Franciacorta, Italy's Other (and Better) Bubbly

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Franciacorta glass

Do you know the wines of Franciacorta? It's not a winery or the name of a winemaker. It's not even the name of a vineyard.

It's a sparkling wine from Italy in the region of Lombardy.

Usually when you hear the words "sparkling wine" and "Italy" together you immediately think Prosecco. And if you're like me, you turn your nose up. I find most Proseccos to be too sweet and ultimately inferior to Champagnes, a comparison that is inevitable, seeing as how Champagne is to sparkling wine as Kleenex is to facial tissue (speaking of turning one's nose up).

There are some big differences between Proseccos and Champagnes, one being that Proseccos are made only with a grape known as glera. Another is the way the second fermentation -- the one that causes the bubbles -- is achieved. For Champagne, it's a process called méthode champenoise, which has the second fermentation occurring in the same bottle you will pop open for your next celebration.

Franciacorta wines

Prosecco is produced using the Charmat method, also known, especially in Italy, as metodo Martinotti, which has the second fermentation occurring in a large vat, then transferring the sparkling wine to the bottle.

(I've always wondered how they pour the sparkling wine into the bottles without it bubbling all over the place. Must take forever just waiting for the bubbles to settle down and then pouring a little more. But I digress.)

The sparkling wines of Franciacorta are made using the méthode champenoise, or as the Italians prefer to call it, metodo classico.

What's more, you'll find no glera grapes in a Franciacorta wine, just chardonnay, pinot noir (nero) and pinot blanc (bianco), as you'll find in many sparklers from Champagne.

Franciacorta table

I was invited recently to experience the wines of Franciacorta, hosted by Rashmi Primlani, whom many of you know from her website The Primlani Kitchen. She is a brand ambassador for Franciacorta.

Primlani conducted a Franciacorta Master Class and invited food writers and local wine experts for dinner at La Tavola, a pop-up Italian restaurant experience hosted by chef Kevin Fonzo at the Emeril Lagasse Foundation Kitchen House & Culinary Garden in College Park.

Franciacorta Extra Brut

The evening was more of a get-to-know event to introduce Franciacorta to those of us unfamiliar with it. But we did taste wines from nine different producers, so we got to see some of variances that can occur, even in the relatively small region.

I can tell you that there is another comparison to be made to the wines of Champagne: the taste.

There was no cloy in any of the wines we tasted. I especially liked the La Valle Naturalis extra brut (2012), which had a flowery nose and a creamy mouthfeel with the taste of apples.

We also tasted a couple of wines made in the satèn style. The word means silk in Italian, and it's a perfect description of the wines, which are dry but eminently smooth.

Franciacorta kitchen

Franciacorta salad

And all of the Franciacorta wines were perfect accompaniments to Fonzo's menu. We feasted on watermelon and tomato salad; burrata with prosciutto; clams with linguine; whole roasted snapper; porchetta with potatoes; broccoli, Brussels sprouts; and meatballs.

Franciacorta clams

Franciacorta snapperhead

Instead of dessert we were offered a help-yourself cheese board (Gorgonzola and Tallegio were my favorites) paired with the Ferghettina Riserva 33 Pas Dosé (2010), so named because no dosage is added, leaving the wine dryer. It was a wonderful switch-up from the usual sweet wines served during a dessert course.

Franciacorta carve

I enjoyed getting to know the wines of Franciacorta, and also seeing the E.L.F. Kitchen House in action. It's a great space for a culinary event (and rentals help support the education efforts).