Aaahhhh, it was so easy. I got to ride with my friend, Roberto, to Veronafiere and! he got me in for free. On the way in he asked “Do you like sparkling wines?” My response, “Well my favorite is Franciacorta. I enjoy Prosecco, a few other Italian sparklers, and of course Cava from Spain. Just don’t give me anything French.” I wasn’t worried; we were at Vinitaly after all. Okay then. He told me we would start the day in Lombardia with Franciacorta. Va bene! We met up with two of his friends and the four of us plowed through six pavilions in less than four hours.
We started with the producer, Colline Della Stella (rolling hills of Stella) which offered a couple of lovely and refreshing Franciacorta. I’m not going to claim to remember which they were but it was a fabulous beginning.
The second stop, Antica Fratta, offered a few more styles.
My favorite was the Satén, a less common style made only from white grapes (Chardonnay and/or Pinot bianco) which has a slightly lower atmospheric pressure than a traditional méthod champenoise sparkler. All Franciacorta DOCG are made in the traditional méthod champenoise, and in one of the following styles: Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec, Demi-Sec, and sometimes Satén.
The grapes used in Franciacorta DOCG include Chardonnay, Pinot bianco, and Pinot nero. These French grapes were most likely brought to the area well over 200 years ago. I enjoyed the Brut as well.
The next stop was a great segue into bigger and bolder reds. La Guarda is a winery in the northern part of Lombardia near Lago di Garda. They specialize in reds made with Groppello, Marzemino, Barbera, and Sangiovese. Our first try, and a very new wine for them, was a Spumante Brut Rosé called “105 by GIOTTI.” What a treat! A fabulous sparkling wine made entirely from Sangiovese grapes! It was fresh and spicey; I could drink more of this!
We ventured on to a few of their reds, which run the range of styles: single varietal wines, blends (uvaggio), reds aged in oak barrels (botti di rovere), and also those which rest only in stainless vats (vasche di acciaio).
After that, Roberto took us to Tenuta Mazzolina, a Pinot nero producer in the Oltrepo Pavese DOC region of Lombardia. I’m a tough-sell when it comes to Pinot noir but I found enjoyment here and I’m sure all of you Pinot-philes out there would appreciate the effort and elegance in these wines. The friendly winemaker, Jean-Francois Coquard, is indeed from France.
Next on the list: Valtellina. Ooooh goody. My second-best friend. We stopped at a relatively new producer called DIRUPI. The first wine, Olé 2008, really surprised me. If I had had it blind, I would have guessed Gamay noir. Most people, ‘wine people’ that is, give a bad rap to Beaujolais Nouveau but I happen to enjoy it (and of course the better Beaujolais Villages and Cru Beaujolais). This first Nebbiolo had that ‘carbonic maceration’ quality, which I found quite pleasant but had to whisper to Roberto, so as not to offend the winemaker, “Do you think this is produced with carbonic maceration?” I think he asked the winemaker anyhow but oh well. I made it known that I enjoyed it. The production of the Olé involves de-stemming and a very soft pressing. Fermentation completes on the skins in 14 days and the wine, entirely from the Grumello sub-zone, is aged for eight months in stainless steel and three months in bottle preceding release. We also tried the Olé 2007 and the Valtellina Superiore 2007. Their source for the Valtellina Superiore is both Grumello and Inferno. Maceration takes 12-30 days and ageing continues in barrel for 18 months and in bottle for six months preceding release. These were really fun wines.
Masseria Frattasi produces outstanding Aglianico of many styles! I tried the three pictured here and loved them all. Unfortunately I don’t think they can be found anymore on the west coast. (Stupid California wine monopoly.)
A quick stop here gave us a chance to try a few traditional reds from Santadi: Cannonau (Grenache), Carignano (Carignane), and Monica. This winery also uses Sangiovese in some of the blends and makes white wines out of the traditional Sardinian white grapes: Vermentino, Nuragas, and Nasco, using a little bit of Chardonnay in one blend with Vermentino. The winery is in southern Sardinia and they typically grow the reds as bush-vines. They also employ a counter-espalier training system. (The espalier system looks like stacked ‘T’s.) These were lighter-bodies wines than Aglianico and what was coming next. But nevertheless, still intriguing, exhibiting some dark fruits with floral and earthy tones.
In the Puglia pavilion we visited Vetrere, which happened to be sharing a stand with Villa Schinosa, a winery I am familiar with because I poured their Nero di Troia in my Wines of Italy class in the fall of 2009. Vetrere, from Salento, makes some interesting wines, made mainly from indigenous grapes of the area. I focused on the whites from here, trying the Laureato (Malvasia, Chardonnay, and Fiano), the Finis (Malvasia, Chardonnay, and Verdeca) and I believe a single-varietal Fiano. They were a little too rich for my tastes but still offered extremely pleasant floral aromas, stone fruit and honey characteristics. As for Villa Schinosa, I had only ever tried their Nero di Troia (it’s the only one I can get here in California, and I find it at my trusted K&L (I think they are the importer actually)). It was a success in my class so I tried their Greco, Fiano, Falanghina, Bioncone, Sauvignon, Chardonnay (he just poured it even though I resisted), and finally Aglianico. The Greco was by far my favorite white showing lots of freshness and minerality. I enjoyed the Aglianico too. These wines offer a lot for the price. I hope K&L starts to import more of them. Although, it’s great that they are working with such a unique single-varietal wine first, the Nero di Troia, also known as Uva di Troia (grape of the whore).
A quick jump over here for some Sagrantino, for which I’m always eager… The winery: Di Filippo, a certified organic winery since 1994 and originally founded in 1971. The wines are somewhat modern in style, although they still employ traditional techniques like the use of large barrels, botti. I like how they just lay out a bunch of details about the grapes, food pairings, and production techniques right on the front of the label. Very straightforward.
I was able to try the Rosso dell Umbria and the Montefalco Rosso (a blend of Barbera, Sagrantino, and Sangiovese). Both bold and refined with all the lovely darkness I depend on.
The last stop with Roberto was Ferrando, a northern Piemonte producer of Nebbiolo and Erbaluce (meaning brightness and herbs). If there is one white grape that I would vote better over all the rest in Piemonte, it would be Erbaluce (although I still need to get my hands on some Timorasso…). Erbaluce has this sweet ‘texture’ which perfectly juxtaposes itself with minerals and sometimes a hint of citrus or vanilla. It is by no means a sweet-tasting wine, it just has a sweet mouth-feel, very similar to the taste of fresh fennel. The wine always balances opposing flavors, analogous to how the flavors of corn and limes marry so well, as another example. Anyway I loved the Erbaluce, called Cariola but the Nebbiolo wasn’t my favorite style. A little sharp for me, however I think it was quality wine.
After Ferrando, Roberto departed and after I quickly stopped somewhere with his friends for some passito wines from Sicilia (or was it Sardinia? … obviously a real stand-out for me), I went back to Piemonte. I know, I know, you’re saying, “For Chist’s sake Marci, you’ve got all these other wines at your disposal and you go back to Piemonte!?” Yup. Plus it’s familiar. And I like it.
I visited my good friend and awesome Barbaresco producer, Renato Vacca of Cantina del Pino. He gave me the perfect beverage: a one liter bottle of water, and provided a nice chair to sit in. After running around all day, chasing my endless intrigue of Italian wines, the best thing I could have possibly done at that point was sit and drink some water. And that is what I did. Thank you Renato for that! After an extended break, … of course, certamente, I had to try his wines, ho dovuto assagiare i suoi vini. They were really young, in fact so young, they aren’t even due to be released for eight more months, until November of 2010. So it was almost like a barrel tasting, which was very cool. The 2006 Albesani Barbaresco and 2006 Ovello Barbaresco already showed their distinctive qualities: the Albesani more mineral and textural grip, the Ovello, more feminine red fruits, balsamic and floral aromas. Also I tried the Barbaresco 2007 (I think it was that vintage), Nebbiolo d’Alba 2008, and the Dolcetto 2009. I am excited about this Dolcetto. It’s dark in color and flavor. Can’t wait. Even though most were infants, the consistency of style and the refinement in his wines is very obvious. Also the never-ending aromas and ever-evolving flavors that come in these wines over days open, and months and years in the bottle are already peaking their heads out.
He took me to taste some wines of his friend, Maurizio Ponchione, a producer from Roero. That was a treat too. Maurizio was really cool and I got to practice my Italian since he doesn’t know English. And, the best part is he said that he could understand me. Really!? Cool. First up was Arneis from the estate vineyard, their very first vineyard, the Pasau, which was great and very clean, exhibiting all those flavors I like in Arneis: hay, apple, pear. Next we went through a couple of his Barberas, the Donia, vinified in stainless steel only, a style I love for Barbera, and the Monfrini, a Barbera aged in oak. Also up was the Nebbiolo from the Montemolino vineyard (aged in large oak), and I believe also the Monfrini (uses small oak). I enjoyed all of the wines and the opportunity to try these great wines from Roero.
This day was a huge success. A wonderful day in the Marci Playground of Italian wines.