Friday, April 3, 2020

Sparkling wines of Piemonte: Villa Sparina Metodo Classico Blanc de Blanc (Gavi DOCG)

In that I am currently writing a series on Italian sparkling wines, I want to taste as broad a range of those wines as possible but it is especially tough to acquire them in Central Florida. As I was calling around yesterday, I found that Tim's Wine Market (Downtown) had bottles of Villa Sparina Metodo Classico Blanc de Blanc in stock; I hightailed it over there immediately to acquire a bottle for tasting purposes.

Villa Sparina is produced at the Villa Sparina Resort and Winery, located in Monterotondo, the heart of Piemonte's Gavi DOCG. The facility was founded by the Moccagatta family in the 1970s. The location of the DOCG and the winery are shown in the following two slides.

The estate sits on 100 ha, 70 of which are dedicated to grapes for the production of Gavi and Barbera.

Monterotondo is a cru for the Cortese grape of Gavi, the grape that is the basis for the Villa Sparina Metodo Classico Brut. The grapes are grown in vineyards resident at 250 - 300m altitude with mainly south and southwest exposures and soils of clay and marl. The vines are trained Guyot and are planted 4000 vines/ha density.

The grapes for the base wine are fermented in stainless steel tanks over a 3-week period. Second fermentation is carried out in bottles with the wine spending 36 months on its lees.

The wine had an initial breadfruit nose upon opening which gave way to a sweet white flower/fruit, citrus, citrus skin, pineapple and a steadily increasing pepper spice. Peach on the palate with a lemony-lime acidity. Medium weight, not as crisp as I prefer. Sparing, emaciated bubbles. Mineral persistence -- chalky clay -- on the palate. Short finish. The taste profile falls somewhere between a Franciacorta and a Prosecco; shaded towards the Prosecco end of the spectrum.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Differentiating between the Grechetto and Grechetto Gentile varieties in central Italy

I have encountered and tasted Grechetto wines at various times in the past but my interest was heightened during research on the sparkling wines of Italy when I encountered a "variety" called Grechetto Gentile. Was it the same grape with some kind of colloquial appendage? Or was it a totally different variety? I intended to find out.

My research revealed that a single Grechetto variety had been listed on the National Register of Vine Varieties since 1970 but that genetic work done in 2013 had shown that two distinct varieties existed: Grechetto di Orvieto (clone G5) and Grechetto di Todi (clone G109). Prior to 2013, then, these varieties would have been unknowingly blended together.

The characteristics of the varieties are shown in the chart below.

Both varieties originated in Greece but are now inextricably linked to the wine regions of Central Italy. Grechetto di Orvieto is planted throughout the home range but is most famous for its role in the wines of Orvieto DOC in Umbria and Lazio. The wine is generally used in blends (with one or more of the following varieties: Chardonnay, Malvasia, Trebbiano, Verdello) where it adds richness and structure plus citrus and dried-nut characteristics. However, a number of the regional DOCs permit varietal wines from this grape. The wines from this grape are generally light-bodied and high in acidity. Synonyms for the variety are Grechetto, Greghetto, Grechetto Spoletino, Greco Spoletino, and Greco Bianco di Perugia.

Grechetto di Todi wines are generally considered superior to Grechetto di Orvieto wines. the grape shows some similar identifying traits as the Grechetto di Orvieto but has the same DNA as the Pignoletto variety. As a wine, Gentile has a more pronounced freshness and is more aromatic and less almondy than the Grechetto di Orvieto. It also has a signature bitter finish.

The figure Immediately bellow summarizes the DOCs and regions wherein one finds the two Grechetto varieties while the details from each region are provided in the Appendix.

As I mentioned previously, I have tasted and documented some past tastings of Grechetto wines. The first is Marco Caprai's 100% Grechetto from Colli Martani DOC. We tasted the 2018 Grechetto Grecante as we milled around the bar at West Palm Wines prior to a Caprai tasting. The wine was perfumed, floral, waxy and with yellow fruit on the nose. Herbs, a bitterness, textured and mineral on the palate. The minerality and texture combined to restrain the fruit flavors. Interesting mix of acidity, bitterness, and minerality. Textural intensity diminished with time. I loved this wine so much that I bought half a case.

The 2015 Greco di Renabianca is a 100% Grechetto which is labeled Umbria Bianco IGT. I tasted this wine while on a visit to Terre Margaritelli in Torgiano, Umbria. This wine is named after a 12th century soldier, recalling the myriad battles between towns that took place in the flat lands below the estate. Aged 2- 3 months in barrique and 1 year in bottle. This wine brought to mind sweet hazelnuts, eucalyptus and white fruits. Lime, spice and a rusticity on the palate. Powerful.

Appendix: Instances of Grechetto and Grechetto Gentile in Central Italy

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, March 27, 2020

Mapping the DOC sparkling wines of Abruzzo and Molise

In my quest to map the sparkling DOC(G) wines of Italy I have completed overviews of the sparkling wines of North and Central Italy and will now turn to the southern sparklers, beginning with the wines of Abruzzo and Molise.

Why do you treat these two regions together you ask? First, they were a single political unit from the time of the Kingdom of Naples, only splitting into two with the carving out of the province of Campobasso in 1963 to form the region of Molise. Second, they only have three (Abruzzo) and one (Molise) DOC sparkling-wine zones.

Both regions are mountainous, with mountain regions accounting for 65% of available lands and serving to keep rainstorms and inclement weather from the west at bay. Storms from the east do bring significant rainfall to the regions from time to time. The climate is temperate in areas facing the Adriatic Sea and continental in the areas facing the Apennines.

While Abruzzo is known for its red wines from the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo cultivar, Molise is "the most obscure of the Italian wine regions." In discussing the regions in two separate Vinous articles, Ian D'Agata made the following observations:
  • They produce too many inexpensive wines that are little or no better than generic bulk wine and should not be bottled
  • The bad white wines are insipid, tart, thin, ... fruit-challenged
  • The less successful reds are downright caricatural, overly smoky, overly ripe, and overly oaked
  • 75% of Abruzzo wine is made by 40 different Coops.
Ian sees some hope on the horizon though:
  • A new generation of viticulturists and winemakers are joining the family wineries and improving the quality of those wines
  • Many Abruzzo estates are seeking vineyards higher up in the mountains in an effort to improve grape quality.
The key to "vinous bliss," as he sees it, is to know who are the best producers in each of the regions.

The chart below shows the sparkling wine zones in Abruzzo (topmost figure) and Molise.

Some observations:
  • Limited number of DOC sparkling wine zones in each of the regions
  • Very little overlap in the indigenous grapes utilized in the production of sparkling wines in the two regions
  • Primarily cuvées in Abruzzo while Molise permits a broad array of varietal sparkling wines.
Not much to see here. My next stop on this journey will be in Campania.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Domaine Tortochot Chambertin: Stellar representation of a classic vineyard

Prior to the onset of Covid-19, and the attendant ill effects on commerce and community, Sunday was the day that our group normally gathered at Parkview (Winter Park, FL) for our Burgundy and BLT brunch. Each attendee brought a bottle of Burgundy to share and we bought dishes off the stellar Parkview menu.

Covid-19 drove us off the avenue and into the confines of our homes (some of us anyway) but that did not diminish our desire for community and bottles of Burgundy. We decided to not let distance and the virus get in our way and convened a Zoom tasting where everyone could participate from the comfort of their own home. As per usual, a bottle of Burgundy was a requirement.

I brought a bottle of 2012 Domaine Tortochot Chambertin to the party and Parlo created a killer BLT to accompany same. I describe the estate and the wine in this post.

Domaine Tortochot
The domaine is a 4th-generation, 12-ha Gevrey-Chambertin estate founded by Paul Tortochot in the 19th century. Today the estate is owned by sisters Brigitte and Chantal, with the latter managing day-to-day operations.

The Tortochot holdings in and around Gevrey-Chambertin are shown in the map below. In addition to the Grand Cru vineyards shown on the map, the domaine owns seven rows of vines in Clos Vougeot.

Tortochot Burgundy parcels

Domaine Tortochot began a move towards organic farming with the planting of an experimental vineyard in 2003. A wholesale conversion to this farming method was undertaken in 2008.

The domaine's goals, as regards organic farming, are to: (i) promote good soil vitality through enrichment and (ii) permit good micro-organism development through the addition of hummus. Synthetic chemical substances are prohibited, with vine protection provided by the plant's natural resistance, supplemented, as necessary, by treatment with fungicides based on products such as rock powders, special sulfur or copper preparations, plant-based preparations, and fungal antagonists. Sex-confusion pheromones are used against grape worms.

As regards vineyard structure and practices:

  • Vines are trained low and planted at 10,000 vines/ha
  •  Vines are pruned in May and June to seven to eight bunches per vine
  • Young shoots are removed in July to reduce extraneous sap flow
  • Green harvesting is employed to ensure optimal ripeness of the remaining bunches
  • A variety of grasses are deployed between rows to
    • restore the vineyard ecosystem
    • create hummus
    • maintain a fauna of beneficial insects.

Grapes are harvested by hand based after attainment of an optimal sugar/acid balance. The grapes are destemmed and cold-macerated for four to five days prior to fermentation. Fermentation is facilitated by indigenous yeasts and includes twice-daily punchdowns and an end-of-day pumpover. The must is devatted and the pomace pressed after which the free-run and pressed juices are blended. The juice settles out for 24 hours before being transfereed to the cellar for malolactic fermentation and aging in 100% new, medium-toast, French oak barrels. The wine ages between 14 and 18 months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Le Chambertin Vineyard
This 13.5 ha property is the most important vineyard in Gevrey-Chambertin and one of the top three in Côte de Nuits; it was so well regarded that the town, and seven of its vineyards, appended the name as a suffix to theirs.

The climate is continental with significant diurnal temperature shifts allowing daytime ripening and freshness-retention during the night. The vines reside on well-drained stony soils consisting of a thin layer of pebble-strewn, chalky topsoil over a deep rocky base.

Some of the notable vignerons who own property in this vineyard include Rousseau, Dugat-Py and Leroy; notable negociants are Latour and Bouchard.

The Tortochot holdings comprise 39.83 ares (0.98 acres) located on the highest part of the vineyard where the soil is much whiter and is very marly. This location suggests a less concentrated wine than grapes sourced from mid-slope.

Domaine Tortochot Chambertin 2012
The 2012 vintage was a difficult vintage in Burgundy as producers battled rain, hail, and mildew. According to Decanter, it was not an ideal year for organic and biodynamic domaines. Yields were restricted with varying quality even within a single domaine.

The wine was made as described previously with an 18-month aging period.

The wine was popped and poured. A strong barrel note upon opening but blew off quickly. Pinot fruit, baking spices, pepper and a slightly resinous character. Lean but good character. Balanced. Red fruit and coal. Cupric coating on the palate early gives way to a lengthy, drying finish. With time in the glass, perfection.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The sparkling DOC(G) wines of Central Italy

With the sparkling wines of Northern Italy now in the books, I turn my attention to the sparkling wines of Central Italy.

There is a consensus among the internet maps of Italy that Central Italy includes the regions of Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, and Lazio; beyond that, the consensus falls down. I have seen maps which add Emilia-Romagna to the mix. I have seen maps which add Abruzzo to the mix. And I have seen maps which add both Abruzzo and Molise to the mix. For the purposes of this effort, I will treat Central Italy as being comprised of the initial regions mentioned. The reasons for this are twofold: (i) Emilia-Romagno has already been discussed within the bounds of Northern Italy and, (ii) according to Wikipedia:
Abruzzo is considered a region of Southern Italy in terms of its culture, language, history and economy, although geographically it may also be considered central. The Italian Statistical Authority also deems it to be part of Southern Italy, partly because of Abruzzo's historic association with the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
If Abruzzo falls within the sphere of Southern Italy then it stands to reason that the same will hold true for Molise.

The figure below captures the sparkling wine regions of Central Italy. Central Italy has four regions against Northern Italy's eight, less than half of the wine zones (31 versus 78), and a lower average wine zones/region (7.75 versus 9.75).

There is only one DOCG sparkling wine in Central Italy and no single sparkling wine standout on the order of Franciacorta or Alta Langa, for example.

A large part of the disparity in sparkling wines between North and Central Italy is locational. The more northerly regions are colder and produce crisper wines that are more conducive to sparkling wine consumption. Central Italy, on the other hand, has more of a Mediterranean climate -- and riper grapes -- over large parts of its surface area. In order to attain the acidity that is so integral to quality sparkling wine grapes, Central Italy producers have to source the grapes from higher-altitude vineyards.

The table below shows the wine varieties utilized in the production of Central Italy sparkling wines. A total of 99 varieties were employed in Northern Italy while 39 are utilized in Central Italy. Outside of the international cultivars, the most common varieties used across the Central Italy regions were Grechetto, Malvasia, and Trebbiano.

I now turn to a description of the sparkling wines in each of the Central Italy regions.

As aptly described on, "The achingly beautiful Tuscany region of Italy is a touchstone of art, food, and culture. Made up of stunning countrysides and distinguished cities, Tuscany is the perfect escape for gastronomes, cognoscenti, and fans of the Italian Renaissance." The characteristic Tuscan landscape is a blend of gently rolling hills (66.5% of the region's 22,985 sq. km) leading to steep-peaked mountains (25%) and plains (8.5%).

But Tuscany is also a wine powerhouse, ranking sixth among Italian regions in overall wine production and third in terms of DOP wine production. It is renowned for its red wines with Sangiovese ruling the roost in ChiantiMontalcino and Montepulciano, and Bordeaux varietals prominent in the Maremma region (especially Bolgheri and Suvereto) as well as having some presence in Chianti and Montalcino.

Climate and soil composition in Tuscany is location-dependent. For example, Chianti-based producers operate in a continental climate with galestro and albarese soils while their coastal counterparts operate in temperate climates with stone- and rock-imbued clay soils.

Tuscany's focus on Sangiovese and red wines is reflected in the relative paucity of sparkling wines in the region. As shown in the following chart, a total of six DOCs offer approximately 11 labels to the market.

The Pomino DOC is Metodo-Classico-only. Four of the remaining sparkling DOCs are Charmat while sparkling wines made in the Maremma Toscana DOC could utilize either the Charmat or Metodo Classico processes.

The dominant variety used in these sparkling wines is Trebbiano Toscana; Pomino DOC (Metodo Classico) makes use of the classic Italian version of the Champagne varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero).

Toscana sparkling wines live in the deep, dark shadows of their red, still counterparts. There are no indications that this will change anytime soon.

Umbria lies in the cultural and vinous shadows of its northwestern neighbor Tuscany but is renowned in its own right for its lush, rolling hills, its hilltop villages (Assisi, Perugia, Orvieto, Spoleto, Todi, Spello, Gubbio), and unique historic towns.

Umbria's main business activity is agriculture, with olive oil, truffles, sunflowers, and wine grapes as the primary offerings.

The Umbrian climate is continental; cold, rainy winters and dry summers. This climate is modified by the waters of Lake Trasimeno in the area west of Perugia.

Geologic processes through the ages have resulted in the following soils distribution in Umbria:
  • Alluvial sediments and debris along major river valleys
  • Gravels, sands, and clays deposited during the Pliocene and early Pleistocene
  • Marly deposits during the Oligocene - Miocene
  • Stratigraphic Umbria-Marche deposits from the Jurassic-Miocene
  • In the southwest, volcanic deposits from the eruptions of the Vulsino volcano.
As shown in the chart below, Umbria has six sparkling wine DOCs distributed over its surface area.

A few observations:
  • None of the major Umbria DOC/DOCGs (Sagrantino de Montefalco DOCG, Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG, and Orvieto DOC) produce any sparkling wine
  • A small number of varieties (six) have been formally designated by name for the production of sparkling wine. Only Valle d'Aosta (one) and Liguria (three) have fewer identified sparkling-wine-designated varieties
  • A preponderance of the international varieties have been designated as raw material for sparkling wine production in Umbria. Only Spoleto DOC -- of the six sparkling wine DOCs identified in the chart above -- does not specify, by name, one of the international varieties for use in the production of its sparkling wine.
  • Three of the sparkling wine DOCs are located in the north of the region, one in the middle, and two in the south.
  • Two Metodo-Classico-only DOCs and one Charmat-only DOC. The remaining four DOCs allow a mix of both production methods
  • The Spoleto DOC wine could have been designated a varietal sparkling wine.

Le Marche
The rugged environment of Le Marche provides a landscape that is less suitable for agricultural pursuits than is the case in neighboring Tuscany, Umbria, and Abruzzo, for example. The Apennine range forms the internal border of the region and descends almost to the Adriatic Sea, with arable land and living spaces confined to the river valleys and the coastline. The climate in the region is temperate, with a continental feel inland and Mediterranean along the coast.

At 878,000 hl of wine produced in 2018, Le Marche ranked 13th among Italian regions. Its calcareous soils provide optimal residence for Sangiovese, Trebbiano, Verdicchio, and Montelpuciano, among other varieties.

Given the length of its coastline, seafood is a key part of the Marchian diet. And the diet elevates the importance of white wine in the region, with the Verdecchios from Castelli di Jesi and Matelica having pride of place. Wine from the Pecorino grape is also growing in stature.

Below is a map of the sparkling wines of Le Marche.

Some observations:
  • Most of these wines are, given their 85% minimums, in effect, varietal sparkling wines
  • Most of the wines are made from indigenous rather than international varieties. The varieties of note are Aleatico, Biancame, Verdicchio, Maceratino, Passerina, and Vernaccia Nera
  • Most DOCs allow both Metodo Classico and Charmat production
  • A total of three red sparkling wines are produced in the region: Pergola DOC Spumante; San Ginesio DOC Spumante; and Vernaccia di Serrapetrona DOC Spumante.
Now let us turn to some of the most noteworthy sparkling wines from the region.

Vernaccia di Serrapetrona DOCG
This wine has been described as an "idiosyncratic sparkling red wine produced from the local Vernaccia Nera." This territory was granted DOC status in 1971 and elevated to DOCG in 2003. It is one of the smallest classified zones in Italy with only 20 ha of vineyards and 5000 cases produced. Vineyards must be sited between 450 and 600 m elevation.

Other than the fact that it is a sparkling red wine, Vernaccia di Serrapetrona is also unique in its production method: three fermentations. The first fermentation involves up to 60% of the handpicked grapes. The remaining 40% is dried on straw mats and added to the wine in the following January for the second fermentation. After resting for a few months, the wine is placed into pressurized containers where it is fermented using the Charmat method.

The result of this process is "an intensely aromatic wine displaying a raspberry red color, aromas of strawberries and cranberries, a hint of spice, firm tannins and bright acidity,"

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC and Verdecchio di Matelica DOC
These are the two DOCs that are the temples to Verdicchio, with the former being more revered than the latter. The sparkling wines from both regions require a minimum of 85% of the Verdicchio grape and can be made using either the Metodo Classico or Charmat methods.

The grapes for Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi are grown in the hilly areas around the town of Jesi, an area endowed with calcareous clay and limestone-rich soils. The area is blessed with a relatively dry maritime climate with persistent gentle onshore (morning) and offshore (afternoon) winds providing defenses against fungal diseases such as grey rot and mildew.

The Verdicchio di Matelica vineyards are located further inland in more of a continental climate but with soils akin to its compatriot. Vineyard orientation in Matelica is east-to-west, a situation unique to that DOC. A total of 740 ha of vineyards are planted at 400m - 500m elevation.

In his Forbes article on Italian sparkling wines, Tom Hyland identified the Colonnara Tradition Brut as one of the best examples of Verdicchio sparkling wine that he has tasted. The wine, he says, "... offers subdued herbal notes in the finish, along with bright pear and melon fruit."

In that same article, Hyland spoke favorably of a number of Verdicchio/Chardonnay cuvées:
  • Poderi Mattioli Dosaggio Zero -- vintage-dated blend that is aged 48 months on its lees
  • Umani-Ronchi Extra Brut millesimato -- 65% Verdicchio, 35% Chardonnay
  • Umani-Ronchi La Hoz -- 80% Verdicchio, 20% Chardonnay. The Verdicchio is aged in steel while the Chardonnay is aged in mid-sized oak barrels. The wines are aged on lees for 48 months.
Lazio is comprised of mountains (26.1%), hills (54%), and plains (19.9%) and is, according to Vinous' Ian D'Agata, uniquely suited to viticulture:
  • Mild climate
  • Rich and varied geological mix of soils (well-drained volcanic soils prevalent)
  • Marine breezes
  • Adequate rainfall
  • Pronounced diurnal temperature shifts
  • Plethora of high-quality native grape varieties.
But, until recently, the region has only been known for light white wines suited to immediate consumption. Quality-focused winemakers have, within the last two decades, sought to improve the image of the wines by pursuing a lighter, crisper style. The main grape varieties planted in the region are Malvasia (30%) and Trebbiano (28%).

The chart below shows the DOC regions which specify requirements for the production of sparkling wines within their appellations.

Some observations:
  • Nine of the 30 DOC(G) regions have specifications for the production of sparkling wine
  • There is only one case (Circeo DOC and Chardonnay) where an international variety is included in the specifications; otherwise, all indigenous varieties 
  • There is some clustering of production in the regions to the southeast of Rome
  • For the most part, the specifications do not call for dominant-variety blends
  • The Trebbiano variety is the most widely utilized variety in Lazio sparkling wines.
In future posts I will move on to the sparkling wines of Southern Italy.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

An overview of the sparkling wines of Northern Italy

Over the last few months I have been engaged in a project to map all of the DOC(G) sparkling wines of Italy. To date I have published posts on the sparkling wines of 12 of the 20 Italian regions. I have decided to pause at this time and take a look back at the grouping of wines that fall into the regions comprising Northern Italy.

The map below captures all of the DOC(G) wine zones in Northern Italy. Sparkling wine zones in Northern Italy range from one in Valle d'Aosta to 25 in Veneto. Most of the zones are DOC with a total of 14 DOCG zones. Piemonte and Veneto have the greatest number of DOCG sparkling wine zones with six and five, respectively.

The spreadsheet below shows the grape varieties used in sparkling wines segmented by region. A total of 99 varieties are employed in sparkling wine production in Northern Italy, ranging from a low of one in Valle d'Aosta to 49 in Emilia Romagna. The average is 12.375 varieties per region.

International varieties are the most broadly distributed across the regions with Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Grigio each being used in six of the eight regions and Merlot in five. This fact highlights the fact that producers largely utilize regional indigenous varieties in making sparkling wines in their individual regions.

Following is a brief summary of the sparkling wines of each of the Northern Italian regions.

Piemonte Sparkling Wines
While the region is best known for its Nebbiolo grapes, and the resulting Barolo and Barbaresco wines, the below map shows that many of the appellations provide frameworks for the production of sparkling wine.

In most of the cases, the dominant DOC variety serves as the source material. If the producer does desire to do so, he/she could also utilize the much more forgiving Piemonte DOC for sparkling wine production. The map shows the designation under which sparkling wine is produced in each region and specifies the mix of allowed varieties and their relative proportions. The map also illustrates which wines are made via the Charmat Method and which use the traditional Champagne Method.

Asti DOCG is by far the largest sparkling wine appellation in Piemonte with 9700 ha under vine in 52 municipalities stretching across the provinces of Alessandria, Asti, and Cuneo. Most Asti production is via the Charmat method but, as the map shows, there is a designation for Asti Metodo Classico. The Moscato Bianco grape is used as the raw material for the Asti wine.

Alta Langa -- DOC in 2002, DOCG in 2011 -- is the new kid on the sparkling-wine block but the combination of its terroir, traditional Champagne varieties, traditional production method, skilled growers, and savvy producers bode well for the future. The Alta Langa DOCG is spread over 142 communes in the provinces of Alessandria, Asti, and Cuneo. Given the geographic scope of the region, one encounters a variety of climates, exposures, elevations and soil types. In general, the soil is a mildly fertile calcareous clay marl.

Vineyards are required to be planted at 250 m and above on the region's steep, terraced hillsides. Allowed varieties are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and other non-aromatic grapes. Planting density is a minimum of 4000 vines/ha with the vines trained using the low espalier system and pruned traditional Guyot and spurred cordon. The maximum allowed yield is 11,000 kg/ha.

The Alta Langa producers -- 27 currently -- do not grow enough fruit to meet their needs but that gap is bridged with fruit from 80 growers who own their land and are guaranteed producer-payment for their grapes and labor.

Trentino-Alto Adige Sparkling Wines
The map below shows the sparkling wine regions of Trentino-Alto Adige.

Alto Adige DOC
I have written about the broader Alto Adige DOC elsewhere.

According to, "As a result of its overall climatic conditions, the abundance of microclimates, and the composition of the soils between the Alpine mountain landscape and Mediterranean valley soils, Alto Adige is virtually ideal for the production of sparkling wines." The key characteristics (as identified by the source) are as follows:
  • Locations from 500 to 1000 m
  • Abundant sun during the day
  • Cool temperatures during the night
  • Warm soils rich in minerals
  • Base wine varieties (Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay) with an affinity for the characteristic soils.
Trento DOC
Trento DOC is the specific appellation for sparkling wine produced in the Trento portion of Trento-Alto Adige. As is the case in Alto Adige, the wine is made using the Metodo Classico.

According to Kerin O'Keefe, the sparkling wines of this region show "pronounced aromatics, elegance, and bright acidity." Two producers that she recommends are Ferrari (2010 Perlé Nero Extra Brut Riserva) and Rotari (2011 Flavio Brut Riserva).

Approximately 7,500,000 bottles of sparkling wine are produced in this region annually.

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 sparkling wines must be tank-fermented and must contain no more than 32 g/L of residual sugar.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia Sparkling Wines
Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the most north-eastern of the Italian wine regions, is bounded by Austria to the north, the Gulf of Trieste to the South, Slovenia to the east, and the wine region of Veneto to the west. The region's location, as well as its history, has endowed it with a richness of diverse cultural influences.

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.

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.

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 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.

Valle d'Aosta Sparkling Wine
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.

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.

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.

Lombardia Sparkling Wines
As shown in the chart below, there are eight DOC(G) 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.

Veneto Sparkling Wines
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.

The two charts following map the distribution of sparkling wines in Veneto. Of 14 DOCGs, five produce sparkling wines (and three 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.

Emilia-Romagna Sparkling Wines
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.

Liguria Sparkling Wines
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.

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

Monday, March 16, 2020

The "Cutting Edge" of Spanish Wine: Bodegas Mustiguillo Finca Terrerazo 2015

Spanish winemakers, beginning in the 1980's, began to focus on the more powerful, fruity wines that the market was rewarding. That is no longer the case, according to Pedro Ballesteros Torres, with the latest trends being:
  • Diversification and re-creation in Rioja and Jerez
  • New, emergent wine regions dislodging former leading lights
  • Grape varieties other than Tempranillo competing in the market place
  • An impressive range and quality of white wines
  • An emphasis on authenticity, freshness, and balance
  • Organic and biodynamic vineyards. 
Wines from Spain has identified eight wines that it sees as being at the vanguard of this movement: Tajinaste Blanco 2018Quinta da Muradella Blanco 2015Edetària Selecció Blanc Vinyes Velles 2016, Conde de los Andes Rioja Blanco 2016, Guimaro Finca Meixemann 2017, AN/2 by Anima Negra 2017, Bodegas Mustiguillo Finca Terrerazo 2015, and Parés Baltà Hisenda Miret 2017.  In this post I will cover the Bodegas Mustiguillo Finca Terrerazo 2015.

The Vineyard
Bodegas Mustiguillo Finca Terrerazo is made from Bobol grapes sourced from El Terrarazo, the estate's single-vineyard site. El Terrarazo was granted Vino de Pago status -- the highest level in the Spanish appellation system -- in 2010.

Spanish wine appellation system

Vino de Pago requirements are as follows:
  • The site must be a single vineyard
  • The vineyard must be owned by the estate producing the wine
  • The vineyard must fall within a registered DO
  • The vineyard must demonstrate unique characteristics that make it worthy of accessing that status
El Terrerazo is one of 19 Vino de Pagos and the first in the Communidad Valenciana. Its geographic location is indicated by the two red circles in the map below and its characteristics in the chart immediately following.

As would be expected of a "vanguard-wine" estate, Bodegas Bodegas Mustiguillo ticks a number of boxes in terms of the Spanish wine trends identified by Pedro Ballesteros Torres:
  • New emergent wine region (Utiel-Requena)
  • Grape varieties beyond Tempranillo (Bobol)
  • Organic and biodynamic vineyards (Organic)
  • Winemaking emphasis on authenticity, freshness and balance (Bobol; move away from American oak in earlier vintages to French oak for more recent ones).
As regards farming practices, El Terrarazo is certified organic, employing cover crops such as mustard, radish, legumes, and Mediterranean spices between rows. The Gobelet-trained vines are not irrigated.

The Bobal Cultivar
Bobal is a red variety indigenous to the Utiel-Requena region of Valencia. It is the second most planted red grape variety in Spain and, while traditionally used as a bulk wine, has recently been gaining serious attention as the basis for quality wines.

The vine is vigorous and productive, with long, trailing shoots which are normally trained as a low bush. Being of the region, it is resistant to extremes of weather and disease.

The branches are medium-large and compact with an angular cone shape. The must is high in colorant, tannins, and polyphenols while the finished wine tends to be fruity, low in alcohol, and high in acid.

Winemaking and the Wine
The grapes are hand-harvested and placed into 15-kg boxes (The first-order selection occurs here). The selected grapes are transported to the cellar where they are de-stemmed and sorted prior to a gentle crushing. Wines from each parcel are fermented in separate 35 Hl or 50 Hl French oak tanks using house yeasts. Fermentation -- with gentle punch-downs -- occurs over a 9-day period followed by an 11-day post-fermentation maceration, followed, in turn, by a 5 - 8 week malolactic fermentation with batonnage.

The wine is aged for 14 months in a mix of small (225 L and 550 L) and large (30 Hl and 50 Hl) French oak barrels after which they are blended and bottled without stabilization or filtration.

Notes: Waxy, red fruit, perfumed, and a resin character on the nose. Black/red fruit on the palate. Flat and non-complex. Soft tannins.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme