Italians have been enjoying this bubbly wine for years, and we should be, too.

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toasting with franciacorta wine
Credit: Courtesy of Franciacorta

When it comes to Italian sparkling wine, prosecco would win in a popularity contest, hands down, with lesser-known Moscato d'Asti coming in a distant second. Name another bubbly from Italy, though, and you may be stumped-that is, until now. If you haven't heard of Franciacorta ("frahn-chah-COR-tah"), allow us to make your introduction to this fizzy wine that's popular with the fashion crowd in Milan.

Although relatively unknown in global terms-and still new(ish), having only received its DOCG (the highest designation of quality among Italian wines) status in 1995-Franciacorta is widely regarded as Italy's finest sparkling wine. The aforementioned prosecco and Moscato d'Asti certainly deserve their due, but compared to Franciacorta, they have lighter, fruitier styles, not generally known for complexity and finesse. Franciacorta, on the other hand, is drier, more yeasty, and generally has more depth-it's more like Champagne.

There are a couple of reasons for the differences in taste. First, there's the way the wines are made: for prosecco, the wine is transferred from its first fermentation vat to a large, sealed, pressurized tank, where it is fermented again; that creates the carbonation. It's then bottled and sold. Franciacorta is made with a process that mimics the way Champagne is made: the second fermentation actually takes place in the bottle (not a large tank)-so the CO2 that's created is absorbed back into the wine, instead of evaporating. Franciacorta is then aged in the bottle anywhere from 18 months to 60 months. The result is a drier, less fruity wine that's balanced and intensely aromatic.

Franciacorta grapes are different, too. Most Franciacorta wines are made with chardonnay, pinot blanc, and pinot noir grapes. Prosecco is mostly made with the grape Glera. Another point of difference: Prosecco is made in the Italy's Northeast, mostly in the Conegliano Valdobbiadene near Venice, while Franciacorta is made in the region it's named after, a glorious area in the heart of Lombardy. It's about an hour east of Milan, towards the Italian Alps.

There are numerous varietals of Franciacorta, from a nonvintage brut to fan-favorite rosé to vintage wines (again like champagne). If you want something totally unique, satèn is exclusive to Franciacorta, and is known for its silky smoothness; the Monte Rossa Sanseve Satèn Brut is a perfect example. And all Franciacorta are fantastic pre-dinner sippers, fabulously complementing everything from fried nibbles such as calamari or shrimp, to salty chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Yes, Franciacorta is a bit pricier than prosecco-a medium-range bottle, such as this excellent Franciacorta Extra Brut, Faccoli, runs around $45, versus the $12 bargains for prosecco-but it's a more serious wine, too. That is, as serious as a seriously delicious glass of sparkling wine can be.

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