When it comes to sparkling wines from Italy, most people either reach for a glass of chilled Prosecco or fruity Moscato d’Asti. Yet, happily for those in the know, Italy has another sparkling wine region.

Located east of Milan in the Brescia province of Lombardy, Franciacorta is the smallest DOC in Italy, spread across 19 villages. Yet its sparkling wines were only awarded DOCG classification in 1995, thanks to the diligent self-regulation and ambitions of leading producers in the area, including Bellavista, Berlucchi and Ca’ del Bosco.

Franciacorta grapes

Despite its 50-year-young history compared to the 350-year-old Champagne region, Franciacorta has been remarkably efficient in quickly building a reputation for world-class sparkling wines. Its famed sparkling-style wines are made in the méthode traditionelle, similar to their French counterparts in Champagne. Using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and native-variety Pino Bianco (instead of the usual Pinot Meunier), the similarities don’t end there.

Strict rules about ageing are also enforced, with a minimum on-the-lees ageing for 18 months for non-vintage wines (compared to 12 months on the lees for non-vintage champagne) and a staggering 60 months for Riserva wines (36 months for vintage champagnes, but most age for longer). Wines with the Franciacorta Satèn designation are the equivalent of Blanc de Blancs that have been aged on the lees for 24 months and with lower dosage, resulting in only 4.5 atmospheres compared to the usual six atmospheres for champagne.

Vineyards in Franciacorta

Over a recent dinner with Ca’del Bosco founder Maurizio Zanella to taste the latest releases of sparkling and still wines from the producer, including Ca’del Bosco Cuvée Prestige, Ca’del Bosco Annamaria Clementi 2009, Ca’del Bosco Chardonnay 2013 and Ca’del Bosco Maurizio Zanella 2013, it was evident that we had come across wines that have the ability to pair with the devil of food and wine pairings: Cantonese cuisine.

We found the zero dosage in the Annamaria Clementi resulting in a dry, creamy finish reminiscent of the biscuit and brioche notes often found in champagne, without the cloying sweetness more often than not found in non-vintage brut champagnes. Less pressure also means finer bubbles and a drinking style similar to still wine, making it easier to pair with the sweet, sour, salty and savoury elements of Cantonese cuisine.

While attesting to being a “simple farmer”, clearly Zanella’s passion and vision for positioning Franciacorta go far beyond his humble moniker. While he was adamant about avoiding the classification of wines from Franciacorta as “sparkling”, it’s challenging to not group them in the same category when speaking the universal language of wine.

Franciacorta wines

So should we drink these wines like champagne? Like many wine experts and sommeliers, Zanella argues against champagne flutes and asserts that Franciacorta wines should be drank out of a glass that allows the wine to breathe. More importantly, Zanella hopes to see Franciacorta someday have its day in the sun as a designated category on wine lists alongside champagne and sparkling wine. Until then, we’ll happily drink the results of the hard work of the producers in the region and do our best to not call it sparkling wine.

Ca’del Bosco wines can be found in Hong Kong at city’super.

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