Last Thursday members and guests of Women for WineSense gathered for a relaxing evening of bubbly from Franciacorta.

Who? Where? What?

Franciacorta is not only a wine-growing region in Italy (in Lombardy, specifically), but “Franciacorta” also defines the production method as well as the wine. Saluté!

It’s near the Alps, east of Milan.

Enjoying a lovely glass of Ca del Vent Saten, attendees watched Paul Wagner’s presentation on this little known (in America) wine region. Paul, founder and CEO of Balzac Communications, explained that Franciacorta is a region of many “firsts” in Italy’s wine business.

It is the first wine produced in traditional method to obtain Italy’s highest appellation award of DOCG.

He also explained their strict standards for style of non-vintage, vintage and riserva wines. For example, the first wine we sampled was produced in the Saten style (which can be vintage or non-vintage). Other requirements for this style in Franciacorta include use of 100% Chardonnay with a minimum of 24 months on the lees. It can be produced in the Brut flavor profile only with bottle pressure less than 5 atm.

Throughout Paul’s presentation the group nibbled on spectacular charcuterie and cheese platters paired to perfection by Valley Wine Shack proprietor, Windee Smith.

Other Franciacorta bubbly we enjoyed sampling included Contadi Castaldi Rose, 2011 Il Mosnel, Ricci Cubastro Brut and the fabulous Bellavista Cuvee Brut. Each was unique, representing different flavor profiles and production styles.

For comparison, Paul showed us a chart depicting the various yields per hectare, irrigation and maturity period permitted across much of Europe from Cava to Champagne. This was followed by food pairing suggestions for Franciacorta’s bubbly flavor profiles, from the Undose to Demi Sec styles.

Ironically, although Franciacorta has been producing still wines since the 16th century, it has only been in the last fifty years producers have organized to create fabulous sparkling wines as well as establish strict high standards for the region’s products.

To learn more, visit their Franciacorta tourist site or download Balzac Communications’ slide presentation (now in PDF) shown last week.

Guest post by WWS member Susan DeMatei – Susan is the owner of Vinalytic, a consulting firm specializing in Direct Marketing for wineries. She is the winner of a Direct Marketing Association Achievement Award, a Certified Sommelier, a Certified Specialist in Wine and has over 20 year’s experience in Direct Marketing in the luxury digital arena. You can read her blog at vinalytic.com/blog.

An Introduction to Franciacorta Wines

There is no doubt about it, we are a festive nation. In 2011, the Wine Institute reported shipments of sparkling wine and champagne were the highest in the last 25 years, reaching 17.2 million cases, up 13% over 2010. And not just champagne and domestic Sparkling Wine strong sales came from a variety of different producers and regions worldwide. Prosecco and sparkling Moscato were among the winners, and champagnes, other sparkling wines and California methode champenoise wines also experienced gains.


A Quick Primer on Sparkling Wine

Every Country has their Bubbles.  Spain offers Cava, Italy has Prosecco, Germany toasts with Sec, but one of the least known, but most lovely, is Franciacorta.

Paul Wagner, of Balzac Communications & Marketing, recently agreed to speak to Women for WineSense about this little known region.

Also named for the region, Franciacorta is the sparkling wine made from that territory in the Lombardy area of Italy.  It was awarded DOC status in 1967, the designation then also including red and white still wines. Since 1995 the DOCG classification has applied exclusively to the sparkling wines of the area.


History

In 1961, an ambitious young winemaker names Franco Zilian who was working for the established producer of still wines, Guido Berlucchi, produced 3,000 bottles of a sparkling wine under the name Pinot di Franciacorta. Instant interest allowed the following vintage production to be increased to 20,000 bottles, and eventually the annual production to 100,000 bottles.  By the time the region was granted DOC status in 1967 there were 11 producers of sparkling Franciacorta, although Berlucchi represented more than 80% of the production.  As of 2006, sales of Franciacorta were approximately 6.7 million bottles.

Franciacorta became the first DOC to specify that its sparkling wines must be made by the same methods in the champagne region in France.  In 1990, the Consorzio per la tutela del Franciacorta was formed, instigating codes of self-regulation with a gradual reduction of yields and elimination of the use of Pinot grigio in the blend. The advent of DOCG status declared vineyards extend only 2,200 hectars (5,400 acres) and the blend permitted is 85% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Blanc.   This governing body considered responsible for the efficient elevation of sparkling Franciacorta to DOCG status in 1995. Since August 1, 2003, Franciacorta has been the only Italian wine not obliged to declare its DOCG appellation on the label, in the same manner that a Champagne is permitted to exclude from labels its AOC.

Other than the blend, the production process, aging, styles, sweetness variations and wines are similar to champagne.


So, why aren’t Americans toasting with the same wine they do a Milan Fashion Week?  Paul Wagner has the answer; “They drink it all in Italy!”

Paul explains that the Italians love their dolce vita and premium wine so much that very little gets exported.  In fact, so little is available for trial, Paul’s company, Balzac Communications & Marketing, has been hired to introduce “those in the know” to the unknown wine. Thus, he’s scheduled reviews with Sommeliers, Masters of Wines, Educators and enthusiast groups like Women for WineSense to “educate the educators.”

“Our first phase is designed to introduce those palates that will appreciate the wine of Franciacorta, because only with this educated demand will the Italians be persuaded to give up such a treasure.”

So, what to do if you miss Paul’s presentation and tasting?  Try a high-end restaurant, is his best advice.  He says on-premise is more likely to carry Franciacorta than retail.

And, don’t forget that every day is a chance to celebrate.

Salute!

Women for WineSense will be hosting Be Inspired by Franciacorta Italian Wines at The Valley Wine Shack in Sonoma on August 23rd, 6-8 p.m. Paul Wagner, owner and founder of Balzac Communications & Marketing, will be presenting the Franciacorta bubbly for tasting and speaking to attendees. For more information or reservations, visit our ticket site at: http://wws-franciacorta.eventbrite.com.