In a country where wines tend to trace their origins back centuries, sparkling Franciacorta is an anomaly. Born in the Lombardy region just 53 years ago, it was the first sparkler in Italy to be made from the same grape varietals and by the same method as Champagne, and in its relatively short history, it has become Italy’s finest sparkler.
This part of Lombardy produced wine since the 13th century, but it wasn’t until 1955 — when Count Guido Berlucchi met Franco Ziliani, a new winemaker with a dream — that Franciacorta emerged as Italy’s center for fine sparkling wine. The two founded the company Guido Berlucchi, and Ziliani produced 3,000 bottles of the region’s first sparkler in 1961.
From the beginning, Ziliani produced his sparkling wines by the strict Champagne method using the two major grapes of Champagne — Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. While Franciacorta’s other sparkling wine producers (there are now 100) also use Pinot Blanc, Berlucchi adds little and occasionally none of it. “It is too floral; it gives the wine too much of everything,” says Arturo Ziliani, Franco’s son and the winery’s current winemaker. Comparing Franciacorta with Champagne, Arturo adds, “We have a somewhat warmer climate and so our wines usually have slightly less acidity. They’re also slightly lighter-bodied.”
Production has grown to 4.5 million bottles annually. Most are sold in Italy, with about 100,000 imported to the United States. They include Berlucchi Franciacorta ’61 Brut ($21), a blend of 90 percent Chardonnay and 10 percent Pinot Noir that makes a classic sparkler with excellent balance, silkiness and a profusion of tiny bubbles.
Berlucchi Franciacorta ’61 Rosé ($24) mixes 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay for a lively wine, inviting with a round body.
A rich, zesty wine with finesse, Berlucchi Brut ($33) combines 90 percent Chardonnay and 10 percent Pinot Noir.
Berlucchi Rosé 2008 ($42) takes its character from 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay to create a pink-shaded wine, lively and sumptuous.
Other Berlucchi wines not yet imported into the United States include Extreme 2006 Reserve, 100 percent Pinot Noir produced only in the best harvests; and Cellarius Pas Dosé, made without a dosage and thus bone dry. Pleasures to come.
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