A few months before we packed up and moved to Houston, I was invited to a lunch in New York City with two people who have a lot in common: they both work for wineries that bear their name, it was their fathers who largely brought their historical wineries to prominence, they have both been instrumental in carrying on the tradition, the wineries are both located in the Veneto region of Italy, and they are both women.
And they happen to be beautiful people.
(There was a third beautiful person at that lunch, Mary Anne Sullivan of Terlato Wines, who organized the lunch.)
No one could deny that the popularity of Prosecco has exploded over the last decade or so. Neither could anyone argue that Nino Franco has maintained its position during that time as one of the few producers in the region that have not wavered from making truly excellent wines.
Although Nino Franco was established in 1919, it was not until Primo Franco took over the family company in 1982 that Nino Franco charged to the forefront of premium producers in the region. Primo focused not only on improving on the winemaking techniques of his father and grandfather, but even more importantly, he greatly improved the viticultural practices that were employed in the vineyards that supplied the winery.
Primo also began to aggressively market his wines, frequently traveling abroad to sell both his wines and the region to new audiences.
His daughter, Silvia, after a brief flirtation with studying design in Milan (she has a degree from the prestigious European Institute of Design), returned to Valdobbiadene (Val-do-bee-ah-done-ay) to work alongside her father in the winery. Today, although she quickly admits that her father is still “the boss”, Silvia is involved in every aspect of the making and selling of the wines, from vineyard management all the way through marketing.
When I met her in New York, she was initially a bit reserved and quiet, but once we started tasting her wines, she opened up quite a bit.
Funny how that happens.
N.V. Nino Franco Rustico Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG: Retail $19. 100% Glera from all over the Valdobbiadene region, Rustico represents the bulk of Nino Franco’s production (50k cases). Called Rustico because originally the 2nd fermentation was in the bottle without disgorgement, which left the lees in the bottle, creating a cloudy or “rustic” appearance. Now, however, it is made using the Charmat method, leaving the lees in the tank with a bit of previous year’s wine blended in to maintain consistent style. Silvia called this a “Premium entry-level Prosecco” and honestly, I would have to agree (despite the apparent oxymoron). A bit sweet on the palate but this is very nice. One of the best Proseccos in this price range that I have ever had. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2010 Nino Franco Grave di Stecca Brut: Retail $49. 100% Glera from the Grave di Stecca vineyard. 18k bottles produced in ’10 but only 6k in ’14 and ’15 due largely to the vagaries of weather. A single vineyard wine that is harvested earlier than other vineyards to maintain a high level of acidity. Left on lees for six months and then kept for another two years in bottle. Until 2007, interestingly, the grapes were used to make a still Prosecco (i.e., no bubbles) but in 2007 Primo started making a sparkling wine with the grapes. This wine does not bear either the name “Prosecco” nor the town of Valdobbiadene since it was declassified to “vino Spumante” as the appellation authorities found it to be atypical of the wines of the region. (They regret that decision now, but that is a story for another time). A bit darker and much more vinous with a bit of a sherry note. On the palate that sherried note is prominent. This is unlike any Prosecco I’ve ever had and really is fantastic. Whoa. Outstanding Plus. 93-95 Points.
2012 Nino Franco Primo Franco Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG: Retail $30. 100% Glera. The first wine that Primo made after his father passed away, and continued since. “Dry” or “Sec”, meaning that there is a bit more residual sugar than a Brut (which also means “dry”) style (yes, that is confusing). More of a classic Prosecco with exotic and tropical fruits on the nose, leading to a sweeter mouthfeel and an almond aspect on the finish. Very nice. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
Located just about one hundred kilometers to the southwest of Nino Franco, the Anselmi winery is located virtually in the middle of the Soave Classico wine region. The “modern” era starts with Roberto Anselmi who, determined to make the best wines possible, “convinced” the longtime winemaker to quit, fired another half-dozen employees, and smashed up a few chairs and desks along the way. Frustrated, his father, the head of the company at the time, left the company to his head-strong son.
When he was 25.
Then several years later, in 2000, Roberto withdrew from the Soave Consorzio (the appellation’s regulating board) in a now famous open letter in which he expressed his disdain for the relaxed rules of the appellation, resulting in a diminished quality of the Soave “brand.”
If that sounds a bit crazy, it probably is, but Roberto knew that quality wine could be produced in Soave Classico, but if he left the name of the region on the bottle, he felt the consumer would continue to associate his wines with the inferior, essentially bulk wines that were being produced.
Since that revolt of sorts, some of the wines in the appellation have improved (most notably perhaps Inama, which was founded by the very winemaker that had quit Anselmi during Roberto’s takeover), but Anselmi wines continue to eschew the appellation.
Roberto’s daughter, Lisa, with her degree in economics and business from the University of Verona, is now heavily involved in marketing and communications with the winery. I first met Lisa back in February 2015, and it was wonderful to see her again under much more pleasant conditions.
2015 Anselmi San Vincenzo: Retail $18. 70% Garganega and the other 30% is a blend of several varieties: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Goldtraminer (not Gewürztraminer, but related), among others. Very floral and citrus fruit driven. On the palate? I really love this wine. Fruity with just a hint of sweetness but great acidity and truly wonderful regardless of price. While it is perhaps best upon release, I have had different iterations of this wine with a few years of age and they all have been impressive. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2014 Anselmi Capitel Foscarino: 90% Garganega 10% Chardonnay. 100% stainless steel fermentation and aging from south-facing slopes of volcanic soils. The wine starts with a nutty and mineral nose followed by a bit of weight on the palate with juicy pineapple aspect predominant. The wine ends with great acidity and a wonderful nuttiness. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2013 Capitel Croce: 100% Garganega. Aged in oak barrels, which adds a bit of spiciness and considerable depth. A bit closed on the nose but not on the palate. Holy cow. And a whoa. Rich, full, and weighty with citrus, vanilla, and a slight nuttiness. This is easily one of my favorite Italian white wines. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.