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What to Know About Franciacorta, Italy's Underrated Wine Region

Italy Wine
by Eryn Gordon Oct 27, 2023

The ever-changing climate of northern Italy can be inexplicable at times, with increasingly hot and humid summers — but the region has plenty of places to go for a respite from the heat in July. With endless mountain peaks and alpine lakes, it’s not too difficult to go from warm and sunny to breezy sweater weather in a short drive.

And like the region’s weather predictions, so too is Franciacorta wine full of juxtapositions in flavor. It’s a wine that has a soft and mild flavor, with complex undertones and aromatics born from the very climate it comes from.

Franciacorta is a specific style of sparkling wine from the wine region of the same name near Milan, Italy. The region spans slightly more than 5,400 acres along the southern coast of Lake Iseo, and within its borders are 116 wineries that produce sparkling wine.

lake iseo - northern italy wine region

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What is Franciacorta wine?

Franciacorta is a wine region in Italy, but it’s also the name of the wine from this area. The wine produced from this area is carbonated in a specific way, though there are multiple variations. For example, while the standard brut is dry with sharp, fizzy bubbles, the satèn variety of Franciacorta wine (satin, in English) is smooth and delicate. You could try two styles of Franciacorta wine and find them completely different from each other.

In order to classify as a producer of true Franciacorta wine, vintners in the area have to follow a strict set of rules passed down by earlier generations of wine brewers in the area. These rules specifically dictate the quality of grapes used, the combination of different grape varieties, where the grapes are grown, and more. Ferghettina, a popular winery in Franciacorta, estimated that it uses only about 65 percent of their annual harvest due to the strict selection process.

The last differentiation of Franciacorta wines are the strict rules for fermentation. A standard bottle of Franciacorta wine has to ferment for a minimum of 18 months, though some varietals, like a riserva (reserve) wine, may ferment for up to 60 months. This final production phase is key to the classic method.

How it’s made

pinot gris grapes franciacorta italy

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Franciacorta is traditionally a celebratory drink, much like champagne in the US. But while it’s made for merriment, the production process is no joke. It requires extraordinary effort and patience. Wineries in this region adhere to a strict set of rules known as the metodo classico (classic method), using production standards and techniques that go back decades, to the creation of franciacorta in the 1960s.

Grapes are handpicked and selected based on their quality and ripeness, then vintners slow-press the juice using a large grinder. The extracted juice is then placed in a stainless-steel tank, where it can begin its first round of fermentation. At this stage, the wine becomes something called cuvèe, a still wine blended from several grape varieties.

Essential to the Franciacorta is a second fermentation that takes place inside the bottle. Vintners add yeast to the wine and rotate the bottles on a daily basis, creating maximum interaction between the yeast and wine to maximize the reaction. The result is sparkling bubbles that can either be smooth or sharp, depending on how long the bottle was left to ferment.

The Difference Between Champagne and Franciacorta

Franciacorta varities in a glass in italy

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Franciacorta and Champagne are one and the same when it comes to the double fermentation and the combination of grapes used (usually chardonnay and pinot noir). Still, there are significant differences between them.

According to the vintners of Franciacorta (who you may also consider chemists in their own right), this relatively small wine region is significantly different from any other sparkling wine region on the planet.

Franciacorta is mostly subalpine, situated between the Mediterranean climate associated with Italy, and Switzerland’s snow-capped mountain peaks. The valley that holds Lake Iseo has its own microclimate, creating cooler temperatures better suited to growing grapes without the threat of the high temperatures that can spoil a harvest. These natural conditions are ideal for ripening grapes slowly, creating full-bodied and tart fruit with a higher alcohol content.

Franciacorta vineyards to visit

historic winery in italy

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All major vineyards in Franciacorta are connected by picturesque country roads, and it’s easy to drive the entire region in a day. You can do it on your own, or travel companies can handle the logistical details and driving so you can fully enjoy the wine tastings. You can take day tours that include transportation from Milan (such as this tour that pairs Franciacorta tastings with time to wander through the cute town of Brescia), or book shorter experiences based in the region, like this wine pairing dinner at a Franciacorta vineyard.

Most tours from Milan or other further-away towns will be with guides who can share information and stories while driving about the region’s history, how to make Franciacorta, and some of the best-kept secrets in the area. Your hotel will likely also be able to recommend either a good tour, or a few wineries that are easy to visit on your own. Here’s a map of most of the vineyards open to the public in the region.

1. Antica Fratta

If you’re looking for a winery that holds true to the classic method for Franciacorta, Antica Fratta should be your first stop. Its story began in 1979, when the current owner’s father, Franco, bought the historic farmhouse. Before then, the villa was used as a monastery, and later, the personal residence of one of the areas richest wine merchants.

With a massive crystal chandelier and vintage decor, the tasting room looks like a throwback to the elegant social spaces of yesteryear, with downright palatial vibes. Expect velvet couches, floor-to-ceiling artwork, and a piano just waiting for someone to tickle the ivories. You can also tour the wine caves, which includes tastings.

2. Locanda al Dossello


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Locanda al Dossello (al Dossello for short) seems to do it all, serving as a hotel, private venue, and picturesque lunch locale. As you’d expect, it sits on a rolling hill covered in vines. The on-site restaurant, Dossello, serves seasonal, local ingredients inspired by the elements: fire, earth, air, and water. The risotto is a popular crowd favorite, served with shrimp ceviche in the summer and chestnuts in the fall.

Al Dossello offers a wide selection of Franciacorta wine, making it a great place to taste samples from other wineries you might not see on your trip.

3. Ferghettina

Ferghettina is by far the most popular vineyard in Franciacorta, and a visit to the facility will show you why. This family-run vineyard sits in an area known for porous soil, producing a subtly salty taste in the wine. You might also notice another peculiarity: the wine bottles are square.

Matteo, the son of the owner, patented the idea for a four-sided bottle, and it’s not just to have a unique marketing angle. The flat surface more than doubles the area for the yeast to contact the wine, resulting in a more aromatic brew.

Ferghettina is most known for its Satèn variety, a soft taste with mild bubbles. Visitors liken this bottle of Franciacorta to drinking liquid silk. Try it paired with sushi, rice, or, after waiting the 36 months it takes to ferment, all on its own.

Tips for visiting the Franciacorta region

franciacorta wine region in northern italy

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If you love sparkling wine, any time of year can make an excellent time to visit Franciacorta. However, if you want to maximize your experience, the best time to visit is mid-August to the end of September.

The typical harvesting period takes place during early fall, so you can see all stages of the process, starting with picking the grapes. If you prefer to enjoy Franciacorta at its freshest, arrive after March. Since the grapes are picked in August and left to ferment for the 18 month period, the first batches reach maturity the following spring.

If you visit in September, you can attend the Cantina Festival. In 2023, 170 events took place over the two-day period, ranging from adventurous horseback riding tours to luxurious wine-pairing galas. Plus, each participating winery creates a unique experience surrounding the pleasures of sparkling wine. You can expect live music, food samples, and cellar tours, though it’s perfectly acceptable to just come for the wine.

The closest airport to the Franciacorta region is Milan Bergamo. You can fly there from many Italian cities and other destinations in Europe, though there aren’t any direct flights from the US. However, it’s only about a one-hour flight from Rome. Fly into this airport if you’re renting a car as it’s closest to the Franciacorta wineries. However, it actually takes longer on the train to get to Iseo (where most of the hotels are) from Bergamo, thanks to the way the train stations are laid out. You can also take the train from Rome if you have more time.

So if you’re planning to stick to public transportation, fly into Milan’s Malpensa International Airport, which has directs from New York City. From Milan’s Centrale Railway Station, it’s about 90 minutes to Iseo, including one train transfer in Brescia. Getting from Malpensa Airport (the Trenord Malpensa Aeroporto T1 Trenord station) to the Central Railway Station takes about an hour and usually costs about 13 Euro for first class. Getting to Iseo is another 10 Euro.

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