Fine Italian Fizz: Franciacorta & Trentodoc

Vineyards in the Trentino region, with the Alps in the distance, produce grapes for Trentodoc sparkling wines.

© Ferrari Trento

Vineyards in the Trentino region produce grapes for Trentodoc sparkling wines – with the Alps in the distance.

Vineyards in the Trentino region, with the Alps in the distance, produce grapes for Trentodoc sparkling wines.

© Ferrari Trento

The bottles proudly state metodo classico – traditional method – to denote that the wines were bottle-fermented. They also proclaim their northerly provenance: Trentodoc hails from the Trentino, in Italy’s Alpine north where the Dolomites are snow-capped all year; Franciacorta stretches south of Lake Iseo in Lombardy, also a northerly province. These two origins give rise to two rather distinct kinds of sparkling wine, despite the fact that they are made from the same grape varieties – mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – and in the same way by traditional bottle fermentation.

Trentodoc is as brisk and bright as the brilliant sunshine on the Alpine peaks, Franciacorta is as smooth and refreshing as a lake breeze on a summer’s day. Both wines speak clearly of their origin; of altitude in Trentodoc, of mildness in Franciacorta. Walk into any bar in Italy, ask for a metodo classico spumante and you are likely to be offered wine from one of these two regions.

Franciacorta, between the northern town of Brescia and Lake Iseo, is shaped like a half-amphitheatre on the southern shore of Lake Iseo, framed to the north by the Rhaetian Alps. Mountain breezes sweep in and ensure both freshness and ventilation. This sheltered location, combined with soils of morainic origin and gentle hillsides, has always lent itself to winegrowing. While viticulture can be traced to mediaeval times, the production of sparkling wine is relatively recent – making Franciacorta’s standing in Italy and the world all the more remarkable. It was not until 1961 that local pioneer Guido Berlucchi made the first traditional method sparkling wine of Franciacorta. It is a testament to his success that many local producers switched to sparkling wine production and that Franciacorta became a DOC, a protected appellation, for sparkling wines in 1967, turning into an even stricter DOCG in 1995. 

Franciacorta wines express the serenity of this Italian landscape in Lombardy.

© Photo provided

Vintage & Satèn

While most of Franciacorta’s plantings are of Chardonnay, followed by Pinot Noir, Franciacorta also makes use of Pinot Bianco and an old indigenous variety called Erbamat. For now, Erbamat does not play a big role, but its late-ripening habit and fresh acidity may well be a key to Franciacorta’s future with ongoing climate change. Chardonnay grown in this gentle climate results in wines with full, rounded fruit flavours. With a minimum ageing period of 18 months on lees in bottle, Franciacorta wines are fresh, rounded, gentle sparklers. But there are further categories to explore.

Vintage Franciacorta – millesimato – can only be released three years after harvest while riserva, also vintage-dated, cannot be released until five and a half years after harvest. But Franciacorta has one further category of sparkling wine up its sleeve which plays exactly to the strengths of the area and its climate: Franciacorta Satèn. Made solely from white grape varieties, mostly Chardonnay with a maximum of 50% Pinot Bianco.

The wine is made to sit just below five bars of pressure – traditional method sparkling wines usually have between five and six bars. The lower pressure gives the wine a softer, gentler mousse, and highlights the rich, toasty and often nutty flavours of Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco after long lees ageing. Franciacorta Satèn, in a way, is a sublimation of what Franciacorta does best: it is a subtle yet intense sparkling wine that shows off the roundness of its fruit by bedding it in the suppleness of soft bubbles that highlight the flavours created by autolysis.

Satèn is a gastronomic wine: when paired with fish from Lago d’Iseo it is a revelation. Trentodoc, on the other hand, presents the brilliance of Alpine freshness. The vineyards are at altitudes between 200-900m/660-2,950ft above sea level. Being on the southern side of the Alps, this is a region where opposites meet: the brisk air of snow-capped peaks encounters Mediterranean sunshine.

Three subregions bring forth the grapes for Trentodoc sparkling wines: the broad, sun-flooded Val d’Adige, along the Adige river, and the Valle dei Laghi, a series of glacial terraces framed by peaks rising to 2,000m/6,560ft. The third and coolest is Valle di Cembra, a lateral valley with steep, terraced vineyards. Soils vary between limestone and glacial deposits, schist, basalt and even porphyry.

The siblings who have made Trentodoc a name to be reckoned with: Alessandro, Marcello, Matteo and Camilla Lunelli are the family behind Ferrari Trento.

The siblings who have made Trentodoc a name to be reckoned with: Alessandro, Marcello, Matteo and Camilla Lunelli are the family behind Ferrari Trento.

© Photo provided

Intensity & Freshness

The grapes grown here are exposed to big diurnal temperature swings: nights and mornings are chilly but intense sunlight makes for scorching afternoons. This lends aromatic intensity to the grapes and retains vivid acidity. It is this combination of briskness and intensity that gives Trentodoc wines their character. This was discovered more than a hundred years ago by local pioneer Giulio Ferrari.

A visit to Champagne ignited his dream of making traditional method sparkling wines in his home region of Trentino. In fact, he was the first to plant substantial Chardonnay vineyards in Italy, founding Ferrari Trento in 1902 and winning gold medals for his fine sparkling wines within that same decade. Then as now, the star variety of Trentodoc is Chardonnay. There also is Pinot Noir as well as some Pinot Bianco and Pinot Meunier.

Trentodoc also has three categories: its non-vintage wines require a minimum of 15 months of lees ageing, vintage-dated millesimato wines require 24 months, while riserva requires 36 months, even though these minima are often exceeded – just because there is so much flavour potential and so much freshness to lend longevity.

Both Franciacorta and Trentodoc produce outstanding wines that easily take their place among the best sparkling wines of the world, catering to different tastes. Those who love electric, thrilling briskness will adore Trentodoc, those who prefer rounder, richer yet still fresh mellowness will delight in Franciacorta. These two top sparkling wine appellations illustrate perfectly how climate and topography translate into wine.