Saturday, August 8, 2020

Piemonte dry white wines: The instances of Favorita and the Malvirà example

My recent experiences with Piemonte dry whites have piqued my curiosity to the extent that I will be exploring the category in greater detail. I explore Favorita-based wines in this post.

Favorita has been shown to be the exact same variety as Vermentino, which is, itself, primarily grown in Sardegna (68%) and Tuscany (14%). Fully 80% of known Favorita plantings are found in Piemonte. The main characteristics of the variety are shown in the chart below.

Favorita wines are made in Piemonte according to the requirements shown in the following chart.

It should be noted that, in addition to Favorita, Colli Tortonesi DOC hosts high-quality white wines from the Timorassa and Cortese varieties.

I secured a bottle of the 2015 Langhe Favorita from Malvirà in order to evaluate this instance of Piemontese white.

Malvirà, located in Canale in Roero, was established in the 1950s by Giuseppe Damante. He subsequently passed the business over to his sons Roberto and Massimo in 1974. The sons transformed the business from a primarily bulk-wine supplier to one focused on quality. Today they plant 42 ha across six cru vineyards. The vineyards are farmed organically with all of the wines being sourced from estate fruit.

The Malvirà Favorita is sourced from three Canale vineyards: Saglieto (south to southeast exposure at 200 m elevation), Trinita (southwest exposure), and Bossola. The soils in these vineyards are calcareous clay and sand and the vines are between 30 and 40 years of age. Yields are at 50 hl/ha.

The wine is made from 100% Favorita grapes. The grapes are fermented in stainless steel tanks for 7 10 days and then aged in tanks for 4 - 8 months.

Floral, initially, with green herbs accompanying rich, intense fruit notes and spice. Full, round fruit intensity on the palate. Bright. Ripe lime with a slate minerality that gives way to a chalky minerality. Persistence of acidity through all phases. Excites the salivary glands in a low-key fashion. Loooong finish.

After a respite, I went back to the wine. I was now getting sweet white fruit, limestone minerality, salinity, and red pepper. On the palate, sweet fruit along with acidity and salinity. Great weight and lengthy finish. 

This wine continues the string of excitement on which I have been tugging in this exploration of Piemonte dry whites. I loved it. 

In terms of pairings, the literature sees this class of wine as perfect as an aperitif or as an accompaniment to fish, a typical Piemonte starter, or Risotto. I can't wait to try examples from the other identified regions.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Benanti Winery: Its "whole-Etna" product strategy and distribution relationship with Wilson Daniels positions it well for the future

From its founding in 1988 as Tenuta di Castiglione, Benanti has exhibited a proclivity for experimentation, innovation, and strategic property acquisition/de-acquisition. And the entity continues in this vein to this day, as illustrated graphically by the timeline below.

Giuseppe Benanti, once he hit on the idea of making quality wine on the mountain, saw experimentation as the key to determining the best varieties and soil that should be utilized in the effort. To aid in the endeavor, he enlisted the assistance of Professor Rocco di Stefano (Experimental Institute for Enology, Asti), Professor Jean Siegrist (Institut National de la Recherch Agronomique, Beaune, Burgundy), Langhe winemakers Gian Domenico Negro and Marco Monchiero, and local winemaker Salvo Foti.

The team conducted over 150 micro-vinifications in the initial trials and, after two experimental harvests, designated the 1990 vintages of Pietra Marina Etna Bianco Superiore and Rovitello Etna Rosso for bottling.

Vinous has, on a number of occasions, paid homage to Benanti and its role in the development of winemaking on Etna. In a December 2016 note Vinous mentioned Benanti as the "... first to believe and insist upon Etna's native grapes at a time when everyone on Sicily was rushing to plant Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot." In another mention, Vinous stated: "Credit must go to Benanti for having created the I Monovitigni series of wines, which showcased to great effect the characteristics and high quality of the likes of monovariety Nerello Cappucchio, Nerello Mascales, and even Minella Bianco, at a time when little was known of these cultivars."

Benanti has shifted its territorial holdings from time to time to comport with its evolving business strategy. For example, Benanti initiated the company in Castiglione di Sicilia, even though the family owned property in Viagrande; property which had been used to grow grapes since the 1800s. When Giusepe felt that a broader Sicilia portfolio was in order, he procured property in Noto and Pantelleria. When he handed management of the business over to his sons Antonio and Salvino, they opted to narrow the focus to selected sites on Etna and sold the Noto and Pantelleria properties, along with some under-performing Etna properties, in order to effect their vision.

And that strategic repositioning continues today as Benanti deploys a "whole-Etna" strategy and streamlines its product portfolio to reflect that direction.

In an InstagramLive Chat with Anotnio earlier this year, I queried him about widespread deployment of Contrada-based winemaking on the mountain. He was emphatic that they were nowhere near knowing, with any degree of confidence, what effects individual contrada had on the wines; but they had that information for the slopes (what I call sub-regions). Shortly after this meeting with Antonio I convened a session with Benjamin North Spencer (The New Wines of Mt. Etna) and he laid out the sub-zone architecture that I subsequently captured in the below figure.

The figure below shows the Benanti property holdings/grape sources at the time of my 2016 visit. 

The figure below shows the current Benanti vineyard architecture and two things should be noted vis a vis the 2017 map: (i) grape sources have declined from six locations to four and (ii) the current locations map closely to the sub-zone architecture which I depicted above.

The product architecture is built around the "whole-Etna" core with the Contrada series of wines but further leverages those sites to provide higher-value Riserva products to the customer base. At the other end of the spectrum, the Traditional wines provide a seamless entry point into these higher-order offerings. 

It should be reiterated here that the Contrada series wines are not intended to showcase/compare contrada-specific qualities. If Benanti wanted highlight contrada differences, that would have been best accomplished by featuring intra-slope, rather than cross-slope, contrade.

The Etna terroir-based framework provides a flexible architecture for future Benanti growth. The northeast slope of the mountain is currently the only gap in the Benanti terroir wall. Beyond that, the company has shown that it can expand its product base by elevating portions of the existing stock. For example, it introduced two Riservas by so designating the upper portions of existing vineyards (Serra della Contessa and Rovitello) and devoting the remaining vines to the production of Contrada wines. 

The company introduced the Rosata (successfully) a little over two years ago; is introducing a new sparkling wine in the near term (and bringing all sparkling wine production in-house); and is introducing the Contrado Rinazzo Etna Bianco Superiore to the market in 2020 (the 2018 vintage).

The true success of this effort will be reflected in how well the products are received on the market. And Benanti has opened a new front in this battle by collaborating with Wilson Daniels to have that organization import and represent its products in the New York tri-state area. Wilson Daniels represents producers such as DRC in that market and numbers the top restaurants and collectors among its clients. This partnership will add cachet to the Benanti line and, for current customers, may signal rising costs for these products over time.

In the short-to-midterm, however, we are all hostage to the whims of Covid-19.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Salvino Benanti on the Benanti estate and the history and future of quality winemaking on Mt Etna: A Wilson Daniels panel conversation

The Benanti grasp of the history of quality winemaking on Mt Etna -- and its role in the birth and evolution of that history -- as well as the requirements for success in that industry on a going-forward basis, was on full display at a recent Wilson Daniels Chat with Salvino Benanti, one of the two brothers currently running the estate.

Wilson Daniels Wholesale, "the prestigious importer and distributor of luxury wines," recently became the official distributor of Benanti wines in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. As a part of its effort to promote the winery, Wilson Daniels recently convened an online panel discussion with Salvino Benanti responding to questions from Mike Papaleo (Wilson Daniels), Hristo Zisovski (Altamarea Group), and Jeremy Noye (Morrell & Co.).

I personally have spent a significant amount of time with Antonio and Salvino (including an InstagramLive Chat with Antonio early in the Coronavirus lockdown) but I learn something new with every interaction. This was no exception. I report on the panel discussion in this post.

On the history of Quality Winemaking on Mt Etna
The opening question to Salvino was about the history of quality winemaking on Mt Etna and his father's role in its formation and evolution. Salvino described how his father's love for wine drove him to pursue making a wine of Burgundian or Northern Italy quality on the moiuntain, while his resources allowed him to experiment and make mistakes along the way, yet live to continue the fight. He recalled accompanying his father to wine fairs as a teenager, and having little or no customer attention at their booth. He described his father being one of a very small band of winemakers (three to be exact) on Mt Etna, versus the 150 or so today.

On Old Vines
Old vines are a treasure that they cherish and protect. The sandy nature of the volcanic soils on Mt Etna has served to keep the phylloxera louse at bay. As a result, there are many old, ungrafted vines on the mountain. In their case, some of the vines in the Viagrande vineyard go back 110 years. Old vine yields continue to decline over time and they need careful tending and protection from pests. Benanti has made the wines from its oldest vines Riservas.

When one of these vines die, they use a grafted clone to replace it. These clones are purchased from a French supplier who has spent a lot of time on the mountain and has selected Nerello Mascarello clones for specific soils as well as rootstock.

Benanti manages the elderly life of these vines in the best possible way, he said with a smile. They are kept in the best possible shape in individual vineyards and are harvested and vinified separately.

They have purchased some new vineyards in recent times and sold others, resulting in an architecture of a core of old vines bolstered by others from the last few decades.

How has Benanti's winemaking changed since Salvo Foti moved on?
Benanti made richer, more concentrated wines in the beginning. When my father started out, he was introduced to Salvo and they worked together to produce a style that was market-relevant. When Antonio and Salvino came on board, they had a different vision as to what the estate's wines should present. They have since moved from smaller to larger barrels, from new to second-passage barrels, and from more oak to less. 

They promoted Salvo's deputy to the position of lead enologist to assist in the realization of the vision. Within the new regime, they seek more purity of fruit, less concentration (he continuously used the word elegance), and more of the underlying grapes. They wanted fresh, leaner, pure, precise wines wherein the customer could taste the grape, the soil, and the vintage.

He taste's Salvo's wines today and sees them as being consistent with the style that was employed during his time at Benanti.

Winemaking on Mt Etna
Mt Etna does not yet have a clear wine style. The region currently supports 150 or so labels but, in his view, consumers should focus in on 25 - 30 producers. He is of the view that there will be a shakeout among the producers, given the economics of producing wine on Etna. You will need to be an organized winery to succeed going forward. The game has become very competitive. 

For example, Benanti uses thick, dark bottles for all of its wines, with the exception of the Rosato (the implication here is that there is a cost associated with that quality initiative and other producers will have to respond in a like fashion to remain on the same competitive tier.). 

They are increasing the competitive pressure. Benanti has invested a lot in cooling equipment. You cannot take the chance that your wine arrives at its destination with less-than-stellar quality. In their view, quality encompasses, the grapes, what is inside the bottle, the bottle, bottle closure, storage, and transportation. They have invested a lot of time and effort in research on corks.

They used to outsource sparkling wine production but have now brought it in-house. 

Salvino thinks the industry will become an oligopoly in the mid-term (I will have to explore this idea with him in greater depth at sometime in the future.).

Mt Etna Environment
Mount Etna has a mountain climate in a southern setting. In general, warm days, cool nights, winter, snow, winds, and sunny days. The steep vineyards grow on well-drained volcanic soils which forces the vines to dig deep in search of nutrients.

Vineyards are planted to high density with a low-yield training system. Labor-intensity is high.

Salvino touched lightly on the characteristics of the broad geographic areas and the wines produced in each. I have supplemented his discourse with the below chart, developed after two conversations with Benjamin North (The New Wines of Mt Etna) bracketing a conversation with Antonio Benanti.

Contrada Cavalieri
Salvino brough two wines from the estate's Contrada Series to be tasted at the seminar: 2018 Contrada Cavaliere Etna Bianco and 2017 Contrada Cavaliere Etna Rosso. Before discussing the wines, let us explore the Contrada concept and this one specifically. describes contrade thusly:
Flowing lava ... eventually stops, spreading and hardening at various altitudes. After cooling for many years, these flatter areas over the centuries become established properties, each one producing a different taste of wine because of the different mineral origin of their soils and, more importantly, because of the grain that the lava had broken into during its cooling process: sand, gravel, powder, or rock. Under the same old names the properties became territorial subdivisions called contrade, and with regards to wine, they represent Etna's own version of a cru.
Salvino described Cavalieri as the most extreme of the contrade in the region. It is very hot and experiences very little rainfall. More details on this contrada is provided in the chart below.

2018 Contrada Cavaliere Etna Bianco and 2017 Contrada Cavaliere Etna Rosso
The Carricante grapes for the Bianco were hand-harvested then de-stemmed and pressed (softly) in the cellar. It was fermented by selected indigenous yeasts for 12 days in stainless steel tanks and matured therein (on the fine lees) for 12 months with periodic stirring. The wine was bottled and aged for another 6 months before being released on the market.

Salvino saw 2018 as a good vintage. This wine is described by the estate as intense, rich, broad, delicate and fruity on the nose with hints of orange blossom and ripe apple. Dry on the palate, mineral, harmonious with a pleasant acidity, aromatic persistence and an aftertaste of anise and almond.

Two thousand and seventeen was a very warm vintage according to Salvino. The Nerello Mascalese grapes were fermented and macerated in stainless steel for 21 days before being placed into French oak tonneaux for 12 months and then into stainless steel once again. The wines were aged in bottle for 10 months prior to market entry.

Salvino tagged this wine as rich, with evident tannins and concentration. Hristo described ripe red fruit, spice and tobacco while Jeremy saw elegance and restraint, with the wine being delicious now but also positioning to be delicious 10 to 20 years down the road.

How is 2020 shaping up?
It is on the warm side; quite dry. He thinks that it will be a vintage similar to 2014 or 2017, but cooler. 2019 was difficult while 2016 was one of the best of recent vintages.

Pietra Marina
Benanti is planning on having this wine spend an additional 1.5 to 2 years in the cellar prior to release. They prefer to release it 5 years after harvest, at the beginning of its evolution. He recommends drinking this wine 8 - 10 years after harvest to catch it at the beginning of its peak.

Jeremy Noye's Perspective on Mt Etna versus Sicilian wine
According to Jeremy, Mt Etna wines have become known and popular in the last 10 - 15 years and have taken over the conversation as to what is Sicilian wine. In the olden days, one's Sicilian portfolio would be loaded with Marsala and Nero d'Avola wines. Today the Morrell Sicilian portfolio is Mt Etna wines and one Marsala.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Barbaglia Winery: Producing wine within the reclamation project that is Alto Piemonte's Boca DOC

Nebbiolo is arguably Italy's noblest grape, renowned for its iconic manifestations in Barolo and Barbaresco, two of the world's best known and most beloved wines.But southern Piemonte, while the home of the best Nebbiolo wines, is not the only Piemonte growing region that has experience with the variety. In the Vercelli-Novara region of Alto Piemonte (shown in the red circle in the map below) the Nebbiolo grape-- called Spanna therein -- is also viewed fondly by "native" winemakers, notwithstanding the fact that its wines differ markedly from that of its better-known brethren to the south.

Figure1. Selected Alto Piemonte provinces
( map; author modification)

Writing in, Kerin O'Keefe stated thusly:
... Alto Piemonte is one of the most fascinating areas in Italy ... the area produces vibrant, fragrant and structured reds known for elegance and longevity. Alto Piemonte's five main denominations -- have higher vineyard altitudes and cooler temperatures than their more famous southern neighbors, Barolo and Barbaresco. But it's the soils that are unique. Lessona has bright-yellow, mineral-rich soil of marine origin, while Boca, Gattinara and Bramaterra have different proportions of porphyritic soils deposited by the eruptions from an ancient, long-extinct supervolcano.
And it is in this region, in the appellation Boca DOC, in the town of Cavallirio, in the province of Novara, that we find Barbaglia Winery, a 6-ha estate that the family (of the same name) continues to reclaim from the surrounding bush and the remnants of a once expansive grape-growing region. I recently chatted with Silvia, daughter to the estate owner, and a key part of the winery infrastructure, about the region, the winery, and the wines. I report on that conversation herein.

This part of Piemonte is comprised of three provinces and seven historical Nebbiolo areas. Silvia pointed out the contrasts in the surrounding environment with rice fields 10 kilometers from where they are located while Monte Rosa is in close proximity.

The area was an intense grape-growing region -- akin to the Langhe, with grape vines everywhere -- prior to the industrialization of the 1950s. Boca was home to 1000 ha of vineyards 100 years ago but industrialization was perceived to be a less-stressful means of earning a living and a large number of farmers left the land to pursue this option. At the lowest point, only 7 ha of grapevines were being tended in Boca. Young people have recently begun moving back into the area to take up the historical trade of their grandfathers, resulting in 30 ha of vine currently being tended.

The seven different historical names of Nebbiolo in Alto Piemonte is because of soil changes, all within a 30-km area. Boca, Bramatera, and Gattinara all fall within the caldera of an ancient supervolcano. According to Silvia, Boca is all about rocks (friable), acidic soils, and minerality (I have gone outside of my conversation with Silvia to secure the information provided below which fleshes out the picture of Boca DOC.).

Silvia's grandfather founded the winery in 1946. When her father was 14 years old, his father registered him in the oenology school at Alba -- a 5-hour trip in the pre-motorway days. Her father took control of the estate when he was 20 years old after his father died in an automobile accident while delivering wine to Val d'Aosta. According to Silvia, her father is very shy so she began helping him in the public-facing tasks when she was 17 years old. She began expansion of the vineyard -- it was 1.5 ha when she launched her reclamation effort in 1999 -- when she was 22 years of age.

Barbaglia has 4.5 of its 6 ha planted to grape-producing vines and the remainder to young plants. The estate is staffed by her father (oenologist and administrative duties), her mother, herself (viticulture and sales), and one other full-time employee.

A lot of rain falls in the area. Silvia talked about 2020 being a rather difficult season up to the time that we had our conversation. They had had rain every day in the past month. This was the most rain that she had ever seen in her years working at the estate. They had even experienced some effects of the hail that had recently pummeled Barolo and Barbaresco. It is not an easy job farming in the area, what with the acidic soils, low yields, and plentiful rain.

It is very important that they pick the grapes at the right maturation. They pick on the basis of sugar content (they want alcohol potential of 13%) and acidity. They also do test-wines with grapes sampled from various areas in the vineyard as part of the input to the decision-making process.

Silvia was tasting a white wine and the Boca DOC during the course of our conversation. The white wine was the Lucino Colline Novaresi DOC, a wine made exclusively from the Erbaluce grape, the variety most well known as the source of the Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG wine. This wine is fermented in stainless steel (lengthy fermentation) and then bottled. They retain 4 to 5 grams of sugar in the final wine in order to help offset the brisk acidity. It needs a lot of time before being ready to drink so is not released to the market until one or two years after harvest. Her father, she says, is a white wine drinker in a red wine area; he makes this wine for himself. The one that she was tasting was salty, with mineral and balsamic notes.

Erbaluce has great potential for dry, sparkling and dessert wines. They currently make a brut and a zero-dosage metodo classico sparkling wine from Erbaluce. They also make a Rosé sparkling wine from the Uva Rara grape every two years.

Uva Rara is a red grape which is very good for making young wines. It is lighter in color, same color as Alto Piemonte Nebbiolo, as a matter of fact, and has good tannin and acidity. Those facts, and the contrastingly deep colors of Croatina and Vespolina, informs the decision to use Uva Rara as the source grape for the Rosé sparkling wine. The grape is also used in the estate's Colline Novaresi DOC Uva Rara wine.

Croatina is a spicy red grape which imbues its wines with a healthy dose of tannins. They age it in wood for a year to round out the tannins. Silvia says that it is good with meats as it clears the palate. It is used in the estate's Colline Novaresi DOC Croatina wine.

Vespolina is one of her favorite wines. It is one of the few spicy grapes in Italy and only 10 producers in the area do a 100% Vespolina wine. Vespolina is the other grape used in the Boca DOC wine.

Nebbiolo, called Spanna in this region, is the main contributor to Boca DOC, providing anywhere from 10 - 30% of blend. Nebbiolo is the very reflection of its terroir and, grown in Alto Piemonte, is much lighter in color than its southern counterparts. According to Silvia, while the variety brings fruit notes to the blend, Vespolina brings spiciness and deep color.

As has been happening across Italy and Spain, young people are returning to the lands that their granfathers farmed, bringing new energy, new skills, and a new determination and resurrecting the fortunes of their regions in the process. Matched up with the foregoing is the consumer search for new varieties and regions along with a thirst for authenticity. These trends bode well for the producers in Boca DOC and the broader Alto Piemonte region.

Barbaglia is a small producer but its winemaker is well respected for the quality of its wines. That perception of quality is an important contributor to the resurrection of the region. Silvia is contributing to that resurrection by reclaiming vines from the bush for her family's vineyard, as well as through the work that her viticulture company does to assist the grape-growing efforts of other producers in the area.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Regenerative Agriculture: Biochar for soil health and carbon sequestration

In the Regenerative Organic Alliance's  Regenerative Organic Certification, soil health and carbon sequestration are key activities in the Soil Health and Land Mangement component of the architecture. And, reducing the amount of carbon that is released from the soil -- plus storing additional carbon in said soil -- are key to both improved soil health and the battle against climate change.

I have previously detailed a number of strategies and tactics for the retention/increase of soil carbon levels. In this post I will examine Biochar as an additional and unique method of increasing soil carbon levels.

Biochar -- What Is
Biochar is a charcoal-like substance resulting from burning organic and forestry waste at high temperature (450 - 750 degrees C) in an oxygen-free environment -- a process called pyrolysis. During pyrolysis, the organic material is converted into biochar -- a stable form of carbon that cannot easily escape into the atmosphere -- biofuels (such as bio-oil and synthetic gas), and residual heat (Spears, Six, Chukwuka, et al.). The process is illustrated in the figure below.

The initial phase of the process typically requires more energy than it produces. "In the end, however, pyrolysis is 'exothermic,' meaning that it produces more heat than is required to originate the 10% of the final energy produced making it a rather efficient process particularly in light that it is capturing available carbon at the same time." (Gaunt).

According to Dr. Gaunt,
Biochar has been labeled a "carbon negative" energy source because it has the possibility of sequestering more carbon than is produced. The chief benefit of biochar  .. is the wide variety of feedstocks that it can be made from. Further, it can also produce a variety of energy outputs ... and, of course, biochar... Another flexibility that biochar has is that it can be produced at a wide range of scales from a simple cookstove to mobile farm pyrolizers and all the way up to large-scale "biorefineries."
Biochar History
The soil scientist Wim Sombroek discovered "Terra Preta de Indio" (Black Earth of the Indians) in Amazonia 60 years ago. He postulated that the indigenous peoples had created and maintained these darker soils between 500 and 8000 years ago by continually depositing cooking-derived charcoal, along with charcoal and/or fresh biomass from agricultural waste and forest clearing (Six). The buildup of charcoal biomass overtime acted on the soil in a number of ways: (i) it became very dark in color; (ii) its organic content was extremely high, as was the content of its carbon and nutrients (such as nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and calcium); and (iii) it became extremely fertile, in comparison to adjacent, highly weathered soils.

These Terra Preta soils continue to hold high levels of carbon to the present time (Spears). These findings suggested that the application of biochar to soils could enhance its agronomic potential (Cirò).

Physical Characteristics
Increased soil carbon results in the soil retaining more water, resulting in better crop yields during droughts, a reduction in soil erosion, increased plant nutrient retention, and increased biological diversity. Higher soil carbon levels also hold soil particles together so that less erosion occurs. Most soil organic carbon manifests as decompositional material and exudates.

The physical characteristics of biochar are summarized in the rightmost structure in the figure below.

Biochar Applications
As is the case for other initiatives focused on increasing the carbon content in the soils, biochar is seen as having potential in the areas of climate mitigation and soil health. The chart immediately following illustrates how biochar's elemental composition can be a driving force in its role as a climate-effects mitigator.

The figure below shows the porous structure of a biochar nodule. This structure is key to a number of the agronomic biochar benefits (elaborated in the table following the below image).

Image of porous structure of biochar (Source:

Six and Rieger advance cautionary notes as it relates to biochar adoption. According to Six, the technology is:
  • High cost
  • Not widely available
  • Variable due to different sources and types of feedstock and processing
  • In need of more info and studies on its performance and benefits.
Rieger's objections are as follows:
  • In some cases yields may decline because of the sorption of water and nutrients by the biochar
    • Reduces the availability of these resources for the crop
    • Has also been shown to inhibit germination
  • The sorption of pesticides and herbicides by the biochar can reduce their efficiency
  • Some biochar can act as a source of contaminants:
    • Heavy metals
    • Volatile organic compounds
    • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
    • Dissolved organic carbon
  • The reduction in nitrous oxide emissions is not universal and emissions even increase sometimes
  • The fine ash associated with biochar is the perfect source for dust, posing a risk for respiratory diseases
  • Long-term removal of crop residues -- like stems, leaves, and seed pods -- for use in the production of biochar can reduce overall soil health by diminishing the number of soil organisms and disrupting internal nutrient cycling
  • The increase in cation exchange capacity depends on the composition of the soil
    • It is minimal in soils with high clay or organic matter content, especially at realistic rates of biochar addition
  • In light pH soils, an increase in soil pH is not desirable
Biochar-Compost Mix
In a study done for the European Project FERTPLUS, the study team investigated the use of biochar only, compost only, and a biochar-compost mix to "evaluate their potential  for closing the cycle of nutrients in different agro-climatic regions across Europe" (Sanchez-Monedero, et al.).

The rationale/hypotheses behind the compost-biochar mix were as follows:
  1. Composting is a microbial process that requires favorable growing conditions for the micro-organisms involved
  2. The addition of biochar to a composting pile theoretically can modify key physiochemical parameters and provide a more suitable habitat for the micro-organisms involved and promote microbial growth
  3. The changes experienced by the biochar surface during composting also would have benefits in terms of nutrient retention.
Both the biochar-only and compost-only threads returned similar results (improved tilth, increased water-holding capacity, etc.). Unlike biochar, however, compost is quickly broken down by microbial action in soil over months to, at most, decades, depending on the climate. Biochar, on the other hand, lasted at least 10 times longer in most soils.

The study showed important biochar synergistic effects when it was added to compost (Sanchez-Monedero, et al.):
  • The compost is more nutrient-rich, more biologically diverse, more humidified, and more stable
  • The biochar keeps the compost moist and aerated, promoting increased biological activity
  • Nitrogen retention is increased
  • Compost maturity and humic content is improved
  • Plant growth was improved.
Biochar Viticulture Applications
I examined two separate biochar viticultural studies, one conducted by the Biochar Lab Group of the Institute of Biometeorology of Florence and the other reported on in Wine Business Monthly of April 2016. The former was carried out at an Antinori vineyard in Montepulciano beginning in 2009. The latter covered an olive grove in Spain, three vineyards in Italy, arable crop rotation in Belgium, and a greenhouse-grown tomato crop in Spain.

The Antinori Merlot vineyard was amended with 22 t/ha of biochar in 2009, and again in 2010, and showed the following results:
  • Grape production up 68% in the plot treated with biochar when compared to an untreated plot
    • No decrease in quality
  • An increase in plant-soil water retention
  • Long term effect on soil quality
    • Carbon sequestration
    • Improvement in soil chemical and biological parameters.
The result reported herein has led, according to the authors, to other Tuscan estates adopting the approach.

The findings from the Wine Business studies were as follows (Rieger):
  • Results confirmed the potential of biochar to improve soil physical properties and to achieve a long-lasting increase of soil health in all listed agro-climatic regions
  • No negative effects on soil quality or crop yield in pure biochar applications
  • Biochar did not show any detrimental effects on crop performance.
Biochar is attractive on a number of different levels: It has the potential to aid in the municipal waste disposal overhang; the products of pyrolysis both contribute to climate mitigation efforts; and removing unstable carbon from the environment and sequestering it in a way that also contributes to soil health is fairly attractive.

I have pointed out a number of issues associated with the technology but these are problems to be solved rather than being kill-shots. I expect to see biochar soil amendments in vineyards as we move forward into the future.

Chukwuka, et al., Biochar: A Vital Source for Sustainable Agriculture, Intech Open, 2020.
Pimentel and Burgess, Maintaining sustainable and environmentally friendly fresh produce production in the context of climate change, Global Safety of Fresh Produce, 2014.
Giulia Cimò, Characterization of Chemical and Physical Properties of Biochar for Energy Purposes and Environmental Restoration, PhD Thesis, 2013.
Dr. John Gaunt, Low-Temperature slow pyrolysis offers an energetically efficient strategy for bioenergy production,
S. Joseph, et al., The Properties of Fresh and Aged Biochar, Biochar International.
Jeff Rieger, Vineyards Experiment with Biochar as Soil Amendment, April 2016, Wine Business Monthly.
Sanchez-Monedero, et al., Agronomic Evaluation of Biochar, Compost and Biochar Blended Compost across Different Cropping Systems: Perspective for the European Project FERTPLUS.
Johan Six, Biochar: is there a dark side? ETH Zurich, 1/4/14.
Stephanie Spears, What is Biochar? Agriculture, 5/16/18.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Karas Winery: A New-Armenian-Wine Pioneer

Armenia, one of the candidates for the origin of viticulture, has transitioned from its debilitating role as a specialized Soviet wine producer to one of leveraging its terroir, world wine knowledge, and the resources of its diaspora to re-orient its winemaking industry towards the quality sphere.

One of the new wineries pushing Armenia into the broader wine world is Karas Winery of the wine branch of Tierras de Armenia CJSC, an entity owned by Argentinian-Armenian entrepreneur Eduardo Eurnekian. The Director of Operations at Karas is Juliana Del Aguila, Eurnekian's niece. The family has been making wine in Patagonia for over a decade.

Karas Winery owns over 400 ha of vineyards in Armavir, one of the most well-regarded of the Armenia wine regions. Vineyards in this region rest on mineral rich soils at elevations ranging between 800 and 1200 m.

The climate in the vicinity of Karas Winery is dry continental, with rainfall averaging 300 m annually.

The soil is medium-to-heavy, lightly eroded clay formed from basalt. It includes high levels of carbonate and limestone, volcanic tuff, and alluvial stone. It is very rocky and low in organic matter. The latter condition is remedied by the use of natural compost and organic fertilizer.

The Karas vineyards are located at 1000 m and are farmed organically and sustainably. The varieties planted therein are as follows:

Whites Reds
Chardonnay Areni
Viogner Khndokhni
Kangun Syrah




Petit Verdot

Cabernet Franc


The winemaker is Gabriel Rogel from Argentina. He is ably assisted by the famed Michel Rolland in the role of Consulting Winemaker.

We evaluated two of the wines in the Karas portfolio: the 2018 Karas Areni-Khndoghni and the 2015 Karas Reserve.

The 2018 Karas Areni-Khndoghni is a blend of 40% Areni and 60% Khndoghni, the characteristics of which are included in the chart below.

The grapes are hand-harvested into 20 kg boxes and transported to the winery for table selection. The selected grapes are cold-macerated for 5 days prior to a 25-day alcoholic fermentation. Malolactic fermentation is conducted in tanks.

Green herbs initially, followed by an explosion of fresh fruit. Berry driven with a brown sugar character. Definite tumeric note. Bone dry with juicy sweet fruit on the palate. Low tannin and high acidity. Mineral. According to the estate, the acidity and structure are contributed by the Areni variety while the dark fruit flavors are delivered by the Khndoghni.

The Karas 2015 Reserva is a blend of 40% Montepulciano, 25% Cabernet Franc, 20% Syrah, and 15% Malbec. The grapes are hand-harvested into 20 kg boxes and transported to the winery for table selection. The selected grapes are cold-macerated for 5 days prior to a 20-day alcoholic fermentation. Malolactic fermentation is conducted in tanks after which the wine is aged for 14 months in Armenian* and French oak barrels.

Smoke and chocolate along with roasted bell peppers, an oiliness, cayenne pepper, and sandalwood. Complex and layered. Medium-bodied with high acidity and a bright explosion of fruit. Black olives and tea arrive late. Bitter, creamy finish.

When I initially smelled the Reserva, I immediately said "this is a Michel Rolland wine." It was very expressive on the nose and invited the taster in. The indigenous-variety blend was, comparatively, retiring. It was far less complex than the Reserva and had an unassuming finish. The winemaking team obviously knows how to work the international varieties but are either confronted with less expressive local varieties or are still working to master them. It should be noted that the Areni-Khndoghni had an excellent quality:price ratio.

*Armenian oak barrels impart unique tastes to the wine. The oak is more intense than French oak due to the comparatively lower humidity in its source forests in Nagorno-Karabakh. It is also darker and less porous. It must be properly handled to ensure that tannin levels are controlled. Given its intensity, Armenian oak requires less time to impart its flavors to the wine. It provides intense sweet tones (such as vanilla), spiciness, and a eucalyptus aroma.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The white wines of Piemonte: Gavi (Cortese di Gavi) DOCG

Piemonte is home to two of the world's iconic red-wine regions -- Barolo and Barbaresco -- but its indigenous-variety white wines are also demanding of attention in their own right. I have written previously on the Timorasso, Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG, and Roero Arneis DOCG wines and was extremely pleased with the quality. I continue my exploration with this post on the wines of Gavi DOCG.

Gavi (also called Cortese di Gavi) is a Piemonte region dedicated to the production of wines from the (white) Cortese grape. According to, "The Gavi area, the southern part of Alto Monferrato, rises from the banks of the Tanaro River into the mountains of the Apennines and the water divide between Piedmont and Liguria."

Gavi DOCG indicated by red circle to the bottom-
right of the Piemonte map

The region spools out over the hills of 11 communes in the province of Alesandria. It gained DOC status in 1974 and was promoted to DOCG in 1998. The allowed wines in the appellation are a Bianco, Bianco Riserva, Spumante, and a Spumante Metodo Classico, all made from 100% Cortese.

The Gavi climate is characterized by cold winters and hot, airy summers. Again from "The combination of the Ligurian sea breeze and the Apennine snow make this particular corner of Piedmont so special." In addition to the Apennines, the region is also influenced by the presence of the Alps. The significant day-night temperature variation allows flavor concentration while preserving crisp acidity in the wines.

The mineral-rich soils of the region are purported to contribute to the flavors of the Gavi wine. The complexity of the soilscape is displayed in the chart below.

To summarize the chart, the northern part of the region is dominated by red ferrous soils and gravel mixed with clay from ancient alluvial activity while the central area alternates between soils of marl and sandstone. The south has fossil-rich white soils composed of clay-calcareous marls. credits the region's climate and the soils on the hillside vineyards as being responsible for the complexity of the wines. "Highly reputed for its 'white soils' is the area of Gavi Village, very well known for clear-cut character, amazing freshness, as well as complex wines that here become the Gavi del comune di Gavi docg.

The Cortese cultivar makes its first appearance in the literature in 1659. It is a highly productive, thin-skinned grape that is disease-resistant. It is noted for delivering bone-dry wines that are crisp and flinty with floral and peach aromatics.

I am teaching two of my nephews (Al and Devawn) the two or three things I know about wine so we get together every other Saturday for a theory lesson and a wine tasting. The last time we got together we tasted two Gavi wines: a 2018 Marchesi di Barolo and a 2018 La Scolca Gavi dei Gavi.

I could not find much material on the viticulture or viniculture associated with the Marchesi di Barolo wine beyond the fact that the grapes were grown on medium-bodied marl on slightly sloping hills and that the grapes were slightly pressed before being fermented in stainless steel tanks. I liked the wine though. Parsley on the nose, along with a red pepper spice and expansive minerality. Broad on the palate, with citrus (young lime) and minerality preceding a long spicy finish.

According to La Scolca, the Gavi wine that is the basis of today's appellation was invented at their winery back in the 1950s. Further, the area in which the vines for its Black Label wines are grown -- Rovereto -- can be consideerd the Grand Cru of the DOCG. The company manages about 50 ha of vineyards, with planting density of 4500 vines/ha. The grapes are harvested manually and fermented separately based on vineyard origin. The Black Label wine is sourced from vineyards averaging 60 years of age.

The wine was intense on the nose, with green herbs, lemon and muted honeydew melon. Intense acidity on the palate with a sourdrop character yielding to a cupric mineral finish. Much more acidity than the Marchesi di Barolo wine. This wine screams out for food. Both wines were of excellent quality but the Marchesi is a more all-purpose wine in that it can be drunk on its own while the La Scolca needs a friend.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The white wines of Piemonte: Roero Arneis DOCG

Roero is a small DOCG (DOC 1985, DOCG 2004) located on the north bank of the Tanaro River and running along said bank for approximately 24.1 km (15 miles) between Bra and Govone. The zone is approximately 878 ha (2169 acres) in size with 2014 production of approximately 436,000 cases. The relative positioning of Roero DOCG is illustrated in the map below.

The climate of Roero is described as cold temperate and manifests as harsh, cold winters; hot, humid summers; and unpredictable springs and autumns. Climatic effects are moderated by (i) the warm Mediterranean winds meeting and mitigating the cold winds flowing down from the north and (ii) the Apennines providing a barrier to the winds from the sea.

The soil is primarily sand, a result of the area being an ancient seabed, with clay and/or limestone intermixed in specific areas. Unlike the Langhe, formed 15 million years ago during the Miocene, the soils of the Roero are only 5 million years old, laid down, as they were, during the Pliocene period of the Tertiary era. The proliferation of sea fossils in the sand is a testament to its sub-sea past. According to Antonio Galloni (Exploring Roero, Vinous, May 2015), the soil characteristics give the Roero wine much of its mid-weight, perfumed personalities. In the places where the sand is intermixed with silty soils rich in clay and marine deposits, the grapes grown thereon confer a greater depth and structure to the resulting wines (Galloni).

Roero DOCG governs the production of white and red wines within the zone. The white wines are produced from Arneis, maybe the most important white grape in Piedmont. The reds are made from Nebbiolo and Barbera and, according to Michael Skurnik, the young reds from the region have a "particularly fresh and vibrant character." Galloni sees Roero excelling with Arneis and expressed pleasure with both the top-end and entry-level Nebbiolos and Barberas. He does see some challenges for the region though:
  • The most famous Roero wines are made by producers who are based outside the region (Giacosa and Sandrone, for example)
  • The region lacks a visible, reference point producer who might be able to elevate the standing of the entire area
  • The region continues to live in the shadow of Barolo and Barbaresco.
Arneis is currently one of Piemonte's most important white varieties; but that was not always the case. Tom Hyland, writing in Forbes, tells the tale of this variety -- called Nebbia Bianca at the time -- being planted between Nebbiolo rows to serve as a (diversionary) food source for the birds and, as a result, protecting the more valuable fruit from the marauders.

Hyland also tells of the variety being acquired from Roero farmers by Luca Currado's (Vietti) father for the purpose of crafting a sweet wine and him accidentally fermenting it to dryness. That turned out to be a fortuitous mistake, based on the more than 7 million bottles of Arneis that is produced today.

Below I describe some of the Roero Arneis wines I have tasted.

My first formal Arneis tasting was during a visit to the Vietti estate in Piemonte.

The first wine tasted in that session was the Vietti Roero Arneis 2015. The grapes for this wine were sourced from vineyards planted in 1967 in Santo Stefano Roero on calcareous clay soils. The training system is guyot and the planting density is between 4500 and 5000 vines/ha. The wine wss fermented in stainless steel tanks and remained on the lees for 25 days.

Walnut and creamy richness. Lime and lime rind. Minerality. Attention-grabbing acidity. Elena thought that this wine should be put aside for maybe 1 year.

I first had the Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis at  a 2018 Wine Watch dinner held in Giacosa's honor. I enjoyed it immensely. The Giacosa Arneis that I tasted recently was from the 2014 vintage. It had a golden yellow color and was perfumed, with notes of green herbs, pepper and straw. Tropical notes on the palate with juicy, ripe fruit sweetness. Lemon-lime and spicy. Lengthy finish with a metallic/cupric aftertaste.

Monchiero Carbone has a history in Roero that stretches back over a century. Its ReCit ("little King" in the Piedmontese dialect) Roero Arneis is an assemblage from a number of different Roero vineyards, fermented in stainless steel tanks. The 2017 version of the wine was aromatic with notes of hay and unripe melon. Weighty on the palate and perfumed fruit. Almost sweet. Not as refreshing as the Giacosa. Slightly overbearing. Tangerine and napthalene ball finish. This was not my favorite Arneis.

The Rocca Felice Roero Arneis appears to be a Total-Wine-Direct label. I was impressed. The 2018 version was a much better wine than the ReCit. Floral on the nose with notes of peaches and pears. Balanced minerality and spice with a clean finish. This wine is a good representation of what I would call a classic Roero Arneis.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, July 3, 2020

Asti DOCG: Key aspects of the appellation

The most widely recognized Italian sparkling wines are Prosecco, Franciacorta, and Asti. With that in mind, it was a major oversight on my part to omit detailed information on Asti, and its, wines, in my recently concluded survey of Italian sparkling wines. I correct that oversight in this post.

The key details of Asti DOCG is presented in the chart immediately following.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Mapping the sparkling wines of Italy

A little over seven months ago, I set out on a journey to develop a map of the sparkling wines of Italy. Fairly early in the process I realized that I would have to undertake the task on a region-by-region basis due to the wealth and diversity of available data. I have completed that effort and thumbnails of each region's map is included in the chart below, with the detailed maps presented at the end of this post.

The data show 137 DOC-level sparkling wines and 16 at the DOCG level. Within each of the appellations, one or more labels are allowed and the wines can be specified Metodo Classico, Charmat, or either. International varieties are the most broadly distributed across the regions with Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Grigio each being used liberally. This highlights the fact that producers largely utilize regional indigenous varieties in making sparkling wines in their individual regions.Wines are specified either as blends or varietals.

Of the large number of allowed wines, a few are more widely recognized than the large majority. I provide a more detailed view of these noteworthy wines in the text below.

Prosecco DOCG 
There are two separate Prosecco DOCG zones, both falling within the borders of the province of Treviso. The first, and having the greatest repute, is Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene. This zone is approximately 50 km from Venice and 100 km from the Dolomites. It runs east to west from the plains to the foot of the Alps and incorporates the 15 hill communities that lie between Conegliano and Valdiobbadene. Approximately 6100 ha of vineyards are deployed on south-facing slopes that range between 50- and 500-meters high.

An area within the municipality of Valdiobbadene called Cartizze is considered the region's cru. This 106-ha area has a mild microclimate and a varied soil to include moraine, sandstone, and clay components. The vineyards are positioned on south-facing slopes and have excellent drainage.


The second DOCG zone is Colli Asolani/Asolo and is located in the Montello e Colli Asolani wine region. It encompasses a 5-mile-long ridge of gently rolling hills running between the towns of Cornuda and Asolo. The best vineyards are found on south-facing slopes where the gentle gradients and loose soil combine for excellent drainage and optimal sunlight exposure.


Prosecco DOC
The Prosecco DOC was first awarded in 1969 and was restricted to wines produced in the Conegliano-Valdiobbadene region.  Growers felt that the brand was under attack by "imitators" using just the grape variety and moved to isolate those competitors by changing both the rules and the venue of the game.  Prosecco growers agitated for, and gained regulatory acceptance of: (i) extension of the Prosecco DOC to cover all of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and approximately two-thirds of Veneto; (ii) promotion of the original Prosecco DOC to DOCG status; (iii) changing the name of the source grape from Prosecco to Glera; and (iv) restricting the use of the name Prosecco only to Glera sparkling wines produced within the delimited zones.  The growers felt that these actions would serve to protect their territory, the brand, and the quality of Prosecco.  The regulations authorizing these actions came into law in 2009.

The Grape(s)
Prosecco is primarily made from the Glera (formerly Prosecco; also known as Prosecco Bianco and Proseko Sciprina) grape variety, a native of northeast Italy which has been used to produce wines since Roman times.  This late-ripening, thick-skinned variety has greenish-yellow berries which evolve to a yellow-gold color as the grapes ripen.  The grapes are high in acid and have a white peach aromatic profile, qualities which render them eminently suitable for the production of sparkling wines.

Glera is primarily used in the production of fizzy and sparkling wines but there are a few examples of still Glera wines around.  In addition to Glera, Prosecco wines can contain as much as 15% of other grape varieties.  The most oft-used supplements are Verdiso, Branchetta, Perera, Glera Lunga, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, and Chardonnay.

Prosecco DOC Production Area
Prosecco DOC wines are authorized for production in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and Veneto (provinces of Treviso, Belluna, Padova, Venezia, and Vicenzia).  Within the broader Prosecco DOC, there are two sub-zones: DOC Treviso Prosecco and Prosecco di Trieste. These sub-zones cover Prosecco made within these two provinces and wines made therein can so indicate on their labels.  Prosecco wines made in other provinces cannot carry the province name on the labels.


Prosecco Rosé
This is a new addition to the lineup and is viewed as having the potential to provide a significant sales boost to the Consorzio members who have been suffering the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic. The requirements for the new entrant are as follows:
  • Glera base blended with 10 - 15% Pinot Nero
  • Max yields 18 tons/ha for Glera and 13.5 tons/ha for Pinot Nero
  • from Brut Nature to Extra Dry
  • Prise de mousse must happen in vat according to the Charmat Method for a minimum of 60 days
  • Commercialization allowed fro January 1st following harvest
  • Labels must be vintage-dated (millesimato) with a minimum of 85% of the fruit coming form the stated vintage.
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 region's sparkling-wine 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 DOCG
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.

Franciacorta DOCG
Franciacorta (the name means either "little France" or "tax-free zone," depending on the publication consulted) is located in the "gentle" hills in the area of Brescia and is bounded thusly: to the east by rocky hills; to the west by the Oglio River; to the north by Lake Iseo and the foothills of Alpi Retiche; and to the south by the Brescia-Bergamo Highway.  The region lies in an amphitheater which was carved out by a falling glacier and encompasses all or part of 19 Brescian municipalities.   The zone is approximately 18,000 hectares in size with 2665 hectares under vine.


Franciacorta is mild in the winter and hot in the summer.  The climate is moderated by winds blowing in off Lakes Iseo and Garde which protect the region from the autumnal and hibernial fogs that threaten from the Brescian plains.  Rainfall in the region is concentrated in the spring and fall.

Thanks to exhaustive zoning studies conducted in the region in the late 1990s by the University of Milan, a very clear picture of soil differentials -- and the differing contributions of each type to the finished product -- has been established.  The figure below shows that the combination of landscape units (formations by geologic era) and soil types results in six distinct regional terroirs.  The figure illustrates that the soil, vegetative productive, qualitative, and organoleptic characteristics of each terroir has also been identified.  The details of those characteristics are contained in the table following.

Formulation of Terroirs  Derived from Franciacorta: un vino, una terra, p. 28-33

Characteristics of Franciacorta Terroirs. Derived from Franciacorta: un vino, una terra, p. 28-33

The sparkling wine is produced under the DOCG classification from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Bianco grapes. The wines are produced using the classic method and, depending on the terroir in which it was grown, or the blend of terroirs, will exhibit some subset of the organoleptic qualities indicated in the last column of the table above. Wines are labeled in terms of sweetness much the same as is the practice for Champagne.

A fourth variety -- Erbamat -- is emerging as potential aide in the battle against the ripeness and climate effects of the region. Erbamat is a high-acid, late-ripening white grape that is native to the region and with a history that stretches back to circa 1500. The cultivar had slipped into obscurity until a recent study by a university professor highlighted its characteristics. Its primary characteristics are as follows (Aldo Fiordelli, Decanter, 3/21/17):
  • Pale straw color with greenish tinge
  • Thin skin
  • Compact bunches
  • Late ripening (20 - 30 days after other varieties)
  • Higher levels of malic acid (produces lean-bodied, high-acid wines)
  • Low sugar production (low alcohol wines).
The thin skin and tight bunches render the grapes subject to disease pressure but that risk is more than offset by the freshness, white florality, and chalky minerality which this wine brings to the blend. The variety is allowed in all of the Franciacorta styles with the exception of Satén.

The most respected producers in the region are Bellavista, Berlucchi, Ca' del Bosco, Cavalleri, Facoli, and Monte Rossa.

Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico DOCG
Oltrepò Pavese's 13,500 ha of vineyards makes it one of Italy's largest appellations while its 3000 ha of Pinot Noir vines is easily the largest planting of that variety in Italy. The appellation covers 42 municipalities in the Apennine foothills on the south bank of the Po River across from Pavia; foothills comprised of marine sedimentary rock with significant clay content.

Winters are dry and temperature fluctuation is significant due to ascending air current on the slopes.

Pinor Noir is the dominant variety for sparkling wine production. The first sparkling wine from this variety was made by Count Augusto Giorgi di Vistarino in 1865 and the family still produces some of the best spumante in the region today.

Trento DOC
Trento DOC is the specific appellation for sparkling wine produced in the Trento portion of Trento-Alto Adige. As is the case in Alto Adige, the wine is made using the Metodo Classico.

Trentino terroir is similar to that of Alto Adige even though it is 150 m lower down the valley. The DOC stretches for 800 ha over 74 municipalities with elevations ranging between 100 and 800 m.

Its climate is modified by the peaks and ridges which protect the region from the elements. A cool breeze from the mountains minimizes the exposure to rot and fungal diseases. Two winds blow on the area north of Lake Garda from March to September: a north-to-south morning wind and a south-to-north afternoon wind.

The two major growing areas are Val di Cembra and Valle dei Laghi with the former being narrower, with more volcanic soil, and showing greater effects of elevation. The latter is closer to Lake Garda and shows more of a Mediterranean climate. The soil is a stony limestone in the upper reaches with moraine deposits lower down.

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir  dominate the vineyards. Chardonnay does better at higher altitudes with sun exposure (provides the backbone) while Pinot Noir enjoys lower, less sunny altitudes (imparts body). Producers source grapes from multiple areas and will blend wines from warmer and cooler sites.

According to Kerin O'Keefe, the sparkling wines of this region show "pronounced aromatics, elegance, and bright acidity." Two producers that she recommends are Ferrari (2010 Perlé Nero Extra Brut Riserva) and Rotari (2011 Flavio Brut Riserva).

Approximately 7,500,000 bottles of sparkling wine are produced in this region annually.

Lissini Durello DOC
This sparkling-wine-only appellation covers the high valleys of the Lissini Mountains between the provinces of Verona and Vicenza. The volcanic slopes provide the high hillside vineyards exposure, ventilation, and diurnal temperature variation, all of which contribute freshness and aromatic qualities to the sparkling wine.

The variety is Durella, indigenous to these mountains since the Middle Ages. The grapes are golden-hued with thick skins and acidulous flavor. Because of its high acidity the Durella destined for sparkling wine is picked at full maturity.

Writing in Wine Enthusiast (Metodo Classico, Your Next Italian Sparkling Wine (That Isn't Prosecco)), Kerin O'Keefe describes these sparkling wines as boasting "... tension, energy, and finesse." O'Keefe also points out that an upcoming regulatory modification will have the name Lessini Durello used exclusively for Charmat sparklers while the Metodo Classico versions will be called Monte Lessini. Her wine recommendations are:
  • Coret Moschina 2012 Riserva 60 Mesi
  • Sandro de Bruno NV 36 Mesi
  • Fattori 2012 Ronca Non Dosato 60 Mesi Metodo Classico.
Vigneti della Serenissima DOC
This appellation covers the hilly and foothill areas of the provinces of Belluno, Treviso, Padua, Vicenza, and Verona between the Alps in the north and the Po Valley in the south. The climate is conducive to gradual ripening of grapes. Sparkling wines are produced using the classical method.

Abissi Sparkling Wine
Bisson Winery in Liguria has been aging its Metodo Classico wines in 60 meters of water off the coast of Portofino since 2005. The wines -- there are three of them: Spumante Classico, Spumante Riserva, and Spumante Rosé -- are fermented traditionally to produce the base wines and are then bottled and lowered into the sea in July so that the second fermentation can be completed in the anaerobic conditions below the surface of the water.

The Spumante Classico and Riserva are blends of Bianchetto Genovese, Vermentino, and a third cultivar called Cimixià. The Rosé is a blend of Granaccia and Ciliegiolo.

The innovative method of aging is the brainchild of Pierluigi Lugano, the enterprise's winemaker. "When the wine bottles are picked up, they are enriched with incrustations (sic), seaweeds (and sometimes shellfishes, too) ... For health and sanitary reasons, bottles are then dried and wrapped under a protective, clear film, which also serves the purpose of preserving the natural ornament made by the sea,"


"The main Emilia wine is undoubtedly Lambrusco, the fizzy and sometimes sparkling, jovial red wine from grapes grown on high trellised vines in five DOC zones in Modena and Reggio Emilio." The map below shows the Lambrusco production area within Emilia-Romagna.

Lambrusco production area 

Lambrusco first came to prominence as "cheap, cheerful and fizzy plonk served with ice cubes ... cloyingly sweet versions that flooded U.S. shelves in the 1970s and '80s" (O'Keefe). In an article asking readers to take a second look at the wine, Karen O'Keefe sees that "a number of producers now make distinct, slightly sparkling Lambruscos that belong on every wine lover's radar."

As shown in the sparkling wines maps, there are three specific Lambrusco DOCs (Sorbara, Grasparossa di Castelvetro, and Salamino di Santa Croce) and two other DOCs (Modena and Reggiano) which also produce Lambrusco sparkling wines.

Lambrusco di Sorbara is generally lightly colored, fragrant, and in possession of vibrant acidity. The grapes are thin-skinned, with very little pigment, and the bunches have berries of varying sizes. Grapes for this wine excel in the sandy, fertile plains between the Secchia and Panarao rivers. O'Keefe sees this wine as the most-refined of the Lambrusco category.

Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro is made from a "thick-skinned, late-ripening, darkly hued" grape that is definitively more tannic than the Sorbara variety. This variety does well in clay and silt soils.

Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce is the most planted of the Lambrusco grapes and is often blended with other Lambrusco wines to take advantage of its color and and acidity. The soils in the growing area are similar to the soils in the Sorbara region but some grapes are also grown in the clay and rocky soils close to the Reggio Emilia foothills.

Sparkling wine production in the province of Romagna peaked at the beginning of the 20th Century and then declined somewhat. In order to recapture this past glory the Romagna Consorzio has introduced a new trademark of Romagna Spumante DOC that every producer in the region can utilize if specified conditions are followed. The name of the new wine is Novebolle (nine bubbles) with Nove (nine) referring both the the nine hills of Romagna as well as the period (1900s) in which sparkling wine had flourished in the region.

The wine can be white or Rosé and can be made by either the Charmat or Traditional method. The composition of both wines are included in the second of the two sparkling wine maps above.

The first expression this new trademark has been captured in Bolé, a joint venture between two of the region's Coops: Caviro (the largest winery in Italy) and Terre Cevico.


This Bianco is a mix of Trebbiano and Famosa (5%) made using the classic method. Plans call for increasing production from today's 45,000 bottles to 100,000 bottles and the production of a Rosé that adheres to the Consorzio's restrictions.

Vernaccia di Serrapetrona DOCG
This wine has been described as an "idiosyncratic sparkling red wine produced from the local Vernaccia Nera." This territory was granted DOC status in 1971 and elevated to DOCG in 2003. It is one of the smallest classified zones in Italy with only 20 ha of vineyards and 5000 cases produced. Vineyards must be sited between 450 and 600 m elevation.

Other than the fact that it is a sparkling red wine, Vernaccia di Serrapetrona is also unique in its production method: three fermentations. The first fermentation involves up to 60% of the handpicked grapes. The remaining 40% is dried on straw mats and added to the wine in the following January for the second fermentation. After resting for a few months, the wine is placed into pressurized containers where it is fermented using the Charmat method.

The result of this process is "an intensely aromatic wine displaying a raspberry red color, aromas of strawberries and cranberries, a hint of spice, firm tannins and bright acidity,"

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC and Verdecchio di Matelica DOC
These are the two DOCs that are the temples to Verdicchio, with the former being more revered than the latter. The sparkling wines from both regions require a minimum of 85% of the Verdicchio grape and can be made using either the Metodo Classico or Charmat methods.

The grapes for Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi are grown in the hilly areas around the town of Jesi, an area endowed with calcareous clay and limestone-rich soils. The area is blessed with a relatively dry maritime climate with persistent gentle onshore (morning) and offshore (afternoon) winds providing defenses against fungal diseases such as grey rot and mildew.

The Verdicchio di Matelica vineyards are located further inland in more of a continental climate but with soils akin to its compatriot. Vineyard orientation in Matelica is east-to-west, a situation unique to that DOC. A total of 740 ha of vineyards are planted at 400m - 500m elevation.

In his Forbes article on Italian sparkling wines, Tom Hyland identified the Colonnara Tradition Brut as one of the best examples of Verdicchio sparkling wine that he has tasted. The wine, he says, "... offers subdued herbal notes in the finish, along with bright pear and melon fruit."

In that same article, Hyland spoke favorably of a number of Verdicchio/Chardonnay cuvées:
  • Poderi Mattioli Dosaggio Zero -- vintage-dated blend that is aged 48 months on its lees
  • Umani-Ronchi Extra Brut millesimato -- 65% Verdicchio, 35% Chardonnay
  • Umani-Ronchi La Hoz -- 80% Verdicchio, 20% Chardonnay. The Verdicchio is aged in steel while the Chardonnay is aged in mid-sized oak barrels. The wines are aged on lees for 48 months.
Greco di Tufo DOCG
The sparkling wines in Greco di Tufo DOCG are made in the traditional manner and stay on the lees for at least 3 years. According to, "These straw yellow wines are intense, herbaceous, floral, and fruity with typical notes of apples, jasmine, thyme, or sage. They are best paired with rich seafood dishes and could go well with lobster or cod ... they are also an excellent aperitif and would be a great match to various appetizers."

Feudi di San Gregorio, one of the leading independent wine producers in Campania, has established a separate label -- DUBL -- under which to market its Spumante wines. This project began in 2004 and was aimed at bringing the classic sparkling wine method to the grapes of the Campanian tradition: Greco, Aglianico, and Falanghina.

Feudi San Gregorio felt that they had the high-quality fruit for such an initiative. The internal areas of the region are ideal for growth of grapes destined for sparkling wines:
  • Diurnal temperature differences would allow grape ripening with acid-retention
  • The ventilation and exposure of the vineyards are ideal
  • Rugged terroir 
  • Volcanic soils.
They did not, however, have the requisite skill. To fill that gap they sought the advice and assistance of Anselme Selosse -- of Jacques Selosse grower-Champagne fame. The wines that resulted were a 100% Greco sparkling wine, a 100% Aglianico sparkling Rosata, and a 100% Falanghina as a Double Brut.

In April 2016, DUBL extended its product portfolio with DUBL Esse, a Dossagio Zero line, with a white sparkling made from the best grapes from the most exciting vineyards in the Tufo area and a Rosata which comes from grapes from the most exciting vineyards in the Taurasi area.

Etna Spumante DOC
In a May 22, 2019, Forbes article on Italian sparkling wines, Tom Hyland stated thusly:
Given that the climate of Sicily is warm, you wouldn't expect sparkling wine to be produced here, but there are some very fine examples. A few producers in the Etna zone are crafting some beautifully rendered metodo classico cuvées, including Planeta, Terraze dell'Etna and Murgo. The wines vary from Planeta's 100% Carricante version to several offerings each from the latter two producers. Terraze dell'Etna produces two offerings of Brut made entirely from Chardonnay, with one being aged on its lees for 50 months, and they also produce two different Rosé Brut, again with one being aged for 50 months on the lees; the rosés are made from 90% Pinot Nero and 10% Nerello Mascalese. ... The finest sparkling wines from Sicily in my estimation.

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