Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Up and Coming Premium Sparklers of Franciacorta (#EWBC), Italy

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Franciacorta Producers Maurizio Zanella, founder of the renowned Ca' del Bosco and current President of the Franciacorta Consortium, and il Mosnel's co-owner Lucia Barzano.

The 2011 European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC) took place in October 2011 in Brescia, Italy. Just northwest of Brescia, in the heart of Lombardy, lies the greatest sparkling wine zone of Italy and one of the best in the world – Franciacorta. There, Italy's most prestige methode traditionelle sparkling wine is produced, though this is very little known outside of the country.

Pictures: Brescia

EWBC participants had various options for getting acquainted with Franciacorta. First, there was an introductory presentation by Franciacorta producer Riccardo Ricci Curbastro and Maurizio Zanella in Brescia. This was followed by a walk around tasting of Franciacorta producers. On the same day in the evening, we split up and went to 4 different Franciacorta producers for a wine cellar tour and dinner cum tasting. Finally, the Sunday day trips included a shorter and several longer trips to Franciacorta wine producers.

The Noble Sparklers of Franciacorta – Riccardo Ricci Curbastro Presenting

Riccardo Ricci Curbastro from Ricci Curbastro provided us with a very useful introduction to the world of Franciacorta.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Riccardo Ricci Curbastro from Ricci Curbastro

Grape Varieties and Dosage

Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc are the 3 grape varieties of Franciacorta. Chardonnay is the most important one, accounting for 85% in terms of plantings. Pinot Noir (10%) and Pinot Blanc (5%) follow with a sizable distance. The designations for dosage are exactly as those of Champagne: Pas dosé, or Dosage zéro, Pas opéré, or nature: maximum 2 g/l of residual sugar; Extra brut: 6 g/l; Brut: 15 g/l; Extra dry: 12–20 g/l; Sec: 17–35 g/l; Demi-sec: 33–50 g/l.

A Short History

Unlike the Champagne region, which can look back to several centuries of fame, Franciacorta’s history is very short. It started only 50 years ago, when Franco Ziliani produced a couple of thousand bottles of a sparkling wine for the Guido Berlucchi winery, which sold very well. It sold so well, that over night, the region of Franciacorta was born and the well-equipped and architecturally varied wineries we know today sprang up within a short period of time to establish the region. Franco Ziliani and Guido Berlucchi are considered to be the fathers of Franciacorta. The name Franciacorta comes from the latin Franchae Curtes, or Monastery-controlled courts that were, thanks to the power of the Church, exempt from the taxes of nearby Brescia.

Types of Franciacorta Sparklers

There are 5 main types of Franciacorta sparklers:

Franciacorta – Chardonnay and/or Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco up to 50% of the blend. Even this regular non-vintage wines need to be aged on lees for 18 months, and then in bottle for further 7 months. Can come at different dosage levels.

Franciacorta Satén – Must be a Blanc de blancs with only the use of Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco permitted. Possibly the most approachable and unique style in Franciacorta, with lower (4.5 atmospheres of pressure instead of 6) pressure and therefore creamier feeling of bubbles. Must be aged 24 months (almost half as much again as Champagne's requirement). Always brut. Saten is a Chardonnay-dominated, creamy, soft-textured wine with fine mousse and restrained perlage.

Franciacorta Rose – Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero (at least 25%). Can come at different dosage levels. A Franciacorta Rose must contain at least 15% Pinot Nero.

Franciacorta Millesimato (Vintage) – At least 85% of the grapes must come from the same vintage. Aging period increases to 35 months. Can come at different dosage levels.

Franciacorta Riserva – This is a Millesimato, although it may also be a Saten or Rose. Needs to be aged on lees for 60 months, and then in bottle for further 7 months. Can come at all dosage levels.

Standards are High in Franciacorta

The Franciacorta regulations are stricter than those of Champagne, for example, in a number of areas. The lees aging is one of them. The average non-vintage Champagne is required to spend 15 months on the lees; in Franciacorta, 18 months is the minimum and 36 to 48 months is quite common. Also in terms of yields, Franciacorta producers are facing lower yield limits than their colleagues in the Champagne region.


There are about 200 producers in Franciacorta, with a total output of 13 million bottles. The total vineyard area of Franciacorta is 3000 hectares. As opposed to Champagne, there are no big Estates in Franciacorta which buy grapes from other producers. Franciacorta producers own vineyard land and grow the grapes they need for their sparkles themselves. Production of a Franciacorta producer rarely exceeds 400,000 bottles. One exception is Guido Berluccio, the largest producer, accounting for 1.5 million bottles of Franciacorta (in addition, Guido Berluccio produces 2.5 million other sparkling wine). 85% of Franciacorta is sold in the country.

Franciacorta and the Still Wines of Terre di Franciacorta

Franciacorta is not sparklers only. In the same area, still wines are also produced, both white and red, under the appellation Terre di Franciacorta (or Curtefranca). The red Terre di Franciacorta is produced with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Nebbiolo and Barbera grapes.

Meeting Maurizio Zanella

Among the many figures who have contributed to the recent success of Franciacorta's bubblies is Maurizio Zanella, founder of the renowned Ca' del Bosco and current President of the Franciacorta Consortium. I was happy to meet him at the Conference and have a chat with him.

Picture: Maurizio Zanella, founder of the renowned Ca' del Bosco and current President of the Franciacorta Consortium

In 1980, Maurizio Zanella, after having studied at the Station Œnologique de Bourgogne and at the University of Enology in Bordeaux, decided to start his own production of sparklers and soon after Ca' del Bosco's Franciacorta became an important reference point for the whole area.

Walk-around Tasting

37 Franciacorta producers exhibited at the EWBC tasting. Each table was staffed with two or three immaculately uniformed pourers. At some tables, the owners and/or winemakers were also present. Most of the producers were showcasing a brut and the Saten style, specific to the region.

Pictures: Franciacorta walk-around tasting

What was confirmed to me during the walk-around tasting was (1) that the Franciacorta producers have high ambitions and (2) that their sparklers do have what it takes to become one of the world’s leading sparkling wine regions, both in terms of their quality and the way these wines are presented.

Dinners in the Evening

In the evening, we split up and went to 4 different Franciacorta wineries by bus. There, we toured the winery and had a sit-down dinner. At each of the 8 or so tables, one wine producer was present and while we all had the same food, we would have the wines of the wine producer at the table. The dinners did not end before midnight; some of us came back only at 2:00 in the morning.

Il Mosnel

I was put on the bus to il Mosnel. In the heart of Franciacorta, in Camignone, lies the historic villa of il Mosnel with its 16th-century wine cellars and surrounding properties. In 1976 the name of the winery was changed from Azienda Agricola Barzanò Barboglio to the current il Mosnel a local dialect word, of Celtic origin, that means "heap of stones."

Pictures: il Mosnel's Giulio Barzanò (Production and Sales) and Lucia Barzanò (Marketing)

We first toured the winery with il Mosnel owner Lucia Barzano. Il Mosnel cultivates 40 hectares of vineyards, all situated around the winery “to ensure that the grapes arrive quickly in the cellar and go immediately to the presses” said Lucia. The vineyard land is mainly Franciacorta DOCG, with Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir, but also 2 hectares of Terre di Franciacorta DOC with Cabernet (Franc and Sauvignon) and Merlot.

In the cellar, Lucia explained that in 1968, il Mosnel was one of the first to produce DOC Franciacorta sparklers. Il Mosnel was also among the very first producers in the area to adopt stainless steel tanks, refrigeration facilities, and pneumatic presses.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller and Lucia Barzano

For dinner, I chose the table of Lucia Barzano. Directing il Mosnel today is the fifth generation of winegrowers, the children of Emanuela Barboglio. Giulio Barzanò oversees production and sales, while Lucia Barzanò directs marketing, external relations, and administration.

Chef Stefan Cerveni

At il Mesnil, we were all treated to the superb food of 1 star Michelin Chef Stefano Cerveni from due colombe.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller and Chef Stefan Cerveni

Franciacorta Producer Consortium's Giovanni Salvioni

I had the pleasure of sitting next to the General Manager of the Franciacorta Producer Consortium, Giovanni Salvioni. Neither the DOCG status nor the 2011 European Wine Bloggers Conference could have happened without the hard work and existence of the ‘Consorzio per la tutela del Franciacorta‘ – the Franciacorta Producer Consortium. Founded in 1980, the Consortium now has a total of 191 members belonging to the three professional categories of growers, winemakers and bottlers. In 1967, the original DOC for the region was established, eventually justifying the elevation to DOCG in 1995 – the first sparkling wine to achieve this in Italy.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with General Manager of the Franciacorta Producer Consortium, Giovanni Salvioni.

Various Tours to Franciacorta on Sunday

There were various tours to the Franciacorta zone on Sunday, which I missed (as I went to the Soave region).

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1 comment:

  1. Hi Christian,

    thank you very much for your report on EWBC.

    I hope you had the chance to smell just an hit of our wines and land

    so you will come back shortly.....


    Giuseppe Salvioni

    Amministratore Delegato