Today we set off from Mantova on our private coach for the sparkling wine country region of Franciacorta. Franciacorta DOCG is a Brut ranked high on the list of Italian sparkling wines (DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, indicating controlled and guaranteed origin for the wines of a particular region), often described as Italy’s answer to Champagne. Some years ago, a 50-mile wine route was established in the area, linking one vineyard to another, and there are few lovelier ways to get to know your way around than by visiting a winery, examining the vines and trying the results, which is exactly what we will do.
The aristocratic Ricci Curbastros are a multi-generational wine-growing family in Franciacorta. Their wines garner prize after prize and they are not only making some of the best vintage in the region, they are leaders in the use of organic production methods. The family has been farming in the area for centuries and making wine since the nineteenth century – theirs was one of the first wineries to be registered when Franciacorta got its DOC appellation in 1967. The winery sits in rolling country between our hotel and Lake Iseo and we will tour the vineyard and the cellars before having a private tasting. We will also visit the family’s Museum of Agriculture and Wine with thousands of carefully-preserved objects used in the farm work of a bygone age, from tools to domestic items and a fascinating explanation of the effect of 20th-century wars on production.
We will arrive at our hotel with stimulated palates and newly-minted knowledge of the local wines, both of which will benefit from dinner at the hotel’s excellent Ristorante Leone Felice. It’s only five years old and Chef Fabio Abbattista gathers ingredients largely from the farms and fields around the hotel – not to mention the vegetable garden, which yields fresh produce daily. The restaurant is named after the hotel’s long-term gardener, Leone. Chef Abbattista’s cuisine is elegant, spare and contemporary, but uses the rich flavours and techniques of his childhood.