Meet Franciacorta, Champagne’s Italian Sister

The sibling rivalry of sparkling wine.

by Eryn Gordon
Michele Rossetti/Moment/Getty Images
Santissima churc in Gussago, Franciacorta in Brescia province, Lombardy district in Italy.

If you think there’s no equal to Champagne when it comes to luxurious libations, think again. As it happens the famous bubbly spirit has an Italian sister. She comes from a little known region in the north, situated under the Alpine hills of Switzerland and above the warm Mediterranean breeze of the south. This combination of two contrasting climates give her grapes an added complexity of flavor. She’s fun. She’s cool. She’s sophisticated. And of course, she’s Italian, so you know she’ll bring style to any party. Meet Franciacorta, a sparkling wine that has enough similarities to Champagne, but like any two siblings, are anything but identical.

To start, wine experts say that Franciacorta is equal parts nature and nurture. The former starts with Lake Iseo, a glacial body of water that’s nestled next to the region. Its chilly winds mitigate the harsh summer sun, cooling the grapes and allowing them to mature slowly.

The nurture aspect follows, and it isn’t for the impatient. Harvesters must use a discerning hand to pick grapes with any imperfections, a process completed within a four-week window in August. The Ferghettina winery estimates that only 65% of the grapes harvested are good enough for Franciacorta standards. After the grape harvest comes a two-step fermentation, a process developed by oenologist Franco Ziliani in the 1960s.

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Franciacorta VS Champagne

Both Franciacorta and Champagne are made from blends of the same grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir. Michele Bozza, president of Franciacorta’s La Montina agrees that the two libations share a rich history of craftsmanship. The main similarity between Franciacorta and Champagne lies in the care and dedication that producers invest in crafting wines of absolute quality.” Champagne and Franciacorta also follow a process of two fermentations, setting these two apart from other effervescent wines like Prosecco or Spumanti. However, that’s where the similarities end.

Beyond nature, aspects of nurture like regulations, fermentation times, and even the local perception of the region make significant impacts on the outcome. To start, grapes for Franciacorta can only be grown on pre-approved sections of land that have appropriate moisture and sunlit conditions. Vintners cannot overcrowd their vineyards with too many plants, and are only allowed to produce a maximum of twelve tons of grapes per hectare. From beginning to end, the vinification process, including fermenting, bottling, and packaging the wine must all happen within the demarcated lines of the region. Rest assured, there will be no mass production of Franciacorta any time soon.

Gianluigi Castellini, the operator of Al Rocol winery says, “[Champagne and Franciacorta] are very different, because the weather in the two regions is quite dissimilar. While the method of production is the same, they have very distinct characteristics between each other.”

How To Get Around In Franciacorta

This region is located within Italy’s northern countryside, and while it’s close to Milan, you’ll need a car. The best way to explore Franciacorta is to take a personalized tour, like the options curated through TravelLocal. I had the pleasure of touring with Roberto, a gregarious guide through TravelLocal who has a passion for wine, and grew up in the area. Suffice to say, he knew Franciacorta like the back of his hand.

Roberto carted me between wineries in a sleek BMW while he shared insider knowledge about the best vineyards. As we cruised around the winding streets that curled around grape fields like hair ribbons, I realized I was getting an intimate experience beyond the typical, sometimes overcrowded group tour.


Best Vineyards in Franciacorta

When traveling, there’s a sweet spot between having the tourist experience, while capturing the intimate knowledge of a local. The vineyards below are among the best of Franciacorta, and pair a high end tasting experience with the charm of rural Italy.

Antica Fratta

The family that manages Antica Fratta are descendents of the original Franciacorta vintner: Franco Zilliani. True to the classic vinification method he developed, their process of soft grape pressing and low temperature fermentation makes for an enduring family tradition.

The primary tasting room is lit by a massive crystalline chandelier and overlooks the winery’s ancient bell tower. You must try the Satèn variety and pair it with an unforgettable tour through their ancient cellar caves.


There’s something special about their wine, and it starts with a square. Ferghettina’s bottles are square-shaped, instead of the usual circle. This design was invented by the son of the managing family, and creates a distinctive flavor during the second fermentation.

The shape of the bottle isn’t the only reason to check them out. Ferghettina’s soaring Google reviews and list of devout wine enthusiasts ensures you’ll want to put Ferghettina at the top of your destination points.

La Montina

Since 1987, La Montina established themselves as a focal point in the region. Come here for the wine, but stay for the on-site contemporary museum. After getting your fill of art, satiate yourself at the restaurant, Villa Baiana. Bozza recommends La Montina’s Satèn Franciacorta, produced exclusively with white grapes, and is characterized by a soft and silky texture.

He also adds, “We particularly love pairing our Satèn with the creamy risottos at our restaurant. You must try Franciacorta Satèn with porcini mushroom risotto and local mountain cheese.”

Castello Bonomi Tenute

The history of this castle is as unique as the wine produced there. After his seven-year captivity in a fortress prison, the original owner returned to his homeland of Italy and commissioned a renowned architect to build what is now Castello Bonomi.

Upon purchase of the castle, the Bonomi family (who now own and operate the estate) made an unexpected discovery. Hidden in the surrounding woods were the enduring grape vines that had been planted by the original owner. This marked the start of Castello Bonomi, and the Franciacorta wine production that followed.

You can feel the history of this castle as you roam the stone corridors and explore the ancient vineyards.


Al Rocol

Castellini of Al Rocol says that, “Franciacorta is unique for its agricultural tradition of small farmer families who value the whole territory with passion and devotion.”

Those words will resonate with you after a trip to Al Rocol. It’s a picturesque cantine set in the center of a vineyard, where the color of its dark cherry wood panels are reminiscent of the grapes that grow in the vineyards. It’s a family affair, where two siblings manage the wine cellar and the mom runs the kitchen.

If you love Al Rocol so much that you don’t want to leave, you’re in luck. The estate runs an agritourism program where it’s possible to rent out rooms and enjoy an extended stay on the farm.

Castellini recommends the first Franciacorta wine Al Rocol produced: Brut Ca’ del Luf. “We launched [this] wine to honor the founder of our agritourism, Gina Castellini.”

When To Visit

For less crowds, most wine enthusiasts agree that May and June are ideal months to spend a long weekend in the region. Castellini suggests three days to get the most out of Franciacorta. Not only does this give enough time to check out a few great wineries, you can also explore some of the nearby cities like Brescia, Bergamo or Verona.

If you want to have a more technical experience, plan a visit in September or October. While the weather might be on the brisk side, requiring you to pack wools instead of linens, you’ll see the harvesting period in action. This is when grapes are selected based on their ripeness and perfection, and only the best grapes are turned into Franciacorta.

Plus, the region hosts an annual Cantina event mid-September, where upwards of 60 wineries open their doors for tastings, live music, and other lively events.