FRANCIACORTA - Wines and Territory

Lombardia is a landlocked region surrounded by mountains. Lakes Garda, Iseo and Como temper the climate. Besides being Italy’s largest and most populated region, it is most famous for its leading city, Milan, a sleek urban center that is one of the world’s fashion capitals. Although very little wine is made here, Lombardia makes one of the finest sparkling wines in Italy. It is called Franciacorta.

Franciacorta wines are made using the méthode champenoise style. That is to say, they are made in the same way Champagne is made; by allowing the secondary fermentation to take place in the bottle. And like Champagne, the wines of Franciacorta are made from the international varieties of Pinot Noir (known as Pinot Nero in Italy), Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc (know as Pinot Bianco). Although these grapes are certainly not native to the area, they have been there at least since Napoleonic times and probably before. We know they have been there at least since Phylloxera destroyed the vineyards in Franciacorta the end of the 19th century. At that time, the vines were replanted with today’s varietals.

In another similarity to Champagne, the producers often use French descriptors like Rosé to describe the wines instead of the commensurate Italian word like Rosato. When labeling the wines for their level of residual sugar (which tells the consumer how sweet the wines will be), the same designations used in Champagne are used. From driest to sweetest they are: Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec and Demi–Sec. Not much Franciacorta is produced, which is one of the reasons why it tends to be more expensive than other wines.

Let's see some technical info regarding these wines:


BlendChardonnay / Pinot Noir, with the use of Pinot Blanc permitted up to a maximum of 50%.

Characteristics: Secondary fermentation in the bottle with at least 18 months of ageing on the lees; processing and maturation continue for at least 25 months after the harvest. Bottle pressure between 5 and 6 atmospheres.

Tasting notes: Straw yellow with golden tints, fine and persistent effervescence, characteristic bouquet of fermentation in the bottle, hints of bread crust and yeast enriched with delicate notes of citrus and nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, dried figs). Savoury, fresh, fine and harmonious.

Dosages: Pas Dosé, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec or Dry, Demi-Sec.


Franciacorta Satèn 

Blend: Chardonnay (prevalent) and Pinot Blanc up to a maximum of 50%.

Characteristics: The softness of the taste is the result of a careful selection of the base wines and low bottle pressure of below 5 atmospheres. Produced exclusively as a Brut type.

Tasting notes: Fine and persistent, almost creamy effervescence. Pale yellow colour that can also be deep, with greenish tones. Nuanced but distinct fragrance of ripe fruit accompanied by delicate notes of white flowers, dried fruit and toasted but (almond and hazelnut). Its pleasant flavour and freshness harmonise with an innate softness that recalls the delicate sensation of silk.

Dosages: Brut.  

Franciacorta Rosé

Blend: Pinot Noir (minimum 25%), Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc (maximum 50%).

Characteristics: The Pinot Noir grapes ferment in contact with the skins for long enough to give the wine the desired colouring. It is produced with Pinot Noir base wine, vinified in rosé that can either be pure (100%) or from a blend of Chardonnay and/or Pinot Blanc base wines.

Tasting notes: The presence of Pinot Noir gives this Franciacorta a particular body and vigour, in addition to the typical aromas of the grape.

Dosages: Pas Dosé, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec or Dry, Demi-Sec.

Franciacorta, Franciacorta Satèn and Franciacorta Rosé can acquire more personality, complexity and sophistication with longer maturation and ageing periods, as is the case for Franciacorta Millesimato and Franciacorta Riserva. 

Franciacorta Millesimato

Characteristics: The word “millesimo” (vintage) indicates that all the wine comes from a single year (minimum 85%). The Millesimato is produced when the year’s production is of particularly high quality and is enhanced by a longer period of fining than that used for the non-vintage Franciacorta. It can only be sold at least 37 months after the harvest.

Tasting notes: Vintage Franciacortas have sensory and taste characteristics that clearly reflect the climatic conditions of the year and the quality of the grapes from that particular vintage.

Dosages: Pas Dosé, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, except for Satèn Riserva, which is made only as Brut wine.

Franciacorta Riserva

Characteristics: Franciacorta Riserva is made from particularly excellent Vintage wines, and in order for them to fully unlock the potential of their fragrances and tastes they must remain on the lees for many years. The Regulations demand at least five years, so the Franciacorta Riserva is only released on the market at least 67 months (five and a half years) after the harvest.

Tasting notes: Complex and developed notes resulting from its extended ageing in the bottle.

Dosages: Pas Dosé, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, except for Satèn Riserva, which is made only as Brut wine.


Dosages Explained

The different types of Franciacorta are characterised by the different doses of liquor added after disgorgement, which gives them their own original and distinctive personalities:

  • Pas dosé (‘Non-dosed’, with sugar up to 3 g/l from the natural residue in the wine) - the driest in the Franciacorta range;
  • Extra Brut (sugar up to 6 g/l) - very dry;
  • Brut (sugar less than 12 g/l) - dry but a little softer than Extra Brut, it’s certainly the most versatile type of Franciacorta;
  • Extra Dry (sugar 12-17 g/l) - soft, with a slightly higher dosage than the classic Brut, making it a suitable pairing for a wide variety of foods;
  • Sec or Dry (sugar 17-32 g/l) - less dry and slightly sweet;
  • Demi-Sec (sugar 33-50 g/l) – has a sweetish flavor due to the relatively high dose of sugar, meaning it goes well with desserts.

 An amazing example of Franciacorta wine: "M♥n Satén" by Villa Franciacorta.

Follow this link to discover more about  Italian appellations and wine terms.

History of the Franciacorta Region

The cultivation of vines has ancient origins on the hills of Franciacorta, as evidenced by the findings of prehistoric grape seed and the writings of classical authors such as Pliny, Columella and Virgil. Rich archaeological material dating from prehistoric times, such as the remains of stilt house foundations found in the bogs of Sebino, reveal how primitive populations settled here and gradually took over from the Cenomani Gauls, the Romans and the Lombards.

Vine cultivation has been a constant in Franciacorta, where grapes were grown from Roman times to late antiquity and the Middle Ages, thanks to its favourable climatic and soil conditions. Though it experience good and bad periods alike, viticulture in these lands never stopped.

The monastic courts
The history of Franciacorta is strongly tied the presence of large monastic institutions. Even before the year 1000, they had large estates and carried out large-scale work, clearing, reclaiming and cultivating the land. One of the most active was the female monastery of San Salvatore (later called Santa Giulia of Brescia), which was founded in 753 by the Lombard king Desiderius and his wife Ansa. Its properties are documented in the Franciacorta Altarpiece of Santa Giulia, an ancient codex from the second half of the ninth century. Numerous other monastic courts were active during the same period, including those of Clusane (a Cluniac priory), Colombaro (Cell of Santa Maria), Timoline (court of Santa Giulia), Nigoline (court of Sant’Eufemia), Borgonato (court of Santa Giulia), and Torbiato (court of the monasteries of Verona and San Faustino of Brescia).The first document to mention property located in Franciacorta, which belonged to the monastery of San Salvatore in Brescia, dates from the year 766. It is the diploma by which Adelchi, son of Desiderius, donated all the goods he had inherited from his grandfather Verissimo and his uncles Donnolo and Adelchi to the monastery, including some assets from this area. 

Between Guelphs and Ghibellines; Dante found refuge in Paratico
During the period of the "Signoria", Franciacorta was entirely pro-Guelph, apart from two important centres on its doorstep (Palazzolo and Iseo), which were in the hands of the Ghibellines. The exiled Dante Alighieri found refuge there – at the court of the Lantieri at Paratico and then at Capriolo. These bloody years were full of strife and intrigue, and ended the Signoria of Pandolfo Malatesta. After that, an extended period of stability meant that farming resumed and wine production boomed. The Brescia area’s transition from Visconti rule to Venetian rule once again brought Franciacorta to the fore. It was in Gussago, in fact, that the 1426 conspiracy of Guelph nobles who delivered the city of Brescia to the Venetian Republic was organised. It was in this period that the first high square towers and battlements that still characterise Franciacorta’s landscape were built. Towards the end of the fifteenth century Franciacorta’s territory was divided into three ‘squares’ (a kind of district, each with its own capital): Rovato, Gussago and, in part, Palazzolo. Historians agree that the first appearance of the name “Franzacurta” can be traced back to 1277, where it appears in the municipal statute of Brescia as a reference to the area south of Lake Iseo, between the Oglio and Mella rivers. Franzacurta or Franzia Curta was then an important area for the supply of wine to the city of Brescia, but also to the towns in the Valcamonica and Valtrompia regions, and to the cities of the Po Valley in the south. The current geographical demarcation of Franciacorta dates back to a 1429 act by Francesco Foscari, the Doge of Venice. The oldest extant map is from 1469. It was the work of an anonymous author and is now preserved in the Biblioteca Estense of Modena.

Vespers of Rovato
The struggle between Venice and France brought war to Franciacorta once again: in 1509 a rebellion that took on almost legendary status and came to be rather emphatically called the “Vespers of Franciacorta” saw the population revolt against the French. Rovato was the centre of the revolt. Following Napoleon’s victories in Italy, which included the area of Brescia, the Free Republic was proclaimed and the banners of freedom were raised throughout the land of Franciacorta. Next was the turn of Austrian domination, the struggles of the Italian unification, and annexation to the Kingdom of Italy.


Geology and Climate of the Franciacorta Region

If we were to represent Franciacorta very schematically, we could imagine a large inverted triangle with a vertex in the north that touches the southern shore of Lake Iseo, the eastern side delimited by the mountainous hills of Monticelli Brusati, Ome and Gussago, the western side by the Monte Alto and finally its base outlined by Monte Orfano. Within this conceptual triangle we can quite crisply and clearly see the shape of the moraine amphitheatre formed during the ice age (in the Secondary and Tertiary geological ages) due to the effect of a large glacier which, coming from Val Camonica, divided into two branches immediately after the basin of the lake, with a small one to the east and one much larger and more important to the west.

The beautiful scenery that Lake Iseo has to offer.

The amphitheatre of Lake Iseo, which is substantially of moraine origin, owes its appearance to five main periods in the development of the glacier: 

-The first period is characterised by the great expansion of the glacier with the formation of the first moraine arc, with the exclusion of the massif of Monte Orfano (see photo below), the origin of which is linked to the lifting of the seabed by the tectonic movements of the crust. The remains of this period are constituted by irregular undulations that are not particularly high, such as that of Paderno Franciacorta. Typical lateral moraines, from the oldest to the most recent, can be observed among the reliefs that once tightly closed off the glacial mass;

-The second period was characterised by the glacier remaining in one place, resulting in the formation of a higher and more significant morainic circle. The left side is represented by moraines next to the slopes of Monte Alto, from above Clusane up to Colombaro, and partly by the high hill west of Nigoline. The right side is the most typical and consists of the range of hills that reaches from Fontane to Provezze via Monte Martinello, Monte di Fantecolo and San Giorgio Monterotondo to Bornato. The moraine is a magnificent arc that starts from Adro and develops from Torbiato and Erbusco to Calino. The front and left side of the Iseo amphitheatre constitutes Franciacorta;

-The three subsequent periods were characterised by the glacier’s retreat from the plain of Brescia and the subsequent release of a large amount of moraine material which then, in time, was covered with active soil and gave rise to the rolling hills of Franciacorta.

These are very specific soils that rich in sand and silt and typically poor in clay, often with considerable thickness and high permeability. Abundant stones of different shapes, natures and colours are chaotically scattered in the ground, and for centuries they were used as a material for constructing villas, farmhouses and ‘Broli’, the characteristic stone walls surrounding houses and vineyards. The moraines are arranged in a series of undulating hills that, given their impressive height, could sometimes be considered mountains. One of the basic characteristics of Franciacorta’s moraine-originating soils composed in this way (allochthonous soils) is an enormous wealth of added minerals, which are different to those derived only from the rocks found there (autochthonous soils), and this forms the basis for the area’s high-quality viticulture. Vines are perennial shrubs with average life span of at least 30-40 years from planting, but sometimes also live much longer. In order to develop well and express their potential characteristics to fullest, they need a large amount of material that is also rich in micro- and meso-elements that are not absorbed directly in high amounts but are fundamental as catalysts for particular biosynthesis reactions, like those for flavour precursors, for example.

Franciacorta is situated at the extreme northern edge of the Po Valley and is also part of the pre-Alpine system, south of Lake Iseo, therefore, although it is affected by a continental climate, it also benefits from the proximity to the lake, which has a huge effect on temperatures in both summer and winter. Evidence of this lies in Franciacorta’s typically Mediterranean vegetation, which includes both wild or naturalised plant species, and also those that are easy to cultivate, such as the olive tree. Climatologists categorise this area as a Insubrian meso-climatic region. In summer the typical sultry heat of the Plain is tempered by cool breezes coming across the lake from the Valcamonica. In winter the lake always protects the moraine amphitheatre, from what is now the cold air that comes from Valcamonica. The lake serves as a heat accumulator and the cold air coming from the north is heated a few degrees before coming further south, to Franciacorta. In summer, the presence of the lake and bog helps establish large masses of moisture. Under these conditions, these masses meet the cold winds coming from the alpine valleys, resulting in frequent storms in spring and summer. In the growing period for the vines (April to October) the average rainfall is 500-600 mm, approximately 2/3 of the annual figure.