Teran is the red wine of Istria and they don’t come much better than Franc Arman. A pioneer of high-quality Istrian wine, you’ll find bottles of Franc Arman in many of Istria’s leading restaurants. I loved their Teran when I tasted it and so I set off to the winery to discover more, only to find there is far more in Franc Arman’s cellar, than ‘just’ Teran.
Quality wine …
Founded by Franc’s grandfather in 1850, with four hectares of vineyards, the winery has expanded to become one of Istria’s leading wine producers, producing over 100,000 bottles a year. But as Oliver Arman (this generation’s addition to the Franc Arman dynasty) showed me round – and chatted later over more than a few glasses of wine – he stressed that it is ‘quality’, not ‘quantity’ which is all important at Franc Arman.
Istria’s wine heritage may be long, but unfortunately it isn’t very distinguished: Oliver is scathing about his own forebears’ attitude. “What mattered back then was quantity and show,” he said. “Did you have the cleanest looking vineyard? Did you produce the biggest volume of wine? Quality never came into it and it has taken a long time for this mind-set to change. In the 1990s, my father was one of the first to start focusing on quality over quantity, and I’m delighted to say this attitude has now spread through most Istrian wine production.”
When Franc started in 1995, he was one of only eight private producers of bottled wine. Today, Istria has 127 registered producers, at least 80 of which produce good quality bottled wine. “In the early days there was little competition,” said Oliver, “and it was easy to build up market share. Now competition is fierce, with some great wines. We keep ahead, simply by being the best!”
It’s a big claim, but sitting sipping his Teran, my taste-buds totally agreed with him – and I’m not the only one. “Many of the people who visit us in the winery are holiday-makers,” Oliver said. “They first taste our wine in a restaurant, come here to try and then come back, year after year. I have visitors who’ve been coming every year for more than 10 years. Buying their wine is one of the highlights of their holiday.”
“I’m not into chasing awards,” he added (though, of course, Franc Arman has won plenty of these over the years). “After quality, what’s important to me is consistency. Award-winning wines often just reflect a judge’s personal taste or are the produce of an exceptional year. I’m determined, our wines will always be great: every bottle, every year!”
… for a quality lifestyle
As we sat, drank and chatted, it soon became clear that, as well as being passionate about wine, Oliver is also passionate about ‘quality of life’. “For me,” he said, “Istria is all about good living, and that means eating wonderful food and drinking excellent wine. There is nothing better than a good meal with friends, accompanied by great wine. And it’s easy here, as we have some of the best and freshest produce in the world!”
Oliver’s goal, he says, is very simple. “When people think about Istria, they should automatically think ‘good lifestyle’,” he said. “And, then,” he added, raising a glass, “good lifestyle, should automatically mean Franc Arman!”
The Franc Arman cellar
Franc Arman’s wines are matured in either stainless steel tanks or wooden barrels and the colour of the bottle label reflects this: white labels are stainless steel and black labels, wood. In general, stainless steel produces a light, fresh flavour and wood a softer, richer flavour, with the larger the barrel, the softer the taste.
I’m not a wine critic, I just know what I like. Also, as I was driving, I couldn’t taste everything, so below you’ll find a mixture of my personal opinions on the wines and descriptions from other sources.
Franc Arman is famous for its Terans, but all its reds are exceptional. As well as two Terans, there’s also a Merlot and a rare Cabernet Franc:
- Teran – Matured in large wooden barrels, this ruby-red wine is shot with violet. Dry, full-bodied and robust, it has hints of wild berries and raspberry. This is the wine which first brought me to Franc Arman and it tasted just as good this time around.
- Teran Barrique – This premier wine is produced from only the finest grapes and aged for twelve months in small oak barrels or ‘barriques’. This time, I was told, the wild berry aroma is tinged with vanilla. For me, this was even better: a stunningly rich, complex and delicious wine.
- Merlot Superior – A relatively new addition to the Franc Arman cellar, this high-class wine is aged in large oak barrels and has a deep ruby colour with a hint of purple. Taste notes tell me that, ‘an initial aroma of raspberry and blackcurrant is followed by wood seasoning and spices, and it has a well-balanced, soft, rich flavour.’ All I know is, I loved it, possibly even more than the Terans!
- Cabernet Franc – Aged in large oak barrels, this vibrant, ruby wine has a dark fruit flavour, infused with herbal spices. The taste is dry and lively, with a slight bitter finish. Rarely used on its own like this, Cabernet Franc is usually blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, to form the classic Bordeaux blend. Again, wonderful!
Although not as famous as its reds, Franc Arman offers six whites wines: three Malvasias (one sparkling), a Pinot Gris, a Chardonnay and a semi-sweet Muscat.
- Malvazija – An excellent example of this Istrian classic. This straw-coloured wine is tinged with green. Its aroma is floral and fruity and, matured in stainless steel, it has a crisp, fresh, slightly acidic flavour.
- Malvazija Classic – Aged this time in oak barrels, it has a slightly more spicy aroma with a hint of vanilla. I’m not really into Malvasia, it is rather too light and delicate for my taste buds. But if Malvasia suits you, both these were great, with the Classic having a slightly softer and richer taste.
- Perla Bianca Charmat – New this year and with a limited production (just one tank). Produced using the charmat method, this dry, sparkling Malvasia is being positioned as an ideal base for a wide range of summer’s sparkling drinks.
- Sivi Pinot – Aged in stainless steel for a fresh, fruity flavour (with a hint of dandelion, apparently!), it was everything I’d expect from a good Pinot Gris.
- Chardonnay – These grapes thrive in the Arman vineyards, producing a lustrous, pale yellow wine with a fruity, floral aroma. (I didn’t taste this.)
- Dolcetto – This semi-sweet Muscat has a crystal-clear, pale yellow colour and a slightly citrus aroma. Its taste is described as full-bodied, balanced and sweetly vivacious. To me, it just tasted divine and oh so more-ish!
- Rosé – Introduced this year, this pale pink wine is a blend of Teran and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Its light, fresh flavour makes it an ideal summer drink. (I also didn’t taste this.)
Produced with minimum sulphides, all Franc Arman wines have an ecological certification. As Oliver said, “This is good for the environment, your health – and the wine. But,” he added, “it means all our wines need to breath.” For the best flavour, he recommends opening your wine at least an hour before drinking, so it gets properly oxygenated. Personally, I would open them even earlier, if possible – even the day before, for the heavy reds!
Where is Franc Arman?
For me, the first delight about visiting Franc Arman was simply getting there. The winery is up a long, narrow road, which winds into the Istrian hills, just north of Vižinada. It’s a beautiful drive, which ends in a lovely location with stunning views: a real bonus to tasting some great wines!
Coming from the south, take the small left turning to Narduci, soon after Vižinada and follow the road. Be warned, the winery is not signposted from the main road and it’s an easy turn to miss. Go through the impressive Arman gateway and past the Marijan Arman winery (Marijan is Franc’s cousin and his winery is one I hope to visit soon). Franc Arman is next, on the left.
Address: Narduci 5, 52447 Vižinada
When to visit
Oliver and Franc are always delighted to welcome visitors, but please, please call ahead or e-mail. “There’s only the two of us working full-time, so we’re often out in the vineyard or making deliveries. If you call, I’ll make sure there’s someone here to meet you and show you around,” said Oliver.
- Tel: +385 (0)52 446226
- Mobile Oliver: +385 (0)91 5740498(speaks great English and Italian),
- Mobile Franc: +385 (0)91 4462266 (speaks German and Italian)
- E-mail: email@example.com
For more information on the winery and wines, see the Franc Arman website.
Franc Arman’s wines are also available in the UK through specialist wine dealer, Croatian Fine Wines Limited – see their site for more tasting notes and technical specifications.