Gianfranco Fino (www.gianfrancofino.it) is one of the generation of artisanal winemakers that has put Pugliese wines firmly on the map. He started in January 2004 when he purchased a hectare of 50-year-old Primitivo vines. That was followed in 2006 by the purchase of a hectare of 40-year-old Negroamaro vines. Together with Nero di Troia, these are the signature vines of Puglia. Today, he has 14.5 hectares from which he produces a modest 20,000 bottles per year. There is a reason for this low level of production – it’s all about quality. His wines are on the wine list of every 3-star Michelin restaurant in Italy and were served at the 2008 G8 Conference of the Heads of State.
The first wine we tried is called Se and comes from a newer vineyard which is only about 11 years old. This wine is 100% Primitivo and it spends nine months in French oak barriques before being bottled. A third of the wine goes into new barrels, a third into barrels that have been used once, and the remaining third into barrels that have been used twice. This is to ensure that the flavour from the oak is properly balanced. It has a deep garnet colour with a bouquet that is intense with cherries and blackberries and hints of cinnamon. This is a beautifully-structured wine with the tannins balanced by the acidity and a hint of sweetness.
We then moved on to sample Es, again made from Primitivo, but now from much older vines – in this case the youngest is 60 years old. The wine is again aged in French oak but this time one half goes into new barrels and the other half into barrels that have been used once. The colour is ruby with hints of garnet but the major difference from Se is in the bouquet. This is complex with cigars and old leather-bound books as well as cloves and nutmeg – a real olfactory tour de force. On the palate there is cherry jam and although this is a wine with a high ABV at 16.5%, the warmth at the back of the mouth was deceptively light.
Io is made from Negroamaro grapes from vines which are 50 years old. ‘The ageing process is the same used for Es. The colour is a deep royal purple with a bouquet rich in spices, cloves and nutmeg, and the herbs, rosemary and sage. The vineyard is close to the sea and the onshore breezes bring with them a subtle salinity that you can taste together with bitter cherries. Try it with tuna.
The last of the range, Es piu Sole, is what is termed a late harvest wine. Leaving the grapes on the vine for that little while longer to obtain that extra sugar produces a luscious sweet red with nutmeg and cinnamon on the nose. On the palate there is sweet chocolate with a hint of the bitterness of almond in the background.
A new tasting room and exclusive restaurant which is under construction in Manduria should be open by the end of 2020 so keep an eye on their website (which is also being rebuilt). Gianfranco does not do things by halves so expect this to be something rather special.
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