Nino Franco – fine single-vineyard wines and more
Primo Franco has become one of the most respected producers in Valdobbiadene. When we talked to locals who asked which wineries we had visited, his name elicited both real warmth and a kind of awe at the quality of the work that he is doing. The man himself is modest and points to the foundations laid by his father Nino who was among the first to export Prosecco and build up the Nino Franco brand. From 1982 onwards Primo has taken the company on to a completely different level of achievement, producing a million bottles of the mainline ‘Rustico’, a Brut and an amabile Prosecco Superiore plus the two special single-vineyard wines and a Cartizze – a sensibly limited but comprehensive range. As we had already visited the Cartizze zone, our time here was focused on the two, tiny, single vineyards a couple of hundred metres apart which produce named vineyard wines.
From the hamlet of San Florian you get a panoramic view of the town of Valdobbiadene (left above), while immediately in front of you is the vineyard Riva di San Floriano, facing south-east (right above). In the near distance is a small property with vines now surrounded by other dwellings which is the Villa Barberina with the south-facing Grave di Stecca vineyard, now owned by Primo Franco (below).
The fruit from the two special vineyards is used for two single-vineyard wines. On the one hand, Nino Franco buys fruit from local growers who work the Rive di San Floriano vineyard and with whom the company has had long-established relationships; on the other hand, the company now owns the Grave di Stecca vineyard. Massal selection of vines was undertaken in 1991 and with half the Grave di Stecca vineyard being replanted in 2006, having established that the rootstock 41B from the Champagne area was going to be the most promising. But it is by no means all new planting here. Alongside the new vines are some seriously senior plants (see right above) and six rows of old vines kept to retain as wide as possible an available selection. The result is multi-clonal vineyards and hopefully greater complexity in the glass.
Our tasting confirmed that the care taken in the vineyards shines through in the glass:
Rustico Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut – the name reflects our romantic attachment to the land, not the quality of the wine which – even at this ‘entry’ level – is very good indeed. For a one million bottle product, this has lots of character, pleasant fruit, a touch of sweetness (10g residual sugar per litre) and almond bitterness.
Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Brut DOCG – a more mineral touch, apparently more acidic but that may be perception as it is at a slightly higher pressure, superb fruit – pear and tropical fruit. Very good.
Vigneto della Riva di San Floriano 2011 and Grave di Stecca Brut 2009: to compare these two Valdobbiadene wines side by side was remarkable. For a start one should not often drink Prosecco which is in its third year! In general terms, they both had a substantial extra intensity over the Rustico, with the San Floriano being sharply profiled with some richness from months on the lees but also excellent freshness and acidity. By contrast, the older Grave di Stecca was more floral, with peach and strongly honeyed notes from ageing. It was more complex, partly as a result of a long stay on the original lees with bâtonnage every 10 days. You would never think this was Prosecco in a blind tasting.
The penultimate wine bears Primo Franco’s own name (as does the Grave di Stecca), which he chose to use only after the death of this father. All the other wines still have his father’s name on the bottle. Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Primo Franco 2011 is full of beautiful fresh fruit, very pleasant indeed in the amabile style, finishing not just with sweetness but fruit. We conclude our tasting of course with the Valdobbiadene DOCG Superiore di Cartizze 2011, with its fragrant richness, good minerality, medium plus length and impressive balance – and striking golden mesh label.
Primo Franco has a key place in the intensely cultivated Valdobbiadene hills. His wines – whether the large number Rustico or special bottlings – set standards which most other houses will wish to emulate. It is not surprising that local growers hold his family’s name in some awe.
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