This article is part of our wine travel guide series, and this time we’re going to Lombardy, an area in Northern Italy that is known for Franciacorta. Let’s look at where to taste this wine and what else to do, see and eat in Lombardy.
A region boasting myriad charms from hills to mountains, vast plains and romantic lakes, Lombardy will win you round with its endless riches, which include the wine regions of Franciacorta, Valtellina and Oltrepò Pavese. Some people think that Lombardy doesn’t have a propensity for winemaking, but they’re wrong; the region may be well known for its services sector and animal husbandry, but it is well placed for wine tourists and gourmet travellers thanks to its unforgettable wines and gastronomic delicacies. Here’s our guide to wine tourism in Lombardy.
Welcome to Lombardy
Conveniently situated in the heart of northern Italy, at the foot of the Alps and in the middle of the Po Valley, Lombardy basks in a strategic position along the main roads between the Mediterranean and Central Europe. It is one of the largest regions in Italy (covering approximately 24,000 sq km), which means that the area varies significantly in terms of climate and soil. The region consists of mountainous areas, such as Valtellina, and flat or partly hilly zones, like Oltrepò Pavese, as well as places with unusual microclimates such as around Lake Garda. About half of the terrain is flat, while 40% of it is mountainous. Slightly over 10% of the area is hilly, which lends itself well to quality winemaking. All this means that the grapes and wines differ according to the area in question.
Wines from Lombardy
Wines from Lombardy distinguish themselves by their quality, vaunting 21 DOCs and 5 DOCGs including the famous bubbles from Franciacorta, Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico, Moscato di Scanzo, Sforzato di Valtellina (or Sfursat di Valtellina) and Valtellina Superiore. The viticulture in Lombardy has long since been typified by diversification in the production zones, which differ in terms of climate and geography, extending from the terraced slopes of Valtellina to the glacial areas around Lakes Garda and Iseo and reaching the Apennine hills of Oltrepò Pavese and the Po Valley. The areas under vine clearly represent Lombardy: Pinot Nero, Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay grow in Franciacorta and Croatina, Barbera and Riesling in Oltrepò Pavese, while Nebbiolo, which is referred to as Chiavennasca in Lombardy, is cultivated in Valtellina.
The main DOC wines from Lombardy include Groppello, Barbera, Marzemino and Sangiovese, Lambrusco Mantovano and Trebbiano di Lugana. Moscato di Scanzo is an interesting native red grape, for which the DOCG is named, grown in Valcalepio between Bergamo and Lake Iseo. Due to research and experimentation first in the vineyard and then in the cellar, Lombardy’s wine scene has progressed over the years, achieving some of the most fascinating pinnacles of excellence in the whole of Italy.
Wine Tourism in Franciacorta
The Strada del Vino Franciacorta is a picturesque wine road that leads visitors between leading wineries and centuries-old monasteries in discovery of the area, its food and wine, culture and leisure activities. From vine-covered hills to stone-clad villages, medieval towers and castles, sixteenth-century buildings and noble villas, these lands have grown grapes since Roman times. Beauty is the one constant on this journey, to be savoured and enjoyed slowly, perhaps by bike, as you explore the wines of Franciacorta and the area’s architecture, such as the impactful Lombard morainic amphitheatre that extends from Brescia to Lake Iseo.
Tour the castles of Franciacorta between winery visits. The picturesque Castello di Bornato dates to 200 AD and was surrendered to the Gandini family in 1562, whose coat-of-arms can still be seen today. A parkland boasting old trees lies in a raised position within the walls; it is often said that Dante peered out here. Bornato is home to the oldest wineries in Franciacorta, now a museum, and the best place to taste the castle’s wines. You can even stay at the Locanda and relax over a delicious lunch in the restaurant.
Wineries in Franciacorta
Franciacorta was the first Italian spumante made solely by refermentation in the bottle (Metodo Classico) to receive DOCG status and excels among Lombardy’s fine wines due to modern winemakers who carry on age-old traditions with a contemporary twist. The grapes – Chardonnay and Pinot Nero – are the same as Champagne, but Pinot Bianco replaces Pinot Meunier.
Although some people try to compare Franciacorta and Champagne, the cultural and geological differences between the regions must be remembered. The end products are similar, but each has their own unique traits, meaning that each should be appreciated in their own right. On visiting the wineries of Franciacorta, the producers will be happy to explain their methods (released to market 25 months after the harvest, 18 months with yeast contact in the bottle), the sugar content (pas dosé, extra brut, brut, extra dry, dry and demi-sec) and the typical tasting hallmarks of Franciacorta. The yeasty aroma makes way for long-lasting white flowers and citrus notes like lime. The finesse of the bubbles makes these wines easy to pair as they cleanse the mouth from the various senses stimulated by food. Franciacorta is usually enjoyed within 2 to 3 years from the date of disgorgement.
Vintage wines (made with wines from the same year) are capable of ageing for longer and may reveal some wonderful surprises. Enjoying a winery experience in Franciacorta is the same as studying history books about the families who have continued in the traditions and footsteps of their forefathers. You’ll be spoilt for choice, but here are a few to begin with:
- Ca’ del Bosco: a passion for wine and art marry in this Erbusco winery, where bronze, marble and steel meet fine wines. Go through the bronze gate designed by Arnaldo Pomodoro – to discover the winery founded by Maurizio Zanella to grasp the absolute harmony between the perfection of the wine, contemporary art and the landscape.
- Berlucchi: the distinguished cradle of the first Franciacorta, visiting the historic Cantine Berlucchi means stimulating the mind and the taste buds. At the end of the cellar tour you can choose from three experiences: I Classici, I Preziosi or Gli Esclusivi. A selection of baked goods will pair with the wines. The Gli Esclusivi experience grants you access to the sixteenth-century Palazzo Lana Berlucchi, with its impressive fireplace in Botticino marble, adjacent to the historic cellars.
- Bersi Serlini: the history of the Bersi Serlini family is closely linked to the Cluny monks, who for more than 700 years, maintained the building, which became the property of the lawyer Piero Bersi in 1886 and, subsequently, his heirs. From the guided tours of the two cellars – also available in the evenings and by prior appointment – to blind tastings, a visit to this treasure trove in Provaglio d’Iseo will prove an enthralling experience.
- Mosnel: five generations of winemakers have turned grapes into greatness in the sixteenth-century cellars of the Camignone estate. You can visit the cellar, villa and centuries-old gardens by prior appointment; tasting Mosnel’s wines as well as local delicacies, and even cycling through the 40 hectares of vineyards along two themed trails.
What to eat in Franciacorta
Lombardy has much to offer from a culinary viewpoint as a consequence of the vastness of the area and the variety of its landscape, from the Alps to the Po Valley, boasting countless lakes and rivers. Starters are essentially cured meats, such as Brianza and Varzi DOP salami as well as Bresaola della Valtellina IGP. Try the many types of risotto and soups. Pizzoccheri valtellinesi are a must, as too as buckwheat tagliatelle cooked with cabbage and potatoes and dressed with butter and cheese, known as casonsèi alla bergamasca.
Delicious meat dishes include cotolette alla milanese (breaded veal cutlets) and ossobuco (veal shanks), also served with risotto, beef cooked slowly in oil with polenta, Brescia-style skewers and tripe. The regional cuisine boasts plenty of game, such as hare, pigeon, chamois and deer. Freshwater fish is popular too, due to the many lakes and rivers, especially trout, carp, missoltini (a type of lake shad) and perch.
Lombardy makes numerous PDO cheeses, such as formai de mut from the Upper Val Brembana, Casera and Bitto in Valtellina, Quartirolo Lombardo, Grana Padano, Taleggio, Robiola bresciana, Silter and many more.
Tucked away in the little village of Borgonato, the one Michelin star Ristorante Due Colombe is the perfect place to enjoy harmonious dishes that marry tradition and modernity. Chef Stefano Cerveni has revisited traditional regional cooking, devising creative takes such as purple potato foam with prawns and spaghetti in a cream sauce with crispy cod. Hostaria Uva Rara is another culinary highlight, nestled in a fully renovated fifteenth-century farmhouse, as too is Trattoria da Gina, established about a century ago in Rovato, where formerly one of the most important market towns in the area.
Where to Stay in Franciacorta
The Franciacorta wine region offers wine resorts for every budget. In Erbusco, the Relais & Chateaux L’Albereta is undoubtedly one of the loveliest resorts in Franciacorta, vaunting panoramic terraces, a gourmet restaurant and a programme of wine-focused activities, including tours of the Bellavista and Contadi Castaldi wineries, owned by the Terra Moretti Group, and wine tasting courses. Another exclusive resort is Cascina Santellone, idyllic for a dreamy stay, even if only for a weekend. Relais Franciacorta, in Colombaro di Corte Franca, is a farm dating to 1670, affording views over Lake Iseo and surrounded by olive groves. Villa Fenaroli, in Rezzato, is also nestled among greenery, while near Brescia you can stay at Santellone Resort, a minimal chic hotel with a spa in a former medieval monastery. Cappuccini Resort stands in the Monte Orfano hills, pure poetry within the stone walls of a sixteenth-century abbey turned into an exquisite hotel.
Enter the magic of Lombardy and follow our tips for the perfect wine vacation in Franciacorta.