A bit of fizz at lunchtime -tasting Nino Franco Proseccos at Hawksmoor Air
The thing that makes Prosecco such a strong contender for lunchtime drinking is, oxymoronically, its lack of strength. At an average ABV of 10% it’s perfectly possible to drink the stuff for hours on end and still not need helping out of the restaurant afterwards. This is a rather good thing as the stairs at Hawksmoor Air are the sort ready to trip up anyone whose vision and depth perception have become impaired, I actually fell up them when arriving..
Not being a fan of steak or burgers, they’re okay but monoglottal (© AA Gill) I had actually come to meet Primo Franco, patriarch of Nino Franco Spumanti, a Prosecco producer founded in 1919 in Valdobbiadene at the foot of the Prealps in the Venetian region, by his ancestor Antonio.
There was also the big lure of seafood on a menu created by Mitch Tonks, who is to the Guardian and Observer what Mark Hix is to the Independent. The fact is that seafood and Prosecco is a cosy symbiotic relationship, and as Primo had brought with him examples of his product, the best thing to do was tuck in while he talked
First out of the trap was his Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut, served up with Queenie scallops fried in a light batter and with lashings of tartar sauce, plus scallops on the shell roasted with white port and garlic. The queenies were a trifle over shadowed by the batter, but the scallops on the shell were magnificent. The coral had crisped slightly, which was good, and the main meat was butter soft and drenched in the pungent garlic sauce.
Here the Prosecco’s creaminess echoed that of the scallop and notes of apple added a slight astringency to offset the richness. Primo explained between mouthfuls that since he took over in 1982, he had invested heavily in more modern production techniques and set his sights on a more premium product than the simple country wine it had been. Far greater care was now taken over every aspect of production: from grapes to fermentation and all the way to marketing.
Lobster bites were next and better than I expected, not usually finding lobster all that exciting myself -the shellfish equivalent of fillet steak i.e. pricier than its flavour justifies. A jug of melted butter to pour over was ridiculously luxurious though and it was a very good lobster, even better though was the Brixham crab on toast supported by great gobbets of thick mayonnaise. The only downer here being the occasional tooth-threatening shell fragment that had slipped through the net.The Prosecco up at the oke this time was Vigneto Della Riva di San Floriano 2010 a fruit packed heavy hitter that had the structure and long finish to help the crab scuttle down a treat. The fizz, which lasted a long time in the glass, cleansing the palate like a benign pressure washer.
I’d heard a bit about Hawksmoor’s Turbot, cut into thick strips and grilled over charcoal, and what I’d heard was right. This was an excellent bit of fish, ‘bloody’ excellent as female bloggers like to say. The firm meat of turbot can happily take the intense heat of a grill more usually employed in searing steaks, and the resulting smoke really punched in flavour. Served like this turbot takes on the grandness of monkfish, but for a lot less. Janssons Temptation served alongside didn’t do it for me – it had anchovies instead of pickled sprats – and was more a buzz kill than a temptation.
The Triple Cooked chips were overcooked; this mania for triple cooking chips has to stop – it’s no substitute for Properly Cooked. The buttered greens though were just as I like them, barely cooked at all. For this last main Primo brought out his big guns; Grave di Stecca Brut and Primo Franco 2013. I loved the former’s steely dryness that soon mellowed to a smooth aftertaste with peachy overtones while the Primo Franco from the high hillside Glera grapes was a tad too sweet for my taste, a result perhaps of 30 grams per litre residual sugar compared to 10g in the Rustico.
Finally, and with a plum and Bramley apple pie of heart-warming simplicity, came Superiore di Cartizze 2012 a wine with pronounced minerality, in fact Primo pulled some sample stones he’d picked up from the steeply sloped, high altitude vineyard from his pocket and explained that this hard, slatey material makes up large parts of his terroir.
Prosecco really is much more than Poor Man’s Champagne, not least because of the varieties available. Nino Franco may not be widely available here yet, but as I floated back down the staircase I could only think that when it is, it’s going to be a winner.
Links to importers here do not guarantee that the particular vintage mentioned is available. Hawksmoor Air serves Nino Franco Proseccos.