Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The sparkling wines of Liguria, Italy

The world of Italian sparkling wine is vast. And I have been capturing it graphically, one region at a time. To date I have mapped Piemonte, Valle d'AostaLombardia, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna. In this post I present a picture of Ligurian sparkling wines.

As shown in the map below, Liguria, the third smallest of the Italian regions, hugs the coast of the Gulf of Genoa and the Ligurian Sea in a thin semi-circle that runs from France to Tuscany. Squeezed between the Maritime Alps, the Ligurian Apennines, and the sea, this relatively skinny region is sized at 5422 km2 and is home to a population numbering 1.567 million.

The region is characterized by mountainous hinterlands and a lengthy coastline which is itself separated into the Riviera di Ponente and Riviera di Levante by the capital city of Genoa. The cliffs of the former fall to the sea whiole the latter is noted for its bays and beaches.

Liguria has a relatively warm climate given its northerly location. There is some agricultural activity in the region -- mainly flowers, olive trees, and vineyards -- but the bulk of economic activity is attributable to tourism and shipping through the ports.

The region supports about 6000 ha of vineyards, of which 500 ha is DOC. Vineyards are small and non-contiguous with most of the wine produced by artisans who grow, tend, and harvest the grapes heroically on steep limestone slopes. Annual wine production is approximately 280,000 hL, of which 75% is white. Only Valle d'Aosta produces less wine than does Liguria.

As shown in the chart below, sparkling wine is produced in the Val Polcèvera and Golfo del Tigullio - Portofino DOCs.

In both of these DOCs, Bianchetto Genovese and Vermentino are featured players while a variety called Albarola is additionally given prominence in Val Polcèvera DOC. It should be noted that a 2009 DNA study has concluded that Albarola and Bianchetto Genovese are genetically identical.

As was the case in Valle d'Aosta, neither Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, or Pinot Bianco feature in the production of sparkling wine in Liguria.

Abissi Sparkling Wine
Bisson Winery has been aging its Metodo Classico wines in 60 meters of water off the coast of Portofino since 2005. The wines -- there are three of them: Spumante Classico, Spumante Riserva, and Spumante Rosé -- are fermented traditionally to produce the base wines and are then bottled and lowered into the sea in July so that the second fermentation can be completed in the anaerobic conditions below the surface of the water.

The Spumante Classico and Riserva are blends of Bianchetto Genovese, Vermentino, and a third cultivar called Cimixià. The Rosé is a blend of Granaccia and Ciliegiolo.

The innovative method of aging is the brainchild of Pierluigi Lugano, the enterprise's winemaker. "When the wine bottles are picked up, they are enriched with incrustations (sic), seaweeds (and sometimes shellfishes, too) ... For health and sanitary reasons, bottles are then dried and wrapped under a protective, clear film, which also serves the purpose of preserving the natural ornament made by the sea,"


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The sparkling wines of Italy's Emilia-Romagna region

Emilia-Romagna, the southern base of the regions that are grouped together as Northern Italy, is famous as the birthplace for quality foods such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, Aceto Balsamic di Modena, Lasagna, Tortellini, and Tagliatelle. As a center of food and automobile production, and with the third-highest per-capita GDP in Italy, Emilia-Romagna is one of the wealthiest and most developed regions in Europe.

With 136,000 acres under vine, Emilia-Romagna is the second-largest wine-producing region in Italy after Veneto. The largest wine-producing areas in the region are found in the alluvial plains but the wines from the foothills are attracting attention.

Of the 21 official Emilia-Romagna appellations (2 DOCGs, 19 DOCs), 10 (one DOCG and nine DOCs) provide at least one label under which sparkling wine can be produced. In a number of cases -- Colli di Parma DOC and Colli Piacentini DOC, for example -- the availability of varietal-specific labels provides the producer with the potential to offer between four and six separate sparkling wines.

The biggest concentration of sparkling wine production occurs in the area between Reggio Emilio in the northwest and Bologna, with the Lambrusco zone around Modena serving as the beating heart of this geographic range.

In terms of production methods, 10 of the available labels are Charmat-only while two follow the Champenoise method. All of the other labels allow for the use of both methods based on the producer's preference.

There are no sparkling-wine-only DOCGs/DOCs in Emilia-Romagna and it is the only region that I have encountered to date that does not have a vintage-dated sparkling wine on the official books.

While most of the indigenous varieties are utilized in the production of sparkling wine, mainstay varieties such as Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Bianco are vigorously utilized.

Lambrusco is the sparkling wine for which Emilia-Romagna is best known and I will delve into its application in the region in the following.

"The main Emilia wine is undoubtedly Lambrusco, the fizzy and sometimes sparkling, jovial red wine from grapes grown on high trellised vines in five DOC zones in Modena and Reggio Emilio." The map below shows the Lambrusco production area within Emilia-Romagna.

Lambrusco production area 

Lambrusco first came to prominence as "cheap, cheerful and fizzy plonk served with ice cubes ... cloyingly sweet versions that flooded U.S. shelves in the 1970s and '80s" (O'Keefe). In an article asking readers to take a second look at the wine, Karen O'Keefe sees that "a number of producers now make distinct, slightly sparkling Lambruscos that belong on every wine lover's radar."

As shown in the sparkling wines maps, there are three specific Lambrusco DOCs (Sorbara, Grasparossa di Castelvetro, and Salamino di Santa Croce) and two other DOCs (Modena and Reggiano) which also produce Lambrusco sparkling wines.

Lambrusco di Sorbara is generally lightly colored, fragrant, and in possession of vibrant acidity. The grapes are thin-skinned, with very little pigment, and the bunches have berries of varying sizes. Grapes for this wine excel in the sandy, fertile plains between the Secchia and Panarao rivers. O'Keefe sees this wine as the most-refined of the Lambrusco category.

Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro is made from a "thick-skinned, late-ripening, darkly hued" grape that is definitively more tannic than the Sorbara variety. This variety does well in clay and silt soils.

Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce is the most planted of the Lambrusco grapes and is often blended with other Lambrusco wines to take advantage of its color and and acidity. The soils in the growing area are similar to the soils in the Sorbara region but some grapes are also grown in the clay and rocky soils close to the Reggio Emilia foothills.

Sparkling wine production in the province of Romagna peaked at the beginning of the 20th Century and then declined somewhat. In order to recapture this past glory the Romagna Consorzio has introduced a new trademark of Romagna Spumante DOC that every producer in the region can utilize if specified conditions are followed. The name of the new wine is Novebolle (nine bubbles) with Nove (nine) referring both the the nine hills of Romagna as well as the period (1900s) in which sparkling wine had flourished in the region.

The wine can be white or Rosé and can be made by either the Charmat or Traditional method. The composition of both wines are included in the second of the two sparkling wine maps above.

The first expression this new trademark has been captured in Bolé, a joint venture between two of the region's Coops: Caviro (the largest winery in Italy) and Terre Cevico.


This Bianco is a mix of Trebbiano and Famosa (5%) made using the classic method. Plans call for increasing production from today's 45,000 bottles to 100,000 bottles and the production of a Rosé that adheres to the Consorzio's restrictions.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, December 28, 2019

A sparkling wine map of Veneto

Veneto is the ancestral home of Prosecco, the Italian sparkler of the day, but it is also home to wide range of other, mostly unheralded sparkling wines. I map the totality of Veneto sparkling wines in this post.

Veneto (18,398 km²) is the eighth-largest of the 20 Italian regions while its 4.8 million population places it in sixth position in that category. The region is planted to 90,000 ha of vines, 25% of which are DOC/DOCG-rated. While the region produces the most DOC wine of any region, some of these vines have been planted in new areas that have been deployed to take advantage of international market demand and the resulting wines have not been well-received.

Vine growth in Veneto is concentrated in the east, in the vicinity of the Venice Lagoon and the Adriatic Sea, and in the west close to the Alps and Lake Garda. In the west, the cooler, Alpine-influenced climate supports grape varieties such as Corvina, Rondinella, Garganega, and Trebbiano di Soave. The eastern portion of the region is warmer and more efficient at ripening varieties such as Glera, Merlot, Verduzzo, and Refosco. The central part of the region serves as a transition area between the east and west.

The two charts following map the distribution of sparkling wines in Veneto. Of 14 DOCGs, five produce sparkling wines (and there of those are sweet); of 29 DOCs, 20 produce one or more sparkling wines.

There are two sparkling-wine-only appellations: Lissini Durello and Vigneti della Serenissima DOCs. The dominant method of sparkling-wine production is Charmat. A total of four appellations are shared with neighboring regions: Garda and Lugana DOCs with Lombardia; Prosecco DOC with Friuli-Venezia Giulia; and Delle Venezie DOC with Trento and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

I explore the Prosecco DOCG appellations and the shared- and sparkling-wine-only appellations in the following.

Prosecco DOCG Appellations
There are two separate Prosecco DOCG zones, both falling within the borders of the province of Treviso. The first, and having the greatest repute, is Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene. This zone is approximately 50 km from Venice and 100 km from the Dolomites. It runs east to west from the plains to the foot of the Alps and incorporates the 15 hill communities that lie between Conegliano and Valdiobbadene. Approximately 6100 ha of vineyards are deployed on south-facing slopes that range between 50- and 500-meters high.

An area within the municipality of Valdiobbadene called Cartizze is considered the region's cru. This 106-ha area has a mild microclimate and a varied soil to include moraine, sandstone, and clay components. The vineyards are positioned on south-facing slopes and have excellent drainage.


The second DOCG zone is Colli Asolani/Asolo and is located in the Montello e Colli Asolani wine region. It encompasses a 5-mile-long ridge of gently rolling hills running between the towns of Cornuda and Asolo. The best vineyards are found on south-facing slopes where the gentle gradients and loose soil combine for excellent drainage and optimal sunlight exposure.


Shared Appellations
Prosecco DOC
The Prosecco DOC was first awarded in 1969 and was restricted to wines produced in the Conegliano-Valdiobbadene region.  Growers felt that the brand was under attack by "imitators" using just the grape variety and moved to isolate those competitors by changing both the rules and the venue of the game.  Prosecco growers agitated for, and gained regulatory acceptance of: (i) extension of the Prosecco DOC to cover all of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and approximately two-thirds of Veneto; (ii) promotion of the original Prosecco DOC to DOCG status; (iii) changing the name of the source grape from Prosecco to Glera; and (iv) restricting the use of the name Prosecco only to Glera sparkling wines produced within the delimited zones.  The growers felt that these actions would serve to protect their territory, the brand, and the quality of Prosecco.  The regulations authorizing these actions came into law in 2009.

The Grape(s)
Prosecco is primarily made from the Glera (formerly Prosecco; also known as Prosecco Bianco and Proseko Sciprina) grape variety, a native of northeast Italy which has been used to produce wines since Roman times.  This late-ripening, thick-skinned variety has greenish-yellow berries which evolve to a yellow-gold color as the grapes ripen.  The grapes are high in acid and have a white peach aromatic profile, qualities which render them eminently suitable for the production of sparkling wines.

Glera is primarily used in the production of fizzy and sparkling wines but there are a few examples of still Glera wines around.  In addition to Glera, Prosecco wines can contain as much as 15% of other grape varieties.  The most oft-used supplements are Verdiso, Branchetta, Perera, Glera Lunga, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, and Chardonnay.

Prosecco DOC Production Area
Prosecco DOC wines are authorized for production in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and Veneto (provinces of Treviso, Belluna, Padova, Venezia, and Vicenzia).  Within the broader Prosecco DOC, there are two sub-zones: DOC Treviso Prosecco and Prosecco di Trieste. These sub-zones cover Prosecco made within these two provinces and wines made therein can so indicate on their labels.  Prosecco wines made in other provinces cannot carry the province name on the labels.


Delle Venezie DOC
This region specializes in the production of Pinot Grigio in an area spanning the totality of Friuli-Venezia Guilia, Veneto, and the Trento province of the autonomous Trento-Alto Adige region. The raisons d'etre of this expansive region are (i) proximity and (ii) pedi-climatic affinity. The wide plain between the Adriatic Sea and the Po River has been "developed over centuries by deposition of both calcareous and coarse material and gravel and sand" and also has good drainage capability.

The proximity to the Alps results in a cool and windy climate which contributes to high acid retention in the grapes, a characteristic of the wines. Water is limited but is sufficient for a regular ripening of the grapes.

The region experiences significant diurnal temperature variation:
A marked night-day temperature change during the ripening of the grapes ... enhances and maintains the aromatic outfit of the grapes ... this perfume, combined with the acidic framework, allows ... fresh and aromatic sparkling wines.
The sparkling wines must be tank-fermented and must contain no more than 32 g/L of residual sugar.

This DOC became functional with the 2017 vintage, replacing the IGT of the same name. The IGT which it supplanted will be known as IGT Trevenezie henceforth.

Lugana DOC
This is a white-wine specific border region that is 600 ha in size. The climate is influenced by the lake, with mild winters and warm summers -- almost Mediterranean -- the order of the day. The calcareous clay soils are deep and rich in mineral salts. The variety employed herein is Trebbiano di Lugana which yields wines that are balanced, structured, and fragrant.

Sparkling wines are produced using both the Charmat Method and the Metodo Classico. In describing the differences between the two, the states thusly:
In the former case, the taste profile displays greater simplicity and freshness, with primary aromas of citrus fruits (especially citrons) and a creamier, more generous perlage, while the latter it becomes more refined and complex, with a more elegant, lively bouquet and a more graceful, "crisp" perlage.
Sparkling-Wine-Only DOCs
Lissini Durello DOC
This appellation covers the high valleys of the Lissini Mountains between the provinces of Verona and Vicenza. The volcanic slopes provide the high hillside vineyards exposure, ventilation, and diurnal temperature variation, all of which contribute freshness and aromatic qualities to the sparkling wine.

The variety is Durella, indigenous to these mountains since the Middle Ages. The grapes are golden-hued with thick skins and acidulous flavor. Because of its high acidity the Durella destind fro sparkling wine is picked at full maturity.

Writing in Wine Enthusiast (Metodo Classico, Your Next Italian Sparkling Wine (That Isn't Prosecco)), Kerin O'Keefe describes these sparkling wines as boasting "... tension, energy, and finesse." O'Keefe also points out that an upcoming regulatory modification will have the name Lessini Durello used exclusively for Charmat sparklers while the Metodo Classico versions will be called Monte Lessini. Her wine recommendations are:
  • Coret Moschina 2012 Riserva 60 Mesi
  • Sandro de Bruno NV 36 Mesi
  • Fattori 2012 Ronca Non Dosato 60 Mesi Metodo Classico.
Vigneti della Serenissima DOC
This appellation covers the hilly and foothill areas of the provinces of Belluno, Treviso, Padua, Vicenza, and Verona between the Alps in the north and the Po Valley in the south. The climate is conducive to gradual ripening of grapes. Sparkling wines are produced using the classical method.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Spanish "Wines on the Cutting Edge": Conde de los Andes Rioja Blanco 2016

Modernity in Spanish winemaking arose in response to consumer tastes shifting in the 1980s to more powerful, fruity wines and the desire of some producers to play in that market space. This headlong rush to modernity has been supplanted, though, by a number of trends identified in a Decanter article written by Pedro Ballesteros Torres. I have summarized the key findings of the article below.

Wines from Spain brought together a panel at its Spain's Great Match event in Miami to discuss eight wines which they see as being at the cutting edge of Spanish wine trends. I have covered the Tajinaste Blanco, Muradella Blanco, and Edetària Selecció Blanc Vinyes Velles in prior posts; I cover Conde de los Andes Rioja Blanco in this one.

The Paternina winery was founded in the village of Ollauri (Rioja Alta) in 1896 and the brand Costa de los Andes was carved out in the 1960s to provide wines made exclusively with fruit from superior estate vineyards. Over time the estate fell into disrepair and was eventually bought by the Murua family in 2014.

The Murua family sources grapes from a shortlist of neighboring growers under long-term contracts and is using that fruit to produce a single red and a single white wine. The grapes are sourced from the Rioja Alta villages of Ollauri, Haro, and Briñas. The climate here is Continental Mediterranean, with a distinct Atlantic influence, and the soils clay and limestone.

The Conde de los Andes Rioja Blanco 2016 is made from 100% Viura, one of the most widely planted white grapes in Rioja. This is a generously yielding cultivar which produces mildly acidic and mildly alcoholic wines. It is blended with Malvasia for white wine production and, in Rioja Alavesa, with Tempranillo for production of high-quality red Riojas. The fruit is susceptible to downy mildew and grey rot. Grapes for this wine are grown on vines that average 30 years of age.

The grapes are fermented in new French oak barrels for 3 months with batonnage. The wine is aged for an additional 7 months in the same barrels.

Waxy, honeyed white fruit, and spiciness on the nose. Bracing acidity and leaner on the palate than suggested by the nose. Citrus, citrus skin, and a coating minerality. One of the panelists saw this as a clean and classy Viura which marries richness and freshness and will age well.

Ballestores Torres identified the range and quality of whites as one of the key trends in Spanish wines and identified Viura as one of those whites of note. This particular white wine falls squarely into that camp.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A sparkling wine map of Lombardia

My quest to map the entirety of the Italian sparkling wine universe continues herein with a map of the sparkling wines of Lombardia.

Geographically, Lombardia is the beating heart of Northern Italy. It is bounded to the north by Switzerland, to the east by Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto, to the south by Emilia-Romagno, and to the west by Piemonte. Its 10 million-person population and 1/5th share of Italy's GDP renders it the most populous and richest of the Italian regions.

Lombardy offers some outstanding conditions for vine growth, with influences from the Alps and the lakes in the north and the Apennines in the south but its wine industry is dwarfed by other economic sectors. Two thirds of Lombardia is produced under the IGT label.

As shown in the chart below, there are eight DOC/DOCG sparkling wine appellations in Lombardia.

Two of these appellations (Franciacorta DOCG and Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico) are (i) sparkling-wine specific and (ii) utilize the Champagne method in the production process. In addition, Oltrepò Pavese DOC and Sangue di Giuda DOC are Charmat, with the remaining appellations accomodating either the Charmat or Metodo Classico methods.

With the exception of Riviera del Garda Classico DOC and Sangue di Giuda DOC, all appellations provide for a white sparkling wine. With the exception of Lugana DOC, Sangue di Giuda DOC, and Terre del Colleoni, all regions provide for the production of a Rosé. With the exception of Franciacorta, Lugana, and Riviera del Garda Classico, all regions allow for the production of varietal sparkling wines. Sangue di Giuda DOC is the only region that specifies a red sweet sparkling wine.

Franciacorta, Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico, and Terre del Colleoni allow for the production of vintage-dated sparklers while, in addition, Franciacorta and Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico allow for production of Riservas. Vintage-dated and Riserva sparkling wines are required to spend more time on the lees.

A total of 25 varieties are authorized for sparkling wine production across the region; many of these varieties are utilized in one or two applications. The almost ubiquitous varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Banco, and Pinot Grigio.

The two most important sparking wine regions in Lombardia are Franciacorta DOCG and Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico DOCG with the former's renown well ahead of the latter's.

Franciacorta DOCG
Franciacorta (the name means either "little France" or "tax-free zone," depending on the publication consulted) is located in the "gentle" hills in the area of Brescia and is bounded thusly: to the east by rocky hills; to the west by the Oglio River; to the north by Lake Iseo and the foothills of Alpi Retiche; and to the south by the Brescia-Bergamo Highway.  The region lies in an amphitheater which was carved out by a falling glacier and encompasses all or part of 19 Brescian municipalities.   The zone is approximately 18,000 hectares in size with 2665 hectares under vine.


Franciacorta is mild in the winter and hot in the summer.  The climate is moderated by winds blowing in off Lakes Iseo and Garde which protect the region from the autumnal and hibernial fogs that threaten from the Brescian plains.  Rainfall in the region is concentrated in the spring and fall.

Thanks to exhaustive zoning studies conducted in the region in the late 1990s by the University of Milan, a very clear picture of soil differentials -- and the differing contributions of each type to the finished product -- has been established.  The figure below shows that the combination of landscape units (formations by geologic era) and soil types results in six distinct regional terroirs.  The figure illustrates that the soil, vegetative productive, qualitative, and organoleptic characteristics of each terroir has also been identified.  The details of those characteristics are contained in the table following.

Formulation of Terroirs  Derived from Franciacorta: un vino, una terra, p. 28-33

Characteristics of Franciacorta Terroirs. Derived from Franciacorta: un vino, una terra, p. 28-33

The sparkling wine is produced under the DOCG classification from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Bianco grapes. The wines are produced using the classic method and, depending on the terroir in which it was grown, or the blend of terroirs, will exhibit some subset of the organoleptic qualities indicated in the last column of the table above. Wines are labeled in terms of sweetness much the same as is the practice for Champagne.

A fourth variety -- Erbamat -- is emerging as potential aide in the battle against the ripeness and climate effects of the region. Erbamat is a high-acid, late-ripening white grape that is native to the region and with a history that stretches back to circa 1500. The cultivar had slipped into obscurity until a recent study by a university professor highlighted its characteristics. Its primary characteristics are as follows (Aldo Fiordelli, Decanter, 3/21/17):
  • Pale straw color with greenish tinge
  • Thin skin
  • Compact bunches
  • Late ripening (20 - 30 days after other varieties)
  • Higher levels of malic acid (produces lean-bodied, high-acid wines)
  • Low sugar production (low alcohol wines).
The thin skin and tight bunches render the grapes subject to disease pressure but that risk is more than offset by the freshness, white florality, and chalky minerality which this wine brings to the blend. The variety is allowed in all of the Franciacorta styles with the exception of Satén.

The most respected producers in the region are Bellavista, Berlucchi, Ca' del Bosco, Cavalleri, Facoli, and Monte Rossa.

Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico DOCG
Oltrepò Pavese's 13,500 ha of vineyards makes it one of Italy's largest appellations while its 3000 ha of Pinot Noir vines is easily the largest planting of that variety in Italy. The appellation covers 42 municipalities in the Apennine foothills on the south bank of the Po River across from Pavia; foothills comprised of marine sedimentary rock with significant clay content.

Winters are dry and temperature fluctuation is significant due to ascending air current on the slopes.

Pinor Noir is the dominant variety for sparkling wine production. The first sparkling wine from this variety was made by Count Augusto Giorgi di Vistarino in 1865 and the family still produces some of the best spumante in the region today.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, December 20, 2019

Vintage 2015: The anatomy of a five-star Brunello growing season* -- Guest post by Laura Gray, Estate Manager, Il Palazzone (Montalcino, Tuscany)

I often exaggerate but in Montalcino 2015 really was one of the vintages of a lifetime, a year of unparalleled excellence; in short, “una vendemmia da sogno." The Consorzio del Brunello described it as a vintage of “altissimo e raro livello qualitativa” (extremely high and unprecedented quality). Nobody was surprised to see it awarded five stars in February 2016.

The vintage was distinguished by a cold, wet winter and a cool, rainy spring that established water reserves in the vineyards. 

We pruned in February and had budbreak on 7th April 2015. We had double the foliage present in 2014 due to the warm autumn and wet 2014. The vines kept their green leaves for much longer than usual, allowing them to store good reserves of “sostanze.”

An extremely hot and dry July (even hotter than the scorching 2003) meant that the grapes changed color ten days earlier than usual and fruit was smaller than normal (good for the skin:flesh ratio). The heat was mitigated by showers at the end of the month and in early August (48 mm), and a marked thermal excursion permitted a long slow ripening which was incredibly positive for the development of aromatics and tannins. A final blast of heat in August was great for the skins, again positive for aromatics and dry extract. After a rainy start, the grapes enjoyed a wonderful September with ideal conditions for healthy development and perfect un-rushed ripening. Constant bunch-drying wind from the east and day/night temperature differences (15°C/34°C) continued to be beneficial to aromatic development.

At our lower altitude vineyards we had earlier ripening and higher sugar levels. We picked the Castelnuovo vineyards on the 17th and 18th of September. The Due Porte vineyards were slower to mature and maintained wonderful acidity. We picked here a full ten days later on the 27th and 28th of September.

One of the defining characteristics of 2015 Brunello is the beautiful acidity which is often lacking in hotter years. This was
caused by the intersection of many variables: following on from sodden 2014, a hot growing season punctuated with “useful” rain after an early veraison; no extended periods of drought all summer; and marked day/night thermal excursion
from August onwards. Complexity of aroma, elegance, and fine tannins are part and parcel of this lovely year.

*Published originally on the Il Palazzone blog. Edited lightly to conform to US conventions.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Sparkling wine of Valle d'Aosta

Valle d'Aosta (Vallée d"Aoste in French), is a semi-autonomous region in northwest Italy which is bounded to the north, west, and south by the Alps and shares borders with both France and Switzerland. Reflecting its location, and its cultural history and linkages, it is officially bi-lingual. It was inhabited by an ancient people called the Salassi before it was annexed by the Romans in 25 BC. In more recent times, it was helmed  by the French House of Savoy before joining the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. I continue my survey of Italian Sparkling Wine with a discourse on the sparkling wine of Valle d'Aosta.

Valle d'Aosta DOC
According to Ian D'Agata (writing in Vinous), "Valle d'Aosta is the dwarf, size-wise, among Italy's 20 regions, but it's a giant when it comes to quality. Thirteen unique native grape varieties and a half dozen international grapes, the region's complex geology and alpine climate, and the area's many passionate, talented producers combine to produce a selection of white, red, sparkling and sweet wines of remarkably high quality in all but the most difficult vintages."

The climate is continental, with long, cold winters and short, hot summers. There are some moderating influences to the general climate which aid in fruit development. First, Valle d'Aosta is known for its mountains -- Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa, and the Matterhorn, among others -- and, while they limit the area available for grape growing, they protect the valley from the coldest winds and provide ample sun exposure for the high-flying vineyards. The mountains also provide a rain-shadow effect, thus keeping excess moisture away from the vineyards. Second, the valley follows the course of the Dora Baltea River and its water flow keeps the air moving and clouds at bay. Grapevines are grown between 300 - 1300 meters, with elevations above 1600 meters being considered Tundra and unsuitable for grape growing. There is significant diurnal temeprature variation in the region..

The Valle d'Aosta geography is simple: high, steep slopes rising from the river valleys. Vineyard soils are composed of rocky, gritty mixtures of primarily sand and broken rocks at the higher levels and alluvial sediments of clay and gravel further down the slopes.

The principal wine-growing areas are found along the eastern bank of the Dora Baltea River with a total of 253 ha (625 acres) devoted to vineyards. The highest vineyards are located in the foothills of Mont Blanc at 1300 meters elevation, the highest vineyards in Europe. The vines are trained on low pergolas (Pergola bassa) in trellised arbors with stone columns surrounded by stone walls. This arrangement helps to protect the vines from wind and heavy snowfall but also allows the vines to benefit from heat accumulated in the ground during the course of the day, thus mitigating the diurnal flux.

The wines have never attained the highest quality (Diego Meraviglia), being low in tannin, body, and color as a result of the poor soil. Ripeness and alcohol levels are adequate however, due to ready access to sunlight. The Donnas sub-region was first awarded DOC status in 1971, followed closely by Enfer d' Arvier. Awarding of additional DOCs was halted until 1986 when the decision was made to consolidate all of the region's quality wines under a single DOC -- Valle d"Aosta.

The wines in the region are primarily varietal and, keeping with the bi-lingual character of the region, are labeled Valle d"Aosta/Vallée d'Aoste plus the name of the varietal (85% of the varietal required). The wines are mostly blends of fruit from all over the region. The region has seven subgroups, each of which is allowed to place its name on the label. The varieties grown in the area and the wines of the subzones are shown in the tables below.

White GrapesRed Grapes
Petite ArvineGamay
Pinot BiancoMayolet
Pinot GrigioMerlot
Prié BlancPicotendro (Nebbiolo)

Petit Rouge

Pinot Nero


Vien de Nus

Table 2. Varieties grown in Valle d'Aoste

Arnand-MontjovetRedPicotendro (Min.70%), Dolcetto, Pinot Nero, Neyret, Freisa, Vien de Nus5 months; 12 most for Superiore
Blanc de Morgex et La SalleWhitePrié Blanc5 months
ChambaveRedMin 70% Petit Rouge, Dolcetto, Gamay, Fumin, Pinot Noir5 months

White (Dry, Sweet)Moscato Bianco

DonnazRedPicotendro (min 85%), Petit Rouge, Fumin, Freisa, Neyret24 months; Superiore 36 mos
Enfer d’ ArvierRedPetit Rouge (85%), Vien de Nus, Neyret, Dolcetta, Pinot Noir, Gamay5 mos
NusRedVien de Nus (50%), Petiti Rouge (30%), other authorized5 mos; Superiore 8 mos

White (Dry, Sweet)Nus Malvoisie, Pinot Grigio

TorretteRedPetit Rouge (20%), Pinot Noir, Gamay, Fumin, Vien de Nus, Dolcetto, Majolet, Prematta5 mos; Superiore 8 mos
Table 3. Subzone wines.

As shown in the table above, Picotendro is produced in the Donnaz and Arnand-Montjovet sub-zones. The Donnaz Picotendro has a higher percentage of the core varietal, and fewer potential blending partners, than does the other. Picotendro is grown close to the border with Piemonte and is not dissimilar to Chiavennasca (Valtellina) in that it is light, delicate, and aromatic with minimal structure and tannin.

Beyond Picontendro, another well-regarded wine is VDA Blanc de Morgex et La Salle. This white wine is made from Prié Blanc grapes grown on south-facing slopes between the municipalities of Morgex and La Salle. The vines grow ungrafted as no Phylloxera attacks have occurred in that specific zone. These wines have good minerality and acidity.

Wine production is primarily by Coop, with the fruits sourced from member growers. A limited number of growers produce their own wine for the market. Annual production is approximately 330,000 cases of which 30,000 is DOC.

Sparkling Wine in the DOC
DOC sparkling wine production is only allowed in the Morgex and La Salle subzone and, as such, is made from 100% Prié Blanc. Hundreds of tiny old vineyard plot -- a total of 70 ha -- dot the two communes and provide fruit to the five growers and the Coop.

Prié Blanc, also known as Blanc de Morgex, is native to the region. It is adapted to the alpine temperatures and the rigors of the growing season: It is late budding so is less susceptible to spring frosts; it is early ripening, a plus in the alpine setting. Ian d'Agata, in the same Vinous article describes Prié Blanc as "a delicately perfumed wine (in both still and sparkling versions) that is not only a great match with many ... fish and vegetable dishes but is also one of Italy's best aperitifs."

Two of the most notable sparkling wine producers in the region are Caves Mont Blanc and Ermes Pavese. Caves Mont Blanc is a Coop that controls 18 ha through its 80 grower-owners. It is the foremost producer of Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle. It produces a Brut and Extra Brut with the difference being a 15-month bottle aging for the former and 17 months of the latter. Ermes Pavese produces between 700 and 1200 bottles of its zero dosage sparkler only in riper years. According to Madrose, this sparkling wine is "as unusual as it is delicious, ... at once rich and quite dry, speaking clearly of its Alpine origin, with delicate smokiness and lemon curd on the nose and full earthy minerality on the palate."

These are small-production wines that are difficult to obtain outside the market.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme