Primo Franco’s changing world 30 Ottobre 2019 – Posted in: . ENGLISH TEXT
Wine is more than just a beverage: it’s a focal point for conversation. It draws people together, sparks debate and promotes cultural exchange. This is why the wine world is full of exuberant, extraordinary people, not to mention a few who are utterly certifiable.
Over a lifetime of wine travel, tasting and study, I have met many amazing characters. From winemakers to winery owners, including not a few who are or claim to be both. From the smallest cog at the tiniest producer to the most ebullient of industry leaders. From old-school to trendsetting. From the most lovable rogue to the sweetest that humanity has to offer. From the seemingly hair-brained to the wonderfully misguided. From the most naturally gifted virtuoso to the workaholic with a vision.
Amongst all those very special people is Primo Franco: a gentleman and a gentle man. They are two entirely different qualities, of course, but both equally true in Primo’s case.
He is always elegantly dressed, even when simply wearing a pullover and slacks at home. His neatly groomed, short-cropped, silver hair adds a finishing touch to his distinguished looks and, like the Mona Lisa, his eyes follow you everywhere. Primo possesses that rare ability of smiling with his eyes. There is something mischievous about his eyes, which glint with humour and not a little naughtiness. There are times when I swear he has just winked at me, although I know very well that he has not. The little devil…
Primo is intelligent, well-read and cultured. He is extremely proud of the legacy left to him by his father and grandfather, the Nino Franco winery, and of what he has personally achieved with that business. His pride is combined with a good helping of humility, always deferring to others.
Primo appreciates the finest Michelin-starred restaurants and yet he also hankers after McDonalds! He never visits the US without munching Chicken McNuggets while strolling back to his hotel. The common touch? Not according to Primo, who considers McDonalds Chicken McNuggets to be an absolute luxury.
A glass of Prosecco please?
I have a confession. I ignored Prosecco for the first 25 years of my professional wine life. Why would I do that? The usual arrogance, I suppose. The snobbery of a Champagne specialist who could not be bothered with a wine that is fizzed-up in a large, shiny tin-can to be sold just a few months after its grapes had hung on the vine. A wine so consistent that nine out of ten taste and smell the same, and a wine that attracts consumers who order “Prosecco” without any interest in who the producer might be.
My perception of Prosecco changed when I compared it to Cava (which was not performing anywhere near as well as it is today) and saw that between them they have four grapes that gain nothing from ageing on yeast (Parellada, Macabeo & Xarello for Cava and Glera, of course, for Prosecco, although in those days the grape was still called Prosecco). Not only did these four grape varieties gain nothing from time on yeast, they actively lost freshness and immediate appeal. Without taking anything away from those Cava producers who have made great strides in more recent years, at the time in question, I saw Cava as trying to be something it was not and would never be capable of achieving, while Prosecco producers had accepted the limitations of their standalone variety and, turning a negative into a positive, had sought to maximise its freshness and immediate appeal by getting the wine off its lees as quickly as possible.
It then became obvious why Prosecco achieved its success in the on-trade, specifically through the heaving bar culture, targeting cocktail drinkers and the female-dominated Pinot Grigio/Sauvignon Blanc lunch-time trade. This was a deliberate ploy borne of a rare degree of honesty, whereby Prosecco’s brand builders did not pretend to offer an alternative to Champagne. Instead, they sold Prosecco as a drink rather than a wine per se. This is why so much Prosecco is ordered as simply “Prosecco” as if it were a cocktail and it is the key to why most Prosecco is consumed by people who do not like bottle-fermented, yeast-aged sparkling wine. However, there will always be a crosso- ver, and a small proportion of Prosecco drinkers are indeed brand-aware and/or will move onto yeast-aged sparkling wines and/or will happily drink both.
The vast majority of Nino Franco drinkers have to be brand-aware because Nino Franco is not only the most distinctive Prosecco on the market, it is also one of the most expensive, and almost impossible to order by accident. In his book, Primo claims I always recognise Nino Franco because of its “typical note of white pepper” and whilst this is true, it is not the full story because the wines are more complex than that, with other unusual aromas dominating, such as herbal scrub and celery seed. You do not find these characteristics in other Prosecco, which makes Nino Franco a bloody nuisance when running a competition like the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships (CSWWC), where everything is supposed to be assessed under blind conditions!
According to six years of CSWWC results, Nino Franco has consistently won more Gold medals than any other Prosecco producer, but white pepper, herbal scrub and celery seeds alone do not make a Gold medal. Not every distinctive Nino Franco Prosecco wins a medal, Gold medal wines from other producers can be their equal, and on at least one occasion Nino Franco has been beaten in the taste-off for Best Prosecco Regional Trophy. This demonstrates that we are open to any other legitimate style of Prosecco and the ultimate arbiter has to be balance and textural finesse. It also demonstrates that Nino Franco has won the Prosecco trophy five years out of six! Primo has every reason to be proud of this and his other lifetime achievements, some of which are referred to in the following pages. The Prosecco Way of Life is more like a photo album with captions than a regular autobiography, which makes it so easy to digest. With just a few well-placed words, Primo has the uncanny knack of bringing the past to life. His mention of characters and customs once taken for granted, but so different now, took me back time and again. Primo seldom comes over as self-absorbed, which is difficult to achieve in an autobiography, but he manages to rise above that genre’s egotistical minefield thanks to his self-deprecating humour. I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I have.
British author Tom Stevenson has been writing about wine for 40 years and is regarded as the world’s leading authority on Champagne and sparkling wines. He has written 25 books, the most important of which have been published internationally by more than 50 publishers and translated into over 25 languages. Since 2014 he’s the founder and head judge of the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championship (CSWWC).
Preface of The Prosecco way of life