On my second day at Vinitaly, I was going to be travelling solo. When I had originally booked my plane ticket, the thought of being caught in this situation had been nothing less than horrifying. (I’d been once before (another story entirely) and knew how intense this event was.) But when this day arrived, I had no fear at all. I knew I could get through a tasting in Italian if I had to. I had my plan all ready to go, and I had friends to visit. It was easy getting to Veronafiere that day. The hotel called a taxi for me and, using my Italian language skills, I managed to get myself to an entrance with no line and where I could acquire a ticket easily. Voila! I was in.
First on the list: Friuli-Venezia Giulia. It would be a perfect way to start the day; this region holds some of my very favorite white wine styles.
I found Blason, a winery I know well and whose wines I often use in my Italian Wines class. I stepped up to the counter and introduced myself. I told Giovanni Blason, the very friendly and energetic owner/winemaker, that I wanted to try only a few whites but he was determined I try them all — and there was no stopping him. So, starting with the whites, all in the 2009 vintage: Pinot grigio (a very fresh style), Friulano (fresh with hints of mint and a slight effervescence), Chardonnay (light with some bitterness), Malvasia (aromatic and dry), Sauvignon (not my favorite (actually no matter who makes it)), and finally the “Venc” Bianco 2007 (40% Pinot Bianco, 45% Friulano, 15% Malvasia Istria) which smelled of honey and had more weight and intensity than the other whites but retained that canonical Friulian freshness that stole my heart a long time ago. Then Giovanni poured for me his 2009 Rosato, a blend of Merlot 70% and Franconia 30% (Franconia is called Blaufrankisch in Austria). …Oh lovely rosé Gods and Goddesses! I have found the perfect pink wine! It had a full nutty aroma but was as fresh as the summer’s best watermelon and finished with just the perfect amount of acid and spice. (This little gem is available at K&L for $4.99! If you’re reading this from the U.S., go get some now!) The 2009 Merlot and 2009 Cabernet Franc both are aged for about five months in large Slavonian oak barrels (botti). The Merlot sometimes gets a little French oak barrel treatment as well. Both reds were fresh and spicy but the Cab Franc had more, namely paprika and herbaceous characters. Finally we tasted the “Vencjâr”† 2006 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, each 33%), a more serious weighty red which ages in barrique (French oak barrel) for 18 months. All in all: a fabulous line-up with extremely fresh and clean wines, full of character. [† Vencjâr is the Friulian name for the wild willow tree that grows in the flood-prone fields of the area. The branches of the Vencjâr, called Venc, were and still are used to hand-tie the fruiting canes of the vines.]
After Blason, I had no solid plan of which Friulian winery to hit, so I asked Giovanni his advice on where to go and he took me over to the Friulian consortium where I met the Managing Director, Pierpaolo Penco. (If you can read Italian, check out his blog here (http://winebusiness.wordpress.com/.) I told him I was most interested in wines made of Friulano and anything else interesting he thought I should try. We started with three very different but delicious Friulani: Luisa Mariano del Friuli 2009 (freshest), Sgubin Renzo Cormòns ‡ 2009 (more round but also with more acid than the first, my favorite), and Feresin Cormòns 2008 (a more intense style with older vines (70 years old) and a later harvest thus a higher alcohol).
Next he poured for me his best Pinot grigio: Borgo Conventi Farra d’Isonzo 2009 (pleasing balance of all the typicals: pear, pineapple, honey, smoke), Carlo di Pradis Cormòns 2009 (dried pineapple and caramel aromas, extremely dry and refreshing yet still fruity, my favorite), Pecorari Pierpaolo San Lorenzo Isontino “Olivers” 2008 (fermented and aged in tonneau, quite peppery). Then, perhaps the most peculiar Pinot grigio I’ve ever had, was the Feresin Cormòns Pinot grigio 2008, which has a 24-36 hour maceration time and is aged on the lees for nine months in vasche di cement vetrificato, or (glass-lined?) cement casks. It was the color of copper, smelled like Fernet Branca and finished a little like a Fino Sherry — really a cool wine!
Next were a couple of Sauvignons: the Magnás Cormòns 2009 aged in cask (I don’t remember it), and the Renzo Sgubin Cormòns 2008, which had been bottled only ten days prior and didn’t seem to have any bottle shock. [They drop the word “blanc” in this region and just call it by the first name, Sauvignon.] Pierpaolo finished my tasting with two Refoscos: Feresin Cormòns “Nero di botte” 2007 (ripe prunes, peppery, tomato aromas and pepper, still with a round but slightly salty finish) and Pierpaolo Pecorari Refosco 2004 (very peppery and herbaceous with dark fruit).
“Botte” means both “to punch” and “barrel,” hence the label of a guy who’s been punched in the face. The “Nero di botte” is aged in new and used French and Slavonian oak barrels. [‡Cormòns is a village and commune in the Isonzo DOC area and many different types of wines are named after the area.]
By now I think Pierpaolo had realized I was in to the “weird stuff,” so he took me over to Azienda Agricola La Viarte, a winery from a nearby region which grows lesser-known grape varieties (and in some cases, not-at-all-known). There we started with their Schiopppettino 2007. “Scoppio” means “explosion” and this grape gets its name because it has very thick skins and explodes when pressed. It reminded me of a Syrah with aromas of earth, raspberry, autumn spice, olives, and leather and followed through to a lustrous and balanced finish. Next…
the reason why I love Italian wine so much. Who has ever heard of a grape called Tazzelenghe? Yeah, no one. (And if you have then I’m sure you must be feeling pretty nerdy right now.) I just love, that in Italy, there is ALWAYS something new to discover. “Tazzelenghe,” an indigenous grape to the Colli Orientali del Friuli region, means “cut tongue” because of the grape’s high acid and tannin content. We tried the 2006 La Viarte Tazzelenghe, which I found to be pretty nice actually. The color was an intense mix of both brick and magenta and it smelled intensely ripe and fruity. It had a rich mouthfeel but the acid did give a little bite in the end. This type of wine really does need some years. The “Siùm” (“siùm” is the Friulian dialect for “sogno,” or “dream”) is a desert wine made of Picolit and Verduzzo Friulano. It smelled like a passito Viognier, but better. Think stewed apricots and caramel.
After all morning in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia pavilion, I spent some time in the Agrifood pavilion which is fabulous if you are in to olive oil. But if you’re not a food purveyor, you are pretty much out of luck there. They really want to spend time with people who will be buying their olive oil and I don’t blame them for that. So then I perused the Umbria and Campania pavilions but couldn’t find any producers I had on my list. By then it was early afternoon and I figured a better option, than wandering aimlessly looking for an “in,” might be for me to go in search of Ruché and Timorasso in Piemonte, and to taste with my friend Monica at Braida.
I was able to try one Timorasso from Viticultori del Tortonese but I didn’t really like it. Maybe it was not cold enough. It seemed a little syrupy. I still have much to explore here!
Since the Friulian consortium had proven to be a lucrative stop earlier in the day, I decided to try my luck at the Monferrato consortium, hoping they’d have some Ruché. They only had Barbera but I could not complain. I tried three fabulous Barberas, all of which maintained their respective styles while retaining the Piemontese Barbera character of berry and spice aromas, rich fruity mouthfeel, and fresh, high acid finish. These are the ones a very nice lady poured for me: Le Coccole 2008, an unoaked Barbera (usually a favorite style of mine), Azienda Agricola Domanda “Crevacuole” 2007, and Crivelli Barbera d’Asti (vintage not noted). So I asked the lady about Ruché and she said actually Crivelli makes some of the best and he was just around the corner. So I walked around the stand to the opposing hallway and discovered MarcoMaria Crivelli. I must be the only American who has ever come asking him for Ruché! When I told him in Italian that I was interested to try his Ruché and that the consortium had recommended him, he just seemed beside himself. We tried his Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato and a wine called “Aghõghē,” a pleasing blend of Ruchè and Syrah. Both of these from Crivelli were refined and polished wines, true to the Ruché characters of rich plum and cherry with bold rose aromas.
Next in the plan was to see my friend, Monica at Giacoma Bologna’s Braida winery, and taste everything that I hadn’t tasted in December. (You can read about those here https://enotecamarcella.wordpress.com/2010/01/08/braida/.) We started with “Il Fiore” 2009, a blend I had been looking forward to because of the Nascetta (Chardonnay 70% and Nascetta 30%). It tasted fresh with a lot of grassy, citrus, and floral notes, and is definitely meant to be drunk young. Second, the “Asso di Fiori,” is 100% Chardonnay, aged in oak for about eight months, and is a more weighty wine, not quite as rich as a California Chardonnay but still generous in comparison to many of the more typically-styled light wines, like the Blason whites, for example. The Grignolino d’Asti 2009 was a sweet, rose-smelling, refreshing little summer red. It matures in stainless steel for only a few months. I took a bottle with me because it’s so wonderful to have a red on hand when those hot summer days hit. The “Montebruna” 2008, usually a favorite of mine, was disappointing to me this year. It sees little oak typically (all neutral or large barrel) and thus the spice and some of the more gentle Barbera characteristics are usually preserved in this wine, but not this time. It had a touch of brettanomyces and meat aromas which were not congruent with the fragrant, harmonious, and fruity red I remember. The “Bricco della Bigotta” 2007 is a big and intense Barbera with a lot to offer and would be worth a spot in anyone’s cellar. Last we finished with the lovely and fragrant Brachetto d’Acqui, which I think is the best dessert wine in the world. It’s sweet like the best strawberry you’ve had in years — but lifted, light and refreshing. This wine is not only fabulous on its own, but pairs remarkably with both fruit and dark chocolate. It is just amazing to me.
I decided to end the day with a return visit to my friend Renato Vacca, to see how his day had gone. I told him about the Tezzelenghe (he’d never heard of it!), sat in on a tasting with him and wine importers from Hungary, tasted more vintages of his Barbaresco… But little did I know at the time (like we ever know these things before they happen; a Depeche Mode song called “Nothing” sums it up more poetically than I can here), during this visit I would meet two people who would, a little later, prove to have a great impact on me and my knowledge of Italian wine…
Renato shared his stand with two other producers: Ruggeri Corsini (a Barolo producer from Monforte d’Alba) and Domenico Capello, owner of La Montagnetta (a producer of traditional Asti wines, namely Freisa). When I realized Domenico is a Freisa specialist, I decided that I just had to taste his wines. He accepted and began by handing me an artistic brochure outlining all of his wines. He started the tasting with “il Ciarét,” a rosé made with 100% Freisa. Then we moved on to the “i Ronchi,” a vivace Freisa d’Asti (“vivace” means “just slightly sparkling”). The next wine really surprised me. He calls it “Bugianen” which means “don’t walk” or “quiet” because it is a wine with no effervescence. For this Freisa, he dries 20% of the grapes in a ventilated room before pressing, making the resulting wine more concentrated and rich (aromas of dark plums, black pepper, almost Dr. Pepper, dried herbs, tobacco smoke, full in the middle with a prevalence of cherry jam and peppery, food-friendly tannins. I’m not kidding about the food-friendly tannins. This wine pairs well (actually it really does) with a myriad of foods: salumi, goat cheese, other cheeses, tuna crostini, olives, dark chocolate, even grapes, and I’m sure there are more.)
I also got to taste the “Sospir” a sweet wine made from late harvest Freisa and matured nine months in old oak casks. What a delight! Domenico also makes a few different Barberas, a Bonarda, and a Chardonnay-based white wine, all of which are typical of the Asti area, but would be unique to most American markets. All of his distinctive wines resonate with quality and pure expression. Towards the end of the tasting Domenico told me that the guy sitting at the table next to us trying wines from Ruggeri Corsini was from Hollywood (actually it sounded like he said the guy was from “olive oil,” so I had to ask him three times to repeat himself). He told me it was the Italian wine buyer at the Hollywood K&L, Greg St Clair, and he would introduce me. And that is another story entirely, which I’ll hopefully write about before not too long…
But the end of this story includes something I’ve been waiting for, for a long time. Domenico, such a friendly and intensely kind person, has offered me the opportunity work with him during this year’s harvest in Piemonte. And so, it is finally happening. Piemonte, I’ll see you when all your grapes are ripe!
Domenico Capello’s winery happens to be very close to the autostrada toll booth exit called Villanova d’Asti. It is the one toll booth that has given me the most trouble in all of Italy. I have been stuck at non-opening gates, been given fines for not having the correct ticket, and gotten turned around there when it was snowing. Well, the metaphorical gate has opened for my opportunity to live in Italy. I just hope the real ones at Villanova d’Asti will too. (I thought of the title to this entry well before I knew I’d be working with Domenico this fall. Oh the irony!)