Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Val d'Ossola: Cool-Climate Nebbiolo in Piemonte

The Nebbiolo plantings in Valle d'Aosta and Valtellina are grown under challenging conditions but these pale in comparison to the conditions experienced by the hardy growers who ply that trade in the Val d'Ossola. We examine this most northerly Nebbiolo outpost in this post.

Val d'Ossola is the mid to upper portion of the northernmost Piemonte province, Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, and consists of a main valley and a number of tributaries branching from its 83-km length. Verbano lies along the left bank of Lake Maggiore while Cusio is to its west and south. The 33 municipalities that comprise Val d'Ossola sit at average elevations of 1290 m (3870 ft).

Map of Piemonte with Verbano-Cusio-Ossola province
circled in red (Base map from wineandvinesearch.com)

Verbano-Cusio-Ossola in more detail

The climate of Val d'Ossola is Alpine but is mitigated somewhat by Lake Maggiore to its southeast.

A total of 45 ha in the region is dedicated to grapegrowing. The vineyards (map of the Val d'Ossola vineyards) are small terraced plots clinging to the steep southern slopes of the valley walls at elevations ranging between 300 and 500 m. The vineyards are located on the slopes of the valleys associated with the River Toce and its tributaries Anza, Ovesca, Metizzo, Isorno, and Diveria.

A total of 60 hardy growers farm the land with an average plot being 0.75 ha in size. Vines are trained on pergolas supported by old stone columns hacked out of local granite quarries. This training system is called "toppia" locally. All work in the vineyards is done manually and this heroic viticulture rarely yields in excess of 60 quintals/ha, half of which is consumed locally.

Nebbiolo is the most widely planted grape in the region and the resulting wines are displayed in the table below.

Wine Variet(ies)y Alcohol (%) Yield (hl/ha) Aging
DOC Ossolane Rosso Croatina and/or Nebbiolo and/or Merlot (Min 60%), Other Authorized (Max 40%)
10.5
56

DOC Ossolane Nebbiolo Nebbiolo (Min. 85%), Other Authorized (Max 15%)
10.5
56

DOC Ossolane Nebbiolo Superiore Nebbiolo (Min 85%), Other Authorized (Max 15%)
11.5
49
13 mos (6 in barrel)

One the more interesting plantings in the region is Prünent, an ancient Nebbiolo biotype that is planted on 5 ha distributed between the River Toca (1 plot) and the tributaries Metizzo (4 plots) and Isorno (1 plot). These Prünent vines are very old (in excess of 100 years) and have only recently been revitalized having suffered the double whammy of phylloxera and industrialization. The wines are 100% Prünent fermented on skins for 7 days, aged in barrel for 12 to 13 months, and then for another 12 months in bottle.

The region also produces a Bianco which has a minimum 60% Chardonnay and maximum 40% of other allowed white varieties.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, July 24, 2015

Fabios: Mediterranean cuisine in the heart of Vienna (Austria)

After four wonderful days in Prague, we took a train over to Vienna for the second leg of our vacation. During our scouting out of the food scene in Vienna, we had taken notice of a Two-Michelin-Star restaurant named Steirereck and asked our hotel to make us a reservation. They were unable to do so because the restaurant was booked three months into the future. After a little more searching, I came upon Fabios (no apostrophe) and liked what I read so I gave them a call. The person who answered said that they were very busy and could not seat us prior to 10:00 pm. That was late but I wanted a better food experience than on the previous night so I took the seating (after consultation with my wife, of course). My rationale was as follows: (i) If they could not take us before 10:00 it meant that they were busy and (ii) if they were busy that late, the food was probably good.

The restaurant is at 4-6 Tuchlauben and (after a longer-than-expected walk) we approached it from the east after making a left turn from Brandstätte. This approach allowed us an extended view of the restaurant's layout and energy as we walked from the corner to the entrance at the other end of the structure. It is a large establishment with seating both inside and out; and both sections were packed. We stepped into a darkened foyer, which opened into a large bar, and made a left turn to the reception area fronting the seating area.

We were told that Fabio would be there to seat us and, after a while, he showed up. He introduced himself as Fabio (The thought ran through my mind that the person with his name on the marquee was also answering the phones and seating patrons. What better way to get to know your customers.) and welcomed us with a bright, pleasant smile. And no. He was not "the" Fabio and did not look like Fabio. He thanked us for coming to his place and led us to our seats, chatting amiably along the way. The wife and I looked at each other and smiled simultaneously. We had a good feeling about the place.

I took a perfunctory look at the menu -- it passed the smell test -- and then turned my attention to the wine list. There is a small list which they hand out with the food menus and that has a good selection but if you are serious drinker, you ask for the wine list. The list was heavily weighted towards Italian offerings but had an extensive Champagne selection and meaningful offerings from the other major European wine regions. I ordered a Ruinart Blanc de Blancs.


Once the Champagne was ordered, I switched my attention back to the menu and the restaurant. The menu had a broad range of offerings which Fabio described to me as being Mediterranean in origin. While Italian ingredients are apparent, they are meshed with various spices and other ingredients from the broader Mediterranean region in order to so describe the cuisine.

The sense of high energy that we got as we walked along the outside of the restaurant was very palpable inside. Staff moving quickly between tables, cleaning, delivering, decanting, enveloped in the laughter and conversation of obviously -- and infectiously -- happy patrons. It was going to be a good night.

The Ruinart was delicious. I ordered a Deep Fried Calamari with Lemon Cream as a starter while my wife ordered a Melon Salad with Shrimps and Dried Seaweed. The consistency and flavor of the calamari were excellent and the cream sauce balanced the spiciness of the Jalapenos. My wife's salad had a hint of red chilis. The champagne cooled the spices in both dishes while enhancing the "baked-in" flavors.



For the second plate, we split a Spaghettini from Gragnano with Round Clams, White Wine, and Peperoncino. One of the strong suits of this restaurant is the availability of gluten-free breads and pastas for those so inclined. My wife is so inclined so we had the gluten-free version of the Spaghettini. It was wonderful. It was cooked al dente and the resulting tension, combined with the spicy peperoncino and the roasted texture/taste of the clams, provided excellent complexity and immense pleasure.


For my main course I ordered a Filet while my wife ordered a Sea Bass Filet with Fried Polenta and Cherry Tomatoes. I ordered a 2012 Valdicava Rosso de Montalcino  to go along with my meal while my wife continued with champagne. The Filet was cooked to the perfect temperature and accepted the knife the way that a slab of butter would. It was flavorful with an earthiness and an aged character. The rugged saltiness of the exterior married well with the warm, soft, pink receptiveness of the inside.




Fabio visited our table regularly during the course of the meal. We discussed the food scene in Vienna and the US, his favorite restaurant in New York City (Balthazar) and Vienna. We discussed the cuisine and styling of the Michelin-starred restaurant in town and how his restaurant differed. He is a serial restaurateur who has opened, and sold, five restaurants prior to opening Fabios. In an extended conversation towards the end of our meal, our server described him as "tough but fair."

The Author, spouse, and Fabio

Between the excellent food and wine, and conversation with Fabio and his staff, we closed the place down. We were too sated to walk back to the hotel so we hopped a ride.


We were so impressed with the restaurant that we promised Fabio that we would be back for lunch on the following day. I will cover the lunch in a follow-up post.


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Alto Piemonte: Where Nebbiolo is called Spanna

Nebbiolo is arguably Italy's noblest grape, renowned for its iconic manifestations in Barolo and Barbaresco, two of the world's best known and most beloved wines.But southern Piemonte, while the home of the best Nebbiolo wines, is not the only Piemonte growing region that has experience with the variety. In the Vercelli-Novara region of Alto Piemonte (shown in the red circle in the map below)  the Nebbiolo grape-- called Spanna therein -- is also viewed fondly by "native" winemakers, notwithstanding the fact that its wines differ markedly from that of its better-known brethren to the south. I cover the region and its wines in this post.

Figure1. Selected Alto Piemonte provinces
(Source:fassinomobilaire.com map; author modification)
The Vercelli-Novara region is home to nine wine zones, seven of which are exclusively red. These zones are illustrated graphically in the upper portion of Figure 2 and are fleshed out with selected facts in Table 1.

Figure 2. Piemonte wine regions with Vercelli-Novara red-wine
regions at the top.

Table 1. Selected characteristics of the Vercelli-Navara wine zones.
Wine Zone
Province
Coverage
Status Year
Size (ha)
Boca DOC
Novara
Boca plus parts of communes:
-          Maggiora
-          Cavallirio
-          Prato
-          Sesio
-          Grignasco
1969
N/A
Gattinara DOCG
Vercelli
1990
100
Ghemme DOCG
Novara
1997
65
Sizzano DOC
Vercelli
Sizzano
1969
40
Bramaterra DOC
Vercelli
Communes of:
-          Masserano
-          Brusnengo
-          Curino
-          Roasio
-          Villa del Bosco
-          Sostegno
-          Lozalo
1979
28
Fara DOC
Novara
Fara
1969
N/A
Lessona DOC
Biella
Commune of Lissano
1976
N/A
Colline Novaresi DOC
Novara
Ghemme DOCG; Fara and Boca DOCs
1994
N/A
Costa della Sesia DOC
Biella-Vercelli
Gattinara, Lessona, and Bramaterra DOCs
1996
N/A

In general, the zones experience cold, dry winters; mild, rainy springs; and hot summers. Their locations in the foothills of the Alps places them at the intersection of the temperate climate of continental Europe and the Mediterranean climate to the south while also providing protection from the cold north winds. The presence of neighboring Lakes Maggiore and Orta also provides a moderating influence on climate. High diurnal temperature variation between mid-August and mid-October is a key contributor to the acid retention that is a hallmark of the wines of the region.

The vineyards are situated on Ice-Age-origin morainic hills that stretch from the Alps almost to the Po Valley along the courses of the Ticino and Sesio rivers. These soils are rich in iron and other elements important for vine growth. Most of the greater Piemontese soils are alkaline but not so the soils of this region, thanks to the presence of porphyritic rock within the moraine. In general, the soils of Gattinara, Boca, and Bramaterra -- located, as they are, on the west side of the river -- are a mix of mostly acidic, porphyritic rock along with sand, clay, and iron deposits. East of the river, the soils of Ghemme, Boca, Sizzano, and Fara are primarily glacial moraines.

The Spanna-based wines produced in the region are detailed in Table 2 below. The DOC Costa della Sesia is a fallback appellation for the zones west of the Sesia River while Colline Novaresi is the fallback appellation for the zones to the east of the river.

Table 2. Spanna-based wines of the Vercelli-Novara region.
Wine
Style
Varieties
Minimum Alcohol (%)
Minimum Total Aging (Mths)
Min. Barrel Aging (Mths)
Min. Bottle Aging (Mths)
Boca DOC
Rosso
Riserva
Single-vyd
Sp (50-80%), UR and/or V
(max 20%), C (max 30%)
do.
do.
 12
12.5
12.6
34
46
18
24
NS
NS
Gattinara DOCG
Rosso
Riserva
Sp (min 90%), UR (max 10%), V (max 4%)
do.
12.5
13
35
47
24
36
NS
NS
Ghemme DOCG
Rosso
Riserva
Sp (min 85%), UR and/or V(max 15%)
do.
12
12.5
34
46
18
24
6
6
Sizzano DOC
Rosso
Riserva
Sp (50-70%), UR and/or (30-50%), OA (max 10%)
do.
12
12
22
34
16
24
NS
NS
Bramaterra DOC
Rosso
Riserva
Sp (50-70%), UR and/or V
(max 20%), C (max 30%)
do.
12
12
24
36
18
24
NS
NS
Fara DOC
Rosso
Riserva
Sp (50-70%), UR and/or (30-50%), OA (max 10%)
do.
12
12.5
22
34
16
24
NS
NS
Lessona DOC
Rosso
Riserva
Sp (min 85%), UR and/or V(max 15%)
do.
12
12
22
46
12
30
NS
NS
Colline Novaresi DOC
Rosso
Rosato
Nebbiolo
Single-vyd
Sp (min 30%), UR (min 40%), V and/or C (30%)
Sp (min 50%) plus OA
Sp (min 85%) plus OA
do.
11
11
11
11.5
NS
NS
NS
NS
NS
NS
NS
NS
NS
NS
NS
NS
Costa della Sesia DOC
Rosso
Rosato
Spanna
Single-vyd   
Sp (min 50%) plus OA
do.
Sp (min 85%) plus OA
do.
11
11
11
12
NS
NS
NS
NS
NS
NS
NS
NS
NS
NS
NS
NS
Legend: Sp = Spanna; UR = Uva Rara; V = Vespolina; C = Croatina; OA = other authorized; NS = none specified

The most well-regarded of the wines listed above are from Gattinara, Ghemme, and Boca. The wines from Gattinara are lighter than Barolos and Barbarescos but with pronounced tannins and acidity. Ghemme wines have similar characteristics to Gattinara wines but with higher tannin levels. The wines of Boca are "firm-bodied and structured with violets, sweet spices and notes of pomegranates on the finish." Similar to the other wines of the region, it displays high levels of acidity.

In addition to the wines listed above, the two region-wide appellations -- Colline Novaresi and Costa della Sesia -- allow Biancos that are 100% Erbaluce plus Croatina and Vespolina varietals which, by law, must contain a minimum of 85% of the named grape. Further, Colline Novaresi also allows varietal wines labeled Barbera and Uva Rara and Rosso and Rosato Novellos which adhere to the varietal mix in place for the DOC Rosso and Rosato wines.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme