The closest link between the people that make wine and the people that drink it
The news from Florence this week is of a ‘Chianti Classico Revolution’. Wow! Alas it’s more of a whimper. The Consorzio are not offering a dramatic delimitation of vineyards (‘menzioni geografiche’ as per the Langhe), nor an unprecedented classification of Grand or Premier Cru/Vigna sites, nor even of a study of the unique geological, terroir that are at the heart of the stylistical differences between Chianti Classico villages. No, the ‘authentic Revolution’ the Chianti Classico Consorzio boasts of is…wait for it: a restyling of the Gallo Nero Black Cockerel logo, the introduction of a new ‘Gran Selezione’ level of wine (limited to estate only fruit and longer ageing…che?) and to a re-enforcement of what ‘Riserva’ means! (sound of belly-aching laughter) The producers are dismayed: yet another example of bureaucratic tinkering without adding any real value to a product they’ve slavishly refined over the years, they scoff that the ‘Gran (d) Selezione’ is just one ‘Grand Casino’ (‘big mess’). Sorry Consorzio but to me the term ‘Grand Selezione’ is just plain ‘naff’, harking back to the 1980s, while the term ‘Riserva’ is generally regarded in the UK as ‘passé, a massive fudge, a wine that lacks provenance, has spent too long (drying out) in wood and is often too expensive…
Tied up with contributing (proudly) to Oz Clarke’s Pocket Wine Book 2014 (…on Italy) I’ve been unable to make my annual trek to the Loire to catch up with the latest vintage.
‘Muscadet – Fantastic concentration and salinity, and a real mineral purity, particularly amongst those who hand-harvested. Minute yields (21hl/ha) but extraordinary quality.
Layon – didn’t visit here but our chap in Anjou/Coteaux de la Loire did not make any sweet wine due to wet conditions at harvest – he said a disaster for sweet wines.
Savennières – Some rot due to rain just before harvest but very good quality, very low volumes (34hl/ha).
Saumur-Champigny – Ratron 35% down so only making one red cuvée and his white as a result. The quality is excellent.
Bourgueil – Mabileau were satisfied with the results despite the low volumes. He felt that his organic methods paid off in such a difficult year. He had to select a lot in the vineyards. Problems with Coulure and he also had to be careful with phenolics. The wines have quite low acidity but very pleasurable. Lamé-Delisle called it ‘complicated’ and not an ‘année du siècle’, but a good year.
Chinon – 40hl/ha so not too bad. Delalande was surprised with the quality, having expected the worst after a difficult year. The slopes fared better than the plains.
Vouvray – dry wines only at Huet and Carême. They had a very difficult, wet harvest. Carême made 25 hl/ha (usually 40hl/ha) and would have liked more but was pleased with the quality. He had lots of rot and unripe grapes but he hand-harvests, as do Huet.
Touraine Sauvignon Blanc – Terrible season with rain until 14th July, then drought and water stress, plus heat of 35 to 38 degrees on August 14th and 15th. Jean-Christophe called it ‘difficult’ but is happy with the quality. Bellevue had around 40 to 45hl/ha, which he said was better than many.
Reuilly – Very good wine but unfortunately there’s very little of it due to frost, hail, mildew, a heatwave of 38 to 42 degrees over 5 days in mid-August. The Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris hit by 50% or more because of early bud break and a frost on the 18th April.
Sancerre & Pouilly-Fumé actually fared best of anyone with normal yields and good quality – I would say it’s actually better quality-wise than 2011, where some growers struggled with rot. François Cotat harvested early this year – 27th September, so his style is more vibrant.
Overall I’d say the message was good quality, low volume (except in Pouilly and Sancerre where both were good). No sweet wine made due to rain at harvest time. This was a very challenging year in the vines that somehow turned out well in the end. Those who were most conscientious in the vines fared best. I prefer it generally to 2011 but it’s not a classic like 2010 or 2008.’
That said I haven’t been totally inattentive: last week David Sautereau (of Crézancy-en-Sancerre) sent me tank samples of his (wild yeast) 2012s for me to blend the new Berry Bros. Sancerre…another first here in Serralunga d’Alba! It struck me as I tasted through Sancerre’s different terroirs (marnes, terres blanches, caillottes…but not silex alas) that a) vintage 2012 echoed that of the fine 2002 and b) that the most complete expression of Sancerre is surely the one that blends all the key soils together…just like Barolo!
Living in the Langhe since 2009, and buying wines for London wine merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd now for over a decade, including spells promoting Australian, New Zealand, South African, Californian and French wine, I’ve been amazed and saddened by the overwhelming influence of the predominantly US press on the styles of wine produced here (and elsewhere along the Italian peninsula). Naïve I may well be, but as one Barolo producer put it succinctly: “you’re either ‘In’ or ‘Out’ [of the press ‘club’]”, with repercussions either way on US distribution. So despite Kerin O’Keefe’s candid, and I would say quite brave, exposé on the role of the US press in creating these ‘cartoon’ wines (as Mr Rosenthal puts it), the reality, or should I say tragedy, among the Langhe hills is that there is too much business at stake to allow the true, unadulterated beauty of Nebbiolo to be revealed (but I’ve yet to hear of a similar scandal to that of Spain’s ‘Campogate’ and the Wine Advocate…)
To be fair much of the problem seems to originate among the producers themselves who, as Alessandro Ceretto admitted to me recently, have conceded the articulation of their unique terroir and (vini) culture to the American press (i.e. they’ve sold out), who as we know, through points and posturing, have encouraged producers to make the sort of wines that are better spread on toast than drunk. But then this is a situation that favours the more commercially aggressive producers; those ‘heavyweights’ who effectively fill the void where a dynamic and responsible Consorzio should be. Instead of building on the legacy of their forefathers and follow the example shown by the region’s finest, traditional wines, many of those producers who filled their shoes during the ‘80s and ‘90s chose the shortcut (the ‘scorciatoia’) to fame and fortune, egged on by US importers and press alike. Indeed, how ironic that the country and province that gave us the ‘Slow Food’ movement is indebted to the land of ‘Fast Food’!
Hear it straight from our friends in Sicilia (Graci), Calabria (Arcuri), Basilicata (Musto Carmelitano), Puglia (Morella), Umbria (Fattoria di Antano), Tuscany (San Giuseppe, Caiarossa and Villa Calcinaia), Lombardia (Biondelli), Alto Adige (Gojer), Veneto (Bele Casel and Novaia), Friuli (Sirch)…and Piedmont’s Mario Fontana on film!
Alberto Aiello Graci, Passopisciaro, Sicilia
Harvest took place during the last week of October; it was important to pick after the October rains that rebalanced the fruit. It was a fairly dry year, with rain only in spring, and then in October on a couple of occasions, giving excellent, healthy fruit, with fairly high alcohols, yet with great depth too. I would say it was a ‘sontuosa’/sumptuous year.
Sergio Arcuri, Cirò, Calabria
For me 2012 was an excellent year. In the South (of Italy) farming organically is easy, but in 2012 it was even easier. Overall good weather conditions: a rainy april/spring – crucial for surviving the hot dry summer months. Thanks to dry, hot and frost free conditions we didn’t need to treat for the ‘tignola’, nor did we use any copper, with only one treatment in June of sulphur and bacillus for security. The harvest was tranquil thanks to fine weather until the end of November. Our Cirò Classico Superiore ‘Aris’being harvested at the end of Sept and fruit for the Riserva on 4th October: perfectly ripe, clean fruit. By comparison 2011 had been hotter at night and, without the spring rain, the vines had suffered from stress; strict selection was required to avoid desiccated fruit.
More precisely, the sweet sound of Lucio Battisti played out in the midst of Odilio Antoniotti’s stunning Bramaterra vineyard as his Nebbiolo harvest came to a close.
For years I’d been told how the Japanese really ‘got’ Italian wines, gastronomy, fashion and culture generally. Indeed for many fine wine producers over the past 20 years Japan has become one of their top export markets. This was my first visit, proudly leading a group of Berrys’ suppliers: the Langhe’s Manuel Marinacci, Gianluca Viberti (Casina Bric 460), Mario Fontana, Davide Rosso, Lena Oddero (Vigneti Luigi Oddero), Veneto’s Luca and Giuli Ferraro (Bele Casel), Sara Carbone of Basilicata and Puglia’s Paolo Benegiamo (L’Astore Masseria) to what is evidently a very special country, with its deeply ingrained culture, where rich, ancient traditions are respected and valued. It was a humbling and enriching experience that challenged the (conceited?) preconception that West knows best.
New to the Berry Bros. & Rudd Italian range are the white wines of the Picariello family, whose cantina lies high up among the Irpinian hills at Summonte, close to Avellino. Ciro is an architect by training who turned winemaker once he met his wife Rita (Guerriero), owner of the land! Together with their daughter Emma (a biotecnico with green fingers) and son Bruno, a viticultural school graduate, they make approximately 50,000 bottles/year from 7hectares, principally of Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo but also some Aglianico too.
In fact when I visited them in October they recounted how Summonte was formerly famous for its hazlenuts, then for its black grapes before realising the potential of Fiano, that’s grown on the nutrient poor, limestone and volcanic soils that cling to the mountain side. Fiano’s name being made in the villages of Lapio and Montefredane; the latter is where the Picarielli have another plot of older vine Fiano, grown on hotter, clay soils.
It has been said that many of Italy’s prized wines rarely leave the country. One such wine would be the ‘champagne method’, bottle-fermented sparkling wines of the Franciacorta region in Lombardy, near Brescia. For years the market for these Champagne-like wines was Italy, notably the local Milanese. But a recent visit along with my colleague Edwin Dublin, one of Berrys’ experts on anything that fizzes, threw up the opportunity to bring a couple of the region’s finest to No.3 St James’s Street.
Now in stock are two wines: Joska Biondelli’s Franciacorta Satèn, so named for its fine, satiny texture and small bubbles (from a lower dosage giving less fizz), this is a gentler style of wine made from 100% Chardonnay and aged for 30 months on its lees for extra complexity. Biondelli’s a new name, only recently beginning to bottle its own fruit, from vineyards at the heart of the zone.
The other being Cavalleri’s Brut Blanc de Blancs, again made using 100% Chardonnay, that’s been vinified in a combination of oak and stainless-steel. Cavalleri are one of the historical families of Franciacorta, with vineyards lying in the key Erbusco zone. Unlike some of their neighbours (Biondelli excepted), Cavalleri make wines with lower levels of residual sugar and sulphur, relying on the natural richness of their fruit to provide the pleasure. As a result their wines have a pulpy lemon/mandarin ‘spremuta’ (squeezed fruit) generosity and immediacy…..as Diletta Cavalleri, the latest generation explained when she visited our shop last week….
I’m so excited by the potential of the Aglianico grape, and its capacity to make great wines to complement the country’s, and world’s, finest; a potential that the South of Italy is finally beginning to grasp, with Luigi Tecce leading the way! Like Nebbiolo, Aglianico delivers its finest expression when sited at altitude, so benefitting from temperature oscillation, nutrient poor (calc) soils, ventilation, and good drainage that ensure a long hang-time and late harvest (into November in normal years). This, like Nebbiolo, brings spine-tingling complexity, rich sugars and a fabulously taut, fresh structure. Attempts to condition the grape and the Taurasi wine for the ‘market’ through shortcuts, as per here in the Langhe, are totally misguided in my view.
Inspired by this, and by Luigi Tecce’s wines, I ‘flew’ down to Campania last weekend to help mop up the final 20% of Luigi Tecce’s 2012 Taurasi harvest only to find the weather had other plans. You can imagine my dismay at being denied this (back-breaking) opportunity, so had to resign myself to the (welcome) back-stretching task of pumping down Luigi’s 2012 Aglianico as it fermented in his open chestnut vats, its deep purple juice glistening as it seeped through the cap/cappello…
I catch up with the ever cheerful Manuel Marchetti, winemaker and owner of the historical Poderi Marcarini, as he harvests his prized Nebbiolo vineyard of Brunate; a vineyard that first appeared on a Barolo label in the vintage of 1934, before the village of La Morra even received running water!
Poderi Marcarini remains doggedly traditional in its approach to making (Nebbiolo) wines; a conviction born of a long history and years of experience. While many of his modernist neighbours use rotofermentors to stew their fruit, Manuel uses the time-honoured practices of cement and large old slavonian oak botti to fine tune his two Barolo single-vineyard wines: the perfumed La Serra, from higher up the slope closer to the village, and the brawnier, balsamic Brunate from lower down, as he explains here…
I am pleased to say that Berrys’ Barolo, the 2008 vintage as made by the historic cantina Fratelli Alessandria, is now for sale on our website!
A traditional yet ripe expression of Italy’s fine Nebbiolo wine, Berrys’ Barolo 2008 is a blend of two Verduno vineyards: Rocche dell’Olmo and Campasso, aged in large slavonian oak barrels (botte) for elegance. I chose Fratelli Alessandria for their experience as a leading Barolo producer; that of Verduno because Nebbiolo (Barolo) from this vineyard naturally has a soft, beguiling charm. A wine that can be enjoyed now but will develop further over the next decade.
Meet Vittore Alessandria as he harvests the 2012 Campasso crop…
Wrapping up this week’s Nebbiolo harvest reports 2012 is this from Antoniotti Odilio e Mattia in Bramaterra, Alto Piemonte. Here the terroir is very different to that of the Langhe, 90 mins drive south: in the pre-Alps, surrounded by thick forest, on predominantly volcanic, acid soils, the zone of Bramaterra (along with Gattinara and Boca nearby) is the Nebbiolo equivalent of Côte Rotie, while the Langhe is your Hermitage, or even Châteauneuf-du-Pape!
The other key difference from the Langhe, as Odilio explains in the video, is that Bramaterra is a blend of 80% Nebbiolo (the spine of the wine) and 20% Croatina (colour, fruity perfume), Vespolina (spiciness) and Uva Rara (low tannin, low acid, table grape ripeness) blended together as grapes to capture the magic of the site. They also produce a very pretty, lifted raspberry fresh and approachable Nebbiolo, Costa della Sesia (from the banks of the Sesia, a river which defines the Alto Piemonte, cutting a path though its middle); here the Nebbiolo proportion is 89% along with 11% Croatina.
Odilio Antoniotti and his son Mattia farm their 4.8 hectares in as natural a way as possible; an approach that continues into the cantina (winery), where they use cement fermenting tanks, large botte grande (for Bramaterra) and used tonneaux for the Nebbiolo. Their wines are charmingly authentic, displaying soft ripe fruit together with a true sense of place.
Watch out for two more harvest 2012 videos next week: one from the vineyard that’s behind Berrys’ new Own Selection Barolo; the other from Marcarini’s Brunate vineyard!
Another new face on Berrys’ Barolo books is that of Gianluca Viberti, a Nebbiolo winemaker with 22 years of experience at his family’s cantina (Giovanni Viberti) and now since 2010 at his very own: Casina Bric 460; so named after the altitude at which the property lies, with ‘Casina Bric’ meaning ‘the high farmstead’ in Piemontese dialect.
The Vibertis are from Vergne, a ‘frazione’ (hamlet) of the village of Barolo, but much higher up, on the road to La Morra and Verduno, with whom they share a more similar geology: younger (7 million years ago) Tortonian calcareous clays, with a dash of iron in Vergne’s case, that typically give softer, fleshier more approachable styles of Barolo. As Gianluca explains.
Gianluca’s experience has taught him that cement is the best material for vinifying Nebbiolo, prompting him to invest in four brand new, state-of-the-art, epoxy-lined tanks; the newish I’ve seen in my rounds. Added to which he’s just bought some large upright wooden tini fermenters to complete the traditional vinification of his 10 hectares. And I haven’t even mentioned the fabulously funky packaging..!
Davide’s rightly pleased at the quality of the Vigna Rionda fruit he’s harvesting this year; his second harvest since inheriting the vineyard from cousin Tommaso (Canale). Much work has been done to bring more life to the vineyard: propping the old vine ‘limbs’ off the ground using ‘crutches’ he designed in the cantina, raising the canopy higher to increase its exposure to light (and hence photosynthesis), ploughing the soil between the rows to aerate it. The result is visible in the many different types of wild grasses now present. As you would hope the Nebbiolo fruit from Vigna Rionda in 2012 is both small and focussed, the flavours elegantly but tightly interwoven; a characteristic of the wine.
Another new Giovanni Rosso vineyard has just come on-stream, a 2.8ha plot planted higher up above Serralunga d’Alba, at 550 msl, in the village of Roddino. Here the nutrient poor terrain is composed of an intense blue marne and startlingly white soil that typifies this part of the Langhe (on the border with the Alta Langa, home to the hazlenuts). It’s Davide’s express intention to make Langhe Nebbiolo from this fruit (as it lies outside the Barolo zone). Judging by the beautifully vivid, cobalt blue Nebbiolo fruit that came in yesterday, the 2012 Langhe Nebbiolo Giovanni Rosso should be a wine to watch out for.
A new face on Berrys’ books this year is Lena Oddero, owner of Vigneti Luigi Oddero (so named after her late husband), whom I meet in their Rocche dei Rivera vineyard stunningly located in the heart of Barolo’s Castiglione Falletto village.
Appassionati of Nebbiolo and Barolo will probably have heard of the name ‘Oddero’ but few realise that the family cantina and estate (of some 60ha) was split in two in 2006 when Luigi, the family’s agronomist and enologist, was forced to leave the family home along with his young family (Lena, daughter Maria-Milena and son Giovanni, a splitting image of his father) to create a fresh start as ‘Vigneti Luigi Oddero’ (www.vignetiluigioddero.it). He also took with him c.32 ha of vines including the fabulous sites of Rocche dei Rivera and Serralunga’s Vigna Rionda. Meanwhile Giacomo and his family, headed up by Maria-Cristina Oddero, remained ensconced in the family home and retain the historic label.
Now Lena, aided by her brother Slavko, winemaker Gregorio (formerly at the original Oddero cantina prior to the split) and commercial director Alberto Zaccarelli, continue along the traditional path that Luigi Oddero set out on, making elegant Nebbiolo wines that reflect their provenance. Not an easy task it seems, given the clamour of commercialism echoing across the Langhe.
Tomorrow we will be in the Vigna Rionda vineyard…
Kicking off five days of 2012 Nebbiolo harvest reports this week, here I interview Maria Teresa Mascarello of Barolo producer Cantina Mascarello Bartolo in her Cannubi vineyard.
Maria Teresa’s satisfied with the quality of her Nebbiolo fruit, especially when one considers what the vine has had to put up with this year: a late, shock minus 15 celsius couple of weeks, a cool damp spring, hot and very humid summer, two hail storms… Indeed just when it looked as if there might be a grain of truth in ten year weather patterns (1982?,1992, 2002, 2012…) the bunches have been gathered in intact. Her final judgement on the quality of the harvest being withheld until the wine’s been made.
Visit the blog again tomorrow for another 2012 harvest report from one of Berrys’ Nebbiolo producers.
Stéphanie Caslot, Dme de la Chevalerie, Bourgueil, Loire, France : ‘It started with a little frost on a few parcelles of gravels on april 16th – bad news but nothing too serious in comparison with some other vineyards of the region – then we had a rainy spring with some very localized hail stormed. We had 80mm of rain each month from May to July : the disease pressure was really high, mildew on the leaves and a little on the grapes – we did 14 treatments (one every week and a half). To complete the story, the flower in june suffered of coulure because of the wind and the rain.But the sun arrived in August and the rain stopped, the weather was very clear with a nice light and quite warm Until now.
This week we had the first few mm of rain since a long time and it is not bad. The weather is now (22nd Sept) cooler but shinny during the days – today is the first day of autumn – so it is quite normal. The nights are now very cold. We plan not to pick before october 15th. Because of the weather in june the grape maturation is not homogenous and because of beginning of the season there is not much production. Probably 30/35 hl/ha yields. Apart from that we should have a nice quality of harvest. The skins are thick and strong, the acidity levels so far are still high, the potentiel alcohol is already quite high around 11% three weeks before picking. Now we have to do our best to have a good maturation and wait as much as we can as much as the weather let us. It is going to be une année de garde !’
It’s amazing what can happen when you visit London! Earlier this month forty-four of Berrys’ Italian suppliers came to the notoriously damp Olympic city (to present their wine for our 2012 Grand Tour offer) only to discover that London was bathing under its first week of summer sun, while rain was finally pouring at home! Indeed those early Sept days of rain and autumnal temperatures look to have been the ‘game-changing’ moment of the Italian 2012 vintage.
The south in particular breathed an audible sign of relief. Talking to Taurasi’s Luigi Tecce and Vulture’s Sara Carbone, this rain didn’t come a moment too soon and, along with the cooler days, the harvest dates have been shunted back to a more normal period of end October for Aglianico.
Montalcino’s Andrea Mantengoli (La Serena) was also one celebrating the showers, with Tuscany in particular having suffered many months of ‘siccità’/drought in the leadup to September.
Occupying twice the space as last year, in London’s Lindley Hall, SW1, Berrys guided over 400 of its private customers the length and breadth of the Italian peninsula as they sampled the produce of an unprecedented 44 producers from 12 regions, showing nearly 100 wines.
Reflecting the increasing quality and recognition of Italy’s southern fine wines, Berrys introduced the likes of Sergio Arcuri’s dainty Cirò from Calabria, Lisa Gilbee’s pulpy Puglian Primitivi, while the dynamic Aglianico duo of Carbone and Luigi Tecce were joined this year by the racy beauties made by Elisabetta Musto Carmelitano from high up among the clouds of Basilicata’s Monte Vulture.
Earlier this month I visited Italy’s north-eastern province, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, to meet Luca Sirch, the producer behind Berrys’ Pinot Grigio, based in Cividale just north of Gorizia in the hilly Colli Orientali del Friuli (COF). At the same time I dropped in on some of the producers making so-called ‘natural wines’ on the border with Slovenia.
In making Berrys’ Pinot Grigio, Luca supplements the rich expression of his COF Pinot Grigio with the easier style imparted by the more plentiful grapes from the flat morainic vineyards of the Friuli-Isonzo zone down towards the Adriatic coast. Yet tasting through Luca’s range of other whites: Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Friulano, you do wonder how Pinot Grigio ever came to be the region’s flag-waving wine. But then you hear the tales of a massive brand called ‘Santa Margherita’, created in the 1960s, whose thirst for Pinot Grigio stretched from Trentino Alto-Adige to the Veneto and beyond into Friuli. Santa Margherita was one of the early-adopters of the fermentazione alla tedesca, or cool-ferment, which enabled this fresh, if bland style of wine to be made. And the flat, well-irrigated plains enable large quantities to be yielded. Friulian and Venezian Pinot Grigio has become synonymous with crunchy white (anaemic?) wine; although a few have cut loose and created Pinto Grigio rosati (rosé) in recent years!
|Berrys' Italian wine buyer has relocated to Northern Italy. The objective? To uncover some of the country's hidden gems. Here he reports on his findings, both in and out of the vineyard.|
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