Franciacorta, Italy’s sparkling wine region par excellence, is a relatively young appellation (granted DOC in 1967 and DOCG in 1995). It is also a small appellation, with vineyard plantings covering about 7,800 acres, which makes it about one-tenth the size of Champagne. But despite its youth and modest acreage, this region has certainly captured the attention of my colleagues here at Wine Review Online
, several of who have written about Franciacorta in recent years.
Franciacorta’s wines, noted Michael Franz in his column in 2012, are “probably the most under-appreciated sparklers in the entire world.” In 2013 Michael Apstein wrote that, “Franciacorta is Italy’s leading sparkling wine area and, in terms of quality, it is to Italy what Champagne is to France.” In his splendid column examining the geology of Franciacorta (2017) Wayne Belding reported that “the large body of water of the lake [Iseo] moderates the local climate, ameliorating the extremes of summer heat and winter cold.” And in 2016 Jessica Dupuy pointed out that Franciacorta wine is relatively hard to find in the US, but despite its relative scarcity, “it’s a style of wine that more and more wine experts are trying to bring into the market, not only for its quality, but for its value. When you can find it, many Brut styles of Franciacorta can run as little as $15-$20.”
Following all the valuable information that has appeared in Wine Review Online
columns, my own self-appointed job now is to point out how delicious Franciacorta wines can be with food. Many of my colleagues compared the wines favorably to Champagne, and like Champagne, Franciacorta is not only a uniquely delicious aperitif, it also can be an enchanting accompaniment to a surprising range of different foods. With this in mind, I reached out to a few producers whose wines are imported to the US and asked them to share with us a favorite recipe that shows off the versatility of their wine at the table. The recipes, which I have taken the liberty of condensing below, illustrate the diversity of flavors and ingredients that these splendid sparkling wines can adapt to and even enhance:
Majolini Brut Blanc de Noir
Place a salmon filet, skin side down, in a baking dish lightly greased with olive oil. Add the juice of a lemon and a little minced garlic. Pour in about 1 cup Majolini Brut or other white wine. Sprinkle on some minced rosemary and a little salt and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the salmon is just cooked through and the wine has all been absorbed.
Ricci Curbastro Franciacorta Satèn Brut
Potatoes and Caviar
Steam or boil 8 small potatoes. Cut each potato in half lengthwise and carefully scoop out about half of the flesh from each shell. Place the pulp in a bowl and blend in about 1/4 cup sour cream, 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, and salt and pepper to taste. With a small teaspoon spoon the mixture back into the potato shells and garnish each one with caviar. Serves 4.
Ca’ del Bosco Crut Cuvée Prestige
Risotto with Shrimp and Lemon Zest
Place 1 cup Carnaroli Acquerllo or Arborio (or other risotto style rice) in a deep skillet and stir in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Stir over medium heat until all the rice is coated with oil then add one cup dry white wine. Continue stirring until the wine is completely absorbed. Pour in one cup fish stock (or chicken stock or water) and about ½ pound uncooked peeled and deveined shrimp. Cook, stirring frequently, until all the liquid is absorbed. Add another cup of liquid, the grated rind of 1 lemon, and a little minced parsley. Continue adding liquid cup by cup in this manner until the rice is just al dente. Grate a little more lemon rind over the top and serve at once.
Ronco Calino Brut
Place about 1 pound cooked, diced lobster in a serving bowl and add 1 large, thinly sliced red onion and 2 stalks celery, diced. Cut 3 tomatoes into bite-sized pieces and add to the lobster mixture. Whisk together the juice of one lemon, 1 tablespoon of white vinegar, 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, and salt to taste. Pour over the lobster salad garnish with minced parsley and chives. Serves 4.
Lamb and Celery Root Purée
Peel a celery root and cut it into large dice. Toss it with a little lemon juice and put it in a pot along with 3 large, peeled and cubed white-fleshed potatoes. Cover with water and simmer until potatoes and celery root are tender, about 15-20 minutes, then drain and return to the pot. Heat ½ cup whole milk and add to the pot along with 2 tablespoons butter and puree the mixture with an immersion blender. Season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, trim a rack of lamb into chops and sprinkle each one with a pinch of dried lavender. Coat each lamb chop with bread crumbs and fry them in oil, then drain them on absorbent paper. To serve, place each chop on a plate and garnish each with a heaping spoonful of the creamed celery root.
Inspired by these recipes I decided to create one myself, and with the holidays fast upon us I wanted it to be something that could serve as a festive first taste to any holiday gathering. To make this truly a taste of the region I incorporated Gorgonzola DOP (Protected Denomination of Origin), a cheese that is typically produced along the Strada del Franciacorta.
Savory Gorgonzola-Pecan Cookies
Enjoy these tasty Gorgonzola shortbread “cookies” with Franciacorta wine before dinner (or for that matter anytime).
1 cup pecan halves
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon each salt and pepper
6 tablespoons cold butter cut in 1-tablespoon pieces
4 ounces Gorgonzola cheese cut in pieces
Preheat oven to 350°
Toast the pecans in the oven for about 10 minutes (or in a toaster oven 3-5 minutes) until they are deep brown, then pulse them into pieces in a food processor (ideally the pieces should be about the size of small pebbles). Pulse in the flour, salt and pepper, then add the pieces of cold butter and the cheese and pulse until well integrated. Shape the dough into a disc, cover it with plastic wrap and chill it for at least 30 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface roll the dough out until it is about1/4 inch thick. Using a cookie cutter or the rim of a small drinking glass cut the dough into rounds (or other shapes--Christmas trees perhaps?). With a spatula, transfer them to a cookie sheet or baker’s half sheet and bake for about10-15 minutes or until the cookies are lightly browned.
Cin Cin a tutti!