Just one hour east of Milan and situated in between the UNESCO-listed cities of Brescia and Bergamo, Franciacorta is a region infused with cultural significance and a thriving enological tradition. Although it has a relatively young history – the first official Franciacorta sparkling wine was produced here in 1961 – this fertile area has quickly established as one of the country’s premiere wine regions thanks to its high-quality viticulture and meticulous production standards.
Franciacorta covers 200 km2 and is home to over 100 wineries that produce sparkling wines in the metodo classico, making them a more affordable alternative to French Champagne. The luscious Satèn style, made exclusively in this region, is comparable to French Crémant and pays a nod to Italian silk and Milan’s fashion heritage, though the sparkling Rosés and aged Millesimato are excellent as well. Try to plan your visit during the Franciacorta Summer Festival (held from May – September) to see the region come alive with cultural and culinary events.
Wineries You Can’t Miss
Set upon 500 hectares of vineyards, Guido Berlucchi is Franciacorta’s largest winery and produces over 4 million bottle per year. It is also where the sparkling wine was first invented. The story begins in the mid-1950s when Mr. Berlucchi, a wealthy landowner, hired the talented young enologist Franco Ziliani to improve the quality of his Pinot del Castello, a table wine that left much to be desired.
Ziliani had traveled extensively in Champagne and noted that the Franciacorta region had a very similar climate and growing conditions, so he took a chance at producing a sparkling wine in the Metodo Classico, or traditional style. After some experimentation, the first suitable batch of Franciacorta bottles were produced in 1961. Franciacorta was later granted DOC status in 1967 (Controlled Designation of Origin) spurring a larger enological movement that continues to this day.
It’s worth starting your visit of Franciacorta at Guido Berlucchi to retrace the history of the wine and take a tour of the 16th century Palazzo Lana, a noble residence with frescoed halls and historic furnishings. The 17th century cellar, buried 10 meters underground, is an equally impressive sight and has a dedicated niche to commemorate the last bottle of the 1961 vintage – the “firstborn” Franciacorta bottle.
Ca’ del Bosco
From the second you step through Arnaldo Pomodoro’s enormous Inno al Sole sun gate at the entrance of Ca’ del Bosco, you’ll realize you’re in one of the region’s most design-led wineries. Here, contemporary art enhances the pleasure of wine with sculptures made of bronze, marble and steel awaiting around every corner. Originally established in the 1960s, the winery began its innovative transformation in the ‘70s when Maurizio Zanella began expanding the original little house surrounded by oak woods into a state-of-the-art winery with the latest technology.
Today it is one of the largest wineries in Franciacorta and boasts vineyards that are over 40 years old: like elsewhere in the region, the vines are densely-packed and grapes are picked by hand to ensure the highest quality control. Look out for “Il Peso del Tempo” (“The Weight of Time”) sculpture of a gigantic rhinoceros suspended at the entrance of the cellar while you sip on a glass of Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige DOCG made with a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Biano and Pinot Nero grapes.
Established in 1998, Barone Pizzini was the first winery in Franciacorta to produce organic wine and has implemented numerous sustainable practices in its cellar and vineyards. It encourages biodiversity and avoids the use of chemicals in its vineyards – and used renewable materials to create the winery itself. Producing 100% organic wine is an arduous process but according to the winery, “respect for nature is the best tool for obtaining grapes rich with life”. The estate’s fragrant Naturae vintage uses grapes from a hillside with limestone soil that has garnered it numerous accolades, including Gambero Rosso’s 3 Bicchieri recognition.
Another winery that exudes a passion for sustainability and the environment is Cavalleri, one of two biodynamic estates in Franciacorta. The family-owned winery uses organic farming methods and approaches viticulture in a holistic way to improve the soil’s fertility and structure: legumes and vegetables are planted within the vines to add minerals through a natural, rather than artificial, means. Cavalleri’s signature Blanc de Blancs is partially fermented with indigenous yeasts and expresses the estate’s talent for coaxing Chardonnay grapes to reveal their true character.
Surrounded by vineyards and set at the base of hill, Ronco Calino is a veritable oasis in Franciacorta, one where the warmth of its owners enhances the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape. A small, family-owned winery owned by the industrialist Paolo Radici and his wife Lara Imberti Radici, it has 13 hectares of vines and has been certified organic since 2016. The vineyard has a higher proportion of Pinot Noir vines than most, reflecting Ronco Calino’s desire to create complex, age-worthy wines. Come by for an intimate wine tasting experience thanks to the passion and enthusiasm of its young team and excellent wines. The Brut Millesimato has 60% chardonnay and 40% pinot noir and ages for 65 months on the lees before disgorging. Elegant, with ripe fruits, you can purchase it for €25.
Perched upon a terraced hill on the eastern border of Franciacorta, Le Cantorie has a privileged position in the region and is one of the few wineries that looks out onto the verdant landscape below. It’s a favorite for venue for weddings and celebrations and shouldn’t be missed on your visit to the region. Owned by the Bontempi and Firmo families, it produces 70,000 bottles a year – primarily still reds, among the best in the region, but also a selection of sparkling. The Franciacorta Satèn DOCG, made with 100% Chardonnay and aged for 36 months, is prized for its silkiness and is priced at €30.
Where To Eat
Dispensa Pane e Vini
A combination fine-dining restaurant, wine bar, modern osteria and enoteca, Dispensa Pane e Vini is a venue that brings together the best of Franciacorta’s gastronomic and enological delights. The dynamic young staff create unforgettable dishes with the region’s best seasonal products, primarily sourced from a nearby organic vegetable garden, and the wine shop stocks over 700 labels from 200 producers. The osteria’s tasting menu is affordably priced at €35 with a wine pairing for €15. You can also order a la carte and sample dishes such as risotto with artichokes, pecorino and rabbit sausage (€14) or lake fish with a pea cream and lemon (€15).
Right next to Dispensa Pane e Vini lies Ristorante Natura, a gourmet restaurant with an ambitious ethos to give guests a “glocal” dining experience. Helmed by the talented young chef Marco Acquaroli, the gourmet restaurant celebrates the local territory through its dishes while revisiting them through international cooking techniques inspired by healthful Scandivanian cooking. The restaurant has heavy focus on seasonality and provenance, so fruits and vegetables are handpicked from the restaurant’s own garden while fish are caught daily on Lake Iseo. The restaurant’s signature dish “Orto”, an artful arrangement of vegetables and foraged herbs, is constantly being reinvented based on what’s locally available and in season.
Osteria Quattro Rose
The rustic and whimsical Osteria Quattro Rose bills itself as a winery with a kitchen and serves up traditional dishes with a spin. Situated in the heart of Rovato, it’s a great place to try Manzo all’Olio di Rovato, one of Franciacorta’s most beloved regional dishes: this mouthwateringly tender roast beef is stewed in olive oil with anchovies, garlic, breadcrumbs and vegetables and served with polenta (€13). The tantalizing menu also has the famous Casoncello Bresciano ravioli served with melted butter and sage (€10), cream of pumpkin with scorched scallops (€18) and crispy octopus with cherry tomato cream, burrata and crostini (€17). Choose a bottle from the extensive wine list which boasts over 400 bottles.
Locanda al Lago
While you’re in Franciacorta, you can’t miss the opportunity to take a boat out to Monte Isole for a leisurely lunch at Ristorante Locanda al Lago. The Soardi, a fisherman family, have been preparing freshly caught lake fish and other regional dishes since 1948 and the outdoor terrace is an idyllic setting to enjoy your meal while soaking in some sunshine. The local specialty here are salt-cured sardines that are air-dried and served alongside charred polenta (€13), though you’ll also find fresh fish including perch, pike and trout that pair well with Franciacorta’s bubbles. Order a fritto misto for the table, a mixed fried fish appetizer (€17), before tasting the fish lasagna (€13) or grilled lake fish served with crispy potatoes (€19).
Where To Stay
With its ivy-laden exteriors, lush terraces that look out onto the vineyard and posh sitting rooms dotted with antiques, a stay at L’Albereta feels like taking a step back to another era. Formerly the private home of lawyer Giovanni Cavalleri and his wife Anna, the neo Renaissance villa was later bought by the entrepreneur Vittorio Moretti is now among the most renowned luxury hotels in Italy thanks to its sumptuous rooms, romantic setting and outstanding hospitality. The property has 38 rooms and 19 suites with bespoke furnishings, elegant marble bathrooms and flowers that bring the lush outdoors inside. Opt for a stay in the Contadi Tower Suite, with privileged views of L’Albereta’s private vineyard, or the Cabriolet Suite with a ceiling that opens to the stars. Guests will also enjoy spending time in the Espace Chenot Health Wellness SPA and and tasting Franco Pepe’s famous Neapolitan pizzas at La Filiale.
Le Quattro Terre
An elegant agriturismo situated in an 18th century farmhouse, Le Quattro Terre strikes a perfect balance between rustic but refined luxury. The property has been immaculately restored to honor the original architecture, so you’ll find wooden beams and vaulted brick ceilings throughout that enhance the pared-down, contemporary decor. Le Quattro Terre has 11 cozy rooms and a fabulous restaurant that offers a creative take on traditional recipes. Taste beetroot tagliatelle with a Franciacorta sauce and walnuts (€14) or suckling pig with a stout beer reduction, pumpkin puree and amaretti biscuits (€16). You can also visit the winery during your stay: Le Quattro Terre has 6 labels and produces 55,000 bottles per year.