Franciacorta and the “C-word”

arcari danesi saten franciacortaOne of the great travesties of the Italian wine world is the way that Franciacorta has been incessantly compared to… no, I’m not going to use the C-word here.

Just Google “Italy’s answer to …” in quotes and you’ll find that a great number of the most revered English-language mastheads have published articles with this abhorrent title.

But I don’t blame their editors or contributors for this.

If there is blame to assign, it lies with those historically responsible for marketing Franciacorta in the U.S. and U.K.

Sadly, the powers-that-be have always positioned Franciacorta as a “luxury” brand akin to its more famous counterpart on the other side of the Alps.

The fact of the matter is that Franciacorta is radically different from its transalpine Doppelgänger.

And the main difference is the fact that Franciacorta growers can allow their grapes to ripen fully before harvest (in France, classic-method sparkling wines are made from underripe fruit that has been picked with overly high acidity and relatively low sugar).

Did you know, for example, that Franciacorta producers rarely need to provoke the first fermentation with the addition of cane sugar?

This is because the berries already have enough sugar to enable fermentation.

On the other side of the Alps, the practice is de rigueur.

The richer ripeness of the fruit expresses itself in even the most commercial Franciacorta bottlings, giving the wines greater depth of flavor.

But the thing that strikes me the most about Franciacorta (and we drink a lot of Franciacorta in our home) is its wonderful vinous character. The greatest expressions of Franciacorta, in my experience, share a kinship with my favorite still wines inasmuch as they have a wonderful food-friendly quality about them.

We drink a lot of French sparkling wine as well (made mostly from Pinot Noir). Bollinger Rosé — our all-time favorite — and rare steak, for example, has made for an unforgettable pairing at our dinner table. But the French astringency and more tannic nature often limits the breadth of dishes we’ll pair with the wines.

Great Franciacorta, made mostly from Chardonnay, tends to have a rounder and richer fruit component that makes it pair exceedingly well with a wider variety of savory dishes.

On the night of my birthday, when the B. Mascarello 2008 Barolo turned out to be too tight for pairing with the main dish, the Arcari-Danesi 2009 Satén, 100 percent Chardonnay, with its profound white fruit and gently nutty flavors, was ideal with Tracie P’s fried chicken.

It’s one of the wines that my close friend Giovanni Arcari and his partner have created without the use of any sugar whatsoever: they use frozen grape must, reserved at harvest, for the tirage and dosage of this wine (I wrote about their revolutionary method here).

I count many Frenchpeople as good friends. I play in a French rock band and have performed many times in France. I love Bollinger so much that my writing partners and I wrote a song about it.

But when it comes to talking about and enjoying my favorite expressions of Franciacorta, you’ll never hear me use the C-word.

8 thoughts on “Franciacorta and the “C-word”

  1. What an interesting post! (and thanks Robert for drawing it to my attention). I have a number of comments and questions as I am very interested in Franciacorta though to date I have tasted very little of it. Unfortunately I am going to use the C word!

    1. Do you think it fair to say that promoting Franciacorta as a luxury item like Champagne was probably necessary to obtain higher prices to support the (relatively) new area?

    2. If the grapes for Franciacorta are picked when fully ripe are they significantly lower in acidity than those of Champagne? Is acid ever added?

    3. You obviously love good Pinot Noir-based Champagne, have tried (m)any good examples of Chardonnay-based Champagne? The village of Avize is my current favourite!

    4. I think your comment that Franciacorta is “vinous” is particularly important – too many people forgetting the second word in “sparkling wine”!

  2. thanks for all the comments here.

    Blending vintages is part of the Franciacorta tradition. But in my experience, most of the top growers bottle vintage-dated wines (even when they label the wines as NV).

    I’ve never heard of anyone acidifying Franciacorta. Growers don’t have issues achieved desired balance of acidity and sugar.

    Personally, I do love Chardonnay-based Champagne. The few times I’ve tasted it, the Comtes de Champagne by Taittinger was life-changing… fantastic wine.

    Thanks for being here!

  3. Hi Jeremy! You know the thing I find interesting is that classic method sparkling wine is often overlooked – not just the store shelves (with a few minor exceptions locally) – but even in educational texts. Even my recent WSET 3 text gave Franciacorta (& Trento DOC) not even a mention in the sparkling wine chapter. There was a single sentence in the Italy chapter. I took another course through the ISG a few years ago, and it was also never mentioned and the instructor hadn’t even heard of it. Of course my end of course comments always ask that they shed a light on these wines … because they are fabulous. So while they aren’t Italy’s answer to Champagne, I believe many of them are of great quality and am wondering if when people do “market” them as such if it’s just a way to draw in a layperson that is looking for “something different” or an alternative that isn’t the usually recommended Cava or Prosecco. Great to be able to take a minute and cruise blogs again and congratulations on your beautiful family!

    • Valerie, that’s such a great point. I should do a survey of wine education programs and see what comes up for Franciacorta (or what doesn’t come up!). Thanks for being here and the kind words for our family.

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