On the grapevine: Italy's other sparkle
Top of our A-list bubbles, ask most wine lovers to name an Italian fizz and the answer will be prosecco.
But ask them to name a high-end Italian sparkling wine and they may not be able to come up with an alternative.
One of the country's best kept secrets, Franciacorta is Italy's answer to Champagne - they both bear the region's name, have a specific style and share a similar price tag.
East of Milan in the heart of Lombardy, the Franciacorta wine route extends from the southern shores of Lake Iseo to the surrounding countryside and the immaculate vineyards are predominantly planted with chardonnay and pinot noir, as in Champagne.
Standards are high, production is low. Franciacorta is made by the traditional method, hand harvested and must be aged for a minimum of 18 months, while Franciacorta Riserva is only released after five years in the bottle. The result is a wine that's prized for its subtle elegance, complexity and minerality.
And while the well-heeled are drawn to its idyllic countryside - this is where the Milanese aristocracy used to escape for the summer and the rolling hills are dotted with palazzos, medieval castles and monasteries - it's the mineral-rich glacial soils that lend the wines their 'terroir driven character'.
Produced in several styles, the fashion is for extra brut and brut, so nice and dry on the finish, and they also have the seductively named saten.
A special version of Franciacorta, saten is a blanc de blanc (100% chardonnay) and appreciated for its elegance and sensuous silky palate. With its acacia honeyed nose and soft acidity, try Castello Bonomi Franciacorta Brut Saten DOCG, Italy from the region's only chateau (magnifico) and a winery whose wines have the potential to be enjoyed several years down the line.
With ageing potential and vintage releases, the wines of Franciacorta can furnish every style and taste with star producer Ca' del Bosco having the glitziest line-up.
This prestigious, cutting edge winery loves art as much as wine (cobalt blue resin wolves stand guard on the winery's roof and a life-size rhinoceros hangs at the entrance to the cellar), but its wines are the masterpiece. Cited as a fabulous vintage for chardonnay, Ca' del Bosco Cuvee Annamaria Clementi Brut, 2007, Italy has a wonderful freshness and finesse with compelling floral aromas and a unique richness and complexity.
Besides the super satens and prized vintages, other styles such as brut are a step up from prosecco for more serious soirees.
Indeed, Joe Fattorini from The Wine Show (who's teamed up with Celebrity Cruises to name on-trend wines this summer) is encouraging tipplers to swap prosecco for Franciacorta.
"More serious than prosecco and made in the same way as champagne... it's warmer, more generous and fleshier. It has a personality of its own and I know plenty of people who much prefer it," says Fattorini, who recommends Fratelli Berlucchi Brut 25 Franciacorta DOCG NV, Italy. "They were big award winners at the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championship this year."
Another trailblazer, Bellavista (named after its stunning hilltop views) makes some of the best-known Franciacorta, with high-ranking cuvees sitting alongside classics such as their bestselling Bellavista Franciacorta Alma Gran Cuvee Brut NV, Italy, which has pear drops on the nose and a lovely creamy, silky freshness with low acidity. The official wine of La Scala opera house in Milan, the super trendy limited edition labels from its rarer vintages are as colorful as some of the sculptures in its gardens.
Love rose? Franciacorta also comes in voguish ballet slipper pink as displayed in Ferghettina Franciacorta Brut Rose DOCG 2012, Italy, which is perfectly on point with remarkable structure and a chalky presence to the spiced cherry and wild berry fruits.
Purveyor's of all things bright and beautiful, Fortnum's are starting to put these wines on the map with their own label Fortnum & Mason Franciacorta Brut NV, Italy, a blanc de blanc that's full and round with toast infused fruity aromas, creamy nuances and a flourish of a finish. Bellissimo.
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