Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Contratto: A high-potential sparkling wine estate in Alta Langa DOCG

Alta Langa DOCG will need to ride the coattails of one or two highly successful producers to attain the prominence coveted by current industry participants  and to act as a magnet to potential market entrants. Contratto, with its lengthy history, savvy ownership, high-quality products, and the marketing muscle provided by its Unesco Heritage Cellars, is in a pretty position to play that leadership role.

I was introduced to Contratto wines by Giampiero Cordero, Sommelier at Ristorante Il Centro (Prioca d'Alba), and he was also instrumental in arranging my visit to its cantina. I used my Apple map for the drive between Alba and Canelli -- home of the Contratto cantina -- which turned out to be a white-knuckle ride up and down the steep hillsides which popped up early in the trip and did not end until a few minutes before its conclusion. I was dreading the ride back.

At the cantina we were welcomed by Luca Cigliuti who is currently responsible for sales to Asia and Latin America. Luca showed us around the cellar as he described the history of the establishment.

Contratta was founded by Giuseppe Contratto in 1867 with the express intent of making an Italian spumante metodo classico and, according to Luca, its 1919 Extra Brut was the first vintage sparkling wine made in Italy.

The Contratto cathedral cellars are absolutely stunning; so much so that they are designated a UNESCO Heritage Site. Work on the cellars began in 1872 and was completed after 3 years of labor by 200 workers. The cellars are more than 5000 m² and is built into the heart of the hill that protects Canelli. It is excavated to a depth of 32 m in the tuff limestone.

The estate was in decline when it was bought by Carlo Bocchini in 1993. Bocchini restored the cellars before selling to the Rivetti's in 2011. Prior to buying the property, Giorgio Rivetti had been providing winemaking counsel and had been using the facility to make a metodo classico sparkling wine using grapes sourced from the Oltrepo Pavese region.

At the time of the purchase Contratto produced sparkling wines under the Metodo Classico - Vini Spumante di Qualita, Piemonte DOC, Asti Spumante DOCG, and Asti Spumante Metodo Classico appellations with fruit sourced from vineyards in Oltrepo Pavese, Lozzola, Costigliole d'Asti, and Canelli.

This lineup of fruit sources did not align with the Rivetti vision. This vision was to be a player in the Alta Langa appellation using fruit sourced from its own estate. Vision-realization was a two-step process, the first accomplished in relatively short order, the second unfolding over a longer timeframe. The first step (2014) was to transfer the source of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Oltrepo Pavese to Alta Langa. The second step was the purchase of 45 ha of land in Bossolasco to serve as the estate-fruit-source for its Alta Langa DOCG wines.

The Bossolasco vineyard, acquired in 2015, is located just outside of the village of the same name. It sits at 750 m and has a southern exposure. The land was initially used to grow Dolcetto vines and, more recently, medicinal herbs. The vineyard is being farmed organically and, by 2021, will provide the fruit for all Contratto Alta Langa wines.

The winery poduces a couple of Moscato-based wines (De Miranda label) for its Asti Spumante offerings and three non-Alta-Langa metodo classico wines (Millesmate, Cuvée Novicento pas Dosé, Riserva Special Cuvée pas Dosé). The Alta Langa wines are For England Blanc de Noir Pas Dosé (100% Pinot Noir, 48 months on lees, zero dosage), For England Rosé Pas Dosé (100% Pinot Noir, 48 months on lees, zero dosage), and Blanc de Blanc Pas Dosé (100% Chardonnay, 48 months on lees, zero dosage).

With the exception of the Asti Spumantes, all Contratta wines share the same production process:

  1. Grapes are handpicked
  2. Selection in the cellar
  3. In the cellar, staged separately based on vineyard location
  4. Cooled down prior to crushing
  5. Gentle pressing (1 hour pre-press skin contact for grapes destined for the Rosé)
  6. First-run juice used for fermentation
  7. Indigenous-yeast fermentation in stainless steel tanks
  8. 8 months in tanks post-fermentation
  9. Bottled with liqueur de tirage for second fermentation (4 weeks)
  10. Minimum 36 months on lees
  11. Riddling
  12. Disgorgement (glace method)
  13. Aged in bottle 6 months post-disgorgement.

Parlo and Luca

At the end of our cellar tour Luca ushered us into a tasting room. Giorgio Rivetti was on premises because one of his relatives was getting married on the grounds later in the day so Luca invited him in to join us.

Giorgio Rivetti joins us for the tasting

The For England Blanc de Noir Pas Dosé 2011 showed white fruit, yeast and white bread. Tart apple and lemony character on the palate. Small bubbles. Sour finish.

The For England Rosé 2011 had a clean, unyielding nose with a subdued mousse, strawberry flavor, and a bitter finish. Bitter rose water on the palate with limited persistence.

The Blanc de Blanc 2011 was elegant on the nose with biscuit, citrus and yeast on the nose.  Mineral and saline on the palate along with citrus flavors. Persistence on the palate and tight finish.

The Rivetti purchase was consequential for both Contratto and the future of sparkling wines in Piedmont. First, the Rivettis know sparkling wine -- they are the largest Champagne importers in the area. Second, Giorgio is well respected as a winemaker in his own right. Robert Parker, Jr has described him as "One of Italy's most formidable winemaker/proprietors ..." who "displays a masterful touch." Third, the Rivettis have the vision and resources needed to make the estate a powerhouse in the region and the region a powerhouse in the sparkling wine world.

The Rivetti's will need to concentrate all of these positives in order to realize the full potential of this estate.

The ride back was even more harrowing than the inbound journey.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

No comments:

Post a Comment