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Rigid and meticulous rules for obtaining wines of absolute quality is the order of the Consorzio Franciacorta and of its member producers, who utilise only the noble grape varieties, hand-picked, natural refermentation in the bottle, and then a slow maturation and ageing on the lees, no fewer than 18 months for the Brut style wines, 30 for the Millesimatos (vintage-dated), and a full 60 for the Riservas.
Franciacorta is made with the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc grape varieties, the later allowed up to a maximum of 50%. The Franciacorta vineyards have a maximum allowed yield of 100 quintals per hectare. Depending on the weather conditions, the harvest, picked exclusively by hand into small boxes, usually occurs between the first ten days of August and the first ten days of September. The grapes, with the clusters still whole, are transported to the winemaking cellar, where the crop from each vineyard is vinified separately. The clusters are pressed very gently, to ensure quality-fractioning of the resultant musts, which is the indispensable requirement for high-quality base wines.
A gentle pressing yields the free-run must for producing the Franciacorta base wines, which in turn will compose the cuvée in the spring, a blend of Franciacorta base wines, even from different vintages, that are selected after rigorous tastings to determine the characteristics that each producer wishes to give to “his” Franciacorta.
Tirage: fermentation in the bottle
After the cuvée is assembled, the wine in the bottle receives a syrup composed of sugar and yeasts, which will start a slow, natural refermentation of the wine. This produces CO2, the effervescent mousse, which increases the internal pressure in the bottle, reaching the desired 6-7 atmospheres.
The bottles are sealed with a metal crown-cap, then stacked horizontally in the cellar, where they remain for a considerable time. Over these long months, the yeasts break down and the Franciacorta assumes its characteristic sensory profile, further enriching its already-complex aromatics.
At the conclusion of the maturation period, the bottles are inserted into the traditional riddling racks (also known as pupitres), then rotated daily 1/8 of a circle and gradually inclined more steeply, over a period of 3-4 weeks, in order to push the sediments and dead yeasts down into the neck of the bottle. This special operation is known as remuage or riddling; specialised workers can riddle up to 15,000 bottles a day. The long-awaited moment of the disgorging has arrived. The bottles are placed vertically upside down in a chilling solution, which quickly forms a plug of ice in the neck of the bottle, encapsulating the sediment. The metal cap is then removed and the frozen sediment explodes out of the bottle, with almost no loss of wine. To replace the amount of wine lost, a small amount of just wine is re-introduced, in the case of non-dosage Franciacortas; the other styles are given a dosage, a syrup made of Franciacorta base wine plus sugar, the exact quantity determined by whether the desired Franciacorta style is Brut or Extra Dry.
Finally, the bottles are definitively sealed with the classic mushroom-shaped cork, which is anchored to the bottle by the wire cage. When the wine has been packaged, and before it can be released to the market, every bottle must receive the official State mark, the pink strip seal that certifies the Franciacorta DOCG designation. That can be authorised only if the wine has passed all of the quality assurance procedures, from chemical-physical through sensory analyses. Printed on this strip seal are the words Franciacorta Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, a unique alphanumeric code, the capacity of the bottle, and the Consorzio’s distinctive “F” logo, a further indication of the Consorzio’s monitoring and inspection responsibilities.
Based on time spent sur lie, the following categories of Franciacorta are produced:
- Franciacorta Non Vintage: at least 18 months
- Franciacorta Satèn and Rosé non-vintage: at least 24 months
- Franciacorta Satèn and Rosé vintage: at least 30 months
- Franciacorta Satèn and Rosé Riservas: at least 60 months
Grapes: Chardonnay and/or pinot noir, but up to 50% pinot bianco may be used as well.
Process: Refermentation in the bottle, with the wine maturing sur lie a minimum of 18 months, and reaching an internal pressure of 5-6 atmospheres. Franciacorta cannot be released earlier than 25 months from harvest.
Sensory profile: Straw yellow with greenish or golden highlights, and a delicate, long-lingering bead of bubbles. The bouquet boasts classic notes of refermentation in the bottle--the impressions of fresh-baked bread and yeastiness--, enlivened with subtle hints of citrus, dried white fig, and mixed roasted nuts, including almond and hazelnut. On the palate it is full-flavoured, refined, and remarkably well-balanced.
Range of styles: No Dosage, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec or Dry, Demi-sec.
Grapes: Predominantly chardonnay, plus up to 50% pinot bianco; Satèn is therefore always a Blanc de blancs.
Sensory profile: Straw yellow in appearance, sometimes deep in hue, and with greenish highlights at times. It releases a creamy, long-lasting bead of notably delicate bubbles. A soft-contoured bouquet offers emphatic notes of well-ripened fruit, enriched by delicate nuances of spring flowers and of mixed nuts, including roasted almond and hazelnut. In the mouth, lively flavours and a refreshing crispness are in admirable balance with a texture that gives the impression of luxurious silk. This velvety quality is due to the fact that the internal pressure is less than 5 atmospheres.
Range of styles: Satèn is produced only in the Brut style.
Grapes: Chardonnay and pinot bianco, with a minimum of 25% pinot noir.
Process: The white and red grapes are vinified separately. Franciacorta Rosé is often made from just pinot noir grapes, with a rosé-method fermentation, but it is also made by blending pinot noir with base wines of chardonnay and/or pinot bianco. The pinot noir must ferments in contact with the skins to give the wine the desired pinkish hue. Sensory profile: The pinot noir component provides impressive fragrances of wild red berryfruit, as well as firm structure and distinctive energy.
Range of styles: No Dosage, Extra brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec or Dry, Demi-sec.
Process: Millesimato, or vintage-dated Franciacorta, is composed of base wines that are at least 85% from one single growing year.
It may be released only after a minimum of 37 months from harvest.
Sensory profile: The bouquet and palate of Franciacorta Millesimato reflects in a striking fashion the weather conditions of its growing year and the sensory expressiveness of the grapes from that particular vintage.
Range of styles: No Dosage, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry. In the case of Satèn, only Brut. Both Satèn and Rosé can be Millesimato, which increases their complexity, body, cellarability, and elegance.
Process: Riserva is a Franciacorta Millesimato, which can include Satèn and Rosé, that has matured sur lie a minimum of 60 months.
A Riserva is released, therefore, a full 67 months (5 and a half years) after harvest. Since many Franciacorta Millesimatos rest sur lie far longer than the required minimum of 30 months, this designation was created to highlight this unique type of wine.
Range of styles: No Dosage, Extra Brut, Brut. In the case of Satèn, only Brut style