The closest link between the people that make wine and the people that drink it
The following reports are provided by Saverio Petrilli (Tenuta di Valgiano), Giovannella Fugazza (Castello di Luzzano), Paolo Benegiamo (L’Astore Masseria) and Nicola Oberto (Trediberri).
Saverio Petrilli, winemaker at the Lucchesi estate of Tenuta di Valgiano records that they experienced a difficult spring, due to it having rained from Oct ’12 until June ’13. “We thought 2010 had been tricky, but Nature knows no limits nowadays. We worked like dogs to limit the spread of downey mildew and botrytis attacks, unseen of in spring. Then, from 18 June, torrid heat, reducing the clay to terracotta! Still humid, Nature threw oidium at us too, to complete the set! Biodynamic preparation 501 (crushed quartz) pepped up the weak vegetative growth during the cool spring weather. The harvest started on 5 September, slow and easy. Then storms, more rain and it became frenetic! In under a month we harvested everything, filling every available vessels, even the bath! Quantity was stable, if 5 percent down. The quality was good, similar to that of the 1990s, with modest alcohol (12-13 percent), high acidity and low pH. We need to wait until after the malolactic before judging. For now, the wines are fruity, vivaci, almost nervy, with great energy.”
Giovannella Fugazza at her Emilia-Romagnan estate, Castello di Luzzano writes: “I would define this (2013) harvest as ‘Harking back to the harvests of yesteryear’. Both for the fact that maturation was later than in previous years and that the weather stressed us during the final weeks – all in all, echoing vintages of the 1990s. It wasn’t an easy harvest, but one that has given birth to wines, rich in perfume, colour and with a good alcohol level. The maturation of the fruit was, in fact, helped by a summer’s end characterised by cool nights, and hot, ventilated days. We started harvesting on 10September, first with the Pinot Noir destined for white wine vinification, then, in order: Chardonnay, Malvasia Candida Aromatica, Syrah, Pinot Noir (for reds), merlot, Bonarda, Barbera and then at the end Cabernet. Quantity was down, especially in white grapes and in Pinot Noir, almost 25 percent less. This is due to the wet spring (during flowering). In all we‘re satisfied, achieving on average 70hl/hectare (from 75ha) at an alcohol level of 12.5 percent.”
Paolo Benegiamo at his Salento propriety L’Astore Masseria in the Puglian heel of Italy, dividing the Adriatic and Ionian seas writes: “2013 was notable for its even weather, characterised by a mild winter and fresh spring. Rainfall of 630mm between 1October 2012 and 31 July 2013 was on average for the past 10 years. The fresh spring delayed budding and flowering. Clipping the tops of rows in June brought on new leaves, giving a push to the maturation process. July witnessed good day/night temperature excursions. Compared with 2012, this year’s been less productive and slightly later than previous vintages, resulting in a later, strung on harvest that allowed the gradual development of aromas in the grapes. Harvest started on 16August with Susamaniello (for its sparkling Brut Rosato). Negroamaro for its Rosato ‘Massaro’ was brought in at the end of August, followed by the Malvasia Bianca for ‘Krita’. Primitivo (for ‘Jema’) and Negroamaro (for ‘Filimei’) came in during the second and third weeks of September. Old vine Negroamaro for ‘Alberelli’ was cropped at the end of September early October, followed by Aglianico.
Finally to Nicola Oberto (pictured above), whose Piedmontese family make fine Barbera, Nebbiolo (for Barolo) and Sauvignon (!) at the La Morra estate of Trediberri, new to Berry Bros this year: ‘The 2013 season marked the return to an “old-fashioned” (ie late) vegetative cycle of the vines. This was due to a very unusual spring, characterised by an extra-ordinary amount of rain (see 2013 rainfall chart on trediberri.com) which brought two pivotal results: the incapability to enter rows in order to mechanically widespread copper-based treatments and the consequent rise of downy mildew (peronospora). Organic wineries (not using systemic treatments) lost 25 percent to 70 percent of buds during flowering. Huge rainfalls also caused a fall of temperatures between March and May and this undoubtedly delayed the blooming and the bud-set. Summer was on average slightly cooler than usual (characterised by hot daytimes and cool nights) and rather dry; these conditions helped veraison and first ripeness. Green-harvesting was a factor in this phase: wineries who had been less damaged by downy mildew were keen to thin, while some decided not to proceed since they looked quite low in production (20 percent to 30 percent fewer formed grapes than usual). Harvest was delayed all-over Italy and in Piedmont white grapes started to be harvested at the beginning of September, with 15-20 days of delay.
The rainfalls of late August – combined to a sunny September – caused berries and bunches to increase weight and dimensions, thus causing the crush of adjacent berries; what was expected to be a scarce harvest, in October started to appear as an abundant one (especially considering the relative weight of any single bunch) with the concrete risk of rot and bad botrytis. We had to hardly intervene in order to let the air blow through the shoots, stop the rising humidity and get rid of rotted bunches. Generally speaking, red grapes were harvested throughout October, with a constant eye on weather conditions: mid-late October rainfalls and cool temperatures brought percentages of sugar far lower than recent seasons’, sometimes with a high level of acidity and an inconsistent ripeness of tannins. In a nutshell 2013 was better than what we could forecast in May, but came as a result of a compromise between winegrowers and weather. As for our vineyards, grapes from Rocche dell’Annunziata were superb (harvested relatively early on 10 October), whereas the fruits to be blended into our straight Barolo – from the vineyards Berri and Capalot – although picked later between 18 and 27 October, were characterised by an irregular ripening pattern and needed a more accurate selection process.”
The following reports are provided by Aldo Cifola (La Monacesca), Sergio Arcuri, Loredana Tanganelli (Scopetone) and Mirco Mastroianni (Massaretti).
First up, Aldo Cifola, winemaker/owner at the La Monacesca estate, recounts how his Verdicchio di Matelica fared: “Summer 2013 was complicated due to the repetitive rain showers in June and July, let alone the unprecedented eight days of rain during the harvest itself! As a result Aldo lost 20 per cent of his Verdicchio (di Matelica), in what was already a low-cropping vintage. Nonetheless they succeeded in harvesting a significant quantity of very good Verdicchio, at acceptable sugar and acidity levels. So a low quantity of high quality fruit.”
It seems the South (of Italy) enjoyed a better season/October than further north, if Calabrian Sergio Arcuri’s report is anything to go by: “Ottima annata! It’s been a long harvest on account of the slow maturation of the (Gaglioppo) fruit, taking place at the right time and finishing on 19th October. Ten per cent more fruit than in 2012, even given the lack of rain, but the summer temperature was not very hot. No fermentation issues, a risk given their decision to ferment spontaneously (using wild yeasts).”
New to Berrys’ range this year are the suave Scopetone wines of Montalcino, made by Loredana Tanganelli and her husband Antonio Brandi, from vineyards just below the historic town centre itself: “2013 wasn’t easy but very interesting, cumulating in high quality and quantity (Sangiovese Grosso) fruit. The weather and (slow) ripening period echoed that of 20/30 years ago, i.e. optimal conditions for ripening the Sangiovese. Spring and early summer were wet, accompanied by hail, which though filling up water reserves, also brought on peronospera, requiring much vineyard work. Great heat arrived during the second half of July, and August, but not excessively as felt in previous years, while cool nights and hot days ensured the build up of complex aromas and fruit tannins. This continued into September, which was fine and dry, indicating a (later than recent years) harvest period between end Sept and mid October. Harvesting conditions were compromised by frequent and heavy rain showers, threatening rot but those that harvested before the middle of October (as they did!) brought home fruit, balanced in sugar, acidity, freshness and colour. Quantity harvested was about five per cent on previous years due to greater manual selection in the vineyard, ensuring high quality.”
Finally, another new face is Mirco Mastroianni, owner/winemaker on the Ligurian Riviera at the Pigato-producing Cascina Feipu dei Massaretti, based in Albenga, overlooking the Mediterranean: “As regards my region, 2013 was characterised by rain and low temperatures until the beginning of the summer. This resulted in lower sugar and hence alcohol levels of between 1- 0.5 degrees less (which is not a bad thing). That said, the good oscillation of temperatures between day and night during August and during the first 15 days of Sept, has had – in my view and as regards my wines – a positive influence on the (Pigato) aromas.”
More Italian 2013 harvest news to follow from Tenuta di Valgiano (Tuscany), Castello di Luzzano (Emilia-Romagna), Massotina (Veneto), L’Astore Masseria (Puglia)…
Italian Buyer David Berry Green reports from the vineyards surrounding the Monte Vulture volcano, and finds the political temperature is rising amongst the producers
Basilicata’s mountain vineyard, the brooding volcanic Monte Vulture, surrounded by one thousand hectares of noble Aglianico vine, threatens to ‘erupt’ anew, despite having lain dormant for 300,000 years.
I’m just back from a couple of days in the field, meeting up with a dozen or so producers to hear and taste what’s new. The big news is that from vintage 2011, Aglianico del Vulture has graduated to DOCG (Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita), having been a (inactive) DOC since 1971, joining Taurasi, the other Aglianico DOCG since 1993, at the top table. To qualify for DOCG status, producers must designate a maximum of 10% of their harvest as DOCG at yields of 56hl/ha, requiring at least three years’ ageing (two in oak barrels).
But, this being Italy, the same producers can release the remaining 90% as Aglianico del Vulture DOC, wine made from higher yields (70hl/ha), with no ageing in oak required – only that the DOC wine cannot be sold before 1 November the following year. Consumers will have to look closely at the label’s small print. And rather than establishing a more limited ‘sottazona’ – area for the DOCG - one focusing on the key villages of Barile, Ginestra, Ripacandida, Melfi, Maschito, Venosa – it seems that the ‘vignaioli’ (vignerons) acquiesced to the political might of the region’s cooperative, the Cantina di Venosa, responsible for buying 60% of the regon’s fruit, to leave the boundaries conveniently vague. A better idea perhaps would have been to follow Montalcino in having two wines: Aglianico del Vulture DOCG and Rosso del Vulture DOC…
Elsewhere the news from the 53-or-so bottlers of Aglianico del Vulture is of regeneration and division. Regeneration as more of the new generation choose to bottle (more of) their fruit rather than sell it off (to the Cantina di Venosa): roughly 60% of those visited had begun to bottle (commercially) for the first time in 10 years. Division has erupted among two of the most historic and prestigious names: Paternoster and D’Angelo. Brothers Vito and Sergio Paternoster no longer work together, with Sergio (the enologo) now offering his services to other new cantine such as Carbone. Meanwhile the roof has truly been lifted off the D’Angelo cantina, following the death of Lucio d’Angelo in 2007 and subsequent dismissal of his brother and winemaker Donato a year later. Echoes of the Langhe, where (winemaker) Luigi Oddero was expelled from his family estate in 2006, forcing him too to start afresh.
In the meantime, southern Italy’s answer to Nebbiolo, the Aglianico grape continues to flourish on the ancient black lava flows, producing full, deep purple, inky wines, redolent with black currant skin and smoky lava aromas, broad damson pulpiness and welcome minerality to partner spicy sausage piatti. The province is also famous for its mineral water that flows in abundance in aquifers under the rock; indeed the grape seems to thrive most in the hottest years. Talking of vintages: 2013 followed the pattern of the rest of Italy, witnessing a return to more classical harvest dates (the end of October), while enjoying a hotter, drier October than further north. It seems that 2012 looks decidedly stronger than in the North, with alternating heat and humidity; 2011 boasted extreme heat and drought, yielding rich suave wines, as per Carbone’s soon-to-be released ‘Stupor Mundi’ Aglianico del Vulture DOCG and Musto Carmelitano’s juicy ‘Serra del Prete’ Aglianico del Vulture DOC. Vintages 2010 and 2009 were much damper.
As I write, the larger Langhe estates are still feverishly gathering up the last of the Nebbiolo harvest, the still-warm sun lighting up the stunning autumn colours.
Harking back to the years before global warming started to make its presence felt, ie pre 1995, the 2013 Langhe Nebbiolo harvest has been reassuringly late. It all began with a normal winter, followed by a refreshingly damp, if unusually (and painfully) long, cold spring that reduced the crop naturally while minimising disease. The hot summer which kicked in at the end of June prompted a wave of peronospera/downy mildew among the vines, impeding grape ripening and throwing back the harvest date still further… as did a few localised hail storms. Could it be that growers are finally jettisoning the systematic early de-leafing of vines, the penny dropping that leaves equal protection (from sun and hail)? The second half of August was much cooler than in 2012 and 2011, stretching out the (Nebbiolo) hang time yet further. September was no warmer, and October started wet, filling up the remaining bunches with juice. ‘Crying’ berries – bunches fit to bursting – signalled the start of the harvest, three weeks later than in recent years. Fortunately, the final week (14th Oct onwards), brought warm sunny days and cool nights – perfect weather for wrapping up the harvest. So a ‘classic’ vintage with plenty of clean pulp fruit, bright acidity, firm tannins and modest alcohol levels. (View Nebbiolo harvest reports from Cascina Fontana, Giuseppe Mascarello, Flli Alessandria, Vuigneti Luigi Oddero, Trediberri, Punset & Bartolo Mascarello)
Skipping down to Tuscany, a four-hour drive to the Chianti Classico estate of Bibbiano in Castellina-in-Chianti, Tommaso Marrocchesi Marzi reports that the vendemmia (vintage harvest) started this year on September 23rd: a week later than in 2012. It took place in two stages: the first from Sep 23rd to Oct 2nd, which was subject to very changeable weather and we stopped for five days to let the expected sunshine days bring more concentration to the musts. The second stage resumed on the 7th of October and finished on the 13th. By now the wines of 2013 can be divided in two categories: one is of very perfumed, bouquet wines, very ruby and fruity; the other is of intense and structured tannins and they have more complexity. Not an “annata del secolo” (vintage of the century), but 2013 will show better than expected.
Finally, we tune in to Alberto Aiello Graci at his Passopisciaro cantina halfway up Sicily’s Etna volcano. He reports: “Wet winter, mild, dry, windy spring, with a hot summer arriving from the second week of June, relieved fortunately by cool 15-degree nights. July saw a bit of rain, as did August, with three showers over the 9th and 10th, then again wet on 20th and 21st. September brought regular if short-lived rain showers. October has been sunny, and around 18 degrees by day, although the humidity has further delayed the harvest until mid-October for some of the red Nerello Mascalese and then 23rd October for the whites.” Alberto’s Barbabecchi vineyard at 1,000 metres will be harvested at the beginning of November! It seems that this vintage will give wines that are not too alcoholic, but fluid and elegant, thanks to clean, juicy fruit, with freshness and energy.
By a happy coincidence, I found myself in the capital on the day that London Cru’s Barbera arrived at their West Brompton winery in Seagrave Road.
They flew in with the big storm that hit Milan last night. They came not in search of truffles (it’s still too early folks) but of Barbera. They brought the sun too.
Berry Bros.’ customer Will Tomlinson (@TEWRR) and his winemaker Gavin Monery – the men behind London’s first winery, the recently opened ‘London Cru’ (www.londoncru.co.uk), dropped in on unsuspecting vineyard owners Nico and his father Giovanni in Priocca, pictured here with Will and Gavin (back row, left and right), and picked 4.6 tonnes of Roero Barbera – the equivalent of approx. 5,000 bottles!
As Gavin explains in this interview, the fruit will be sent back to their Earl’s Court winery to be destalked and vinified as EU Barbera on Monday. Hopefully they’ll be back in November to pick some tartufi bianchi too…
From my office in Serralunga d’Alba, I nipped over to Neive – a 10 minute drive along the Langhe ridge – to meet up with Marina Marcarino of producer Punset as she harvested Nebbiolo in her San Cristoforo vineyard. As you can see from the photo, her organic vineyards stand out with their autumnal leaves while her neighbour, below and to the left, fertilises their vines giving them an unnatural ‘green’ colour.
Marina’s been organic since 1982, being certified in 1993. The vineyards are grassed over and the rows of vines are a haven for wild mint and wildlife. This means the vines are forced to compete naturally for the already scarce nutrients, so focus their energy into fewer bunches making them more self-reliant in the process, rather than waiting for the next drop of fertiliser to come their way.
This has been an unusual year, with the Nebbiolo harvest taking place in October amid the fog and autumnal colours. A very wet and cool spring followed the cold winter, complicating flowering and so reducing the crop naturally. What was left was ripened by a short but hot June, July and early August, while September was cooler than previous years, ushering in an early autumn. This is positive news for late-ripening, thick-skinned local varieties such as Nebbiolo: it needs the hang time to develop its complex aromas and flavours slowly. The harvested fruit tasted very fine, with racy acidity, fine tannins and a sweet note at its core: the resulting wine should be finely poised, rather than being rich as in 2003, 2007 and – currently on sale – the 2009 vintage of Barbaresco Basarin.
Perhaps 2013 is the start of a cycle of cooler vintages. Still, it hasn’t been unlucky for the Langhe so far…
Berry Bros. & Rudd saluted its Grand Tour Italian friends and suppliers with a farewell lunch at No.3 on 4th September. Mr Sander ten Veldhuijs was one of the lucky few customers to attend. Here he shares his experiences.
“Is there a better way to spend your afternoon below London with a large group of Italian wine producers? For all Italian wine lovers the answer to this question is obvious, so I entered the shop on St James’s Street and went down the stairway to heaven.
Berry Bros. & Rudd’s producers’ lunch is a unique opportunity to meet so many top producers in one afternoon. As always, the venue, food and service at Berry Bros. & Rudd were best in class, but the group of attendees was properly unique. It is also a special event for the producers because they don’t meet each other in these large numbers on their home turf. They have to come to London for a fantastic wine tasting showcasing their wines, and as a thank you they get invited to a most special lunch. I was lucky to be there as one of the customers who has a special interest in Italian wines.
My love for Italian wine goes much further that the odd sip of vino. I have visited many producers in the country when I lived there and in most occasions I found that the hospitality is at stellar levels and the wines are extremely good value for money. No Bordeaux snobbism here; proper wine in large quantities and, if you ask, they will cut you a slice of homemade salami and give you a lovely chunk of local cheese.
A different set-up this afternoon, the delicious food was prepared in the kitchen and the producers brought their own wines. This makes it a great opportunity to try some older vintages and to drink the wines they are really proud of, since “La bella figura” rules in Italy and you never want to come unprepared to an event like this.
So there I sat at the table, surrounded by lovely people who share my love for Italian wine, with everybody sharing their own produce with the people at the tables. I indulged myself in wines that I had never tried before, but loved, as well as well-known names that are regular assets to my own cellar.
It is particularly down to David Berry Green that there is this proper emphasis on Italian wines within Berry Bros. & Rudd. Finally the British population can drink these fantastic wines and buy them from the most reputable retailer in the country, where the customer is still king. The producers also fully appreciate the efforts David puts in promoting their wines and with the retailer, producers and customers in one historic room, emotions ran high and taste buds were stimulated to the max. Some of the wines were more than 20 years old and there was a good mix between whites and reds. Having lived in the Valpolicella region, I brought a bottle of Amarone from 2000 which we saved until the cheese dish. One task left for David is to find a great grappa producer so we can have a grappino or two with the espresso.
The event came to an end and people had to leave: some to catch planes home to Italy, and I to find my way to the train station. I left the event with a big smile on my face and many happy memories about the wine, people and food. That smile is still there, especially when I think of the delicious wines that I tasted that afternoon and when I think of all the new friends I have made. The next holiday will be to Italy, and we have already booked some visits to producers that I met at the event. Life can only get better: delicious food, Italian friendships and superb wines. Viva Italia!
A very happy customer!”
Wines served included…
2010 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Santa Maria dell’Arco, Colline Teramane, Faraone, Abruzzo
2005 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Santa Maria dell’Arco, Colline Teramane, Faraone, Abruzzo
2001 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Le Vigne Faraone, Abruzzo
2007 Tenuta di Valgiano, Tuscany
2005 Fiano di Avellino, Ciro Picariello, Campania
2009 Etna Rosso Quota 1000, Graci, Sicilia
2003 Valpolicella Classico Ripasso Superiore, Monte dei Ragni, Veneto
2000 Barbera d’Asti ‘Da Sul’, Paolo Laiolo, Piedmont
2001 Brunello di Montalcino, Cerbaiona, Tuscany
2004 Barbaresco Campo Quadro, Punset, Piedmont
1997 Chianti Classico Montornello, Bibbiano, Castellina-in-Chianti, Tuscany
1997 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva ‘Gemini’, La Serena, Tuscany
1998 Brunello di Montalcino, Scopetone, Tuscany
2000 Taurasi Riserva, Perillo, Campania
2003 Barolo Monprivato Riserva Ca d’Morissio, G.Mascarello, Piedmont
1998 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, Sesti, Tuscany
1990 Barbaresco Rabajà, Cascina Luisin, Piedmont
1988 Prefillosero, Lisini, Tuscany
2001 Chianti Classico Riserva, Badia a Coltibuono, Gaiole-in-Chianti, Tuscany
2004 Francicorta Collezione Esclusiva, Cavalleri, Lombardia
2003 Barolo Brunate, Marcarini, Piedmont
1988 Barolo, Cantina Bartolo Mascarello, Piedmont
Ask any northern Italian where Abruzzo lies and they’ll more likely dismiss the region as being in the South, populated by ‘terrone’ (a pejorative term for ‘southerners’) supplying bulk wine (for the benefit of the north); in reality the Abruzzese seem a measured, impressive bunch whose fruit is being increasingly bottled (not sold off), and to increasingly great effect.
Abruzzo lies diametrically across from Rome and the province of Lazio, on the east coast, below the Marche, divided up along a 150 km coastal strip between the provinces of (north-south) Teramo, Pescara and Chieti (with L’Aquila in the Apennines). Abruzzo is made up of 35% hills and 65% mountain with 75% of viticulture lying on the hills between 30 – 400 msl, mostly pergola Abruzzese trellising for quantity, with extensive irrigation. Abruzzo’s coastline is frequently ‘refreshed’ by the cooling air currents blowing inland from across the Adriatic Sea and the Balkans. Prominent 3,000 metre Apennine Mountains Gran Sasso and Majella, capped in snow until May, form a backdrop to the undulating coastal range that rises quite abruptly from the sea. Naturally the movement of air currents shuttling between sea and mountain assists viticulture, especially during 40 degree summer days. It is said that the Teramo region benefits most from the sea and has a higher percentage of sand mixed in with its calcareous clay soils, hence the recent DOCG. The southern part, south of Pescara, in the province of Chieti is less open to the influences of the coast and has a higher percentage of heavier clay.
Since 2003 there’s been an influx of new grape growers-turned bottlers, spurred on by the region’s first DOCG Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane. It’s clear however, that many lack the knowhow or heritage to do this professionally (hence poor winemaking) or hire expensive consultants to fast-forward or pay off the bank loan, resulting in boringly international, overly technical wines.
There has been a definite move back to autochthonous grape varieties as producers grapple with climate change, believing, as do others in Italy, that these grapes are better placed to deal with the meteorological extremes. According to Valentini, the traditional high tendone/pergola Abruzzese form of trellising seems better placed to cope with these hotter climes, shielding the fruit and supporting acidities, an opinion echoed in Valpolicella by Monte dei Ragni. Black Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (also known as Cordisco) is a ‘noble’ grape with a history back to 1793, whose origins lie in the Valle Peligna of the Apennines, to the town of Sulmona. Purple coloured, packed with flesh, low-medium tannins but inclined to give reduced gamey wines, it is the workhorse of the bulk wine industry, distributed as blending wine everywhere in Italy; the DOC can be blended with 15% other Abruzzese grapes. White Trebbiano d’Abruzzo dates back to the 16th century but its identity is frequently confused with Trebbiano di Toscana, Trebbiano di Romagna and Trebbiano di Soave. DOC allows blending with 15% local white varieties such as Chardonnay, Fiano and Bombino. Mostly over cropped to give insipid ‘sweet water’ wines of low alcohol, light body, grassy almond notes, yet potentially very good if treated with respect, without irrigation and on VSP trellising. Autochthonous white Passerina, Pecorino and Cococciola varieties have become fashionable, giving wines with more obvious personality at high yields than Trebbiano. Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo rosato is making a comeback too. From being the wine of the pescatori (fishermen), it has since become a more serious proposition, probably due to its production from using the saignee method giving wines with greater body and alcohol. It may prove to be the perfect ‘rosato’ in future, an ideal wine style for any Asian dish.
Of the producers, Valentini and Emidio Pepe remain the most traditional reference points for the production of elegant Trebbiano and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. That said, Valentini is finding it hard to ripen Montepulciano d’Abruzzo sufficiently, citing the change in climate, with 2009 being his most recent release. The modernists – churning out overly international, high alcohol ‘branded’ wines signed off by consultants – are represented by the likes of Masciarelli, Di Majo Noralli and Collefrisio. Fortunately there appears to be another group of producers, the next generation, following in the footsteps not of Masciarelli but of Valentini. Fabrizio Mazzocchetti at Col del Mondo studied oenology in Florence before taking on the 40ha family estate on the Pescara/Teramane border. Berrys is now working with his juicy cement-fermented Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, ‘Terre dei Vestini’. Giovanni Faraone’s family have been making wine at Giulianuova on the coast since 1916, a tradition he continues, now aided by son Federico using stainless-steel and large oak botti to make classic Trebbiano and Montepulciano wines. Finally, Francesco Cirelli, a local entrepreneur, has, since 2003 sought to bring out the best of the Colline Teramane terroir through careful use of amphora in vinifying part of his 5ha of Trebbiano and Montepulciano fruit.
Piedmont is without doubt the most beautiful vineyard region I have ever seen. It combines the discreet valleys and small vineyards of Burgundy, with a stunning landscape reminiscent of the Douro’s striking slopes. Driving south from Turin you are greeted by the fertile plains of the Po Valley, which for millennia have been a cross roads of southern Europe, traversed by Gauls, Carthaginians and Vandals alike. It was Roman civilisation, wealth and arguably wine which led these transgressors here and the latter is still pulling in visitors from around the world.
Once clear of the valley one ascends rapidly up the outer hills of Barolo and Barbaresco. At the top of the 550 metre precipice the visitor is greeted by a simply breath-taking view, where one feels closer to the heavens than the earth. At first the vineyards and villages appear to sit within a cauldron of ridges, but on closer inspection it becomes clear that the topography is considerably more complex than this. Amongst the medieval, castello-topped major villages (such as the village of Barolo itself), there lie a myriad of small vineyards arranged in every direction and on every contour possible. It is immediately evident therefore how this fine wine region has drawn so many comparisons with the complex and diverse terroir of the Cote d’Or. Added to this at the bottom of every valley one finds crops of hazelnut trees, with corn and olives also adding to the diverse farming of the region. Thankfully these are now planted separately, rather than in the mixed-viticulture regime of every farmhouse in ages passed.
Having set the scene, I would recommend that if you would like to learn more about the history and structure of Piedmont’s wines and regions, to visit our Wine Knowledge pages. From my trip to the region with my colleagues from the Fine Wine Team and Buyer David Berry Green last week, I would simply like to highlight a couple of interesting points you may want to investigate further for yourself – perhaps at our forthcoming Grand Tour Italian Tasting.
Barbaresco – Widely considered the “little brother” of Barolo, the smaller region is in my opinion capable of producing wines equal to the best in its southern neighbour. The styles are thought to be lighter than Barolo, but this is, as with all sweeping generalisations, misleading. In reality there are producers making Nebbiolo in all styles, ranging from the fresh and approachable – Marinacci, to elegant and ethereal – Roagna, with some showing more body and richness – Luisin. There are fewer producers than in Barolo, but the quality is undoubtedly at the same level.
Age-worthy wines – Without any question Nebbiolo is capable of very extended ageing. This is a truly noble grape variety, which benefits hugely from years in bottle, yet is approachable within as little as 4 years. We tried a succession of Roagna’s wines dating back to 1982 which still showed remarkable fruit and could easily have been 20 years younger. The flavours of tar, earth, leather, roses and violets, develop brilliantly with long-term ageing. Also as the wines tend to have quite low levels of tannin, meaning that even when the fruit has given way to tertiary flavours they don’t dry out; also the wines keep freshness thanks to their acidity. Many Bordeaux from the 1970 vintage which we were treated to at Luisin would have long ago dried out and be dominated by tannin by now; the 1970 Barolo was singing though and had time to spare.
Furthermore you don’t have to wait 15 or more years as with many Bordeaux before you find developed, meaty aromas in Nebbiolo. We thoroughly enjoyed a 2003 and 2000 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo, which already had the moreish aromas of truffle, dried flowers and sousbois. The magnum of 1985 which followed was at a remarkably similar stage of its development to these, showing that Nebbiolo hits a level of full maturity relatively quickly, then stays there for a long time.
Modern or traditional – In the sleepy hills of Barolo and Barbaresco there is a quiet, ideological battle raging between protagonists of these two camps. The modernists aim is to make very fruit-driven wines from low yields, with low tannins from short macerations, then to age them for eighteen months in 225 litre French barriques, which then add weight and the lacking tannins. This style has been made famous by Gaja and Sandrone amongst others. The traditional approach, championed by the likes of Bartolo Mascarello and Roagna is conversely non-interventionist in the vineyard and encourages the normal high yields which Nebbiolo naturally creates. The wine and skins then remain in contact for long macerations, up to 50 days, before 4 years’ or more ageing in 2500 litre Slavonian oak “botte”. Somewhat counter-intuitively this actually creates more delicate wines, as it gives the tannins time to combine (or polymerize) into longer chains, thus making them softer and finer. The results of these diametrically opposed interpretations produces enormously different wines. One should naturally sample both and make one’s own conclusions if either is preferable.
Beyond Nebbiolo – The Piedmont region is home to some much overlooked and very serious grape varieties, beyond Nebbiolo… Dolcetto shows lots of fresh, ripe, dark fruits, combined with balanced acidity and fine tannins, making this an unbeatable lunchtime wine. Barbera fills a similar role to Dolcetto, whilst the fruit character is more of floral, fresh, red fruits. Arneis – The white grape of the Roero commune, north of Barolo, this much underrated grape provides lifted citrus, mineral and floral notes, whilst showing sweet, herbal notes on the quite full palate. It is also capable of ageing 10 years or more in some circumstances. Timorasso – Another great white variety which offers stunning value and ageing potential, found in Colli Tortonesi, east of Barolo. Similar to Arneis, but with a more determined, mineral, flinty character.
Approaching it in stages, our ‘Giro d’Italia’ kicks off in the South. Sicily’s Alberto Graci, on the slopes of volcanic Monte Etna, treats us to seismic fruit bowl fireworks from the Nerello Mascalese grape. Puglia’s Benegiamo family at L’Astore Masseria are behind this lush, juicy Primitivo while their Negroamaro fruit turns out a fleshy Rosati (Rosés). Basilicata’s Musto Carmelitano family, on the lava slopes of Monte Vulture, capture the Aglianico grape’s dark damson and blackcurrant notes perfectly.
The Centre of Italy is split by the Apennines. Abruzzo’s Giovanni Faraone in the east makes delicate verbena like whites of the Trebbiano d’Abruzzo grape, while just down the road Col del Mondo’s Fabrizio Mazzocchetti gives us suave forest fruit flavours of the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grape/wines. On the west side, Francesco Antano in landlocked Umbria makes heady, brambly wines mainly from the Sagrantino di Montefalco grape. His Tuscan neighbours Bibbiano and Scopetone produce prim, scented red-berried wines of the Sangiovese grape, from the Chianti Classico and Montecucco regions respectively.
Completing the Giro in the North, we feature Veneto’s light cherry Valpolicella, care of Novaia, while Emilia-Romagna is home to Castello di Luzzano’s stunningly aromatic white ‘Seta’. My home in Piedmont boasts five classic styles: Cornarea’s peachy Arneis, Marinacci’s violet Dolcetto, Paolo Laiolo’s gentle blackberry Barbera, Casina 460’s Nebbiolo ‘Ansj’ and of course Berry Bros. & Rudd’s new Barolo. The choice on the podium is: Veneto’s mandarin zest Prosecco, Lombardy’s more serious Franciacorta or, for the sweet tooth, Cerutti’s liquid meringue Moscato d’Asti!
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…
|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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