Christmas Past: Milan and Berlucchi, Deck The Halls With Franciacorta

This holiday season, I am grateful to be healthy and that my family is all getting together. As I do every Christmas since moving back from Italy, I reflect on Christmases past and the wonderful traditions I had when I lived there. Top of mind is drinking Franciacorta, specifically Berlucchi at Christmas. Berlucchi, Ca’ del Bosco. and Bellavista were the first three Franciacorta wines that I tasted and the Saten from Bellavista remains a singular experience in my mind and on my palate.

Franciacorta really began with Berlucchi so it’s a great place to start a conversation about the denomination. In 1955, Franco Ziliani an oenologist and Guido Berlucchi, decided to embark on an adventure that lead to the birth of this sparkling wine denomination. 1961 saw the birth of their first satisfactory vintage.

Berlucchi 61 Brut is made from 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Nero. The winery creates the cuvée in the spring following harvest. Secondary fermentation in the bottle and maturation sur lie for a minimum of 24 months followed by an additional 2 months after disgorgement is another piece of the puzzle.

I love this wine and it’s elegance on the nose and palate. It has a creamy, fine perlage with small, quick bubbles bursting to the surface. Apple, pear, and yeast come through on the nose with acidity and pith as well on the palate. I love this wine both as an aperitivo and with Salmon.

The Berlucchi winery was the location of the ceremony for my diploma from the Italian Sommelier Association in 2004. I was so happy and proud to have achieved that certificate, my first in wine. Many others have followed but that one still remains a singular achievement to me.

Receiving my AIS certificate

Franciacorta is a sparkling wine made in the classical method from areas around the city of Brescia.  Many people have not visited Brescia but it is an amazing city with almost 100 churches and layers upon layers of history. Franciacorta became a DOC wine in 1967 but the Consorzio was created in 1990 by 29 producers. It became a DOCG in 1995. Today they have 200 producers. These wonderful sparklers are made in the traditional method with secondary fermentation taking place in the bottle, with four grape varieties permitted: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Bianco and Erbamat.

The soils in Franciacorta are rich in sand and limestone, and are known for their good drainage. The area is located on what was a moraine that formed as a glacier withdrew many centuries ago. As in many areas of this type of geological origin, numerous minerals, stones and rocks were left to create rich soils where the vine can flourish. The soils in Franciacorta vary with the zones but overall they have these characteristics.

The area is also attentive to sustainability issues and to being carbon neutral. I know a number of producers in the area who strive to be carbon zero. So many wonderful producers to mention here but I will just link to posts that I have written in the past about the area.

Brescia is a city that is surprisingly interesting and rich in art, culture. As Lombardy’s second largest city after Milan, it is often thought of as a small industrial town in Northern Italy, perhaps worth a few hours to see the Duomo, have lunch, and then continue on its more well known neighboring cities.

On closer inspection however, Brescia reveals it exciting and varied history as well as numerous treasures. Brescia is known throughout Italy for its steel industry and precision instruments. The city is quite well to do and this wealth and prosperity is clearly evident in the high quality shops, stores, and restaurants. These last are even more expensive than those of its larger neighbor, Milan.

An itinerary through the city  can be created around various themes such as Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, and/or 17th century architecture. The city can be well navigated on foot from the central station, by bus, car, or on bikes.

Like Bergamo, Brescia is a great side trip if you are in Milan. As you might have guessed, I wrote a long travel article on Brescia for a guidebook some years ago. I have spent less time in Brescia than in Bergamo but have drunk loads of Franciacorta through the years and therefore feel linked to the area in profound ways.

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