With sales of Prosecco growing at their slowest rate in years, we think it’s time to put another Italian wine region on your radar. Allow us to introduce – Franciacorta.
Located about an hour’s drive north from Milan in the Lombardy region, Franciacorta is the name of both the area, and the wine they’re slowly starting to become famous for.
It’s a relatively new kid on the block, with the first bottle only created back in 1961 with a rather romantic group of just 11 producers. Although lazy comparisons to their sparkling sister prosecco are hard to avoid, it actually has far more in common with Champagne – which is made in exactly the same way, with the second fermentation taking place in the bottle (as opposed to a stainless steel tank with prosecco).
Of course Franciacorta varies from producer to producer, grape to grape but as a guide, you can expect a biscuity, aromatic complexity, more in-line with the French fizz. However, like Prosecco, Franciacorta has been awarded DOC (Controlled Designation of Origin) so you should always check for this on the bottle to ensure you’re getting the real deal. But enough with the comparisons, Franciacorta is its own master, and one that deserves an open-minded try.
For now locals are guzzling the majority of production (with Japan taking the lead in exports) but we’re sure it’s only a matter of time before the UK realises what they’re missing and gets in on the action. Here’s where you can get your hands on a bottle in the UK:
Three of the Best
Bellavista Alma NV: £37.50, Harvey Nichols
Monte Rossa Wines “Flamingo” Brut Rosé: £28.32, Tannico
Berlucchi Brut 25 Blanc de Blancs NV: £24.50, Harvey Nichols
A guide to Franciacorta, the new wine region you need to know about
We based ourselves in the picturesque Araba Fenice Hotel, perched directly on the edge of Lake Iseo. Whilst the rooms were more functional than luxurious, the location more than made up for that. Uninterrupted views of the lake are a huge draw and from here we were perfectly placed to explore the region. Start your morning with a quick dip in the lakeside pool and take your morning espresso with envy-inducing views a plenty.
Our first stop was the Franciacorta Summer Festival, Lombardy’s answer to our Taste festival, it takes place each year throughout the month of June. Set in the magnificent 18th-century Villa Fassati Barba in Passirano, local restaurants and chefs descend, cooking up their signature dishes for hungry punters – live music and the clinking of glasses our soundtrack. Tickets are a bargain including food and plenty of Franciacorta – we worked our way through tasters of risotto, pizza, cheese and charcuterie. You’re given a pouch for your flute, which makes the whole thing hands free (easier to get your greedy paws on more food!)
Suitably inspired, the next day we were in the kitchen ourselves, learning the ropes at one of Franciacorta’s finest cookery schools – Villa Calini. As we made our way up the gravel driveway we could picture the stylish weddings that take place here, photo opportunities surrounding us with beautifully kept gardens complementing the grand Italian architecture. Day-dreaming aside, we were each given a station, an apron and our orders. Rabbit ravioli was our dish of the day and I’m pretty sure we made enough for the whole of Franciacorta. We were also shown how to make THE perfect tomato risotto (TIP: a whole heap of butter, parmesan and surprisingly, no wine!) and then we got to eat the lot. Course after course arrived, showcasing just how blimming delicious this region is – if gastronomic tourism is what gets you on a plane – this is the place to come.
The foodie odyssey continued – this time at high-speed. Feeling a little like James Bond, we ditched the pinny and stepped aboard the boat which was to take us to dinner. To whet the appetite we were given a proper tour of the beautiful Lake Iseo we’d been admiring from our hotel window. It’s punctuated with mini-islands, home to creative multi-millionaires who presumably like their privacy (and don’t care for wifi).
We barely saw another soul, which is frankly ridiculous if you think how overrun with crowds Positano on the Amalfi coast can be. No less beautiful, the steep sides of Mount Isola (the main island at the centre of the lake) is peppered with pink, orange and yellow homes, boats moored up outside. The restaurant we were visiting, La Foresta, is only accessible by boat, which makes it all the more charming – nab a window seat to catch the last of the setting sun. The menu showcases local ingredients, focusing on fish caught from the lake, cooked simply and served a number of rustic ways.
However, there’s one restaurant we’d recommend above all others – L’Albereta. Part of the luxury Relais & Chateaux group, this glamourous ivy-covered spot has got to be one of the most atmospheric restaurants we’ve had the pleasure of visiting. We descended upon the hotel’s terrace, after visiting the nearby Bellavista vineyard. The views could not be more picture perfect – views go on forever, across green gardens, wildflowers, with only the odd butterfly getting in your way.
A light lunch transpired to be plates of charcuterie followed by a comforting bowl of trofie (a thin, short, twisted pasta, typical to the North of Italy) in a ripe aubergine and tomato sauce. It was the sort of meal you wish could go on forever but alas, our trip had come to an end and we had a flight to catch.
If, like us, eating and drinking are the only real activities you’re interested in, a visit to Franciacorta is a must this summer. The tourism boards’ tag line is – ‘A blend of passions’ and it certainly feels that way to us.
Find out more about the region here: http://www.franciacorta.net/en/