An hour from Milan is the home of an under-the-radar sparkling-wine region that gives Champagne a run for its money. Intrigued? So were we...
A glimpse of Monte Rossa’s vineyard from inside the 15th century villa.
"Never say never and never say always,” says Paola Beghini. “Everything is possible.” Beghini was talking about the history of Monte Rossa winery, set in a beautiful 15th century villa. But, really, that statement could also apply to the other 115 wineries in Franciacorta, an Italian region in the heart of Lombardy at the foothills of the Alps that, despite a small footprint and low production, are turning out some of the world’s best sparkling wines (sorry, Champagne)."
As European wine denominations go, Franciacorta is a baby. It was in the ’50s when the idea of creating a sparkling-wine region was first discussed; the area already produced a number of excellent still wines. Although it wasn’t until 1995 when Franciacorta obtained the Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin —the first Italian wine to be produced exclusively using bottle fermentation, like Champagne, to do so. Combine that with its limited availability outside of Italy— although that is improving—and you’ll be forgiven for not being familiar with this elegant Italian sparkling wine, which is made from chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot blanc estate-only grapes. Once you taste it, though, you’ll never forget it.
But if you want a truly unforgettable experience, why not go to Franciacorta? Its location an hour east of Milan in a roughly 77-square-mile area, bordered on one side by Lake Iseo and on the other by low mountains and sloping hillsides, means it’s not only easy to get to but, once you arrive, there’s plenty to do, visiting wineries notwithstanding.
With the touch of a button, the roof opens in L’Albereta’s Cabriolet Suite.
For a home base, L’Albereta (room rates from $310 per night, albereta.it), a luxury five-star Relais & Châteaux resort, sets the perfect tone. Housed in a former villa, the family-owned hotel combines Old World charm with modern touches, including contemporary sculptures scattered throughout the lush property. Each of the 57 suites has a diff erent look and some include a private outdoor area.
No matter your thoughts on breakfast buffets, don’t miss it here, and not just for the tartas, crostatas and bombolini (that’s cakes, fruit tarts and doughnuts, to you non-Italian speakers). The view from the outdoor deck is stunning. If you’ve gotten friendlier with the buffet than you intended or overindulged at the hotel’s wonderful fine dining restaurant, LeoneFelice—chef Fabio Abbattista’s toasted wheat cappelletti pasta stuffed with rabbit is worth every calorie—there’s Espace Chenot Health Wellness Spa on the lower level that includes a pool, a gym and access to personal trainers. Off-site activities include horseback riding, wind surfing and boat rentals. The latter is best enjoyed with a glass of Franciacorta in hand as you take in the dramatic scenery.
Getting thirsty? Lucky for you, Bellavista Winery (bellavistawine.it), from the same owners at L’Albereta, is nearby. Like at most of the region’s wineries, tours are available by appointment. Fratelli Berlucchi (fratelliberlucchi.it) is another stellar winery set among historic ivy-covered buildings, some with 15th century frescoes. The Freccianera Rosa 2013 tops our list of must-try wines. “We like to keep the traditions,” says Tilli Berlucchi of her family’s winery.
Nearby is Ronco Calino (roncocalino.it). What started as a passion project for husband-and-wife owners Paolo Radici and Lara Imberti Radici, now produces 70,000 bottles of Franciacorta a year, including a terrific brut aged for 30 months. “It’s important that people want to drink another glass,” says Lara of their wines.
At Corte Bianca (corte-bianca.it), an organic and sustainably focused winery, owner Marina Tonsi used her architecture training to renovate a traditional farmhouse with the most advanced green architecture. The wines here, including a lush rosé made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes, reflect that same attention to detail.
Monte Isola, the largest lake island in Europe.
Just as important as the wine, though, is the region’s cuisine. At Polastri Maceler (polastrimaceler.it), a family-run butcher since 1840, you’ll find the area’s best representations of cured meats, including creative new offerings such as a pork salumi flavored with—what else?—Franciacorta.
At Cappuccini Resort (room rates from $190 per night, cappuccini.it), a restored 16th century monastery that includes 14 rooms and a spa, chef Piercarlo Zanotti off ers a modern interpretation of local dishes. “My kitchen is easy,” he says in regards to his on-site garden, which supplies many of the ingredients for his dishes, such as beet risotto with Parmesan gelato. It’s a similar scenario at Michelin-starred Due Colombe (duecolombe.com), where chef Stefano Cerveni finds inspiration in both the recipes of his grandmother and modern gastronomy.
But perhaps it’s Monte Rossa’s Emanuele Rabotti, son of Paolo and Paola Rabotti, who started the winery in 1972 on the grounds of their historic villa, who sums up Franciacorta—the wine and the region—best. “Every year is a beautiful new experience,” he says.