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Franciacorta producers look to include old Italian indigenous variety to production process

Published:  16 June, 2014

Producers of Franciacorta, the premium Italian sparkling wine, may soon have to make it with an old indigenous grape variety if changes to the production process are approved. 

Producers of Franciacorta, the premium Italian sparkling wine, may soon have to make it with an old indigenous grape variety if changes to the production process are approved. 

Currently Franciacorta is produced by natural refermantation in the bottle using only Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc grape varieties.

However, the Consorzio Franciacorta, which governs the wine's growing area and production method, has confirmed to it is looking to introduce an old local grape variety to the process.

To do so would require Franciacorta producers to replace current vines with the new, as yet un-named, indigenous grape variety, rather than expand the growing area. 

Mauricio Zanella, president of the Consorzio Franciacorta, and owner of leading producer, Ca del Bosco, said the project would take at least nine years to come to fruition.

An initial two years for the new vines to be planted, a further, three years growing time before it was possible to start making wine from them and then a final four years for the first wines to be made, matured and released.

If the plan goes ahead Zanella said it would be looking to have between 200 and 300 hectares of the indigenous grape variety.

He explained why it was keen to make the change: "People are looking for authenticity in their premium wine and we need to have something that is a little closer to our own land."

He conceded that to only have international grape varieties in the Franciacorta production process was on "philosophically" a "mistake".

Zanella said the proposal would initially see only 5% of the overall wine being made up of the indigenous variety, but he hoped in time that would increase to around 20% of the wine.

He said the additional variety would give the wine "more freshness, more minerality and most saltiness" and it had been chosen because it has a "high acidity".

He said introducing the new grape variety would be the "biggest legacy" of his time as president of the consorzio which ends next year after six years.

Zanella said he expected Franciacorta producers to accept the idea of introducing a new local variety. They had already, he said, agreed to up to six major changes across the DOCG since 1990. "The members are very committed and are all very clear where we want to go. We all share the same interests."

Franciacorta is only one of three wine styles, alongside Cava and Champagne, that allows secondary fermentation in the bottle.

 It is produced from hand picked grapes and involves slow maturation and ageing on the lees, for a minimum 18 months of its Brut style wine, 30 for vintage (Millesimatos) and 60 months for Riservas.

 * There will be a series of specialist tastings in the UK this summer to help promote Franciacorta in the UK alongside premium Brunello wines, produced in the Tuscan region of Montalcino.

A Manchester Masterclass takes place on July 1, followed by a London Masterclass on July 2, both hosted by Peter McCombie MW, and a generic tasting on July 3. McCombie will take visitors through examples of quality wines from both regions. 

The generic tasting will be exhibiting a wide range of wines from producers looking for importers and distribution in the UK as well as established producers in the UK looking to widen distribution.

Bryony Wright, head of Franciacorta UK, said: "In the UK our primary focus is to highlight the inherent quality of the wines and this means education; through trade tastings and engagement with press, sommeliers and key influencers. Rome wasn't built in a day, and like this Italian adage, we are aware that this a gradual process and an exciting challenge in what the region sees as a key global market."

The combined tasting is the result of a joint initiative by the two consorzio's of Franciacorta and Brunello di Montalcino to promote their wines.

The events take place at:

Franciacorta & Brunello di Montalcino Masterclass - Manchester Art Gallery, July 1.

Franciacorta & Brunello di Montalcino Masterclass - Il Bottaccio, 9 Grosvenor Place London,  July 2.

UK Generic Tasting - Italian Embassy, July 3.