Thursday, March 7, 2013

Italian Merlots: Petra's Quercegobbe (Suvereto, Tuscany)

The Merlots of note in Tuscany are centered around Bolgheri and Suvereto in the Province of Livorno, Chianti Classico (Provinces of Florence and Siena), and Bucine (Province of Arezzo). The Merlot that will be discussed in this post is Quercegobbe, a product of the Petra estate in Suvereto.

In November 2011 Suvereto was elevated to DOCG status with its wines awarded the right to label varietally if the contents were constituted of at least 85% of the named varietal. The petrified clay soils and the Mediterranean climate of the region provides the perfect environment for fully ripening Merlot grapes and the soils are viewed as being richer in minerals, and more structured, than its more famous neighbor to the north, Bolgheri.

Petra -- translates to "stone" -- was founded in 1997 by the father-daughter team of Francesca and Morette Vittorio who had established their winery "chops" on the Bellavista (1977) and Contade Castaldi (1987) estates in Franciacorta. The estate, located in San Lorenzo Alton in Suvereto, is 300 ha in size, with 100 ha dedicated to vineyards and the remainder to olive groves and woods.

The estate's overarching philosophy is “Respect for the identity of the territory and of the soil” According to the estate, "We are in a place where producing healthy grapes is not difficult. The climate and weather here are ideal. Daily sea breezes make sure that the grapes are always dry, and therefore less likely to have problems. We always start to make wine with top fruit conditions, and in the winery we don’t need to make miracles; we only guide the natural process of the more traditional winemaking techniques in a very modern and technologically sound environment. Grapes are grown and picked at different times and with different yields per hectare, according to the wine that we are going to make. The grapes for top wines are picked only when total tannin maturation is reached. After fermentation the wine is already soft. For simpler wines, we tend to produce more grapes per hectare, and the picking is done earlier to preserve drinkability and maintain  a fresher  tasting experience. The aging is long, 18 months in oak and 18 months in barrel. The wine goes on the market already elegant and with good drinkability, then with patience the expert could wait longer. We try to avoid strong wood flavors in our wines and to enhance elegance, drinkability and longevity."

As I have mentioned elsewhere, in the 1990s, Franciacorta producers utilized the services of the University of Milan for extensive zoning studies in order to gain a clear understanding of the soil differentials in the area. That was, apparently, a worthwhile effort from the Vittorios' perspective because they contracted with Professor Attilio Scienza of the same University to conduct a similar agronomic survey on their Suvereto property. The survey identified 12 different soil zones on the property and this information was used as the basis for planting decisions.

Old part of the property where Attilio Scienza conducted soil studies. (Used with permission of Petra)
Old part of the property where Attilio Scienza conducted soil studies. (Used with permission of Petra)
Old part of the property where Attilio Scienza conducted soil studies. (Used with permission of Petra)

Of the estate's three vineyards, the one closest to the winery is farmed organically and this has been the case for the last three years.  Vines are trained Simple Guyot and planting density is 6300 vines/ha. Yields for the top wines are 6 tons/ha and 9 tons/ha for "less-structured" wines. Grapes are hand picked and selected before crushing and after destemming.

Fermentation is facilitated with inoculated yeast. The estate's top offerings are macerated for 25-28 days while lesser offerings are subjected to 12 to 15 days of maceration. The must is kept in contact with the cap through pump overs but , additionally, the top wines are punched-down to ensure maximum extraction.

Top wines undergo malolactic fermentation in oak barrels while the less-structured wines undergo malolactic in stainless steel tanks.

Annual production is 400,00 bottles with 60% destined to foreign markets the most important of which are Switzerland, Germany. Japan, the US, and Canada

Quercegobbe is the estate's 100% Merlot offering. The grapes for the wine are grown on 35 ha in the old part of the property around the winery at 120 meters elevation. The oldest of these vines date back to 1997. The grapes are vinified in 620 hl oak barrels and aged in new French barriques for 18 months. An additional 18 months is spent in bottle in the cellar before the wine is deemed market-ready.


I had been unaware of this wine prior to Alfonse Cevola remarking in a comment on my Masseto post that Petra was just down the road from Masseto  and was "an interesting winery making very dramatic wines." Serena Sutcliffe (Tunnel Vision, Sotheby's Preview, 11/2008) referred to the 2005 vintage of this wine as "pure layered chocolate and balsamico." This is another of the wines I am really excited about tasting at our upcoming event.

(Updated 4/8/12)

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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