Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Nino Franco

The wines of the Nino Franco winery are quality benchmarks in Prosecco and specifically Valdobbiadene (North East Italy) and this is thanks to the tireless work of Primo Franco, who both labours in the vineyards and travels around the world to explain the differences between his Prosecco and other Prosecco.

At a revealing dinner in February 2013 (full article here) Primo Franco rallied against volume-orientated producers in Prosecco and extolled the virtues of wines produced from hand-tended vines located on the verdant hillsides of his Valdobbiadene, over those that are machine tended and located on the plains below. The tasting of Primo’s range of “Nino Franco” Prosecco that followed was conclusive and showed that vines tended with love, affection and human hands(!) tended to produce wines that are more flavoursome, complex and attractive than mass produced equivalents. It is this that is that is at the heart of the Nino Franco winemaking philosophy.

Originally established in 1919 as the “Cantine Franco” winery by Antonio Franco, today the Nino Franco winery produces more than a million bottles of wine a year. Whilst the majority of grapes are purchased from a network of growers (each of whom are assisted by Nino Franco technicians throughout the year) a few hectares of vineyards are estate owned.

More than half a dozen DOCG classified Prosecco are currently produced at the Nino Franco winery, with “Faive” (a Merlot-based sparkling rosé) and the new “Primo Brut” (a sparkling Chardonnay) the only wines of the Nino Franco range not to be produced from Glera grapes.

The “Primo Franco” Prosecco Superiore might be this winery’s signature bottling, but two single vineyard Prosecco (the “Riva di San Floriano” and “Grave di Stecca” bottling) are just as accomplished.

Summary of Scores (Updated 2nd July 2014)

Nino Franco “Primo Franco” Prosecco DOCG
Nino Franco “Riva di San Floriano” Prosecco DOCG
Nino Franco “Grave di Stecca”
Noino Franco “Rustico” Prosecco DOCG
Primo Franco “Brut” Prosecco DOCG
Nino Franco “Faive” Rosé
*NV – vintage indicates the tasting date 

Reviews from May 2014

Nino Franco's Riva di San Floriano vineyard
Nino Franco “Primo Franco” Prosecco, Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG (2013)
Primo Franco is the current winemaker and owner of the Nino Franco winery and this “Primo Franco” Prosecco is his signature wine. Crafted with aim of producing a Prosecco that is both utterly well balanced and reflective of the Valdobbiadene “terroir”, Primo crafts this bottling with some of his best Glera grapes from the verdant hillsides of Valdobbiadene and 32g/l of residual sugar. Aromas of apricots, peach and honeysuckle all appear on the nose, before a succulent and beautifully mousy palate unfolds. As in the 2012 vintage, this wine is extremely difficult to fault. The combination of complex and intense ripe stone fruit flavours and an extremely elegant mousse is hard to resist! 92 points.

Nino Franco “Riva di San Floriano” Prosecco, Valdobbiadene Sup. DOCG (2013)
“Riva di San Floriano” is a vineyard located above Primo Franco’s home and the town of Valdobbiadene, on a steep hillside (near the church of San Floriano). A distinctive single vineyard wine, this “Riva di San Floriano” Prosecco offers aromas of dried banana and white peach and an exuberantly fruity palate. Slightly leaner in style than in other recent vintages, this Prosecco ends long, clean and with the tingle of a gorgeously subtle mousse. 91 points.

Nino Franco “Grave di Stecca” Brut, Valdobbiadene DOCG (2011)
The Nino Franco winery’s “Grave di Stecca” is typically the most distinctive wine in what is an extremely diverse and characterful range. Extremely lean, mineral and saline in character, unless you were told, you may not think that this is from Prosecco! Notes of sage and thyme adorn a salt tinged nose, before the super long palate stretches out. Salt encrusted green apples would encapsulate the flavours on show here, in what is an extremely accomplished and distinctive wine. 92 points.

Nino Franco “Rustico” Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG (NV)
“Rustico” might be the “entry level” wine of the Nino Franco winery, but there isn’t too much that is “entry level” about it. This is a creamy and elegant fizz that sees flavours of greengage and green apple combined with the wonderfully frothy and elegant mousse that is a Nino Franco hallmark. Ending with a slightly savoury tang on the finish, there are few “entry level” Prosecco that you would rather drink! 89 points.

Reviews from February 2014

Nino Franco “Primo Franco” Prosecco, Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG (2012)
Ripe, creamy and mouth-filling when tasted, despite this “Primo Franco” Prosecco containing 32g/l of residual sugar there is never a perception of sweetness, only of creamy and ripe fruit flavours. Notes of white peach and pear form the basis of this fantastically attractive wine, with hints of almonds, vanilla and apricots unfolding across this wine’s impressive length. There’s a driving acidity that makes this wine (thanks to it offsetting the sugar) and whilst this “Primo Franco” Prosecco may not be dry enough in style to appeal to sommeliers (who would typically chose a drier style to expand its food pairing options) this does nothing to change the fact that this is one of the most endearing and inherently attractive Prosecco that The Independent Wine Review has come across for some time. 93 points.

Nino Franco “Riva di San Floriano” Prosecco Brut, Valdobbiadene Sup. DOCG (2012)
This 2012 “Riva di San Floriano” Prosecco is slightly less exuberant on the nose than has been the case in previous vintages, but still offers the hints of banana and sage (that overlay the more common white peach and pear characters) and that make this “Riva di San Floriano” Prosecco so distinctive. Creamy and persistent on the palate, this is a Prosecco of serious class which shifts effortlessly from the peach and pear base flavours onto more complex banana, hazelnut and yeasty nuances. If you are truly interested in the concept of “terroir” in Prosecco, this is a wine you simply have to try. 90 points.

Nino Franco Prosecco Brut, Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG (NV)
A pale lemon colour in the glass, this Nino Franco Brut seems purer and fresher in style than many Prosecco with greater levels of residual sugar. A bouquet of green apples, pears and a clear mineral salinity segues into a lean and driven palate. The persistent and elegantly crafted mousse is combined with a frisky acidity that will see this wine pair well with many fish starters, or creamily textured risottos. 88 points.

Reviews from 2013

Nino Franco's "Grave di Stecca" vineyard
Nino Franco “Riva di San Floriano” Prosecco, Valdobbiadene Sup. DOCG (2010)
Intensely fruity on the palate, this “Riva di San Floriano” Prosecco exhibits creamy white peach, pear and nuances of banana, with support provided by a gorgeous combination of an elegant and persistent mousse and a bright acidity. Segueing to a slightly savoury nuttiness in the mid-palate, this wine finishes long and very, very subtle. A remarkably individual and well resolved Prosecco. 93 points.

Nino Franco “Grave di Stecca” Brut Valdobbiadene DOCG (2010)
Notably dry in style on the palate, it is easy to see why Primo Franco describes this “Grave di Stecca” Brut as “different”. Intense flavours of white peach form the basis of the palate, with a persistent savoury nuance of macadamia, bread crumbs and pineapple that add further subtlety. A nicely resolved mousse and bright acidity play supporting roles. 90 points.

Nino Franco “Rustico” Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG (NV)
Aiming for a consistent “house” style of “Rustico” Prosecco each year, Primo has crafted this “Rustico” to offer a creamy and persistent mousse that supports a palate of white peach, green European fruit notes and the merest hint of slightly savoury nuttiness. Off-dry, there is a gorgeous balance of mousse, fruit and acidity on display, with an impressive length that persists once the wine itself is gone. 89 points.

Nino Franco Prosecco Brut, Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG (NV)
Offering the impression of additional acidity over and above what was seen in the Nino Franco “Rustico” Prosecco (this is a result of the reduction in residual sugar – actual acidity levels are almost identical) this Nino Franco “Brut” seems to be brighter and crisper in the mouth too with a slightly more aggressive mousse. Again this Nino Franco “Brut” is green and European fruit orientated, although a little peach adds subtlety to the finish. 87 points
Nino Franco “Faive” Rosé Spumante Brut (2011)
Produced from a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc this “Faive” rosé is a highly attractive salmon pink colour in the glass that sparkles as the numerous finely formed bubbles race from the base of the glass. Wonderfully pure strawberry and fresh peach aromas greet a taster as they approach this “Faive” Rosé, before notes of strawberries, wild raspberries and freshly picked nectarines emerge on the palate. Almost completely dry and underpinned by an ever-present (but subtle and nicely integrated) mousse, this “Faive” Rosé bubbles on across an impressive length. 87 points.

Monday, 7 July 2014


Over the past twenty years or so Querciabella has gradually established itself as one of Tuscany’s very best wine producers. Outspoken owner Sebastiano Cossi sometimes draws attention to the Querciabella winery as a result of his strong views (as does the winery’s conversion to fully biodynamic practises in 2000), but the wines really do speak for themselves with their year-in-year-out quality.

This being Tuscany, Sangiovese features quite strongly in the Querciabella range, but not as strongly as it has in the past, nor as it does in the ranges of other producers in Tuscany. Instead international grape varieties (such as Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon) have all found a home in Querciabella’s biodynamically tended vineyards, as have Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay (that are used to produce Querciabella’s “Batar” white).

“Camartina” is the Querciabella winery’s “flagship” wine, with Querciabella’s Chianti Classico and the “Batar” white also scoring well at The Independent Wine Review in the past. The “Camartina” particularly improves with cellaring, as the scores attest.

Now widely available in independent wine merchants in the UK, these wines are an opportunity to grab an authentic taste of Tuscany.
Summary of Scores (Updated 30th May 2014)
Querciabella “Camartina”
Querciabella “Turpino”
Querciabella Chianti Classico
Querciabella “Batar”
Reviews from May 2014
Querciabella “Camartina” Toscana IGT (2010)
Querciabella’s “Ca Martina” tends to be a wine that rewards cellaring and this just released 2010 iteration proves this point. Flavours of ripe plums, dark cherries and more savoury red cherry notes define this 2010 “Camartina” that lacks the complexity that more mature examples exhibit. Hints of clove and pepper lend some complexity. 88 points.
Querciabella “Camartina” Toscana IGT (2008)
An additional two years in bottle can make a real difference to red wines such as Querciabella’s flagship “Camartina” with this 2008 iteration immediately more fragrant and expressive than the just released 2010 noted above. Aromas of wild woodland flowers and dark cherries waft upwards from the glass before a more supple and complex palate is revealed. Hints of candied citrus peels evidence the additional development that this wine has undergone and lend and attractive complexity to the otherwise dark fruit orientated palate. 90 points.
Querciabella “Camartina” Toscana IGT (2004)
Now a decade old, this 2004 Querciabella “Camartina” (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese) is an intense garnet colour in the glass, with wafts of coffee grounds and mulch also indicative of this wine’s increasing age. Cassis, coffee and clove spice notes define the palate of this old “Camartina”, but nuances of mint, candied citrus peels and smoked meat lend great complexity too. Supported by gorgeously time softened tannins and a supple acidity, this bottling still has further cellaring potential yet. 92 points.
Querciabella “Camartina” Toscana IGT (2003)
A slightly vegetal nose introduces this 2003 “Camartina” but the palate is linear, complex and utterly delicious. Flavours of cassis and plums lead initially before beautifully integrated notes of mint, candied citrus peels and a savoury balsamic tanginess emerge. Supremely long and now magnificently elegant and complex, it is hard to fault this 2003 “Camartina” which now seems exhibit the perfect blend of primary fruit and more developmental flavours. 92 points
Querciabella “Camartina” Toscana IGT (1999)
Whilst many producers will talk about the “excellent” maturation potential of their wines it is only when you get the opportunity to taste mature examples of the bottle in question that you can make a judgement as to the veracity of their claims. Here, there is no doubt that this 15 year old “Camartina” has matured extremely well indeed. Substantially more mulchy on the nose and more red fruit orientated on the palate than the 11 year old example tasted above, this is a super wine that now needs drinking in the next few years. The most attractive thing about this wine is the gently fresh acidity that has been maintained despite the passage of time. 93 points.
Querciabella “Camartina” Toscana IGT (1997)
There are probably not many bottles of 1997 Querciabella “Camartina” left undrunk, but those that are undrunk should be drunk shortly. Now fully developed, this example offered up a red fruit orientated palate with obvious tea and candied peel notes. A peppery spice enlivens the impressively long and smooth finish. 91 points.
Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG (2010)
Fresh and fragrant on the nose, this 2010 Querciabella Chianti combines aromas of red cherries, with those of lavender, rhubarb and passion fruit. Savoury and medium bodied on the palate, more developmental tones emerge as flavours reminiscent of tea and clove spice appear as the mid-palate evolves. The tannins of this Querciabella Chianti are traditional and reassuringly grippy, with this wine as a whole expressing a vibe that whilst traditional, also shows a more modern sense of freshness and fragrance. Drink this now, or in the next ten years. 88 points.
Reviews from April 2013
Querciabella “Turpino” Toscana IGT (2010)
One of a number of “Super Tuscan” style wines produced by Querciabella, this 2010 “Turpino” is a blend of 40% Cabernet Franc, 40% Syrah and 20% Merlot sourced from both Querciabella vineyard holdings in Maremma and Greve (in Chianti). Ripe and sleek on the palate, it has clearly been made with the international market in mind with glossy plum and dark cherry fruit leading the way and plenty of pepper spice, liquorice and vanilla adding interest from the mid-palate. Beautifully integrated tannins offer good support without overly intruding and the finish of this 2010 “Turpino” is appreciably long. 90 points.
Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG (2009)
Aromatically quite subtle, this 2009 Querciabella Chianti Classico offers delicate aromas of lifted red cherry notes and plums alongside hints of pepper spice and violets. Mid-weight and savoury on the palate, much the same flavours are displayed, with a sense of real finesse generated as this 2009 Querciabella Chianti Classico floats across the tongue on a cushion of beautifully integrated acidity. Not overly structured (this 2009 Chianti continues a trend towards the production of a more elegant and traditional Chianti at Querciabella) most will find this wine approachable now with a scope a cellaring through to 2018. 88 points.
Querciabella “Batar” Toscana IGT (2010)
A blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Blanc, this 2010 Querciabella “Batar” saw the different grape varieties fermented and matured separately in oak prior to being combined in stainless steel tanks. Medium bodied and nicely rounded on the palate, this is a very difficult wine to dislike as a great sense of balance and tantalising nuances emerge. Based around flavours of white peach, with waxed lemon, cream and mineral notes all taking turns to appear, this 2010 “Batar” is fascinating alone but will also pair beautifully with a variety of food too (try it with a white risotto or ricotta stuffed pasta). Impressively long, this “Batar” fades with a gentle acidity and lingering fruit notes. 89 points.