Summer is the perfect season and reason for drinking sparkling wines, and some of the world’s best come from Franciacorta in Italy.
Franciacorta is a region to the east of Milan in Lombardy, and is made from grapes grown in the boundaries of the territory. Since 1995 the classification has applied exclusively to sparkling wines.
These wines must be made by “metodo classico” – similar to the “méthode champenoise” used to produce champagne in France. In Spain this technique is used to make cava.
Four main methods are used to make sparkling wine. The simplest involves injecting carbon dioxide into the liquid, such as when making soft drinks. But this produces big bubbles that disappear quickly from the glass.
The second is the “metodo Charmat” named after a French vine grower in which the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in bulk tanks, and is bottled under pressure. This method is used for prosecco in Italy and has the benefit of producing smaller and longer-lasting bubbles.
The third method is the traditional method or “méthode champenoise”. More complex wines are produced by secondary fermentation in the bottle. But it is more expensive than the Charmat process because of the extra human handling of the bottles.
The fourth technique is known as the “transfer method”. The blended wine is placed in the bottle for secondary fermentation, which produces extra complexity. But then the wine is transferred from the individual bottles into a larger tank after it has spent the desired amount of time on yeast.
Time on yeast gives sparkling wine more complex falvours and aromas.
Non-vintage Franciacorta may not be released for sale until at least 25 months after harvest, and it must spend 18 months in contact with the yeast in the bottle, compared with 15 months for champagne.
Vintage Franciacorta, known as Millesimato, cannot be sold until at least 37 months after harvest, of which 27 months must be in contact with the yeast. And a Franciacorta rosé must contain at least 15 per cent pinot nero. Franciacorta Satèn must be a blanc de blancs – that is, it can only be made with chardonnay and/or pinot bianco grapes.
The Barone Pizzini vineyard produces some of Italy’s best Franciacorta. They were pioneers of natural farming in the region, and their vineyards have been converted to organic viticulture since 1998. “Organic is the means, but quality is the end,” founding partner Silvano Brescianini said.
The Pizzini family originally had the rampant horse as their family crest, but gave the concept to Enzo Ferrari who adapted it as his famous racing car symbol.
The company’s Saten Franciacorta millesimato is made from 100 per cent chardonnay grapes and spent three years on yeast lees, absorbing flavours. It has lovely acid zing yet tastes creamy, with hints of peach and almonds. It would pair well with any seafood because the lemon tang offered echoes of the ocean in the mouth.
The 2004 Bagnadore Franciacorta reserve millesimato is a 50:50 blend of pinot nero and chardonnay that spent five years on yeast lees. It tastes and smells of freshly baked bread, with flavours of pear, pineapple and lemon. Despite its age it feels fresh and it has an almost explosive mouthfeel from the fine bubbles. It would be ideal with oysters or shellfish.
Another delight was the Franciacorta rose millesimato which spent 30 months on yeast lees. It offered aromas of pomegranate and roses and raspberry jam. It would go well with Peking duck, its acid zing helping the wine cut through the fat in the duck.
Winemaker Silvano Brescianini said grapes for this wine were kept refrigerated for a day before the wine was made to enhance complexity. “Quality grapes produce great wine,” he said.
All Barone Pizzini sparkling wines display an elegance that mean they would be ideal as aperitifs, as well as eminent partners for good food.
* Published under the headline “Quinn teaches masterclass in sparkling wine from Franciacorta” in China Post, 5 July 2012, page 10. Find a link here.