A sparkling history
Today I would like to tell you about the famous wines made in Franciacorta, a small region of Lombardy from which the wine takes its name. Franciacorta is situated just below the Iseo lake and near the city of Brescia. Its sparkling wines are known around the world and are carefully distinguished from spumante. The reputation of Franciacorta is no small feat given that it is a relatively young contender in this ancient industry. Franciacorta got its DOCG quality assurance (the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) in 1967 and initially this included red and white still wines. It is only since 1995 that the DOCG classification has applied to the sparkling wines of the area specifically (the still wines the area produces are called Terre di Franciacorta or Curtefranca in honour of two of the names with which the area was known in past centuries).
So, gaining such renown is a remarkable success and that is down to the rigourous quality standards and passion of the producers in Franciacorta. However, the Franciacorta region has been making wine for centuries and that includes the ancestors of its modern sparkling variety, known as Mordaci wines.
Slightly sparkling wines have been made in region around Franciacorta since around 1200 and there is also reference a few centuries later, in the latter half of 1500, when Agostino Conforti recorded a sparkling wine called Cisiolo in the area. While Mordaci and Cisiolo were distant cousins of the modern bubbly Franciacortas, and do not have a direct conncetion being more indebted to the French method of production, they nevertheless prove that bubbles have a long history in the area.
What’s in a name?
The origins of the name Franciacorta is a contentious issue. The most probable origin is that it comes from franchae curtes, or corte franca, the cities and towns that were under the protection of Benedictine monks and which obtained the exemption of paying taxes.
However, there is also the story that it derives from the name piccola Francia (little France) given by Charlemagne. Or it could be that it derives from the phrase“Francese fuori! Qui Francia sarà corta!” (French get out, here France will be short), shouted by those in revolt against the occupation of Charles of Angiò
One more is that it is derived from a local expression meant to emphasise poorness of the people there: a curt de franc, that is, short of money. Legends and hypotheses aside, historical documents for the Municipal Statute of Brescia reveal that the first mention of the name Franzacurta – or Franzia Curta can be dated back to 1277. At that time the region was already an important area for the production of wines for the city of Brescia.
With regard to the bubbles we know and love today, everything began, everything began a lot more recently. At the end of the 1950s a young wine maker, Franco Ziliani, conducted his first experiments in the famous cellars of Guido Berlucchi. In 1958, after repeated attempts, Ziliani, who is considered the father of Franciacorta found success in getting a sparkling wine by means of the technique of the refermentation in the bottle, as with the French method, but is important to know is that he had not been to France to study it. The techniques were learnt during the lessons he attended at school.
Franciacorta sparkling wines are now all produced according to this classic method of and are the only Italian sparkling wines that use it to belong to the DOCG appellation.
By using a still table wine produced by Guido Berlucchi, Ziliani decided to make use of Pinot Blanc for his sparkling wine and soon after that wine – spumante Pinot della Franciacorta, produced in white and rosé styles – became famous all over Italy. It became so popular infact that it forced Berlucchi to buy grapes outside the Franciacorta area.
In the 1970s the fame of Berlucchi’s spumante convinced other producers of the area to start the production of the wine, including Domenico De Filippo, Barone Pizzini Piomarta, Fratelli Lenza, Lantieri de Paratico, Bersi Serlini, Riccafana and Ca’ Del Bosco. And in 1967 Franciacorta was given its DOCG.
As mentioned, Franciacorta is a region that also makes still wine in both red and white – known as Terre di Franciacorta or Curtefranca. Production of these wines is no less innovative in its guarantee of quality than the sparkling variety. While the makers have favoured the introduction of specific grapes for the production of sparkling wines – Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir – they have also introduced specific grapes for the production of red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Nebbiolo and Barbera. The production of white wines is obtained from Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay grapes.
Today Franciacorta – with its table and sparkling wines – represents an important Italian wine making model, a remarkable success obtained by means of tenacity and reliable quailty of its producers. It is in short a great Italian wine proudly known today the world over.