The Franciacorta method is the result of a harmonious blend of ancient knowledge, handed down across the generations and adapted to include technological advances. Tradition is perpetuated by inquisitive winemakers who are prepared to work on each single bottle.
The Franciacorta method is regulated by strict and rigorous rules, intended to guarantee wines of the finest quality: this is the principle followed by the Franciacorta Consortium and its producers, who use only prestigious varieties, harvest by hand and natural bottle fermentation, followed by slow aging and maturation on the lees for no less than 18 months, 30 for the vintages and a full 60 months for the Reserves.
The grape varieties
Franciacorta is made with Chardonnay, Pinot nero and Pinot bianco grapes, with the last permitted up to a maximum of 50%. Franciacorta vineyards yield a maximum of 12 tons of grapes per hectare, and the wine harvest, strictly manual, occurs after the 10th of August and before the 10th of September, depending on how the season has been. The bunches are laid gently in hampers and brought to the wine cellars, where the grapes picked in each vineyard are processed separately: the grapes are pressed very gently, to favor the separation of the juice, which is indispensable to the quality of the base wines.
A soft pressing of the grapes yields the free-run juice, used for making the base wines of Franciacorta, which in the following spring are combined to make the cuvée, an assembly of Franciacorta wines, sometimes from different years, which are selected following scrupulous tastings, according to the characteristics that each producer decides his or her Franciacorta should have.
Tirage refers to the bottling of assembled base wines (cuvée), to which are added sugar and yeast, which are responsible for the second, slow fermentation, or bottle fermentation. During this stage, carbon dioxide is produced (sparkling bubbles), and the pressure inside the bottle increases, reaching up to 6-7 bars.
Fermentation in the bottle
The bottles, sealed with a metallic crown cap, are stored horizontally in the wine cellars, where they remain for a long time. Once the fermentation stage has been completed (and the bubbles have formed), thanks to the autolysis of the yeasts, the Franciacorta wines take some months to achieve their characteristic sensory profile and enrich their aromatic complexity.
The following types of Franciacorta differ from one another based on the amount of time they are aged on the lees the bottle:
- Franciacorta non- vintage: at least 18 months
- Franciacorta Satèn and Franciacorta Rosé, non-vintage: at least 24 months
- Franciacorta Vintage, Franciacorta Vintage Satèn and Franciacorta Vintage Rosé: at least 30 months
- Franciacorta Reserve, Franciacorta Reserve Satèn and Franciacorta Reserve Rosé: at least 60 months.
Riddling and disgorgement
When the bottles have been aged for a sufficient period, they are placed on special stands (also known as pupitres), and are rotated 1/8 of a turn daily and inclined progressively to gradually shift the sediment and the yeast it contains towards the neck of the bottle, a process that is completed in 3-4 weeks.
This particular process is known as riddling or remuage (carried out by specialized personnel, each of whom rotates up to 15,000 bottles a day).
The long-awaited moment of dégorgement, or disgorgement, has arrived: the bottles are set in the vertical position and the necks are immersed in a refrigerant that leads to the formation of an “ice cap”, completely trapping the entire yeast residue. At this point the metallic cap is removed and the iced residue is expelled outward by the pressure of the liquid in the bottle, along with a minimal quantity of wine.
To top up the bottle and bring it back to its original level, a small amount of wine is introduced for the zero dosage Franciacortas, while for the other styles, a liqueur de dosage is added, consisting of Franciacorta base wine and sugar, whose quantity determines the type and taste of the different varieties of Franciacorta: Zero Dosage, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec and Demi-sec.
Finally, the bottles are re-sealed with the classic mushroom cork, held in place by the typical wirehood. Once this process has been completed, each bottle must be labeled with the official seal – or band – that certifies the DOCG designation of Franciacorta, which is issued only if the wine has passed all of the qualitative controls, including a physical and chemical analyses and a sensory test. The seal bears the wording “Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita Franciacorta”, an alphanumerical code identifying it, an indication of the bottle’s capacity and the distinctive logo of the Designation, a “crenellated F”.
The different types of Franciacorta are distinguished by different dosages of liqueur de tirage added after disgorging, and thus display an original and distinctive character.
- Zero Dosage (sugar up to 3 g/l, residual sugar naturally contained in the wine) – The driest of the Franciacorta varieties.
- Extra Brut (sugar up to 6 g/l) – Very dry.
- Brut (sugar up to 12 g/l) – Dry but slightly smoother than Extra brut, indubitably the most versatile type of Franciacorta.
- Extra Dry (sugar 12-17 g/l) - Smooth, with a slightly greater dosage than classic Brut, the ideal accompaniment for a wide variety of dishes.
- Sec or Dry (sugar 17-32 g/l) – Medium dry, slightly sweet.
- Demi-sec (sugar 33-50 g/l) - Sweeter taste because of its higher sugar content, goes well with dessert.