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Italy’s Best Sparkling Wine? It’s Not Prosecco

In the U.S., if you offer someone a glass of Franciacorta, the likely response is “Francha-whata?” But in Italy, it’s a completely different story. Franciacorta, a beautiful, hilly wine region located one hour east of Milan, just might be the country’s best-kept secret. The name not only refers to the area, but also to the delicious bubbly that the local wineries have been producing for 50 years, and the process that they use to make it. The sparkling wine isn’t a household name in the U.S. yet, but Italians know it well—90 percent of all Franciacorta is sold in Italy. It’s served everywhere from charming, well-respected restaurants like I Cappucinni to hot spots like Ristorante Terrazza Triennale. Franciacorta is also the official wine of Milan Fashion Week, and scored a spot at this year’s world’s fair, Milan Expo 2015. Now the consortium, which includes 122 producers, hopes to raise Franciacorta’s profile in the States and, well, everywhere else.

Franciacorta is created with the same production method as Cava and Champagne. The grapes are harvested by hand, then blended before undergoing a double fermentation process in the bottle that lasts longer than any other sparkling wine out there. The length of time that the wine is aged depends on the variety. Franciacorta is aged for 18 months, Franciacorta Satèn and Rosé are aged for 24 months, Franciacorta Millesimato is aged for 30 months, and Franciacorta Riserva gets to sit tight for 60 months. All of this patience pays off in the form of a flavor that is so wonderfully crisp and complex, you wouldn’t dream of mixing it with orange juice.

The vineyards at Il Monsel

While there are rigid rules about how to make Franciacorta, it’s okay to be lax about food pairing. Italians like to drink it with everything from breadsticks to charcuterie to seafood; even a hearty plate of pasta works. You really can’t go wrong with Franciacorta Brut, an easy choice that plays nice with snacks, apps, or an entire meal. It’s a refreshing, fruity-nutty wine made from Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir grapes, and sometimes with Pinot Blanco grapes thrown in the mix, too. Franciacorta Satèn is also a safe bet for newbies. Satèn is made only from white grapes, and gets its name because it’s so smooth, like satin. It’s the perfect fall wine because it goes well with baked pasta dishes, risotto and roasted poultry. After spending two and a half days in Franciacorta, during which I drank what seemed like an entire barrel of wine, I learned two key lessons: The first, that there’s no such thing as a bad Franciacorta; and the second, you can drink it all day (plus a glass or two with dinner) and it won’t give you a hangover. Sold and sold.

There are 109 wineries in Franciacorta, but if you only have time to see a few, add these to your list:

1. Ronco Calino

Founded in 1996 with ten acres of land, it’s considered to be one of the smaller vineyards, but the gorgeous property boasts a stunning view. While other wineries can feel overwhelming, Ronco Calino has an intimate vibe—the wine cellar is even located right near the home of the founder, Paolo Radici and his wife, Lara Imberti Radici, who serves as sales manager for the winery. Phone: 030 7451073

2. Majolini

This 12-year-old winery, which produces 150,000 bottles per year, takes inspiration from fashion, art, and design. Artwork is on prominent display throughout the space. In the loading dock, there’s an installation that features a 1958 Vespa parked in front of a limestone soil wall, and over in the refermentation room, sits a simple yet striking sculpture of a naked man and woman. Another must-see: the set of limited-edition wine bottles decked out in handmade, ostrich-skin jackets. Phone: 030 6527378

3. Il Mosnel

Il Mosnel was started in 1836 by the Barboglio family, and is currently run by fifth-generation descendants. The sprawling, 30-acre property is located in the heart of Franciacorta, where they produce 250,000 bottles of wine per year. The scenic vineyard went organic seven years ago, and hopes to expand to 40 acres in the next five years. Phone: 030 653117

Not planning a trip to Northern Italy anytime soon? You can find Franciacorta stateside. It’s on the wine list at a number of chic restaurants in New York City such as Eataly, Craft, Babbo, Marea, and Upland, or you can snag a bottle (or three) online at Sherry-lehmann.com.