This holiday season, toast the Italian way! We interviewed Emanuele Rabotti, the man behind Franciacorta Monte Rossa. And guess what, even good old Frank Sinatra loved the Italian bubbles...

Christmas and New Year’s are around the corner, although it feels like we just said farewell to summer! Nothing like toasting makes me feel festive. Every year, on Italian magazines, TV shows, and commercials, the “bubbles battle” gets ooeal. What are you going to toast with? What bottle will you bring to your aunt and uncle’s on Christmas day?

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Before you get bogged down too, we at Foodiamo would like to tell you about a great high-quality Italian sparkling wine, perfect for any kind of celebration: Franciacorta. We had the pleasure to chat with Emanuele Rabotti, owner of Monte Rossa, a famous winemaker of the Franciacorta area. We asked him to clarify some common questions (like, “Champagne vs Prosecco vs Franciacorta”), and we ended up recalling some old Frank Sinatra stories. How come? Let’s proceed with order.

Franciacorta Monte Rossa owner with Emily of Dark Star Imports

Emanuele Rabotti, owner of Monte Rossa, and Emmy Fjerstad of Dark Star Imports at Osteria Mozza, Los Angeles

Franciacorta: From the land to the wine, and back

First of all, Franciacorta is the area in Italy that produces the namesake bubbly wine. It’s on the hillside of Brescia, in the Lombardy region, only a few steps away from the little but charming Iseo Lake. It’s ironic how the name reminds of France, land of its rival Champagne. In fact, among the many theories on the origin of the word “Franciacorta”, the most probable one has nothing to do with France. It seems like in the past those were free lands, that is free from duties and taxation, in Italian “terre franche”.

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While we’re at it, Italy hasn’t yet matched France in sparkling wine production. Champagne is still the most enjoyed bubbly wine throughout the world. Prosecco outdid Champagne in sales, but it’s made with a different process (the so-called Charmat method, which I mentioned here and here) and has a lower price, too. Franciacorta shares production method with Champagne, but still hasn’t equaled its diffusion and popularity.

Bottles of Franciacorta

Franciacorta come in pink too! (Photo: Consorzio per la Tutela del Franciacorta)

A sip of Franciacorta history

To be honest with you, Franciacorta is not considered the perfect area to make sparkling wine. In the past, they used to grow almost exclusively red grapes. Things started to change in 1961, when the Berlucchi family produced the first 3,000 bottles of classic method sparkling wine from Pinot Bianco grapes, helped by enologist Franco Ziliani. From then on, Franciacorta started developing as an area for sparkling wine production.

Over the last few years there has been a huge improvement in enology and winemaking. Thus, thanks to great marketing and entrepreneurial efforts, Franciacorta are now the most loved classic-method bubbles in Italy. In fact, just saying “Franciacorta” makes people think of the wine itself, not only the area where it comes from.

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The grapes admitted by the official Franciacorta production guidelines are Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Bianco, in this order. For French Champagne, just to give you an idea, they are Pinot Nero, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier, in this order. In Franciacorta, the absolute protagonist is Chardonnay, a variety of great elegance and finesse, which also ages incredibly well.

The renovated cellars of the Franciacorta Monte Rossa winery

A look inside Monte Rossa winery (Photo: Monte Rossa)

Franciacorta Monte Rossa: From the origins to the future of Franciacorta

Of the many wineries that produce Franciacorta, Monte Rossa is among the ones that have received the most accolades. The winery was born in 1972, thanks to the perseverance of Paolo Rabotti and his wife Paola. Soon enough, they chose to leave behind the production of still wines, in order to focus on bubbles. Together with Berlucchi and a few others, the Rabotti family has contributed to make Franciacorta famous all over the world.

Today, Monte Rossa makes about 500,000 bottles per year, with an interesting offer of nine prestigious labels. The building of a new cellar in 2002 allowed their production to improve further, marrying technology to tradition.


A chat with Emanuele Rabotti, the man behind Franciacorta Monte Rossa

We interviewed Emanuele Rabotti, son of Paolo and Paola, and current owner of Monte Rossa, to learn more about the history of Franciacorta Monte Rossa and, of course, to have a little holiday toast.

Foodiamo: How was it possible to make high-quality classic method bubbles in Franciacorta, an area that is not particularly suitable for that method, and where they used to grow red grapes only?
Emanuele: It happened thanks to the great teamwork of a group of winemakers that had an entrepreneurial intuition, not only regarding the land, but also the type of product. My parents, along with other producers, figured out how to achieve a quality product, making the most out of a land that today gives its name to the product itself. It was something that nobody had done before, so they had to be resourceful and enterprising.

“Good products come from good lands, combined with a lot of patience and hard work.”

F: Making classic-method wines is already expensive, and the exported bottles end up being even more expensive. Is it hard to compete with Champagne (similar price tag, but more widely known) and Prosecco (different, but cheaper)?
E: No, it isn’t really. People around the world go out to the restaurant and want to drink well, without worrying too much about labels and brand names. If they like the product, they come back, and order it over and over again. It is a bit harder for retail, so this will be our challenge for the next years. We want consumers to learn about Franciacorta and be the ones that look for it. It’s also important to remember that Franciacorta area doesn’t need to sell billions of bottles, after all. We’re talking about a total of 16 million per year.

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F: What can we learn from the French, and what can they learn from us?
E: The French have a great past. We have a great future. For both business and pleasure, I’m used to trying sparkling wines from all over the world. There are some classic method “cava” wines from Spain, as well as some Californian bubbles, which are amazing but not quite well-known. Italy can do very well in the next ten years, perhaps even increase its production. But in a natural way, without forcing it. Good products come from good lands, combined with a lot of patience and hard work.


Four Franciacorta Monte Rossa bottles ready for the holidays

I bet that now you know what to toast with this Christmas! Good news for you, you can try Monte Rossa wines in Los Angeles. These are the four (out of the nine) Monte Rossa labels that you can find in LA.

  • Brut: This brut was created to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Monte Rossa. It’s a 100% Chardonnay wine, with a small part of vintage Chardonnay. It undergoes a refinement period of over 24 months.
  • Flamingo Rosé Brut: It’s a rosé made with Chardonnay and Pinot Nero grapes, with a refinement period of at least 24 months. The Pinot Nero gives it wine a nice structure, without undermining its freshness. If you like rosé, you should really go for this one. After all, rosé Prosecco doesn’t exist, and rosé Champagne is not that popular.
  • Pas Dose Coupé: This one is made from Chardonnay grapes, with a small part of Pinot Nero, and a 24-month refinement period. The result is very dry. “Coupé” means “cut”, and it recalls the French term “cuvée”, which indicates a carefully-assembled blend of different vintages. This happens very often for sparkling wine.
  • Cabochon Brut: This is the most prestigious product of the Franciacorta Monte Rossa lineup. It features a careful selection of vineyards and grapes, and a fermentation period in oak barrels. It’s 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Nero, with a refinement period of 48 months on yeast lees (a secondary fermentation inside the bottle). It’s a “millesimato”, meaning that it’s made with wines of the same vintage (i.e. the opposite of “cuvée”). Its name comes from the world of jewelry (“cabochon” is a round-shaped gemstone), because the great Italian jeweler Buccellati designed its label. Frank Sinatra and his wife were among the first ones to taste this wine in 1992, when Monte Rossa released this bottle for its 20th anniversary. And apparently they liked it a lot!

As always, enjoy your wine! Better if with your loved ones.


Note: Neither Foodiamo nor I got any compensation for this article. Thanks to Emmy Fjerstad (Dark Star Imports) and Laura Donadoni for the assistance. You can read my Italian wine recommendations in the Vino Vino Situation series. 


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