All sparkling wines are champagne, right? Wrong! There is the methode champenoise or methode traditionelle, but there are also other methods. Crucial is the 2nd fermentation in the bottle that adds the bubbles. Some additional sugars and yeast are added to the wine after its regular fermentation (hence the second fermentation). Different is how long this 2nd step lasts. The longer it takes, the smoother the taste.
Champagne has to ripen at least 9 months “sur lie” but almost all good champagnes give it longer. 12-18 months is common. The longer, the more time the oxidation process involving an alcohol molecule has to oxidize all kinds of other molecules naturally present in wine. I like to think this is what removes the “sharp taste” of young wine and produces a smoother texture, smaller bubbles, new flavors.
Franciacorta is a region between Bergamo and Brescia in Northern Italy and it is home to Italian “Champagne”. Ricci Curbastro ripens his wines at least 25 months in the bottle and this makes the sparkling wine very smooth. Also relatively cheap when compared to “younger” champagnes!
Another difference with French Champagne is that Franciacorta sparkling wines use 2 white grapes and one blue grape (Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir) where the French traditionally use 2 blue grapes: Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. Blue grapes have more tannins and this makes for “heavier”, more robust flavors. Since this is often more appealing to men than to women, I tend to call them “manly wines”.
Conclusion: Franciacorta is a great alternative to Champagne. It’s smoother without the need to extra sugar (Brut is fine) and it is a crowd pleaser because it is smoother. Women will love it, I’m sure of it. And if they are happy, men usually are too…