Friday, November 29, 2019

A Piemonte sparkling-wine map

I have been contemplating the construction of an Italian Sparkling Wine Map -- akin to the one I developed for France -- for a while. Every time I sat down to begin the effort, though, I would retreat into a corner, cowed by the vast amount of data that exist and the paucity of real estate on which to model same. After continuously banging my head against the wall, I came to the conclusion that the only way forward -- in order to be as comprehensive as I wanted to be -- was to attack the problem in bite-sized chunks; that is, one region at a time. To that end I have put together the Sparkling Wines of Piemonte map shown below. One look at this map will alert the reader as to the impossibility of capturing the entirety of Italian sparkling wine production on a single chart.


While the region is best known for its Nebbiolo grapes, and the resulting Barolo and Barbaresco wines, the above map shows that many of the appellations provide frameworks for the production of sparkling wine. In most of the cases, the dominant DOC variety serves as the source material. If the producer does desire to do so, he/she could also utilize the much more forgiving Piemonte DOC for sparkling wine production.

The map shows the designation under which sparkling wine is produced in each region and specifies the mix of allowed varieties and their relative proportions. The map also illustrates which wines are made via the Charmat Method and which use the traditional Champagne Method. The Champagne method utilizes re-fermentation in the bottle to produce its bubbles while the Charmat method accomplishes that goal in the following manner:
At the conclusion of alcoholic fermentation, the base wines are assembled into batches and pumped into large, sealed tanks (autoclaves) for the secondary fermentation. Sugar and yeast are added to the tanks and the consumption of the sugar by the yeast results in the Carbon Dioxide that gives the sparkling characteristic to the finished wine.  This method of sparkling wine production is called the Italian (because it was first demonstrated as industrially viable by an Italian, Martinotti) or Charmat (the name of the Frenchman who refined the process such that it became feasible for large-scale industrial production), or Martinotti-Charmat method.  It is felt that this method preserves the aroma of the grapes yielding fruity, floral wines. This second fermentation can run between 20 days and 3 months after which the wine is bottled.
Asti DOCG is by far the largest sparkling wine appellation in Piemonte with 9700 ha under vine in 52 municipalities stretching across the provinces of Alessandria, Asti, and Cuneo. Most Asti production is via the Charmat method but, as the map shows, there is a designation for Asti Metodo Classico. The Moscato Bianco grape is used as the raw material for the Asti wine.

Alta Langa -- DOC in 2002, DOCG in 2011 -- is the new kid on the sparkling-wine block but the combination of its terroir, traditional Champagne varieties, traditional production method, skilled growers, and savvy producers bode well for the future.

The Alta Langa DOCG is spread over 142 communes in the provinces of Alessandria, Asti, and Cuneo. Given the geographic scope of the region, one encounters a variety of climates, exposures, elevations and soil types. In general, the soil is a mildly fertile calcareous clay marl.

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

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

The above two Piemonte sparkling wines would be the ones that most American consumers would encounter domestically.

I will continue to build on this effort and will, eventually, have a region-by-region map of the sparkling wines of Italy.


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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