I Clivi, Cabernet Franc
I Clivi, Cabernet Franc

I Clivi, Cabernet Franc

Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy 2020 (750mL)
Regular price$35.00
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I Clivi, Cabernet Franc

The Loire Valley is the part of the world most readily associated with Cabernet Franc. But even there, only a handful of producers can perfectly capture the variety’s grace and perfume—as opposed to its rustic, peppery, “green” side. One of those producers is Olga Raffault, whose legendary wines came to mind as I tasted this mesmerizing Cabernet Franc from the Zanusso family in Friuli, Italy.

There’s a level of finesse and elegance to I Clivi’s Cabernet Franc that puts it right up there among some of the greats of the Loire, impeccably balancing its fruit and earth with a structure much more reminiscent of a pretty Burgundy than a beefy Bordeaux. Don’t get me wrong, all the expressions of Cabernet Franc have their place (I love a bold, dark, tobacco-y Saint-Émilion just as much as I love this style), but on the “joy” scale—the sheer pleasure and ease of drinking the wine—this modestly priced Italian takes the prize. We tasted this 2020 and another Italian Cabernet Franc on the same day, one not long after the other, and it was as if we'd received a sign from above: “People need to know about these wines,” said a voice. “Go forth and praise them, shout their names from the mountaintop!” So, here we go: It’s Italian Cabernet Franc day. All hail Italian Cabernet Franc! NOTE: Be on the lookout this afternoon for part two!

It’s theorized that Cabernet Franc established its foothold in Friuli-Venezia Giulia sometime between the Napoleonic campaigns in Northern Italy (1790s) and the phylloxera epidemic of the 1850s. In any case, it’s been here a long, long time, as have all the other “Bordeaux” varieties. With Cabernet Franc and Merlot especially, the Friulians craft some of the world’s most elegant, detailed, varietally true versions outside of France. 

Your appreciation for this wine will only deepen as you learn more about I Clivi. The estate was founded by Ferdinando Zanusso in the mid-1990s after he purchased an old, two-hectare vineyard in the town of Brazzano di Cormons. Zanusso grew up in nearby Treviso, and his father had made wine, but he spent some 30 years working in West Africa before returning home to make wine. He was quickly followed into viticulture and winemaking by his son, Mario, who continues to run the property today on a resolutely artisanal scale: Their 12 hectares of vineyards are Certified Organic and dry-farmed (i.e. non-irrigated), and they’ve become especially famous for their profoundly mineral, un-oaked whites, which we’ve offered here repeatedly.

Brazzano falls within the Friuli Colli Oriental DOC, a.k.a. the “eastern hills of Friuli,” and the vineyard that supplies this wine is a southeast-facing parcel in the village of Buttrio. This area is effectively equidistant from the Julian Alps, which extend into neighboring Slovenia, and the Adriatic Sea. The interplay of mountain- and sea-borne air is a critical climate feature that helps lengthen the growing season and preserve freshness in grapes. This has always been touted as a key to the region’s success with white wines, but ultimately, it applies equally to reds: like the whites, the reds have an elegant, aromatic, ‘cool-climate’ feel, but there’s real depth there as well.

From old vines rooted in a sandstone-marl mixture known locally as ponca, I Clivi’s 2020 is, as I said above, an exceedingly pretty bottle of wine. Fermented on native yeasts and aged only in stainless steel, it offers tremendous purity of fruit balanced perfectly with the earthier, spicy notes that often dominate Cabernet Franc wines. Here, they’re perfectly calibrated. The wine is a translucent garnet-red color, with perfumed aromas of wild strawberry, black raspberry, cranberry, black plum skin, pomegranate, tobacco leaf, mint, ground black pepper, and violets. It is medium-bodied and very lithe and feminine, with silky tannins and a bright, aromatic finish. Serve it in Burgundy stems at 60 degrees (or cooler) after a brief splash-decant and pair it with something bistro-y and French, just for kicks. It deserves all the praise I can heap upon it, as does the bigger-boned Tuscan cousin we have for you later today. Andiamo!

I Clivi, Cabernet Franc


Northwestern Italy


Italy’s Piedmont region is really a wine “nation”unto itself, producing world-class renditions of every type of wine imaginable: red, white, sparkling, sweet...you name it! However, many wine lovers fixate on the region’s most famous appellations—Barolo and Barbaresco—and the inimitable native red that powers these wines:Nebbiolo.



The area known as “Chianti” covers a major chunk of Central Tuscany, from Pisa to Florence to Siena to Arezzo—and beyond. Any wine with “Chianti” in its name is going to contain somewhere between 70% to 100% Sangiovese, and there are eight geographically specific sub-regions under the broader Chianti umbrella.

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