Franciacorta is Italy’s answer to Champagne. That’s the simple explanation. But for whatever reason, I have some difficulty getting this point across in the restaurant. There’s something about sparkling wine that confuses people. Thus the worldwide misuse of the word “Champagne” and the banishment of sparkling wines to the aperitif category.

Yes, by now the French have pounded it into our heads that only a sparkling wine from the region of Champagne can rightly be called Champagne. Asti Spumante, from Italy’s Piedmont region, is not Champagne. Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, from the Veneto, is not Champagne. And Franciacorta, from north-central Lombardia, is not Champagne. But unlike the previous two, Franciacorta compares very favorably with Champagne: It is made from the two grapes of Champagne, chardonnay and pinot noir, and it is made by inducing the secondary fermentation in the bottle, a process referred to as the “methode Champenoise” (Champagne method).

Although there are many individual producers throughout Italy who make Champagne-method sparklers from chardonnay and pinot noir, Franciacorta is the only official appellation devoted to this craft. Pioneering producers such as Ca’del Bosco, Berlucchi, Bellavista, and Cavalleri have put this beautiful little region on the map, and while we at Babbo are obviously biased, these wines have the structure and polish to rival great Champagnes. In addition to chardonnay and pinot noir, most basic Franciacorta cuvees include a small percentage of pinot bianco as well.

We always have a big selection of Franciacorta wines at Babbo, including some extremely well-priced non-vintage bruts, many distinctive roses, and some creamy and well-rounded satens (“saten” is the Franciacorta equivalent of “blanc de blancs,” a wine made from only white grapes).

Obviously, these wines make great aperitifs, but we love to use them with food as well. One of our favorite Franciacorta-with-food pairings is on our Traditional Tasting Menu, wherein we serve a crisp, minerally glass of Franciacorta Brut alongside a wedge of Coach Farm’s Finest aged goat’s cheese, which is drizzled with fennel honey. Like most goat cheeses, the Coach Farm has a lot of sour, minerally flavors, and there are some terrific complimentary flavors in the wine. Moreover, the wine’s texture is perfect: The cheese grabs hold of your palate and won’t let go until the “scrubbing bubbles” of the sparkler come in and cleanse the palate, readying you for the next bite. And whenever customers are “game,” I love to recommend Franciacorta roses with some of our game birds, such as squab and quail. The smokiness of the pinot noir and the structure of the wine make for a great foil to these marinated birds.

Franciacorta. Remember the name. It’s not Champagne. But it’s damn close!