more modest producers. Shame on us for judging a book by its cover. We walked away with about two cases of wine and now Barone Pizzini is a go-to bottle when we see it on a wine list. The tour was educational and fascinating, going through all the stages of production along a raised route moving from vineyard to cellar. We tasted from the barrel and all through the sparkling offer. Tour and tastings by appointments.

Find it! Barone Pizzini

Barone Pizzini Wine Tour
Barrel tasting at Barone Pizzini – it’s not only sparkling wine in Franciacorta!
Barone Pizzini
A great wine tour at Barone Pizzini with plenty to taste at the end.

BellavistaOne of Franciacorta’s largest producers with nearly 500 acres of vines. We did a tour on our first visit to the area. It’s incredible to see the rows and rows of wine in the midst of second fermentation, all bottles are riddled by hand. While it is hard to find Franciacorta wines outside of Italy, Bellavista is a label to remember. Appointments required for tasting; call to schedule.

Find it! Bellavista

  • Address: Via Bellavista, 5, 25030 Erbusco, Brescia
  • Phone: +39 030 776 2000
Franciacorta Bella Vista
Old barrels at Bellavista – one of Franciacorta’s largest producers.

Bella Vista Italian Sparkling Wine

Derbusco CivesWe fell in love with these wines at our local wine bar in Alba, Voglia di Vino. When we actually got to visit the winery, we were thrilled. Bonus: appointments are not required as they have a walk-in tasting room.

Find it! Derbusco Cives

  • Address: Provinciale, 83 25030 Erbusco, Brescia 
  • Phone. +39 392 9283698
  • Email: shop@derbuscocives.com
  • Hours:
    • Monday: 15:00 to 19:00
    • Tuesday: Closed
    • Wednesday, Thursday: 10:00 to 13:00, 16.00 to 19:00
    • Friday, Saturday, Sunday: 10:00 to 13:00, 16.00 to 21:00 
Italian Sparkling WIne
Second fermentation, in process at Derbusco Cives.

Derbusco Cives

Fratelli BerlucchiStill a family-run facility, the historical cellar oozes charm and romance. The winery itself sits inside ivy-covered walls decorated with 15th-century naif frescos. The cross-vaulted ceilings are from the 12th century. Tour and tastings by appointment.

Find it! Fratelli Berlucci

Franciacorta Satèn
Franciacorta Satèn at Fratelli Berlucchi. Primarily Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc (up to 50%). The soft taste is due to a careful selection of the base wines and low bottle pressure — below 5 atmospheres. Exclusively produced as Brut.

VezzoliThe Vezzoli family has been making wine for generations, but only started producing the area’s famed Italian sparkling wine in 1994. Patriarch and winemaker Giuseppe Vezzoli is credited with developing the innovative SoloUva method. We were lucky enough to tour the facility with him, tasting from tank, then bottle. Tour and tastings by appointment.

Find it! Vezzoli

  • Address: Via Costa Sopra, 22 25030 Erbusco, Brescia
  • Phone: + 39 030 7267579
  • Email: info@vezzolivini.it
Franciacorta wine tour
Grape remnants right after harvest at Vezzoli. We were lucky enough to taste right from the tank during our visit.

Go on, get yourself some Franciacorta!

And, there you have it, a primer on the Franciacorta wine region and tips for a visit.

If you are interested in some Italy wine country travels in Franciacorta, contact us for travel planning support. We’ve got some great friends and contacts in the area to get you visiting and learning all about this incredible wine region.

Cin cin!

More on the Franciacorta Wine Region – Wine and Travel Resources: 

Italian Food Wine Travel Goes to Lombardia!

This post is part of a the Italian Wine Food Travel group. We cover different regions of Italy every week. Join our Twitter chat Saturday, May 7th at 11am EST for more on Lombardia, following the hashtag #ItalianFWT.

Don’t miss next month as we feature our last region of Italy, Liguria.  This will complete our first full tour of Italy.  See you June 4th!

Vino Travels –  Chiavennasca of Lombardia vs. Nebbiolo of Piedmont
The Wining Hour –  Vines and Views of Valtellina Valley
Culinary Adventures of Camilla – Sbrisolana and Cantina Casteggio Barbera
Enofylz Wine Blog– Franciacorta: The World Class Italian Sparkling Wine of Lombardy #ItalianFWT
Food Wine Click – Valtellina: Another Expression of Nebbiolo
Orna O’Reilly – Sirmione: Pearl of Lake Garda
The Palladian Traveler – Spritz Campari: Milan’s Passionate Red Cocktail
Cooking Chat – Grilled Halibut with Parsley Pesto and Wine from Lombardia
L’Occasion –  36 Hours in Lombardy
Vigneto Communications – Lombardia: A Wealth of Wine

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9 Comments

  • Wow, what a nice intro to the region and the sparkling wine. I had never heard of Solo Uva before, hope to taste some in the future. Thanks, Val!

    • Solo Uva is definitely worth a go, Jeff! Such a fascinating innovation.

      We are so lucky because the region is so close to us – and the Piemontese love Franciacorta, so it’s in ample supply in our ‘hood.

      Cin cin! Val

    • There is a lot that goes out around Italy – it’s one of the few wines from another region we get a lot of here in Piemonte. It’s so yummy!

      Next time you are in Italy, you’ll have to do some exploring!

  • Great write-up! I just started down the Franciacorta road and it is fabulous! While being far from an expert, I did want to point one little thing out: most people believe that the name comes from the Latin “Francae Curtes” or “tax free area” due to its history tied to the Benedictine Cluniac monks that inhabited the region, and has nothing to do with France….

    • Thanks, for reading, Jeff! It’s so great that more people outside of Italy are discovering the region. I’ve read a few different theories on the origin of the name, but I didn’t want to get into all that. I was just mentioning it as the literal translation, which is “short France”.

      A presto! Val

    • Thanks for reading, Martin!

      And, what a great question! In general Franciacorta’s tend to be more complex and rich, but these definitely had a bit more depth. I need to spend a bit more time thinking that through and tasting through the wines to make a better assessment. As it happens, some friends doing the SoloUva method are in the area for a tasting event this weekend, so I should be able to explore further on Saturday! And, apparently there are some SoloUva tastings scheduled for June in the States, so once I have details I was going to do another post letting people know about them. Will address your question more there.

      A presto! Val

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