If you love bubbles, you no doubt know all about Italy’s famous Prosecco. But if you’re looking for a Champagne alternative, you need to raise a glass of Italy’s lesser-known bubbly, Franciacorta.
Franciacorta is Prosecco’s older, more sophisticated sister. While Prosecco is fruity and easy, Franciacorta is more complex and made in the methode champenoise tradition, rendering a sparkling wine that is similar in structure, aromas, and tastes to Champagne.
History of Franciacorta
People are often surprised to learn that the Franciacorta region in Lombardy, about an hour east of Milan, has made wine since the 13th century and sparkling wine since the 15th century.
Located near Lake Iseo and buffeted by the Val Camonica, one of the largest valleys in the central Alps, Franciacorta enjoys an enviable location with a Mediterranean-like climate and mountain breezes ideal for growing grapes. Add diverse clay, flint, gravel, sand, and limestone soil that breathes the terroir of Franciacorta into each bottle.
The modern history of Franciacorta as a premiere sparkling wine region started when oenologist Franco Ziliani produced the first-ever bottle of Franciacorta in 1961. Today, visitors can see it on display in the cellars of the Guido Berlucchi winery.
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In 1967, Franciacorta was awarded DOC status for all its wines, and since 1995, its sparkling wines have been granted DOCG, the highest quality classification. It was the first Italian sparkling wine to achieve this coveted level. Today, over 120 wineries are crafting wine in Franciacorta.
Franciacorta has made bubbly since the 15th century. Photo courtesy of Ferghettina Winery
Franciacorta’s Largest Wine Producer
On my recent trip to Franciacorta, I wanted to see two different sides of the area, from a large production winery to a smaller, family-run operation.
I started in the small town of Erbusco, home to one of the area’s largest wineries, Ca’ del Bosco. The pioneering winery started by Maurizio Zanella in 1968 began on a two-acre plot of land originally acquired by his mother in 1964. Today, the winery has over 694 acres of vineyards and a production of nearly two million bottles. What’s even more impressive is that it is likely the world’s most state-of-the-art sparkling wine production facility.
Since 2014, the winery has been certified organic. Grapes are hand-picked and put in a small barcoded crate so the grapes can be tracked throughout the entire wine-making journey. To stop oxidation, the grapes are taken to a cold room and, when cooled, head to a four-line “grape spa,” where they go through several baths. Ca’del Bosco is the only winery in Franciacorta and only one in four to do this in Italy. The result is better, cleaner fruit going into the wine. From pressing to bottling, the winery is gravity-fed; for blending, a giant lift slowly moves huge vats upwards. The winery invented a machine that uses nitrogen to ensure no oxygen gets into the wine during the disgorging process.
Ca’ del Bosco’s impressive estate in Franciacorta. Photo courtesy of Ca’ del Bosco
Ca’ del Bosco Tour
Visitors can see the impressive production on a guided tour of the winery, which also brings in the artistic side of Ca’ del Bosco. Wine is as much art as science, and throughout the winery, homages to art are everywhere—from the blue guardian wolves that stand on the top of the winery to an egg-shaped sculpture that is made from 6,000 actual eggshells.
Ca’ del Bosco produces a wide range of Franciacorta in three collections: the Cuvée Prestige, Vintage, and Reserve. After our tour, my husband and I enjoyed a glass of the Cuvée Prestige Edizione 45, made from 82 percent Chardonnay. The extra brut style comprises 68 percent vintage wines from 2020, 29 percent reserve wines from 2019, and three percent reserve wine from 2018. The bubbles had an aroma of citrus fruits and floral aromas and was crisp and fresh.
Like many European wineries, you need reservations to visit Ca’ del Bosco. It books up quickly, so reserve at least two weeks before you want to go.
The Barrel Room at Ca’ del Bosco. Photo courtesy of Ca’ del Bosco
Located on a rolling hill in the small town of Adro lies the family-run Ferghettina Winery. We’re met by co-owner Laura Gatti, daughter of the winery’s founder, Roberto Gatti. Laura, along with her dad and brother Matteo, are the winemakers. Since this is a family-owned operation, don’t be surprised to find any of them or mom Adreina in the tasting room sharing their passion for the wines with guests.
Laura took me on a tour of the production facilities. She told me how her parents started the winery in 1990 after her father spent years working as the vineyard manager for another producer in the area. What began with just under 10 acres has grown to nearly 500 acres of vineyards spread over 11 villages in the Franciacorta region. Today, Ferghettina makes seven sparkling wines and three still wines.
The first thing you’ll notice about the sparkling wines is that several in the collection come in unique square-shaped bottles. Developed by Matteo, the shape of the trademarked bottle allows the yeast to interact more with the wine during the aging process due to the flat sides of the bottle.
The unique square-shaped Ferghettina bottles. Photo courtesy of Ferghettina Winery.
After our tour, we sat down with Laura to taste the entire sparkling collection. Laura described the Brut as the soul of the company, and the 2020 is a blend of 70 different parcels and is a true representation of Franciacorta. Primarily made from Chardonnay grapes, Laura says this is the bubbly she pops most for an everyday dinner with friends. The Saten comes in the unique bottle; it was my favorite taste of the day. It’s a 2019 Blanc de Blanc that spent three years on lees. It has fewer bubbles than traditional Champagne and a more creamy, silky, elegant mouthfeel. The rosé was my husband’s favorite, and Laura admits it’s hers too, telling us that this 100% pinot noir is a challenge to cultivate and immensely satisfying when the result is like what we’re tasting in the glass.
Ferghettina offers public tours that are extremely popular. Laura suggests booking over a month in advance to ensure your space.
Sitting down with winemaker Laura Gatti. Photo courtesy of Ferghettina Winery
Trip Planning to Franciacorta
There aren’t a lot of luxury hotels in the area, and the top is undoubtedly the Relais & Chateaux L’Albereta hotel in Erbusco. The 53-room property has beautiful grounds and the Leone Felice Vistalogo Restaurant affords excellent views of Lake Iseo and a gourmet spin on Italian Cuisine.
When you need a detox from wine tasting, head to Monte Isola. This mountain in the middle of Lake Iseo is considered one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. The car-less island is easily reached by ferry and explored by foot or bicycle. The view from the sanctuary of the Madonna della Ceriola shouldn’t be missed. Grab a table at one of the lakeside eateries to enjoy a lunch of freshly caught lake fish.
While the promise of great bubbles took me to Franciacorta, as is often the case, I found a lot more to love. For anyone looking for quaint villages, beautiful countryside, farm-to-table cuisine, and, of course, great wine, Franciacorta needs to be on your Italian bucket list. We invite you to check out more of our favorite wines on Wander With Wonder, including more sparkling wines. We also encourage you to explore more things to see and do in Italy.
Cheers to Franciacorta