Between Bergamo and Brescia is FRANCIACORTA, a hilly wine-producing district rising from the built-up plain. It got its name from the religious communities that lived here from the eleventh century onwards: they were exempt from tax and known as the Corti Franche, or free courts. This small area of Lombardy is best known for the Franciacorta DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), Italy’s most refined sparkling wine, produced according to Champagne methods. It was first produced in the 1960s and the secret lies in the second fermentation in the bottle which can last from eighteen to sixty months. Usually a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir or Blanc grapes, the sparkling wine comes in various types: Not Dosed/Pas Dosé (extremely dry), Extra Brut, Brut Satèn (a light silky-smooth mixture), Sec, Demisec and Rosé.
Some of the best known Franciacorta sparkling wine producers are Bellavista (wterramoretti.it), Belucchi (wberlucchi.it), Ca’del Bosco (wcadelbosco.com) and Majolini (wmajolini.it) but all of the vineyards – and there are over one hundred of them – have their own story and often lovely headquarters in ancient farmhouses or villas. Most guided tours end with a tasting and very competitive prices are offered in the cantina shops, where they can usually arrange shipping back home for you too.
The Consortium Franciacorta (Via G. Verdi 53, Erbusco t 030 776 0477, wfranciacorta.net) has a list and can give advice on vineyards to visit or be guided by local suggestions from B&B owners.
In mid-September on even years, the Festival Franciacorta sees wineries open for special tasting sessions and local restaurants offering themed seasonal menus.
The Strada del Vino Franciacorta
Tourist offices and hotels stock a map of the Strada del Vino Franciacorta (wstradadelfranciacorta.it), a route which winds for 80km through the area, passing visitable vineyards, hotels and restaurants. There are well-thought-out routes for cars, cyclists or walkers lasting for a couple of hours to a day or two. Contact details are given for wineries along the route, most of which offer tours and tastings; advance booking is preferred.