There is something endlessly beguiling about Italy, particularly for anyone who loves food and wine. When it comes to sparkling wine however, people jump straight to Prosecco’s fresh, fruity flavours, overlooking a relative newcomer to the wine scene: Franciacorta.
Well, until recently, that is. Wine-waves were made at the Emmy Awards as Franciacorta, the Italian sparkling wine made in the traditional method like Champagne, became the ceremony’s pour of choice. With the current Champagne shortage, could Franciacorta become our new favourite fizz?
A small collection of picturesque villages an hour’s drive from Milan, Franciacorta’s few wineries are mainly tiny, family-run operations – and they have not made things easy on themselves. No irrigation is allowed, a tough call as at the time of my visit it had not rained for 100 days. No chemicals in the vineyard also means that 95 per cent of the wines end up (uncertified) organic.
Yet in only 60 years – the first bubble popped in 1961 – Franciacorta has achieved the accolades levelled at the finest Champagne houses and export 20 per cent of their limited produce to America, Japan, Germany, Switzerland and the UK.
Determination has been key. After World War II wines were created for family use only because “after the war the wine in Italy was food. Bread was a dream” explains Monica Faletti of iconic winery Ca’ Del Bosco. “Wine was important for energy, but it was not the wine we produce today”.
The sunshine filled slopes surrounding Lake Iseo were perfect for growing grapes and by the 1960s people such as winery founder Maurizio Zanella realised they needed to push for quality to make the region financially viable.
It was part of this drive for quality that made Zanella meet with André Debois of Moët & Chandon and in turn led to Debois’s decision to return with him to become Ca’ del Bosco’s first Chef de Cave. Debois’ influence is clear: he introduced champagne’s traditional method to their wines and the two men worked tirelessly together for the next seven years. With a warmer climate than Champagne, they do not have the same acidity issue and can focus on low or no dosage (the sugar added) wines, exchanging sweet cane sugar for organic grape juice.
Innovation and Art are intertwined at Ca’ Del Bosco, open seven days a week for tours and tastings by reservation. Everywhere you look there is art, from marble sculptures in the grounds, to a pack of blue wolves on the roof greeting visitors as they crest the hill, to the alarming sight of a life-sized rhino suspended from the roof of the winery. Like the owner Zanella himself, everything here is done with flair, humour, and a vital ambition for excellence. Something worth raising a glass to next time you see it on a wine list.