Sunday, February 25, 2018

Azelia and Massolino: The Nuances of Margheria Barolo

Friday night of the La Festa del Barolo is normally a rollicking affair where Barolo lovers and producers share their favorite vintages of (for many) their favorite wine. Saturday is a more sober affair with the invited Barolo producers presenting a wine tied to the theme of the Masterclass. The 2018 edition of the Masterclass --titled 2013 Barolo: Sublime Finesse and Elegance -- featured 15 wines, each presented by an estate representative, organized into six flights. In this post I report on the flight titled The Nuances of Margheria featuring wines presented by Lorenzo Scavino of Azelia and Franco Massolino of Massolino.

The map below shows the Margheria cru to the far west of the ridge flowing down from Serralunga d'Alba.

The cru is 8.1 ha (20.01 acres) in size, sits at elevations ranging between 240 and 335 m, and  has exposure from the west to the south (Masnaghetti, Barolo MGA). The soil is clayey-calcareous with a good amount of sand.

The nuances stated in the flight title could be associated with vineyard exposure: "The exposure, however, varies significantly and the style of the wines range from the warm elegance and aromatic expressiveness of the sector facing westwards ... to the more muscular and tannic character of the southfacing slopes" (Masnaghetti).

Lorenzo Scavino began making wines in the 1920s from grapes grown in the family's vineyard in Serralunga d'Alba. Today the estate has an almost fanatical focus on the delivery of high-quality grapes to the vineyard subscribing, as it does, to the concept of wines being made in the vineyard.
  • A minimum of two green harvests per year to reduce yields 
  • All hand operations in the vineyard -- pruning, leaf removal, green harvest -- are the purview of Luigi and other family members
  • Copper- and sulphur-based products used only when necessary
  • No chemical fertilizers
    • Natural manure applied every 3 to 4 years
  • Grass allowed to grow naturally between rows.
The Massolino winery was created by Giovanni Massolino in 1896 and all through the years it has been operated as a family enterprise with brothers Franco and Roberto, enologists both, managing the current incarnation.  The style of wine espoused by the family is a pure expression of Nebbiolo which demonstrates a balance between power and excellence.  Franco refers to this style as "classic" and sees aging in large barrels as a key enabler of that style because the barrels respect and protect the classic bouquet of Nebbiolo.

Fermentation is carried out in resin-lined-cement or stainless-steel tanks.  Cement tanks are desirable for their ability to maintain purity of fruit and freshness, according to Franco Massolino. He also mentioned that 10 to 15 years ago, consultants had been recommending deserting cement tanks for stainless steel.  Massolino had not gone down that path and now cement is back in vogue.  Their choice is to use cement vats and when those are not available then use stainless.

The Wines
Table 1 below shows the characteristics associated with the Margherias from the two producers.

Table 1. Azelia and Massolino Margheria Characteristics
Activity Characteristic Azelia Margheria Massolino Margheria
Vineyard Size (ha)


Exposure South South

Training Guyot Guyot

Planting Density (vines/ha)

Vine Age (years

Yields (tonnes/ha) N/A

Harvesting Mode Manual Manual

Selection Bunch-by-bunch N/A

Fermentation Fermentation Spontaneous Spontaneous

Fermentation Vehicle Rotofermentors Concrete 

Fermentation Length N/A 15-20 days

Aging Vehicle Large Casks Large Casks

Length (Months)

Bottle N/A 1 year
*Above the range for the cru reported in Barolo MGA

The main differences in the vineyards are the elevation, aspect, density, and vine age. In the cellar the primary noted differences are the choice of fermentation vehicles and cask-aging length.

As regards the wines, the 2013 Azelia showed tar, roses, and a savoriness on the nose. Weighty on the palate with tar and dark fruit showing through. A drying finish.

I was very impressed by the 2013 Massolino. Tar, full-fruit, strawberries, and a hint of shoe polish. Dark and savory on the palate. Brooding. Dusky character. Lengthy finish. The increased competition for the Massolino vines at lower altitude has resulted in a great result, younger vines notwithstanding.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Elvio Cogno's Barolo Ravera Bricco Pernice and Vietti's Barolo Ravera: The Emergence of Novello and Ravera

The Antonio Galloni celebration of Barolo is held annually in New York City and consists of (i) a gala dinner and (ii) a Masterclass tasting of 15 Barolos on the day after the dinner. This year's Masterclass was titled 2013 Barolo: Sublime Finesse and Elegance and featured 15 of the region's top producers discussing, in turn, their estate's 2013 vintage.

The wines were presented in flights. This flight, titled The Emergence of Novello and Ravera, featured 2013 Barolo Raveras from Elvio Cogno and Vietti presented by Valter Fissore and Luca Currado, respectively.

The Emergence of Novello and Ravera
The context of the flight title is captured pithily by Masnaghetti (Barolo MGA):
If, up until 15 years ago, Novello could be numbered among the townships of lesser importance for the Barolo appellation in terms of vineyard surface, things are quite different today. ... the vineyard surface for the production of Barolo has practically tripled over the last 13 years, now making it superior to Verduno and even to Castiglione Falletto. An expansion which has principally involved the Eastern Slopes of the township where we moreover find the best known crus, in particular Ravera and Sottocastello di Novello.
Masnaghetti goes on to say that most of this growth appears to be driven by producers from other townships expanding their growing and production capacity into the area, potentially driven by lower costs.

Galloni, in a February 2014 article, also mentioned the potential of climate change having beneficial effects for "austere" wines such as those produced in Ravera.

Ravera is the largest of the Novello MGAs, its shared status with the Barolo commune notwithstanding (According to Masnaghetti, 4% of its 130.41 ha falls within the borders of the Barolo commune.). There was a recent significant expansion of the Cru (probably as part of the MGA classification process) because Petrini (A Wine Atlas of the Langhe) had defined it more narrowly: "The territory we have identified as the Ravera vineyard ... covers about five giornate (two hectares). It is a south-facing vineyard that runs along the Ravera municipal road descending from Novello, near the church of San Rocco, to the Panerole municipal road." A rough approximation of the boundaries of the currently defined cru is illustrated in the map below.

An approximation of the Ravera Cru illustrated in brown
The altitude of the vineyard ranges between 300 and 480 m (Masnaghetti), among the highest in the Barolo zone. This height, coupled with the lack of barriers between it and the mountains to the north, exposes the vineyard to cooler north winds. The vineyards experience copious amounts of direct sunlight and significant day-night temperature variation, yielding brilliant fruit endowed with great acidity (Luca Currado, Vietti). These growing conditions usually have the Ravera vines blooming 10 days, on average, later than the vines in other crus but they catch up during the course of the growing season (

The soil composition is 57% loam, 28% clay, and 15% sand, with the clay contributing to its water-holding capability. The limestone content is high, as is the pH(8.2).

According to Kermit Lynch, the wines from this MGA "... have the distinction of combining the structural strength of neighboring Serralunga d'Alba with the concentration and richness of Bussia and other crus further north."

Elvio Cogno Barolo Ravera Bricco Pernice
Elvio Cogno purchased Cascina Nuova in 1990, thus launching his own estate after a decades-long association with the Marcarin estate in La Morra and, earlier, making wines for patrons of his family's restaurant. In 1996 Elvio passed his business on to his son-in-law Valter Fissore, husband of his daughter Nadia. Today the winery owns 11.5 ha of vineyards in the Ravera cru, distributed over four vineyards: Cascina Nuova, Bricco Pernice, Ravera, and Vigna Elena.

Elvio Cogno and its vineyards (Source:

Bricco Pernice is a 2-ha vineyard located at 320 m elevation in a "warm and sheltered" portion of the cru. The white color of its soil is a testament to high levels of limestone interspersed with clay. The vineyard is planted with the lampia clone with two of its three parcels outfitted with 25-year-old vines and vines in the remaining parcel averaging 50 years. The vines are vertical-trellised, Guyot-pruned, and planted at 5000 vines/ha.

Bricco Pernice (Source:
The vineyard follows organic-farming principles and, as such, has eliminated the use of synthetic treatments and fertilizers.

Grapes are vinified in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks and macerated for 30 days with a submerged cap. The wines are then racked over to large Slavonian oak barrels (25 - 30 hl) for 30 months aging and is aged for an additional 18 months after bottling.

Vietti Barolo Ravera
The Vietti Ravera plot is 3 ha in size with a southwest exposure and clay-limestone soils. The vines average 25 years and are planted at 4500 vines/ha.

In a video clip on -- wherein Luca Currado and Valter Fissore discuss the Ravera cru -- Luca stated that he has made a wine from this cru for many years but that he had to learn how to make such a wine. In the early days he had tried a more modern approach but the results were unsatisfactory: the "brilliant fruit" and "great acidity" were not adequately represented. After many years of experimentation, he finally came to the realization that the traditional approach -- long maceration and long aging in large casks -- worked best in bringing out the terroir characteristics of the fruit. The year 2000 signaled the end of the period of experimentation and ascendance to production of a reliable terroir wine.

The grapes are crushed and placed into stainless steel tanks for four weeks of fermentation and maceration (pre and post) and are aged for 30 months in Slovenian oak casks.

The Wines
The 2013 Elvio Cogno Barolo Ravera Bricco Pernice showed ripe red fruit, tar, and spice on the nose. Plum on the palate. Saline finish. The Vietti Ravera showed tar, roses, a deep cherry, licorice, and a slight balsamic note. Open on the nose. Floral on the palate. Elegant with a beautiful finish. These are both excellent wines but I found the Vietti slightly more pleasing.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Francesco Rinaldi and Giuseppe Rinaldi: The Classicism of Brunate

The Saturday Masterclass (2013 Barolo: Sublime Finesse and Elegance) at 2018's La Festa del Barolo featured six flights of wines, with each wine presented by a representative of the estate. I have previously posted on The Art of the Blend and Renaissance of Verduno and Monvigliero flights and will continue down that path with this post on the flight titled The Classicism of Brunate. This flight features the wines of Francesco Rinaldi and Giuseppe Rinaldi presented by Paola Rinaldi and Carlotta Rinaldi, respectively.

Brunate is a 25-ha, inter-commune vineyard with administrative responsibility shared between the towns of Barolo and La Morra. According to, the soil profiles and exposure on both sides of the communes dividing line are essentially the same but the altitudes differ, ranging from 230 m to 400 m. The soils feature marls of S. Agata fossils with good levels of sand, especially in the higher elevations. reports that:
The lower sand levels in the soil result in aromas that are less intense but feature notes of fruit and spice such as clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. As the wine matures, the fine structure of the terroir translates into hints of tobacco, rose and liquorice. And in great vintages, the nose has notes of truffle and tar. Alkalinity and elevated calcium levels give the final wine a touch of delicate elegance ... The Barolo of Brunate can be defined as a particularly balanced wine with an ample nose and an intense structure with good alcohol levels, as well as, generous tannins and body.
According to, "It is one of the most representative vineyards of the commune of La Morra and has always been considered one of the points of reference of the entire appellation." Vinous cites Manuel Marchetti of Marcarini who identified Brunate wines as "austere, yet ethereal, notes of spices, mint, licorice and balsamic are all very typical." Polaner Selections was pithy: "Brunate is one of the greatest vineyards in the Barolo region” ... with wines that "... are prized for their depth, power and brilliant balance..."

The Rinaldis
The Rinaldi winemaking heritage actually stretches back to 1870 when the great great grandfather of the current generation -- Giovanni -- merged his inherited vineyard with that of his wife's to form the Barale-Rinaldi estate, the third largest in the region behind Borgogno and Marchesi di Barolo (Labor of Love). The winery continued operation with the contributions of Giovanni's four sons until they parted ways. The original estate continued operation under the name Francesco Rinaldi (the youngest son) and is currently managed by Paola and Piera Rinaldi, great granddaughters of Giovanni and nieces of Luciano Rinaldi.

The Giuseppe Rinaldi estate was founded by Giuseppe Rinaldi who had already been making wines with his brothers but broke away to form his own estate in 1916. The current estate proprietor, Giuseppe, is best known for his continued adherence to the traditional ways of producing Barolo wine. Giuseppe has been joined in the estate by his two daughters Marta and Carlotta with Marta's area of focus being in the cellar while Carlotta spends a lot of her time in the vineyards.

According to Polaner Selections, "These two family wineries have marched down through time side by side, both upholding the unique, traditional style of Barolo that has also been championed by other great names in Piemonte such as Bartolo Mascarello and Bruno Giacosa."

Francesco Rinaldi Brunate
Grapes for this wine are sourced from a 2-ha plot of the famed vineyard. This plot is southeast-facing, with clay soils, and was planted between 1979 and 1981. The Francesco Rinaldi Brunate plot is shown in yellow on the map below.

Rinaldi Barolo vineyards (Source:
Grapes for this wine are vinified in temperature-controlled steel or concrete tanks and are subject to lengthy maceration periods. The cap is managed by automatic pump overs for 20 to 30 days during the maceration period.

After maceration the wine is racked over to Slavonian oak barrels (20 - 30 Hl) for 3 years of aging. After bottling the wine is subjected to additional aging prior to release on the market.

Giuseppe Rinaldi Brunate
The Rinaldi vineyards are farmed organically. The fruit undergoes a month-long pre-fermentation maceration/fermentation/post-fermentation maceration or a month in tall, un-cooled, Slovenian oak vats. Indigenous yeasts are utilized in this effort. Cap management is via twice/day pump overs along with some manual punchdowns. Grape solids are sent to a basket press at the end of the maceration.

The wines are aged in big botti for 3 to 5 years. They are racked once or twice per year during the first two years but are untouched in the third.

The Wines
For the Francesco Rinaldi Brunate, elegant rose petal, tar, licorice and ripe red fruit. Lands on the palate with the feet of a butterfly. Silky tannins, spice and a long, long finish. The Giuseppe Rinaldi Brunate showed tar, roses, licorice, and dark fruit on the nose. Weightier on the palate than was the case for the Francesco Rinaldi but does not suffer as a result. Roundness on palate with balanced, smooth elegance. Beautiful rose wood finish.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The case for spontaneous fermentation of wine grapes

Saccharomyces cerevisiae (SC) is the yeast species which completes the alcoholic fermentation process in both inoculated and spontaneous fermentations but the role of non-Saccharomyces (non-S) yeasts in the process should not be discounted. Spontaneous fermented wines carry a higher risk of spoilage but bring along the benefits of increased complexity, improved mouthfeel, and a higher degree of flavor integration (Jolly, et al.). This post, drawing heavily on the work of Jolly, et al., takes a closer look into the functioning of non-S yeasts in alcoholic fermentation.

Absent an inoculation, all yeasts found in grape must and wine will originate from one or more of the following sources: vineyard, grapes, or winery processing equipment (E.J. Bartowsky). Wine-associated yeasts are identified in the table below.

The general consensus was that all non-S yeasts died shortly after the beginning of alcoholic fermentation but, according to Jolly, et al., that is not borne out by more recent reasearch. Rather, the progression, they say, is as follows:
  • H. uvarum is usually present in the highest numbers initially, followed by various Candida spp.
  • The majority of the non-S yeasts disappear during the early stages of a vigorous fermentation
    • May be a result of :
      • Slow growth
      • Inhibition of the combined effects of SO2, low pH, high ethanol, oxygen deficiency, nutrient limitation, and size or dominance of SC inoculants
  • Non-S yeasts that do survive and are present till the end of the fermentation (Z. bailii, Pichia spp.)may have a higher tolerance to ethanol.
Jolly, et al., have conducted a literature survey which has identified a number of benefits that accrue to the practitioners of spontaneous fermentation:
  • Lower ethanol yields -- as the authors point out, these yields "are sometimes the result of wines with higher residual sugar"
  • A range of metabolic products to include terpenoids, esters, higher alcohols, glycerol, acetaldehyde, acetic acid, and succinic acid
  • Hydrolization of glycosolated flavorless precursors by the enzyme ß-glucosidase to form free volatiles that can improve the flavor and aroma of wine 
    • Several flavor and aroma compounds are present in the grapes as glycosolated flavorless precursors
    • Enzyme ß-glucosidase not encoded by the SC genome
    • Several of the non-S yeasts possess varying degrees of the enzyme
  • Contribution to flavor production -- Non-S yeasts can be divided into neutral and flavor-producing yeasts. P. anomala, K. apiculata, and Candida pulcherima are flavor-producing non-S species, with the latter being known as a high producer of esters.
  • Some non-S yeasts can consistently produce high glycerol concentrations during fermentation
    • Glycerol important for regulating cell redox potential during fermentation
    • Glycerol also contributes to smoothness, sweetness, and complexity of wine
    • Glycerol production can also be associated with increased acetic acid production.
In summary, there are risks associated with spontaneous fermentation but those risks seem to be more than offset by the benefits that accrue to the user. And the number of great wines in France and Italy that utilize this approach attest to the fact that most of the leading producers have arrived at this conclusion.

E.J. Bartowsky, Bacterial spoilage of wine and approaches to minimize it, Letters in Applied Microbiology.
Neil P. Jolly, et al., Not your ordinary yeast; non-Saccharomyces yeasts in wine production uncovered, FEMS Yeast Research, 14 (2).
Loureiro and Malfeito-Ferreira (Spoilage yeasts in the wine industry, International Journal of Food Microbiology 86, 2003).

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, February 11, 2018

E. Pira e Figli's Via Nuova and Luciano Sandrone's Le Vigne: The art of the blend

The second of the six flights at Galloni's Masterclass (2013 Barolo: Sublime Finesse and Elegance) at La Festa del Barolo was titled The Art of the Blend and showcased the 2013 Barolos of E. Pira e Figli (Via Nuova) and Luciano Sandrone (Le Vigne) presented by Chiara Boschis and Barbara Sandrone, respectively.

There are a number of blending drivers, as indicated in the figure below. While varietal blends tend to dominate, blending can occur down to the single-variety, single-plot level where free-run and press juice are kept separate and then blended in a winemaker-determined proportion at a later date.

According to, complexity in wine is demonstrated by "multiple layers and nuances of bouquet and flavors that are formed mostly in mature wines because aging contributes to this attribute." Further, "complexity creates interest and often unfolds layer upon layer on the nose and in the mouth if the wine is at its peak. Compared to complex wines, other wines seem shallow or one-dimensional."

According to Winemaker Matt, writing on the Kendall-Jackson Blog, blending different vineyard sites with different characteristics from different growing regions allows winemakers to create a wine that is 'greater than the sum of its parts.'" He points to the Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (assuredly not one of the world's great wines; but the principle holds) which is built from a small percentage of the 400 lots which the winery vinifies and ages separately post-harvest. He creates a core blend and then experiments with different lots to add complexity and seamlessness. According to Matt, "Often the results are truly surprising. A wine that might seem simple, but having one or two interesting features, can provide an incredible enhancement to a new blend."

As it relates to Barolo, Erin Scala (writing in Vinography) stated thusly: " In the first half of the 1900s, producers generally blended wines from different vineyards and bottled them together. In addition to the levels of complexity that you'd get from the subtle differences in ripeness from different microclimates, the blending of wines from sandstone and limestone marl could yield a full, complex wine. You could also get other layers of complexity from the blending of younger and older wines."

E. Pira e Figli's Via Nuova
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 2009, made a blended Barolo with fruit sourced as follows: Terlo and Liste in Barolo, Ravera and Mosconi in Monforte d'Alba, and Gabutti and Baudana in Serralunga d'Alba. Each site averages 0.5 ha in size and is either south- or southeast-facing at an average elevation of 340 m.

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 vineyard is vinified separately. Maceration is shortened (two weeks for fermentation and maceration in this case) with the cap being managed by punchdowns. The grapes are then lightly pressed and racked over to barriques for malolactic fermentation.

The wine is aged for 24 months  in lightly toasted French oak barrels (1/3 new, 1/3 second use, 1/3 third use) and then an additional year in bottle.

Chiara Boschis at La Festa del Barolo 2018

Luciano Sandrone's Le Vigne
Lee Vigne is a multi-vineyard blend composed of fruit sourced from the Baudana (Serralunga d'Alba),Villero (Castiglione Falletto), and Merli (Novello) vineyards. According to the winery website, these vineyard sites "form a perfect diagonal across the area" and encompasses a variety of terroirs: soils ranging from light and sandy to ones that are more compact and deep; different altitudes; and different exposures.

The winery is known for severe green harvests (in order to produce high-quality fruit) along with "an obsessive attention to training, pruning, and harvesting." Once harvested, the grapes are vinified and aged separately with blending occurring prior to bottling. Fermentation is spontaneous with medium-length maceration. Malolactic fermentation and aging are carried out in 500l, partially new, French oak barrels.

The Sandrone winemaking practices place the enterprise squarely athwart the traditional and modern winemaking philosophies in Barolo.

Barbara Sandrone at La Festa del Barolo 2018

The Wines
The Via Nuova showed rose petals, tar, licorice and dark cherries. Powerful. Tar carries through. Persistence on the palate from attack through a lengthy finish. The Le Vigne showed tar, licorice, red fruit, and a hint of rose petals. Fruit and acid balances beautifully on the palate. Spice. Great weight. Lengthy sour finish. I like this wine.

These two wines made great cases for blended Barolos.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Tasting Antinori's Solaia 2014 at West Palm Wines

Mark Lasky at West Palm Wines (Tampa, FL) invited me over to taste the 2014 vintage of Antinori's Solaia. The wine was presented by Erik Saccomani, Antinori Ambassador for the Southeast US. I provide some background on the estate and my impressions of the wine herein.

The Antinori family's current Italian holdings include estates spread over Tuscany and Umbria, with four of the seven Tuscan properties falling within the Chainti Classico DOCG. One of these four estates is Tignanello, the joint home of Antinori's Tignanello and Solaia wines.

Tignanello is located 30 km (19 miles) south of Florence and its 319 ha (788 acres) supports 127 ha (320 acres) of vineyards of which 20 ha (50 acres) is dedicated to the production of Solaia ("the sunny one") fruit. The Solaia vineyard is planted on limestone and calcareous clay rock (albarese) at altitudes ranging between 348 and 400 m (1175 and 1325 feet) on southwest-facing slopes. The vineyards are planted with Cabernet Sauvignon (15 ha), Sangiovese (4 ha), and Cabernet Franc (1 ha) with an average vine age of 15 years. The vines are low spurred-cordon trained and are planted at between 5500 and 7200 vines/ha.

Solaia, an IGT-clasified wine, was first produced in 1978, a production run of 3600 bottles with a composition of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Cabernet Franc. The wine was not produced in 1980 or 1981 but, beginning with the 1982 vintage, the blend was shifted to 20% Sangiovese with the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc varied according to the requirements of the winemaker. In 2002, the wine was made of an all-Cabernet blend because the Sangiovese was deemed to be of insufficient quality. The standard blend in today's Solaia is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese, and 5% Cabernet Franc.

The 2014 Vintage
According to Renzo Cotarella, Chief Enologist,
The vintage was characterized by mild and damp climatic conditions during the winter followed by dry and mild weather in the spring season which assisted a good flowering and berry set. The summer, somewhat unstable and with a little more rainfall than usual, slowed the processes of veraison and ripening of the grapes. During the first couple of weeks of September, warm and sunny days re-balanced the situation.
The Wine
The grapes were hand-harvested and, given the growing conditions, yields were 40% lower than the prior year. Imperfect grapes were shed both in the vineyard and at the sorting table. The varieties were fermented with indigenous yeasts in conical fermentation tanks with the cap managed via punch downs.

Each variety was fermented separately. At the completion of fermentation, the wines were gravity-flowed to barriques for malolactic fermentation and aging. Each wine was aged for 18 months and blended just prior to bottling.

On the nose, violets, olives, blackpepper, an oily richness, curry, and a rocky minerality. Not as full and structured on the palate as I have become accustomed to with this labal. Red fruit.Very approachable. Lean. Minerality works its way through to the palate. Thin and short on the finish. This wine is not a good candidate for cellaring.

The mantra is that Solaia is made only in the best years. I am not sure that this was one of the best years.
©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Fratelli Alessandria and G.B. Burlotto: The Renaissance of Verduno and Monvigliero

The Antonio Galloni celebration of Barolo is held annually in New York City and consists of (i) a gala dinner and (ii) a Masterclass tasting of 15 Barolos on the day after the dinner. This year's Masterclass was titled 2013 Barolo: Sublime Finesse and Elegance and featured 15 of the region's top producers discussing, in turn, their estate's 2013 vintage.

The wines were presented in flights and I will report on them in that fashion over a number of posts. I begin with the flight titled The Renaissance of Verduno and Monvigliero. This flight featured 2013 Monviglieros from Fratelli Alessandria and G.B. Burlotto presented by Vittore Alessandria and Fabio Alessandria, respectively.

G.B. Burlotto was founded by Ignacio Burlotto and his nephew -- Giovanni Battista (G.B.) Burlotto -- was the winemaker from that time until his death in 1927. G.B. had a storied career as a winemaker and elevated the stature of both the estate and the town of Verduno as a result:
  • He was a pioneer in the sale of Barolo wine in bottles rather than in casks or demijohns as was the order of the day.
  • He was the official supplier of wines to the Royal House of savoy.
  • He was the official supplier of wine to the Duke of Abruzzo's Arctic expedition.
  • He was focused on wine quality and won many a gold medal as a result.
(According to North Berkeley Imports, in the 1870s, "... Verduno was the center of Barolo winemaking ... internationally recognized as the face of Barolo and sought out by collectors across the European continent.")

In the years following G.B.'s death, the farm lost its luster; as did Verduno. But Verduno has come to the fore again (a renaissance, according to North Berkely Imports) thanks in large part to the winemaking and marketing efforts of Fabio Alessandria, the great-great-grandson of Giovanni and the brothers Gian Battista and Alessandro (and Alessandro's son Vittore) of Fratelli Alessandria who, together, "are guiding the wines of Verduno back to the heights they once held."

Verduno is the northernmost of the Barolo sub-zones and Monvigliero, its most famous cru, is one of its most northern vineyards. The River Tanaro runs through the cru and affects its microclimate as the warmth of the summer is mitigated by a cooling breeze that flows along its valley during the nights. This breeze contributes to a significant diurnal temperature variation, a variation that is important for the characteristics of the wine: perfect maturity of fine, gentle tannins. (IDTT 246, Levi Dalton interview of Fabio). For a fuller description of the Monvigliero cru, please visit here.

Burlotto Monvigliero
The grapes for the Monvigliero are drawn from a 2-ha, limestone-rich, south-facing plot whose vines are, on avearge, 45 years old. The grapes are not de-stemmed. They are gently foot-trod (allowing extraction of tannins without the green tannins and aromas that would result from rough handling of the stems) and fermented in open-top fermenters with indigenous yeasts. The grapes are macerated on the skins for 40 to 60 days, depending on vintage, with a submerged cap.

The skins are gently pressed vat-side upon completion of the maceration process and the first-press juice is added to the wine. The free-run and first-press wine are transferred to large wooden caks (33 to 60 Hl) for malolactic fermentation. Malolactic fermentation is long and slow as no attempt is made to help it along.

The Monvigliero is aged for an average of 24 months with as little racking as possible being done over the course of the process. The wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered and allowed further aging in bottle before being released to the market.

Fratelli Alessandria Monvigliero
Fratelli Alessandria owns 1.3 ha of the Monvigliero cru. This south-southwest wedge has a near-vertical slope at elevations ranging between 250 and 320 m. The 30-year-old vines are pruned Guyot at 4500 vines/ha.

The grapes are hand-harvested and then subjected to a 15+-day wild yeast fermentation with some post-fermentation maceration. The wines then spend 3 years in 20- or 30-hl Slavonian and French oak casks, 2 months in stainless steel tanks, and 6 months in bottle before being released for sale.

The Wines
These wines were both true to the cru: elegance and finesse. The Fratelli Alessandria showed delicate roses and violets along with dark herbs. Cherries and strawberries accompanying a tamarind flavor. Long finish. The Burlotto also showed delicate roses on the nose but with a hint of licorice. Elegant cherry on the palate along with retreating tamarind, strawberry, and black olives. Elegant, lengthy finish.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, February 5, 2018

Non-Saccharomyces yeasts as antidotes to climate change: Fundamentals

In my post on the role of alcohol in wine balance I indicated that, in addition to unbalancing the wine, an excess of alcohol: makes the wine appear hot; will lead to a reduced perception of wine aroma; and can impart a sense of intoxication to the taster.  The winemaker may address the issue of excess alcohol by (i) reducing the concentration of sugar present in grapes or (ii) by removing "excess" alcohol from the wine.

Reducing grape sugar requires harvesting the grapes earlier than normal but this risks affecting wine composition and quality due to fewer aroma flavors, less color intensity, non-attainment of phenolic ripeness, and increased acidity. I have dealt with removing alcohol from the wine in a previous post and technologies/approaches employed include: (i) reverse osmosis, (ii) the spinning cone, and (iii) adding water to the wine. Reverse osmosis and the spinning cone are authorized in the U.S by wine regulation 27 CFR 24.248 Processes Authorized for the Treatment of Wine, Juice, and Distilling Materials.  Under this regulation the processes must be conducted at a Distilled Spirits Plant (DSP) or at a bonded winery that is authorized to alternate between a DSP and a bonded winery.

An additional alcohol-reducing approach has come to my attention by way of a recent Elin McCoy article which discusses how some Oregon producers were turning to non-Saccharomyces yeasts to aid in countering potential climate effects on the region's Pinot Noir wines. According to the article, wines made with the Pinot Noir grape, a famously finnicky variety, could become increasingly unbalanced in the future as the effects of climate change bring riper grapes (with higher potential alcohol) into the cellar.


According to Elin, Chapter 24, an Oregon-based producer was partnering with a professor at MIT to study the potential of non-Saccharomyces yeasts to reduce the alcohol content during fermentation without negatively affecting the aroma and flavor profile of the wines. I explore the science behind this effort in this series but begin with some background material on fermentation, Saccharomyces cerevisiae(SC), and non-Saccharomyces (non-SC) yeasts.

Wine is the result of applying yeasts to grape berries/must/juice in an anerobic environment in order to convert the resident sugars into alcohol.  The yeast that receives most of the credit -- and does most of the work -- is a species called Saccharomyces cerevisiae (SC) which is "specialized in metabolizing media with high sugar content and small quantities of nitrogenous compounds" (Suárez-Lepe and A. Marota, New trends in yeast selection for winemaking, Trends in Food Science and Technology 23 (2012), 39-50.).  According to Fugelsang (Overview of yeast selection and malolactic fermentation on aroma, flavor and phenols), the yeasts (i) extract compounds from the solids in the must/juice in order to form the "characteristic metabolites of fermentation (alcohols, esters, fatty acids, carbonyls, etc.) and (ii) cleave cysteine-containing precursors such that volatile thiols (aroma component of several varieties) can be released.  SC is the yeast species which completes the alcoholic fermentation process in both inoculated and spontaneous ferments.

Grapes in a vineyard are hosts to what Gourrand (Using non-Saccharomyces yeasts during alcoholic fermentations: taking advantage of yeast biodiversity) calls native microflora -- molds, lactic bacteria, acetic bacteria, Saccharomyces spp, and non-Saccharomyces yeasts (Pichia, Metchnikowia, Kloeckera, Kluyveromyces, Candida, Zygosaccharomyces, Torulaspora, Cryptoccus, Brettanomyces, and Hanseniaspora) -- and it is the yeast element of this microflora that the feral-yeast winemaking adherents seek to exploit.  Wild yeasts accumulate on the grapes from flowering through harvest with the presence of SC being pegged at 1 in 1000 grapes (Robert Mortimer, Vineyard Theory of Wild Yeast, UC Berkeley).  At harvest, SC is the least prevalent of the grape-resident yeast strains.

In the case of indigenous yeast fermentation, the process is kick-started and dominated initially by the "weakly fermentative" -- but numerically dominant -- non-Saccharomyces Kloeckera.  This initiation can take up to a week to begin due to the relatively small amount of wild yeasts present at startup (relative to the amount of yeast used to begin the process in the case of inoculated ferments).  For the first few days of fermentation, the weakly fermentative non-SC population dominates but is then replaced by more adaptive non-SC strains.  As the alcohol level continues to rise, the more alcohol-tolerant SC increases in number at a rapid rate such that at the end of the fermentation it is the dominant population.

Natural wine adherents assert that the progression from non-SC to SC fermentation in the vessel is an integral part of non-interventionist winemaking and adds complexity to the finished wine (Mortimer; Pretorius).  Critics of the approach see it as akin to Russian roulette because of the inherent risks (Ross; Pretorius): (i) the irregularity of natural fermentation and the associated risk of a stuck fermentation; (ii) in the event of rains around harvest time, the wild yeasts could be washed off the grapes; (iii) spoilage yeasts are often present in grape-derived yeasts; (iv) spontaneous ferments take longer to begin and longer to complete; and (v) while the positive characteristics of natural yeasts are not detectable after 6 or so months of aging, the negative characteristics tend to persist much longer.

For inoculated ferments, a large dose of SC is added to the juice/must in order to initiate fermentation.  The yeast strains utilized have traditionally been selected on the basis of the ability to start the fermentation quickly, the toleration of increasing alcohol levels, low acetic acid production, and resistance to sulfur dioxide (Ross; Suárez-Lepe and A. Marota).

The advantages that are perceived by "inoculants" are clear: (i) quick, effective, efficient fermentations: (ii) flexibility; (iii) lower risk production process; (iv) the ability to tailor the fermentation; and (v) the ability to take advantage of future advancements in commercially produced strains.  The disadvantage of the use of inoculation is, as perceived by the "naturalists," even more power placed into the hands of the winemaker to manipulate the dickens out of the wine; and the customer loses as a result.

As both Ross and Pretorius point out, the needs of large- and small-production wineries may lead to different emphasis in yeast-strain selection.  For the large producer, effective, efficient production and maintenance of quality is key and a strain that meets that need will be selected.  The smaller producer, on the other hand, is more likely to take advantage of varying yeast strains and temperature regimes as a means of enhancing the wine's aromatic and flavor characteristics.

To gain the benefits associated with both spontaneous and inoculated ferments, some winemakers are employing cocktails of strains hoping to get the "complexity of flavors ... without running the risk of contamination of spoilage yeasts" that comes along with the spontaneity.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, February 2, 2018

Beyond Champagne: The French Crémants

Sparkling wine production in France can be placed into four broad categories:
  1. Champagne -- King of the hill. Reserved for sparkling wines produced within the delimited area of the Champagne wine region.
  2. Crémant -- sparkling wine made using the méthode traditionelle. 
  3. Méthode Ancestrale -- wines are generally bottled with residual sugar. Effervescence gained via refermentation (or continued fermentation) in the bottle.
  4. All others -- sparkling wines made in any of the available sparkling wine production methods to the exclusion of the Méthode Ancestrale.
The figure below shows the scope of sparkling wine production in France with the designated Crémant areas circled in red.

These wines adhere to the following restrictions:
    1. Harvested by hand within set production quotas
    2. Whole-bunch pressed
    3. Sulfur dioxide use limited
    4. > 9 months on lees
    5. About half the carbon of Champagne
    6. Submitted to a QC tasting panel for approval.
I explore the Crémant areas in this post ordered by the date of appellation award.

Crémant de Bourgogne
The Crémants of Bourgogne and Loire were the earliest to be awarded that designation back in 1975. The Bourgogne production area stretches over 2,000 ha. spread over the regions and communes shown below.

The appellation covers white and Rosé sparkling wines with the main varieties being Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with secondary support provided by Gamay, Aligoté, Melon, and Sacy.

The grapes are hand-harvested in whole bunches. The wine styles are:
  • Bourgogne blanc -- minimum 30% Pinot Noir and or Chardonnay
  • Blanc de Blancs -- Chardonnay and Aligoté
  • Blanc de Noirs -- Pinot Noir
  • Rosé -- Pinot Noir alone or with a little Gamay
These wines can be made either Brut or demi-sec.

In 2016, two categories were added to Crémant de Bourgogne:
  • Eminent -- aged on lees for a minimumm of 24 months
  • Grand Eminent -- stipulates variety of vine and potential alcohol. Aging requirement of a minimum of 36 months.
The 2016 production was 152, 515 hl, 10% of the wine made in Burgundy. Thirty-two percent of the production is exported.

Crémant de Loire
The Crémant de Loire appellation was awarded in 1975. A wide variety of grapes can be used but the most common is Chenin Blanc. The wine can be made in the Anjou, Samur, and Touraine regions (shown in the map below) but, in practice, is made primarily in Saumur

According to Loire Valley Wines, the production area is 1623 ha covering 318 municipalities and 320 producers. Most recent production numbers amount to 104, 800 hl (14,000,000 bottles).

The varieties utilized include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grolleaux Noir, Pineau d'Aunis, Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc, and Chardonnay.

According to Winesearcher, "A good Crémant has tight, persistent effercescence and a complex, nutty, gently honeyed nose ..." with floral aromas yielded by the Chenin Blanc.

Crémant d'Alsace
Sparkling wine via the traditional method was being made in Alsace as early as the late 19th century but only gained AOC status on August 24th, 1976.

As shown in the map below, Alsace is one of the most northerly of the French wine regions. Alsace's climate is continental (hot summers, cold winters) with the Vosges acting as a barrier to the prevailing westerly winds as well as providing a rain shadow for the vineyards. Rainfall average in Alsace is 610 mm.

A total of 13 soil types have been identified in Alsace and the diversity of its wine and styles have generally been attributed to the complex composition of the soils. One or more varieties have traditionally been linked with each of the soil types. Some of the identified soil types are as follows:
  • marl-limestone
  • marl-limestone-sandstone
  • granite
  • clay-marl
  • schist
  • sandstone
  • colluvial-chalk
  • volcanic.  
Alsace vineyards extend across the Vosges foothills -- on east and southeast-facing slopes at elevations ranging between 200 and 400 meters -- and on the alluvial plain below. A total of 14,000 ha is devoted to grape growing of which 2800 is dedicated to grapes for the sparkling wine. Vines are trained Guyot simple or double and are planted at a minimum density of 4000 vines/ha.

Crémant d'Alsace vineyards are to be found in the AOC Alsace designated areas.

Key characteristics of Crémant d'Alsace are compared to Champagne in the table below.

Crémant d’Alsace
Guyot: simple or double
Cordon de Royal
Taille Chablis
Valle de Marne
Pinot Blanc (structure, neutral varietal character)
Pinot Gris
Auxerrois (volume)
Pinot Noir (Rosé, fruit and structure)
Riesling (to increase   acidity)
Pinot Noir (35%)
Chardonnay (25%)
Pinot Meunier (40%)
Production Zone
2800 ha
32,900 ha
12.8 tons/ha
13 -15 tons/ha

Grapes are hand-harvested and subjected to whole-bunch pressing. Crémant d'Alsace producers press 100 liters of juice per 150 kilograms of grapes, with the first 50 liters designated as cuvée, the next 47 liters as taille, and the last three liters consigned to brandy production. The cuvée pressing is generally used in prestige wines while the taille, which has more phenols and potassium (potassium increases the pH and buffers wine acidity), is used in secondary wines.

Crémant d'Alsace grapes are harvested pre-maturity at 11% potential alcohol and then chaptalized such that post-fermentation they will approach 12.5% alcohol. At the conclusion the wines are registered and designated Vin destiné a l'elaboration de Crémant d'Alsace.

Crémants must spend at least 9 months on lees before disgorgement and come in four styles: Blanc de Blanc (from Pinot Blanc), Blanc Noir (white Cremant from Pinot Noir), Rosé (from Pinot Noir), and NV Cuvees (varietal blends).

Crémant d'Alsace volume has risen from 1 million bottles in 1979, to 2 million bottles in 1982 and 33 million bottles today. Most of the wine is consumed in France.

Crémant de Bordeaux
This appellation replaced the AOC Bordeaux Mousseux and covers production in 500 parishes and 530 ha for whites and 140 ha for rosés. The varieties utilized include Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Muscadelle, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon for whites and Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot for the rosés.

Grapes are hand-harvested and delicately pressed to produce 100 L of wine per 150 kg of harvested fruit. The wine has to spend a minimum of 9 months on lees and cannot be sold before spending at least 12 months in bottle.

Crémant de Limoux
Limoux AOC has the distinction of being one of only two AOCs (the other is Die) to produce a sparkling wine in each of the available categories (keeping in mind that Champagne production is impossible for producers outside of the region). Limoux AOC sparkling wine production encompasses Crémant de Limoux, Blanquette de Limoux, and Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Ancestrale (The term Blanquette stems from the Mauzac variety developing a white down on its leaves.). I have written previously of the terroir of the region and will discuss the wines in the remainder of this post.

Crémant de Limoux gained its AOC status in 1990. The primary grapes are Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc which, together, should not exceed 90% of the blend. Chardonnay must be a minimum 40% of the blend while Chenin Blanc can range between 20% and 40%. The secondary grapes in the blend are Mauzac Blanc and Pinot Noir with the latter limited to a max of 20%. A total of 620 ha is devoted to the production of grapes for this wine. Crémant de Limoux offers up aromas of white flowers, citrus, and toast. This wine spends 12 months on the lees plus three months post-disgorgement in bottle prior to sale. Alcohol level post-dosage is at 13%. Annual production is 24,745 hl.

Crémant de Die
Crémant de Die is the appellation for sparkling wine made in the Champagne manner and utilizing the following varieties: Clairette (55% minimum), Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (5 to 10%), and Aligoté (10 to 40%). Production of this wine began in the 1960s and, until 2004, was restricted to Clairette only. The wine was awarded AOC designation in 1993.

Used with the permission of Syndicat de
la Clairette de Die et des vins du Diois 

Grapes for the wine are whole-bunch-harvested and then run through the traditional method. The wines are aged on lees for a minimum of 12 months with the norm being somewhere between 12 and 36 months. The finished wine is described as having rich aromas with notes of apple and green fruit and freshness on the finish. The altitude, limestone and clay soils, and temperature shifts results in high levels of natural acidity in the wine.

Over 40% of the region's sparkling wine is classed as Cremant de Die. The 13 producers involved in the business make 400,000 bottles annually with 85% of that production being consumed within France.

Crémant du Jura
Crémant du Jura gained AOC status in 1995 and its coverage is the same as for the Côtes du Jura with a growing area covering 210 ha spread over 105 communes. According to Wink Lorch -- who wrote the book on Jura -- 90%of Jura producers make some Crémant with one in four bottles sold out of the region being a sparkling wine.

The appellation covers white (a minimum of 70% Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Trousseau with Poulsard and Savagnin allowed for the remainder)and Rosé (any blend of three red grapes must amount to 50% of the wine with Chardonnay and Savagnin allowed for the balance) wines.

Grapes for the wine are hand-harvested and whole-bunch-pressed using either a traditional wooden Champagne press or a bladder press (Wink Lorch). As is the case for the other Crémant regions, a maximum yield of 100 liters of juice per 150 kg of fruit is mandated.

According to Wink, most of the white Crémants are, in practice, 100% Chardonnay and have an apple character with brioche notes that intensify with increasing time on lees. These wines can be either Brut or demi-sec.

Crémant de Savoie
The appellation was granted to this region in 2014 giving producers the ability to sell under the label at the end of 2015. The requirements are that 60% of the blend from local grapes Jacquère and Altese, with at least 40% being Jacquère. The balance can be from Chasselas, Aligoté, and Chardonnay.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme