Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Lunch at Vini Franchetti's Tenuta di Trinoro (Val d'Orcia, Tuscany)

Jancis Robinson in 2002 described Andrea Franchetti's Tenuta di Trinoro as an "idiosyncratic wine estate ... which has achieved quite remarkable renown considering it was first planted in 1992." Antonio Galloni, writing on, describes the estate as giving "new meaning to the expression "in the middle of nowhere.'" And I was headed there after a morning in Montalcino, scheduled to meet with Carlo Franchetti, Andrea's partner in Vini Franchetti, for lunch, a tour of the facilities, and a tasting of the estate's wines. This experience was designed as a counterpoint to the tour and tasting that I had experienced at the Vini Franchetti property (Passopisciaro) on Mt Etna earlier in the week.

After a very scenic drive, I approached the gate and announced myself. After I was buzzed in, I drove up to a cluster of buildings and entered into the tank room. A young lady went looking for Carlo and in no time he entered, a warm and welcoming smile on his face. After we had exchanged pleasantries, Carlo indicated that we would be driving up the hill to Andrea' house for lunch. As we drove up the hill I saw sheep, other farm animals, and trees that pointed to the fact that this was no monoculture; it was a functioning farm.

Author and Carlo Franchetti

About halfway up the hill we passed through another security gate and, finally, arrived at our destination at the top of the hill. The views were amazing. And, as you can see from the pictures below, Tenuta di Trinoro is both "viticulturally isolated" and "in the middle of nowhere."

The house, the second home built on the 200-ha property, had a certain rusticity on the outside and this carried through to the inside decor. Andrea was not in town but we would be taking full advantage of his hospitality nonetheless.

Lunch was served in the kitchen and consisted of a first course of home-made ham (produced on the estate) followed by pasta and meat courses. The meal was prepared and served by Simonetta who, according to Letizia Patanè (Vini Franchetti Export Manager US and Asia), makes the best Pasta col Pomodoro in the world. 

We accompanied the meal with a bottle of the Passobianco 2015, an Etna Chardonnay. I was excited to try this as I had not done so on Etna. According to Carlo, the style of this wine is evolving as they move from flint to richness, from a Chablis style to more of a dependence on lees. The wine had a clean rich nose and showed concentrated fruit. 

According to Carlo, the area of Val d'Orcia in which Tenuta di Trinoro is located had been almost abandoned between 1960 and 1980 with the primary activity being sharecropping. Sheep-breeding came with the Sardinians when they emigrated here between 1960 and 1970. The houses in the area were primarily second homes for the wealthy.

Andrea had been a wine broker and imported French and Italian wines to the US between 1982 and 1986. He wanted to come back to Italy but, before doing so, went to Bordeaux and spent some time learning winemaking from his friends Jean Luc Thunevin of Chateau Valandraud and Peter Sisseck of Dominio de Pingus.  Armed with Bordeaux philosophy, practices, and cuttings, Andrea went to the Tuscan hinterlands, to land that was to him reminiscent of the left- and right-bank Bordeaux soils, and bought the 200-ha property that is Tenuta di Trinoro.

I will discuss the estate and the wines in a subsequent post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Tasting of selected wines of Pierpaolo Pecorari (Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy)

I visited Friuli-Venezia Giulia a number of years ago as part of a European Wine Bloggers Post-Conference Press Trip and, thenceforth, have been an avid fan of the region's wines. When West Palm Wines -- A Tampa-based purveyor of an eclectic mix of wine-related products and services -- announced that they would have the son (Alessandro Pecorari) of the Friuli winemaker Pierpaolo Pecorari in for a winemaker's visit, I was quick to sign up for the event.

The event was planned as a seated tasting with the winemaker guiding attendees through the wines. Prior to being seated, attendees mingled in the bar area, fortified by the winery's Rosé offering, Rosalba. During this meet and greet I was introduced to Alessandro by an old friend Maurilio Purpura, owner of wine importer CV Tuscany, and the person distributing the Pecorari wines in the US.

Pierpaolo Pecorari is a small, family-owned winery located in San Lorenzo Isontino in the DOC Isonzo subzone of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and sourcing grapes from vineyards in both the Collio and Isonzo subzones. The sources of those grapes are shown in the figure below and descriptions of the subzones follow immediately after.

DOC Collio
Colli Goriziano, simply called Collio (hillsides), is a crescent-shaped collar of land located in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region and bounded to the west and south by the Judrio and Isonzo Rivers and to the east by the Slovenian border. The area has a mild temperate climate with cool winds from Central Europe and warm air currents from the Adriatic Sea combining to keep the grapes dry and healthy. The Julian pre-Alps protect from the biting north winds while the Adriatic, in addition to its warm air currents, reflects solar radiation and, in so doing, aids grape ripening. Diurnal temperature variation allows ripening in the daytime with acidity retention in the cool nighttime air. Heavy rainfall (1000-1600 mm on average) provides a reservoir that plant roots can tap into even in the hottest of times.

The soil in the region is called "ponca" and its marl and sandstone strata are rich in calcium carbonate and alkalinity.

A total of 1500 hectares of vine are planted at elevations ranging between 100 and 430 meters and these produce 7,000,000 bottles of aromatic, crisp red and white wines. Twelve white and five red varietals are permitted and they may be bottled as blends or single varietals. The primary white grapes are international (Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon, and Chardonnay included) but indigenous cultivars (Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, and Malvasia) comprise 20% of the plantings. Red wines are primarily made from Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Merlot.  Most of the wines are fermented and aged in stainless steel and are made to be drunk young.

DOC Isonzo
Isonzo is a small DOC (classified in 1974) lying in the southeastern portion of Friulia-Venezia Giulia. The climate is maritime with the DOC experiencing more rainfall than any of the other regional zones. The Julian Alps serve as a natural barrier against north winds and there is a constant circulation of warm winds coming off the Adriatic and through the passage associated with the Isonzo River.

The soil on the left bank of the river is rich with clay and red gravel while the soil on the right bank is chalky and layered with white gravel. The river bed is susceptible to periodic shifting and the resulting floods serve to re-invigorate the soil with minerals from upstream sources.

Pierpaolo Pecorari and its Wines
After all of the attendees had arrived, and had had an opportunity to taste the Rosé, we were ushered into the tasting room and shown to our appointed seats. Mark Lasky of West Palm Wines opened the proceedings by welcoming us, talking about the intent of the tasting and how it would proceed, and, finally, formally introducing Alessandro.

Mark Lasky (West Palm Wines) and Alessandro Pecorari

As Alessandro describes it, this organic estate is farmed by a husband and wife team and their son. They grow a range of indigenous and international red and white cultivars (Refosco dal peduncolo rosso, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Bianco, Traminer Aromatico, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, and Malvasia) which are used as the source material for a range of varietal and blended wines.

The vineyards, as shown previously, are in the villages of San Lorenzo Insontino, Moraro, Mossa, Corona, and Capriva del Friuli and are planted on gravelly limestone soils at 60 meters above sea level. Vines are Guyot-trained at an average density of 5600 vines/ha. Yields are 40 - 50 hl/ha for traditional wines and 30 hl/ha for higher-end wines.

All of the grapes are hand-harvested and the picking decision is made on the basis of taste. The grapes are vinified in stainless steel using indigenous yeasts. Whites are invariably aged in stainless steel tanks on the lees with monthly batonnage to add richness to the wine. The reds are also vinified in stainless steel but are mostly aged in barriques.

Alessandro doubled back to describe the Rosalba 2016 that we had drunk at the bar. This wine was named after his mother who had purchased the vineyard that was the source of the Pinot Noir grapes used in the wine. The Rosalba was his project. He conceived of the idea of a 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Refosco vinified as Blancs de Noir. These grapes were sourced from the villages of Capriva del Friuli and Mossa and had been subjected to a soft press and had had no skin contact. The grapes were fermented in stainless steel tanks for two weeks at low temperature and were aged on the lees with 2 - 3 hours of stirring per week.

This wine was a mix of elegance and power. On the nose, fruit and earth, herbs, savoriness, mint. Elegant on the palate. Mineral. Crisp, lengthy finish. I was very impressed with this wine.

The first wine tasted in the sit-down session was the 2016 Ribolla Gialla, a wine normally drunk in the summertime in Italy. The grapes for this wine are cultivated in the hills of Collio and Isonzo. This wine exhibited white flowers and fresh fruit on the nose along with a stony minerality. Spiciness on the palate. Fresh, with a long finish. This was an excellent wine.

The next white was the 2016 Sauvignon Blanc. The grapes had been grown in Mossa and San Lorenzo Isontino. The initial impression on the nose was of fresh-cut basil followed by melon skin and a stony minerality. On the palate, broad-based with a hint of sweetness contrasting some green notes. Not as complex on the palate as suggested by the nose.

The Pinot Bianco 2015 was sourced from 40-year-old vines in a single vineyard in San Lorenzo Insontino. Only 300 cases of this wine are made annually. The grapes are fermenetd with indigenous yeast where a small maceration is done as a starter culture which is added to the must. This wine is vinified in stainless steel and aged for 1 year on the lees.

Aromatic on the nose with a slight yeastiness. Citrus, lemon, and spice on the palate. Lengthy finish.

The first of the two reds tasted was the 2014 Refosco. This wine had been vinified in stainless steel for 20 days with délestage (rack and return), aged for 18 months in barriques, and then further aged in bottle. Black, red, and blue fruit. Blueberries, strawberries, red flower and spice on the nose, Spicy, earthy flavors on the palate. Mid-palate gap and a shrinking finish.

The 2013 Tao Refosco was vinified in stainless steel for 24 days with délestage, aged for 24 months in barriques, and then aged in bottle for an additional 24 months. A ton of blue fruit on the nose along with herbs and a hint of phenols. A lot of effort went into the making of this wine but it is not yet rewarding the love.

Overall,  the whites outshone the reds. I was especially impressed by the Rosalba and the Ribolla Gialla but thought well enough of the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Bianco that I bought them also.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Landscape formation of Val d'Orcia, home of Vini Franchetti's Tenuta di Trinoro

After my visit to Passopisciaro on Mt Etna, I flew to Tuscany for my visit to Vini Franchetti’s Tuscan estate Tenuta di Trinoro. I visited Il Palazzone in Montalcino on the Friday morning and then set off on what turned out to be a beautiful scenic drive through the rolling hills and cypress-tree-punctuated landscape of Val d’Orcia, the area in which the winery is located.  Before describing the visit, I briefly describe the area in which Tenuta di Trinoro is located.

The continued eastward movement of the Northern Apennines has resulted in the creation of a number of long (up to 200 km), narrow (up to 25 km wide), NE – SW-oriented structural depressions on the western side of the mountains in the Tuscany region. These depressions are bounded by normal faults along the margins and subdivided into basins by transfer zones/faults.
Radicofani is one such basin. It is bordered to its northwest by the pre-Neogene (pre-23 million years ago (mya)) bedrock of the Montalcino Ridge, to its west by the Neogene-Quaternary (23 mya to present) magmatic rocks of Mt. Amiata, and to its east by the pre-Neogene  bedrock of Mt Cetona and the Cetona Ridge. It is separated from the Siena Basin by the Grosseto-Pienza transfer fault.

Source: Martini, et al.
The pre-Neogene rocks of the basin are primarily composed of two superimposed thrust units (Martini, et al.):
·       Tuscan Unit
o   Lower portions range in age from Triassic (252.2 mya) to Oligocene (33.9 mya)
o   Exposed rock consists primarily of shelf components and turbiditic, poorly cemented sandstones (Macigno)
·       Ligurides
o   Range in age from Cretaceous (146.5 mya) to Eocene (33.8 mya)
o   Consists primarily of basinal silaceous limestone and argillaceous limestone (marlstone).
The Radicofani Basin began to form on the pre-Neogene substrates during the middle Miocene and “a thick sedimentary pile accumulated mainly during the early Pliocene." The turbiditic sandstone associated with the Tuscan Unit of pre-Neogene rocks appears to be the major contributor of sand for the basin. Other substrate rocks contributed pebbles, limestone cobbles, metamorphic detritus, and some sand.

The basin emerged toward the end of the Early Pliocene and, after a general uplift, no younger sedimentary record is apparent. Magmatism has affected the southern portion since the early Pliocene and volcanic eruptions occurred during the Pleistocene (1.8 mya – 10,000 years ago).
The landscape of Tuscan Pliocene marine basins are characterized by gentle slopes and mostly arable lands with permanent crops. The Radicofani Basin is a Tuscan Pliocene basin which houses Val d’Orcia, home of Tenuta di Trinoro. The Val d’Orcia landscape is characterized by clay-dominated rocks and gentle slopes which have been severely affected by soil erosion processes and widespread earth and mud flows.

The map below shows the general location of Val d'Orcia within the broader Tuscany while the one immediately following shows the location of Tenuta di Trinoro.

While archaeological evidence shows that grapes were grown in the area since Etruscan times, the Val d'Orcia region is not widely known for quality winemaking (As a region, it only attained DOC status in 2000) but that may be about to change. According to Antonio Galloni, "If I had to name the most exciting emerging viticultural area in Tuscany, Val d'Orcia would be it."

Mauro Coltorti, et al., Geomorphological map and land units at 1:200,000 scale of the Siena Province (Southern Tuscany, Italy), Journal of Maps, 7:1, 2011.
Martini, et al., Geological map of the Pliocene succession of the Northern Siena Basin (Tuscany, Italy, Journal of Maps, 7:1, 2011.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Andrea Franchetti and Passopisciaro: Early (and continuing) shapers of the Mt Etna wine direction

According to Nesto and di Savino (The World of Sicilian Wine):
Giuseppe Benanti, guided by the enologist Salvo Foti, had tried in the 1990s to bring Etna and his estate, Benanti, to the attention of greater Italy and the world. But this was not enough. As is so often in history, and particularly the history of Sicily, it took outsiders to bring attention and value to local realities. ... In 2000 Etna's wine industry awakened suddenly. Foreign attention and capital arrived. The newcomers Frank Cornelisen from Belgium, Marc de Grazia from Florence, and Andrea Franchetti from Rome bought vineyards on Etna and became evangelists of its potential (Ed. note: Andrea stipulates that Marc de Grazia came to Etna a little after Frank and him.).
Franchetti comes from a famous and wealthy Roman family that is linked to the Frankfurt Rothschilds. He came to Etna (from his Tuscan estate called Tenuta di Trinoro) looking for high-altitude vineyards where the grapes would mature in the cool of autumn and settled on Passopisciaro on Etna's north face. Franchetti's first wine was a Nerello (Passapisciaro 2001) but, as he states in a personal communication, "I tried to make a Nerello that I liked right away, but wasn't able, until 2005 when I finally started getting it. Since then our Nerello has been, I think, getting better because of new touches in the winemaking." He began planting Petit Verdot which he blended with Cesanese d' Affile to make a wine he called Franchetti.

In 2008 Franchetti created and sponsored a wine fair called Le Contrade dell 'Etna where the region's producers showcase their wines -- within the contrada context -- to the wine press and enthusiasts. This fair was held at Franchetti's estate for a while and then moved to the Graci estate. This year it was held in the open at Castello Romeo Randazzo in Montelaguardia.

Carlo Franchetti, Andrea's cousin, began growing Pinot Noir grapes on a 45-ha estate called Sancaba located on the borderlands of Tuscany, Umbria, and Lazio. Andrea became involved in the project and, in 2014, they combined the two Tuscan estates and the Etna holding under a single umbrella called Vini Franchetti.

I had become friendly with Carlo on Instagram and when he discovered that I was going to this year's Contrada, he invited me to lunch at the estate with their other guests on the day of. When Letizia Patanè, Vini Franchetti Export Manager US and Asia, reached out to me with the formal invite, I asked about visiting both the Passopisciaro and Tenuta di Trinoro estates (Brandon Tokash had already been working on setting up a visit to the former but the date and time had not yet been finalized.). Shortly after that initial contact Letizia came back with two potential dates for the Etna visit and indicated that Carlo would be leading me on the tasting in Tuscany on the Friday of Contrada week.

Brandon, Lidia, and I attended the lunch at Passopisciaro and all met Carlo for the first time. We had to dodge a few raindrops (we were sitting outside) but a great time was had by all. It was at lunch that I met Sarah Bray, Vini Franchetti US Brand Ambassador, and found out that she would be the one leading us on the Wednesday tour.

Carlo Franchetti, author, Brandon Tokash, and Lidia Rizzo

Sarah was ready and waiting when we arrived and proposed that we walk up to the higher portions of the vineyard as we conversed. She corroborated the Nesto and di Savino Franchetti Etna origin story. Further, she indicated that 2001 was the first vintage of the Passo Rosso and that Jancis Robinson, after tasting it, thought it was good.

Sarah Bray

Guardiola, a 8-ha property just on the edge of the DOC, was bought in 2002 (Some of the vines are DOC and others are not). Two hectares were planted to Petit Verdot in 2001/2002 at between 800 and 1000 m altitude and another 2 ha to Cesanese d' Affile. These vines were planted at 12,000 vines/ha with 5 bunches/vine. The vines were subjected to green harvests in order to further concentrate their energy. These vines were the source of the Franchetti wine first introduced in 2005. The current configuration of Guardiola is 3 ha split between Chardonnay, Petit Verdot and Cesanese d'Affile and the remainder dedicated to Nerello Mascalese.

Once Franchetti was introduced, Andrea pivoted and sought to make a great white wine from Chardonnay (first bottling in 2007) and Nerello Mascalese wines that reflected their terroir (first bottling of Contrada wines in 2008) . The distribution of vines by contrada, and the individual contrada characteristics, are shown in the figure below.
In pursuing a Chardonnay that rivals Burgundy, Vini Franchetti states thusly: "The harvest is quite fussy, as we pick little portions of the vineyard every day, tasting the berries trailing along the terraces day after day, harvesting only when each individual cluster is ripe."

In order to ensure that any differences in the wines are contrada-specific, the contrada wines are given the same vinification treatment: fermentation in steel vats; malolactic and 18 months aging in large neutral oak barrels; fining with bentonite; and no filtering. The Franchetti is aged in barrique.

At the conclusion of the winery and vineyard tour, we repaired to a conference room where representative wines had been set up for us to taste.

We began with the 2015 Passorosso (Passopisciaro until a few years ago). The grapes for this wine are sourced from 70 - 100-year-old, bush-trained vines grown at altitudes between 550 and 1000 m in the contrade of Malpasso, Guardiola (40% of grapes), Santo Spirito, Favazza, and Arcuria. High-toned red fruit with smoke, leather, and mineral notes. On the palate, bright red fruit, acidity, with drying tannins on the finish.

The 2015 Contrada Rampante was made from 100-year-old-vines which are planted at 8000/vines/ha and yielded 17.6 hl/ha. Herbs. smoke, iron, sweet tar, tobacco, and spices. Good fruit levels but not as focused as I would have liked.

The Contrada Chiappemaccine 2015 was the least complex of the wines I had tasted up to this point. Not very giving on the nose and non-complex on the palate. The 2014 edition of this wine showed fresh red fruit, sweet herbs and spice. Tobacco on the palate.

The 2014 Contrada G was elegant. Smoke, tobacco, leather, and sweet tobacco. Savoriness. Complex, big fruit but balanced by acidity. Silky tannins. Long finish.

The Franchetti 2014 is a blend of 70% Petit Verdot and 30% Cesanese d' Affile. Sarah called this a winemaker-oriented wine. Yields of 17 hl/ha. Fermented with selected yeasts in stainless steel tanks for 10 - 15 days.  Malolactic and 8 months aging in barriques, followed by 10 months in cement and 2 months in bottle. Bentonite fining. Rich, inky, with herbs and smoky barrel notes. Powerful. Not a classic Etna wine but I loved.
This was a lengthy visit and I would like to thank Sarah for the patience she exhibited in the face of interminable questions. Her grace under fire and knowledge of the estate, viticulture, and viniculture contributed significantly to the feeling of completeness we had at the end of the tour. Thanks also to Vini Franchetti management for making staff available, without restrictions, to enlighten us about the operations. And, of course, thanks to Brandon and Lidia for continuing to make my trips to Etna more than worthwhile and for being high-quality friends.

How has Franchetti contributed to the shaping of the wine direction on Etna? First, he was part of the initial group of outside investors who brought the potential of this region to the eyes of the wider world. Second, he showed that a Bordeaux cultivar (Petit Verdot) could be blended with an almost extinct cultivar (Cesanese d'Affile) to make a world-class, non-indigenous wine on the mountain. Third, his focus on the importance of contrada effects, both in the stable of wines that he produces and in his establishment and continuing support for Contrada dell"Etna.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Winery visit with Chiara Boschis at E. Pira e Figli (Barolo, Piemonte)

The grape-filled, grape-stained hands on the cover of Suzanne Hoffman's Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte are the hands of Chiara Boschis, Proprietress of the Barolo estate E. Piri e Figli.

In Chapter Two of the book, Suzanne paints a vivid and captivating picture of the events leading up to Chiara taking the reins of the estate in 1990 and her many stellar accomplishments since then. That story is presented in a condensed form on Suzanne's blog and a link is presented here.

I have always been enthralled by Chiara's wines but had not visited her estate previously. After listening to her presentation on her Cannubi wine at Antonio Galloni's La Festa del Barolo earlier this year, I decided that that was a shortcoming that had to be addressed. When I began putting our mid-May Piemonte trip together, Chiara was the first person I reached out to in order to arrange a visit.

After breakfast at Palas Cerequio, we made our way down from La Morra to Barolo. We approached the cantina and rang the bell, whereupon the door was opened by a smiling Chiara who hugged and kissed us all while, at the same time, maintaining an animated conversation on the phone. Upon her completion of the call she welcomed us once again and began to tell us about the winery and the wines.

According to Chiara, this cellar has been here since the 1700s and was originally built by a Serbian family. She mentioned that Phylloxera and Oidium had killed the vineyards, prompting a big out-migration from the area,. Her generation, she said, was the first to go to University and get a degree.

Today E. Pira e Figli farms approximately 8 hectatres in the Barolo-zone communes of Barolo, Monforte d' Alba, and Serralunga d'Alba to produce a stable of six wines. The sources of the fruit for those wines are detailed in the chart below.

Chiara's parents (Franco and Ida) were the proprietors of the Borgogno estate so, after the purchase of E. Figli e Pira, her brothers were splitting their time between the two estates. Chiara, after earning a degree in Economics and working at PWC in Turin, joined her brothers full-time at E. Pira e Figli in the mid-1980s and the took over management in 1990. It was during this period that she began collaborating with a number of winemakers of her generation to pioneer the vineyard and winemaking practices which inform her current winemaking style.

Chiara's was the first Cannubi estate to convert to organic farming, gaining its certification in 2014 (according to Labor of Love). But she was not content with practicing this only in her vineyard (plus, if you are spray-free, but your neighbor is not, there can be spillover effects). She became an evangelist on Cannubi such that today fully 99% of the producers on the hill are organic.

Chiara is a proponent of biodiversity in the vineyard and has implemented initiatives that showcase her commitment. For example, she has placed 300 bird nests in the vineyard as well as homes for bats and owls. She refers to this as her bugs-prevention system.

In addition to the living-soil practices of organic farming, and the pest-control characteristics of biodiversity, Chiara has an active-measures program for the provision of high-quality fruit to the cellar door. Vines are pruned in the winter (a maximum of 9 buds/plant) and green harvesting (to concentrate the vine's energy into a smaller number of bunches) remains a mainstay of her vineyard management program.

All work in the vineyard, including harvesting, is done manually. At harvest there is a strict selection in the vineyard with grapes not making the cut dropped in the field to contribute to soil regeneration.

After harvesting, the grapes are crushed/destemmed prior to being placed into stainless steel tanks for fermentation (Chiara prefers stainless steel because of the ease of cleaning). Each cru is vinified separately. Maceration is shortened with the cap being managed by punchdowns. The grapes are then lightly pressed and racked over to barriques for malolactic fermentation.

Chiara and Ron

Chiara produces two cru barolos (Cannubi and Mosconi), one blended Barolo (Via Nuova; used to be a cru but, when this named vineyard was incorporated into the Terlo MGA, Chiara trademarked the name and, as of 2014, made a blended Barolo with fruit sourced as shown in the earlier chart), a Barbera, a Dolcetto, and a Langhe Rosso. Chiara has dialed back on the use of new oak with the Barolos spending 2 years in oak, of which 30% is new, and the Barbera and Langhe Nebbiolo spending 1 year each in oak. The Dolcetto sees no oak.

We tasted examples of all of the above wines. The Dolcetto, according to Chiara, is normally on the table as a "farmer wine." The 2016 edition was characterized by red berries and striking acidity. The Barbera Superiore 2015 exhibited dark cherries, spice and vibrant acidity. The Langhe Nebbiolo 2015 was elegant with not too much concentration, chewy tannins, and saliva-inducing acidity. A lengthy finish. This wine was lovely. The Barolo Via Nuova 2012 had a beautiful nose with slight florality and tar on the nose. Tar carries through to palate along with spice. Elegant. Cherry, plum, tar and herbs are the hallmarks of the 2012 Barolo Cannubi along with a waxiness and massive tannin structure. This wine will last for a while. The 2012 Barolo Mosconi showed tar, roses, and a savoriness on the nose. Sweet fruit on the palate. Powerful.

This was a wonderful experience for Ron, Bev, Parlo, and me. The opportunity to listen to one of the change agents in the world of Barolo wine was a treat in and of itself. To taste the fruits of her labor in her cantina was icing on the cake.  Thank you Chiara.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, June 12, 2017

"Bad-Brett" management Part III: Clark Smith's Integrated Brettanomyces Management

Brettanomyces, according to Clark Smith (postmodern winemaking), can allow a wine to show "sultry, profound earthiness" or a "repulsive barnyard stench." And it is this latter characteristic -- the "bad Brett" -- that is of concern to winemakers. Conventional approaches to combating Brett fall into the "contain" or "repair" camps but Clark sees these approaches as falling short of the requirements of postmodern wine. Instead, he has proposed an approach which he labels Integrated Brettanomyces Management (IBM), an approach I describe below.

Clark has taken the position that, given the ubiquity of Brettanomyces, one cannot hope to eradicate it. Rather, the strategy should be one of "suppressing growth by denying it facile growth conditions." And that is precisely the course pursued in the first two legs of the three-legged IBM stool (ashown below). The third leg strives to utilize the capabilities afforded by structured wines to integrate microbial aromas in a supporting role to a varietal-fruit-led aroma without "apparent aromatic expression."

Creating a Nutrient Desert
Clark Smith characterizes the Brett existence strategy as insidious: rather than competing with Saccharomyces during the fermentation stage, it emerges later, during wine aging. The old adage is that if you don't grow, you die. Brett has two growth modes: fermentative and respiratory, the former requiring sugar and the latter, oxygen.

According to Clark, we can assess the risk of Brett fermentation by measuring the levels of enzymatic glucose + fructose:

               < 500 g/l - preferred
               > 1000 g/l = unsafe

It is hoped that primary fermentation activities will result in safe levels of fermentable sugar.

Brett lacks the ability to synthesize many micronutrients for itself, depending, instead, on material resident in the environment. In order to deprive Brett of this growth source, all available micronutrients should be consumed during primary fermentation. Key to this goal is the delivery of "healthy, nutrient rich fruit" to the cellar. The fruit should have enough nutrients to allow a vigorous fermentation by healthy yeast cells. Important considerations (Clark Smith):
  • Fertilize only in deficient hot spots rather than over the entire vineyard
  • Minimize the addition of simple refined chemicals such as DAP.
If the yeast cells have easy access to nutrients -- such as provided by excessive fertilization or excessive DAP addition -- they will not work to make enzymes to digest micronutrients as a food source, leaving them available to be exploited by Brett. According to Clark, "If you feed them Twinkies they won't eat their oatmeal."

The primary ally in suppressing respiratory growth is the wine's reductive strength (Clark defines reductive strength as "the rate at which a given wine can consume oxygen without a resulting buildup in dissolved oxygen.). It has been shown that Brett can metabolize the amino acid proline to meet its carbon and nitrogen needs if oxygen and micronutrients are available in the environment. If the wine maintains its ability to consume oxygen, it will deprive Brett of this very valuable growth engine. Tannins are natural antioxidants given their affinity for binding with oxygen. Tannin content is maximized by actions in the vineyard as well as extraction strategies. According to Mark Downey (Tannin Management in the Vineyard, GWRDC), there is a demonstrated correlation between tannin concentration in the fruit and vine vigor: high-vigor vines have lower tannin levels while low-vigor vines have higher tannin levels.

Microbial Equilibrium in the Cellar
The key takeaway of this leg of the stool is that the natural competitiveness of the ecological system will keep all microbial activity at acceptable levels.
It seeks to play out in the cellar any metabolic conversions to which the wine os prone, so that sterile filtration is unnecessary. Any influence inhibitory to this goal should be dialed back to the point where microbial processes achieve completion.
Based on studies carried out at Oenodev, Smith has come to the conclusion that "our greatest ally in controlling Brett has been the presence of other microbes."

Aromatic Integration
Aromatic integration, according to Clark, occurs in wines of good structure. Structure, as used by Clark, refers to the outcome when macromolecules such as tannins and proteins form into colloids suspended in the wine. Smith sees the size and shape of these colloids affecting the aroma and texture of the wine.

A properly formed colloidal structure is capable of integrating the array of aromas (varietal fruit and vegetal elements, nuts and phenolic aromas, oak constituents, and microbial by-products) into "an aroma that is primarily varietal fruit, with oak, vegetal, and microbial notes in a supporting role as muted, integrated elements."

The process for building structured wines is shown in the figure below.

The figure below shows ring-stacking and polymer formation when anthocyanins and tannins are extracted from the fruit. Tannin are hydrophobic and this ring-stacking protects the innermost elements from the water. Tannin molecules will continue to stack until they are capped at either end by anthocyanin molecules. 

These capped tannin chains are the base of Smith's colloids.
A properly formed tannin colloidal structure is capable of providing a home within the wine for these aromatic compounds. The shorter the tannin chains, the finer the colloids and the greater the the interactive surface area for intercollating these compounds ...
According to Clark, structured wines can carry many times the supposed threshold of 400 ppb of the Brett metabolic marker 4 EP without apparent aromatic expression.

Clark is the first person to tell you that his postmodern winemaking schema has not garnered acclaim from most mainstream enologists. It has been arrived at through careful observation in the real world and those views have been curated in a number of magazine articles and then consolidated in his book postmodern winemaking. There are a number of areas of departure: his view of the colloidal structure of wine and the functio of those colloids has not received scientific blessing; micro-oxygenation is still viewed as an aberration by many winemakers; and his open views on wine manipulation caused great concern at a jointly attended conference in Rioja a few years ago.

If his postmodern views have not yet gained broad-based acceptance, then his schema for Integrated Brettanomyces Management will not be mainstream either. That being said, they do have some internal consistency issues.

First off, it is not clear whether the integration part refers to being integrated into the winemaking process or whether the three elements are themselves integrated. If it is the latter, then that integration is not spelt out in the writings. In other words, what is the seat to which the legs are attached.

Second, if you look at the three legs, the descriptors become less action-oriented as you go from 1 to 3 (Create, foster, achieve) with no specific Brett-related actions required by the winemaker in the third case. As a matter of fact, as laid out, if you adhere to the construct for making structured wines, you will get the benefits of aromatic integration.

Fostering microbial balance is less ephemeral but speaks to the actions that you should not take and seems to be somewhat risky for a naturally risk-averse profession.

It will be interesting to see the future adoption curve for this approach to managing Brett.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Creating postmodern winemaking's structured wines -- after Clark Smith

I had promised that my next post in the series on Brettanomyces would detail Clark Smith's (postmodern winemaking) Integrated Brettanomyces Management schema but I have decided that it is impossible to discuss the topic without providing the reader an overview of postmodern winemaking fundamentals. I provide that overview in this post.

According to Clark, scientific enology starts with the idea that wine is a chemical solution; and it is treated as such, as shown in the figure below.

In this model, wine flavor is the sum of its parts and managing those parts allows control of the whole. Smith sees both the model elements and the approach as being "injurious to wine quality" and identifies a number of instances in the past which hinted at the model's shortcomings:
  • The limited solubility of anthocyanin, as shown in the 1970s work of Riberau-Gayon
  • His (Smith's) ultra-filtration work which shows anthocyanin (molecular weight of 300) unable to pass through a filter with porosity of 100,000
  • As indicated in the figure above, aromatic intensity should correlate to in-solution concentration but micro-oxygenation of Merlot will reduce the bell pepper aromas without a reduction of its pyrazine content.
The path to today's modern winemaking is illustrated below along with the dominant pedagogy. According to Smith, "modern day winemaking has been useful in eliminating gross defects but has done little to promote excellence."

Clark Smith:
From two decades of postmodern retrospection, an aesthetic construct has emerged that not only holds the solution model to be false, but considers the extent to which a wine deviates from "ideal" behavior to be a pretty useful working definition of quality. Solution model behavior is not just incorrect; it is undesirable.
Clark's "solution" to the solution-model problem is structured wines:
In structured wines, ..., tannins, anthocyanins, and other aromatic ring compounds, which are almost insoluble in solution, aggregate into colloids -- tiny beads of various sizes and compositions. It is this fine colloidal structure that allows interaction between the aqueous and phenolic regions in a wine, blending the aromatic properties as if the wine were home to all things.
The elements of this "fine colloidal structure" and the characteristics of a postmodern wine, are illustrated in the figure below.

One of Clark's key concerns around wine colloids is the size to which they can grow -- upwards of 100 nm. While this is not large enough to be concerned about removal by filtration, Clark believes that such a process damages the structure of the colloids, thus rendering them less effective at carrying out the aroma-integration function. 

With this background I will be able to more pointedly discuss Integrated Brett Management.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme