The sparkling wines of Italy’s Fran­ci­a­corta re­gion are rea­son enough to visit— the stun­ning land­scape and cuisine are a de­light­ful added bonus.

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...

Philadelphia Style - - CONTENTS - By Lisa Shames

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.

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 dif­fer­ent 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 must­try 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.

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 fi nd the area’s best rep­re­sen­ta­tions of cured meats, in­clud­ing cre­ative new of­fer­ings such as a pork sa­lumi fl avored 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 fi nds 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.

Clock­wise from top left: Vine­yards next to L’al­bereta; with the touch of a but­ton, the roof opens in L’al­bereta’s Cabri­o­let Suite; cap­pel­letti pasta stuffed with rab­bit from Leone­fe­lice restau­rant.

Clock­wise from left: A glimpse of Monte Rossa’s vine­yard from in­side the 15th cen­tury villa; Leone­fe­lice chef Fabio Ab­bat­tista in the restau­rant’s pris­tine kitchen; the cel­lar of Monte Rossa win­ery, which pro­duces about half a mil­lion bot­tles of...

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