Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The sparkling wines of Toscana, Italy

As aptly described on tripadvisor.com, "The achingly beautiful Tuscany region of Italy is a touchstone of art, food, and culture. Made up of stunning countrysides and distinguished cities, Tuscany is the perfect escape for gastronomes, cognoscenti, and fans of the Italian Renaissance." The characteristic Tuscan landscape is a blend of gently rolling hills (66.5% of the region's 22,985 sq. km) leading to steep-peaked mountains (25%) and plains (8.5%).

But Tuscany is also a wine powerhouse, ranking sixth among Italian regions in overall wine production and third in terms of DOP wine production. It is renowned for its red wines with Sangiovese ruling the roost in Chianti, Montalcino and Montepulciano, and Bordeaux varietals prominent in the Maremma region (especially Bolgheri and Suvereto) as well as having some presence in Chianti and Montalcino.

Climate and soil composition in Tuscany is location-dependent. For example, Chianti-based producers operate in a continental climate with galestro and albarese soils while their coastal counterparts operate in temperate climates with stone- and rock-imbued clay soils.

Tuscany's focus on Sangiovese and red wines is reflected in the relative paucity of sparkling wines in the region. As shown in the following chart, a total of six DOCs offer approximately 11 labels to the market.

The Pomino DOC is Metodo-Classico-only. Four of the remaining sparkling DOCs are Charmat while sparkling wines made in the Maremma Toscana DOC could utilize either the Charmat or Metodo Classico processes.

The dominant variety used in these sparkling wines is Trebbiano Toscana; Pomino DOC (Metodo Classico) makes use of the classic Italian version of the Champagne varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero).

Toscana sparkling wines live in the deep, dark shadows of their red, still counterparts. There are no indications that this will change anytime soon.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The sparkling wines of Liguria, Italy

The world of Italian sparkling wine is vast. And I have been capturing it graphically, one region at a time. To date I have mapped Piemonte, Valle d'AostaLombardia, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna. In this post I present a picture of Ligurian sparkling wines.

As shown in the map below, Liguria, the third smallest of the Italian regions, hugs the coast of the Gulf of Genoa and the Ligurian Sea in a thin semi-circle that runs from France to Tuscany. Squeezed between the Maritime Alps, the Ligurian Apennines, and the sea, this relatively skinny region is sized at 5422 km2 and is home to a population numbering 1.567 million.

The region is characterized by mountainous hinterlands and a lengthy coastline which is itself separated into the Riviera di Ponente and Riviera di Levante by the capital city of Genoa. The cliffs of the former fall to the sea whiole the latter is noted for its bays and beaches.

Liguria has a relatively warm climate given its northerly location. There is some agricultural activity in the region -- mainly flowers, olive trees, and vineyards -- but the bulk of economic activity is attributable to tourism and shipping through the ports.

The region supports about 6000 ha of vineyards, of which 500 ha is DOC. Vineyards are small and non-contiguous with most of the wine produced by artisans who grow, tend, and harvest the grapes heroically on steep limestone slopes. Annual wine production is approximately 280,000 hL, of which 75% is white. Only Valle d'Aosta produces less wine than does Liguria.

As shown in the chart below, sparkling wine is produced in the Val Polcèvera and Golfo del Tigullio - Portofino DOCs.

In both of these DOCs, Bianchetto Genovese and Vermentino are featured players while a variety called Albarola is additionally given prominence in Val Polcèvera DOC. It should be noted that a 2009 DNA study has concluded that Albarola and Bianchetto Genovese are genetically identical.

As was the case in Valle d'Aosta, neither Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, or Pinot Bianco feature in the production of sparkling wine in Liguria.

Abissi Sparkling Wine
Bisson Winery 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,"

Source: Cellartracker.com

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The sparkling wines of Italy's Emilia-Romagna region

Emilia-Romagna, the southern base of the regions that are grouped together as Northern Italy, is famous as the birthplace for quality foods such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, Aceto Balsamic di Modena, Lasagna, Tortellini, and Tagliatelle. As a center of food and automobile production, and with the third-highest per-capita GDP in Italy, Emilia-Romagna is one of the wealthiest and most developed regions in Europe.

With 136,000 acres under vine, Emilia-Romagna is the second-largest wine-producing region in Italy after Veneto. The largest wine-producing areas in the region are found in the alluvial plains but the wines from the foothills are attracting attention.

Of the 21 official Emilia-Romagna appellations (2 DOCGs, 19 DOCs), 10 (one DOCG and nine DOCs) provide at least one label under which sparkling wine can be produced. In a number of cases -- Colli di Parma DOC and Colli Piacentini DOC, for example -- the availability of varietal-specific labels provides the producer with the potential to offer between four and six separate sparkling wines.

The biggest concentration of sparkling wine production occurs in the area between Reggio Emilio in the northwest and Bologna, with the Lambrusco zone around Modena serving as the beating heart of this geographic range.

In terms of production methods, 10 of the available labels are Charmat-only while two follow the Champenoise method. All of the other labels allow for the use of both methods based on the producer's preference.

There are no sparkling-wine-only DOCGs/DOCs in Emilia-Romagna and it is the only region that I have encountered to date that does not have a vintage-dated sparkling wine on the official books.

While most of the indigenous varieties are utilized in the production of sparkling wine, mainstay varieties such as Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Bianco are vigorously utilized.

Lambrusco is the sparkling wine for which Emilia-Romagna is best known and I will delve into its application in the region in the following.

"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.

Source: drwine.it

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.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme