Friday, September 25, 2020

Piemonte dry white wines: Cortese

One of the unifying themes in the Piemontese white wines that I have explored on this journey is the freshness of the wines, a result of the high levels of natural acidity in the source cultivars. You can add the Cortese variety to this list. 

The cultivar makes its first appearance in the literature in 1659. It is a highly productive, thin-skinned grape that is grown mainly in the provinces of Asti (35 municipalities) and Alessandria (51 municipalities). It is noted for delivering bone-dry wines that are crisp and flinty with floral and peach aromatics. It is sensitive to powdery mildew.

The chart below shows the Cortese wines approved for production in the Piemonte region.
 

The chart does show that, except for the Piemonte and Colli Tortonesi regions, the wines are confined to Monferrato. With the exception of Gavi DOCG (100% Cortese) and the Colli Tortonesi Bianco (any proportion in blends with other white varieties), all of the sub-Piemonte regions prescribe a minimum of 85% Cortese in their wines.

The regions within which Cortese is produced are discussed below. It is generally held that the best of the wines are produced in Gavi because the grape is properly ripened therein. Not so much in the other regions as they have a harder time getting the grapes fully ripe, leading to heightened acidity.

Gavi/Cortese di 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 enricosrafino.it, "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 Alessandria. 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 enricoserafino.it: "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. 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.

Serafino.it 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."

I tasted two Gavi wines as a part of this exercise: a 2018 Marchesi di Barolo and a 2018 La Scolca Gavi dei Gavi.


The Marchesi di Barolo showed 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.

The La Scolca 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.

Monferrato DOC Casalese Subzone
Monferrato DOC encompasses 689 ha of vineyards spread over 229 municipalities (116 in Asti and 113 in Alessandria). Monferrato is a set of recently formed hills with the oldest in the upper and lower regions and comprised of crenaceous and calcareous marls and fossil shells from the Miocene. The area around the Tanaro River is the most recent and is primarily Pliocene Astian sands of sedimentary origin.

The Casalese subzone covers vineyards in 39 municipalities in the Province of Alessandria. It is the same area as for the Grignolino del Monforte Casalese DOC.

Cortese dell'Alta Monferrato DOC
This 200-ha zone received its DOC status in 1979 and is allowed to produce Cortese wines with grapes grown in 51 municipalities in Alessandria and 35 in Asti. It is the largest of the areas planted to Cortese.

Cortese dell'Alta Monferrato

The disciplinaire requirement calls for vineyards on hills and with suitable position and orientation on clayey-calcareous soils. The vines prefer these hilly soils, poor in organic and mineral substances and arid in the summer due to poor water retention.

Allowed yields in this area are 10 tons/ha.

Colli Tortonese DOC
This 191-ha zone encompasses 30 municipalities and, before the onslaught of Timorasso, Cortese dominated its hills.


According to italianwine.guide, the Cortese wines produced herein are light and straw-colored, with green reflections. "The bouquet is extremely delicate, pleasant, persistent and characteristic. The taste is dry, light and with a hint of almond. 


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Cerbaiona Brunello di Montalcino: Galloni's "desert-island" wine

The Cerbaiona Brunello di Montalcino comes highly recommended. In one of the most visible quotes on the internet as regards this estate, Antonio Galloni (Vinous) states thusly: "If I am forced to drink just one wine from Montalcino, I would almost certainly choose the sumptuous Brunello from Cerbaiona." That is a mouthfull; especially when Montalcino is also home to standouts such as Soldera, Poggio do Sotto, et al. I explore Cerbaiona in this post.

The estate now known as Cerbaiona began as a gleam in the eye of retired Alitalia pilot Diego Molinari, a Burgundy lover who wanted to produce reminiscent wines in Montalcino territory. Diego, accompanied by his wife Nora, began his search for a suitable site and, as a part of that process, spoke extensively with individuals at all production levels/aspects in the region. 

The culmination of his efforts was the 1977 selection of a small estate (location shown in the chart below) with a villa and Renaissance garden -- dating to the 1600s  -- on the property. The name Cerbaiona was associated with the villa.


According to BBR, the property has an eastern exposition and sits at 350 m elevation on galestro (limestone shale infused with sand) soil.

Birds-Eye view of Cerbaiona and surrounds

According to one version of the company's history, in 1978 Diego hired local growers to replant and extend the estate's vineyards using cuttings from the Biondi-Santi estate. The French magazine Vigneron asserts that most of the men had left the to work in factories and that Diego had "rolled up his sleeves" and jumped in. The magazine further stated that Diego had hired the famed Tuscan Sangiovese expert Giulio Gambelli but his approach to viticulture was still "romantic" in that:(i) the plant material was chosen without too many benchmarks and (ii) the planting density was randomly defined.

The traditional timeline stipulates that the estate began commercial production in 1981 and produced its first vintage in 1982.  BBR, however, remarks about an even earlier vintage -- 1980 -- wherein 70 bottles were produced. No additional corroboration for the BBR claim has been surfaced.

In addition to the plantings in 1978, the estate was further expanded and replanted in 1986 and 2000. At the conclusion of this effort, the vineyard consisted of three blocks with 1.6 ha producing 6000 - 7500 bottles of Brunello; 0.6 ha producing 4,000 - 5,000 bottles of Rosso di Montalcino, and 3 ha devoted to Toscana IGT. Vine density in all of these plantings was less than 3600 vines/ha. 

With the fruit yielded by this terroir, and his rejection of chemicals in the vineyard and selected yeasts in the cellars, Diego produced what Vigneron described as "deep and honest wines which reflect both the vintage and the poetic and hedonistic philosophy of their producer."

In the Fall of 2015, Molinari, now 84 years of age, sold the estate to a group of investors led by an American wine collector named Gary Reischel and Matthew Fioretti, who would assume the role of overall estate manager. The new management made a number of investments designed the improve the quantity and quality of fruit from the vineyard. First, they began a steady replanting with site-specific and disease-resistant clones planted at higher density. Second, they added 1.5 ha of Sangiovese vines on the steepest part of the estate. At the end of 2015, the estate converted to organic farming.

Grapes are harvested manually and transported to the winery where the best grapes are selected out on the sorting tables. After destemming (Mori paddle destemmer), the selected grapes are transferred to tricone wooden vats of 15, 25, and 30 hL for fermentation. Individual vineyard blocks are fermented separately using indigenous yeasts. Pumpovers are limited in order to avoid over-extraction. 

Only free-run juice is used in the winemaking process. These wines are placed back into the fermentation vats to undergo malolactic fermentation and remain on the lees, with periodic stirring, until the Spring of the following year. In the Spring, the wines are transferred into 10, 17, and 20 hL oval Slavonian barrels for aging. The wines are aged for 30 months with a minimum of racking.

Between 10,000 and 15,000 bottles of Brunello di Montalcino and 3,000 to 5,000 bottles of Rosso di Montalcino are produced annually.

I have personally tasted multiple bottles of the 2001 and 2010 editions of this wine. 


My introduction was at a Galloni tasting of top 2010 Brunellos. That night I found the 2010 Cerbaiona to be 'the best of the wines on display ... endowed as it was with finesse, elegance, layered complexity, and a wonderful balance." This wine continued to show well in subsequent tastings but still requires more bottle time to reach its peak.

The 2001 tends to earth, raspberry, cherries, rose petal, licorice, and herbs on the nose and rich, red cherry on the palate. Balanced, Integrated. Complex. lengthy finish.

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Diego Molinari created a standout, franchise wine and the reviewers sing from the same hymnal in describing his masterpiece. It will be interesting to see the impact of the management changes on how these wines perform and are perceived by the reviewers and the drinking public. 

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Piemonte wines from the Erbaluce cultivar

As is the case in the southern half of Piemonte, Nebbiolo is the king of red grapes in the region's north. There it is called Spanna (with the exception of Val d"Ossola where it is called Nebbiolo and an earlier variant is called Prunent). Unlike the south, with its "wide" variety of indigenous white grape varieties, the Erbaluce cultivar reigns supreme in the north. I explore the variety and its growing areas in this post

The figure below shows four allowed Erbaluce-based wines in Piemonte, one of which, Erbaluce di Caluso has been accorded DOCG status. All of the wines are made 100% from the Erbaluce grape.


Erbaluce is a high-acid, late-ripening grape of unknown origin which is currently limited to the northern part of Piedmont and the Canavese hills. The vine is vigorous and productive, with elongated bunches and bright yellow berries. The chart below illustrates key aspects of the cultivar and its preferred training system in Caluso and Canavese.


As I confirmed with Silvia Barbaglia of Barbaglia Winery again today, the topia system is not employed as a vine training method in either Colline Novaresi or Costa della Sesia. Rather, they train the vines using the Guyot scheme.

The growing regions associated with the four wines are detailed below.

Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG
Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG is a wine appellation covering the production of wine from the Erbaluce grape variety grown in 37 communes located in the Piemonte provinces of Torino, Biella, and Vercelli. 

Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG map 
(Source:http://www.erbalucecarema.it/en/)

At 188 ha, this is a relatively small appellation. It became a DOC in 1967 and was elevated to DOCG status in 2010.

The soils in the region are remnants of a post-ice-age glacial moraine. The thin topsoils are a mix of clays, pebbles, and shale rich in phosphorous, magnesium, and potassium.

The disciplinaire allows for the production of still, sparkling, and passito wines made wholly from the Erbaluce variety planted in the morainic soils at elevations ranging between 200 and 500 m. Vines must be trained Caluso pergola which dictates 500 m between rows and 5000 vines/ha.

I recently tasted the Cieck Erbaluce di Caluso Vigna Misobolo 2018


The wine had a faded green and hay color. Herbs, mint, and sweet fruit on the nose initially. Bright acidity on the palate along with a saline minerality, metallic character, citrus, citrus skin, and heavy excitation of the salivary glands. Some weight, but clean. After some residence in the glass, the edge came off the acidity and the taste observed was of sour citrus fruit, green herbs, minerality, and salinity. I held some of the wine over to the next day and it had become a cross between a Carricante, an Assyrtiko, and a Friulano from Collio: salinity, minerality, and weightier acidity but with the addition of a strong blackpepper character.

Canavese DOC
The disciplinaire for Canavese DOC (initially awarded in 1996) covers the growing of grapes --- and the production of white (1), rosé (1), red (3), and sparkling wines (2) therefrom -- in 114 ha distributed between 98 municipalities in Torino, seven municipalities in Bielle, and one municipality in Vercelli. According to torinodoc.com, Erbaluce "is now the most important grape in this area in terms of cultivated surface and the commercial value of the wine."

The growing area is humid with frequent foggy days. Rain is frequent and the summers are hot.

The grapes are grown in the humid soils on a series of morainic hills that surround Lake Candia. The wine growing area is broken into three distinct zones:
  • Alto Canavese -- several valleys between the hills
  • Basso Canavese -- area closest to Turin
  • Eporediese -- area in the municipality of Ivrea.
The white still wine produced in the DOC is made from 100% Erbaluce and is "straw yellow with a fruity deep nose" and a confirming palate.

Colline Novarese DOC
Key characteristics of this region are provided in the below chart.


I recently had a discussion with Silvia Barbaglia (Barbaglia) about their winery and wines and she was tasting a white wine and their Boca DOC during the course of our conversation. The white wine was the Lucino Colline Novaresi DOC. This wine is fermented in stainless steel (lengthy fermentation) and then bottled. The winery retains 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.

I have since bought and tasted the Lucino. It had a honeyed nose and was sweeter and weightier on the palate than the Erbaluce di Caluso I had tasted previously. I do not mind bright acidity; but that is a personal choice.


Costa della Sesia DOC
This DOC sits across the Sesia River from Colline Novaresi and serves the same purpose as its counterpart; a catchment area for wines not covered in the more-defined Alto Piemonte DOCs. While the soils of Colline Novaresi are alluvial moraine, the soils of Costa della Sesia are less homogenous. Key characteristics of the DOC are presented in the second figure following.

Costa della Sesia
(https://www.wijnkennis.be/locatie/coste-della-sesia)


According to vinook.it, this wine has "a more or less intense straw yellow color with a characteristic fine and intense aroma. The flavor is dry, harmonious, characteristic."

******************************************************************************************************
One of the key characteristics of the Erbaluce grape is its acidity, illustrated in part by the Barbaglia Winery's attempt to tamp it down. 

Given the relative locations one could visualize the wines from Caluso and Canavese being riper and richer than the wines from its more northerly compatriots and the acidity in the north to be more intense. 

Rain is a constant in all of the areas discussed and, in that sense, there is a similarity to the east coast of Mount Etna; and whites are favored there also. Some Carricante-like characteristics have been noted in the Erbaluce di Caluso.

Another sturdy thread in the tapestry that is Piemonte white wines.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Piemonte wines from the Arneis grape

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 in Barolo to serve as a (diversionary) food source for the birds, 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 Roero Arneis that is produced today.

But while Arneis has come to be closely associated with Roero, it is not the only Piemonte region producing wines from the grape. As the below chart shows, in addition to Roero, a DOCG-level Arneis is authorized in Terre Alfieri and a DOC-level wine in the Langhe.


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.

Source: vinotravelsitaly.com

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).

The grapes for the Vietti Roero Arneis 2015 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 was 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.

The 2014 Giacosa Arneis 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 finish.

The 2018 Rocca Felice Roero Arneis was 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.

Terre Alfieri DOCG
This region was accorded DOCG earlier in 2020 after having been initially awarded a DOC in 2009. The DOCG covers white wines made from Arneis and red wines made from Nebbiolo. The communes comprising the production zone are shown in the map below, with the southernmost four being in Cuneo Province and the remaining seven in Asti.

Terre Alfieri DOCG (Yellow color)
Source: http://www.winediffusion.it/images/
Terre-alfieri_macro.gif

There is a paucity of written information on this region. Its soils are described as being Asti sands, a legacy of the Pliocene era. A total of 48 growers meet the needs of 37 winemakers. A total of 250,000 bottles are produced annually.

Under the new disciplinaire, the minimum of four months aging for the Arneis wine has been discarded but a new designation of Superiore has been added. A wine must be aged for a minimum of 6 months in order to gain the Superiore designation (In the case of red wines, Superiore requires 12 months aging with a minimum of 6 months in wooden barrels. A further designation of Riserva is allowed if the wine has been aged for a ninimum of 24 months of which 12 months must be in wooden barrels.).

Therse wines are not widely available in the US but the literature describes a nose of peach melon blossom and a palate that includes melon, pear, mint, acidity, and a long finish.

Langhe Arneis DOC
This designation can be applied to Arneis wine produced anywhere in the Langhe region. The chart below shows the distribution of grape origins for a selected number of Langhe Arneis producers.


I tasted a bottle of Ceretto Langhe Arneis as a part of this exercise and the chart below shows the vineyards from which the grapes for this wine are sourced.


Ceretto, one of the most respected families in the Langhe region, began making this wine in 1985. Like all of its other wines, the source vineyards are farmed organically. This wine is 100% Arneis and is made from grapes grown on the south side of the Tanaro River. Being classified as Langhe Arneis (rather than Roero) could be a factor of where the grapes are vinified (in Alba proper), or whether the vineyards fall outside of the DOCG area, or both.


The 2018 Ceretto Blanghe Langhe Arneis DOC was star bright. Very aromatic with sweet white fruit, sweet white flower, and citrus on the nose. Bright acidity, citrus, and medium acidity on the palate. Perfumed. A resinous note along with drying on the palate. Blackpepper. Skin contact evident. Lengthy finish.


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, September 11, 2020

San Giusto a Rentennano's Percarlo: The wine that left Galloni "speechless"

Antonio Galloni did a vertical of San Giusto a Rentennano's flagship Percarlo and it left him "speechless." According to Antonio, "I was deeply struck by the consistency of the wines from year to year ... proving yet again the importance of choosing producer over vintage." I will be examining the 2012 edition of Percarlo in this post.


San Giusto a Rentennano is located in the village of Gaiole in Chianti in a position overlooking the upper course of the Arbia River.



The current estate site has had a storied life, beginning as a medieval monastery for Cistercian nuns, then becoming a 9th century military fortress which served as the boundary between the formerly warring polities of Siena and Florence, and, finally, passing into the hands of the Martine di Cigala family through a 1914 marriage.

The estate is 160 ha in size and is sub-divided into the following activity spheres: 31 ha devoted to vineyards; 11 ha for olive groves; 40 ha to woods; and 78 ha for cultivated and grazing lands. Management is the purview of Martini di Cigala family members Elisabetta, Francesco, and Luca.

The estate's vineyards sit at 270 meters on steep hillsides with southeastern exposure and is rich in sand, clay, lime, volcanic ash, and calcium. The vineyard -- certified organic since the 2008 vintage -- falls under the stewardship of Ruggero Mazzilli with Attilio Pagli as the consulting oenologist.

The overriding philosophy is an almost fanatic pre-occupation with quality. According to Skurnik Wines, San Giusto will sell off all or part of a poor vintage in bulk rather than place lower quality product on the market. 

Percarlo, first vintage in 1983, is a 100% Sangiovese wine made with grapes that are selected bunch by bunch from the best 8 ha of vines in the vineyards. The yield is 0.7 kg/vine.

The wine that I evaluated for this post was produced in 2012. According to the estate, growing conditions were as follows:
A dry early summer, the drought persisting until the beginning of August, during which abundant rains allowed for a good rehydration of the grapes. Year 2012 harvest produced a well balanced Percarlo of excellent concentration and freshness, with a prominent tannic component well suited for aging purposes.
This wine was fermented/macerated with indigenous yeasts for 30 days in enameled concrete vats. It was then aged for 22 months in 25% new French oak barriques and 5-hl tonneaux. It was aged for an additional 15 months in bottle prior to release on the market.


A stunningly beautiful wine. Popped and poured, revealing intense ripe blue fruit, violets, and spice along with a hint of balsamic. After some residence, highly aromatic, with a fruit core bolstered by nutmeg, cinnamon, tobacco, and curry notes. Intense ripe fruit on palate initially, along with a richness and a lengthy finish. Sour cherry with time and a hint of butterscotch. Medium-bodied ball of complexity with a slatey finish. 

I tried this wine with a curry dish later in the evening and continued to be impressed. Buy this wine if you encounter it. Better yet, seek it out.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Poggio di Sotto: A top-tier Brunello di Montalcino

Poggio di Sotto has been described as "the most Burgundian of the Brunellos" and as one of the two Montalcino "First Growths" (the other being Soldera). It is most definitely one of my favorite Brunello di Montalcino wines.

The estate was founded by Piero Palmucci (a former shipping executive) who, once he decided to make a Sangiovese wine, invested the time seeking out the best locale, and sites within that locale, to support the variety. He found that locale just outside the town of Castelnuevo dell'Abate, the site that is the home of Poggio di Sotto. The estate began operation in 1989.

After the launch of the estate, Piero initiated a collaboration with the University of Milan with the intent of identifying the finest Sangiovese clones and optimizing the vineyards (in terms of planting density and pruning practices). The end result was an organically farmed vineyard that served as the launch pad for one of the great Brunello di Montalcino wines. Piero was ably assisted in his efforts by the famed (now deceased) consulting enologist Giulio Gambelli.

Poggio di Sotto was sold to Claudio Tipa of Colle Massari Wine Estates in 2011 under the condition that the new owner "retain and respect the same quality standards and production techniques" that are the foundation of the estate's success and reputation.

The estate is located on a 40-ha (108-acre) plot with 16-ha currently planted to vines and the remainder dedicated to olive groves and forests. The property is located on high hills overlooking the Orcia river valley. Its three vineyard parcels are located on steep (10% gradient), south-facing slopes at 200, 300, and 450 m elevation, respectively.


Satellite view of Poggio di Sotto (Google Maps)

The warm Montalcino climate is moderated by the Orcia River and cooling breezes from Mt Amiata across the valley. The soil is rocky, with gravel and clay in the lowest parcels giving way to sandy clay at higher elevations.

The vineyards are planted to Sangiovese at densities ranging between 3000 and 4200 vines/ha. The vines, which are spurred-cordon trained, average 20 years of age.

The production of low-yield, high-quality wine is kicked off with two green harvests; the first in June, the second in late July/early August. Grapes are harvested manually with yields falling between 3 and 3.5 tons/ha. 

The estate produces two or three wines per harvest, depending on the year: a Brunello di Montalcino, a Rosso di Montalcino, and, in good years, a Brunello di Montalcino Riserva. The production characteristics of each wine is provided in the table below.

Wine

Fermentation Vessels

Yeast

Length

Cap Management

MLF

Aging

Brunello di Montalcino

70 hl Slavonian oak vats (4 - 12 years old)

Indigenous

30 - 35 days

Pump over

Yes

40 months in 25 - 35-hl Slavonian oak botti; 12 months in bottle 

Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

70 hl Slavonian oak vats (4 - 12 years old)

do.

do.

do.

Yes

60 months in 25 - 35-hl Slavonian oak botti; 12 months in bottle 

Rosso di Montalcino

Stainless steel and oak tanks

do.

do.

do.

Yes

24 months in 25 - 35-hl Slavonian oak botti; 6 months in bottle 


I have consumed a few bottles of these wines in the past and characterize a subset below. Many of these wines were tasted with my buddy Ron Siegel and I have incorporated his notes in those cases.

The 2005 showed herbs and red fruit on the nose. It was medium-bodied, rich and balanced on the palate.

The 2005 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino

The 2006 Riserva showed dark berries, sour cherry, mocha, a florality and earth on the nose. Ripe red cherries and balsamic on the palate. Balanced with a long finish.

Riserva 2006

The 2007 was rich and full-bodied, showing beautiful aromatics of dark fruits of cherry and currant with leather, tobacco leaf, florality, licorice, and spice. Layered, with soft tannins. Balanced. Lengthy finish.

2007

The 2008 showed ripe cherries and strawberry with a perfumed nose of earth, crushed rock, licorice, underbrush, dried rose petal, and tobacco. Medium acidity and tannins. Earth notes. Balanced, with a lengthy finish.

2008

Ripe red fruit, florality, mint, coffee, tobaco, and spices on the nose. Fruit character comes through on the palate. Elegant and complex. Lengthy finish.


Riserva 2008

Red berries, mint, and florality on the nose. Layered and elegant. Well integrated tannins with medium levels for both tannins and acidity. Balanced.

2009

Ripe red cherries and berries along with earth and herbs on the 1997. Perfumed. Medium bodied. Lengthy finish.

1997

The 1996 showed perfumed dark berries on the nose along with herbs, cinnamon on the palate. Medium acidity and a long finish.

1996

These wines are a pleasure to drink with elegance, balance and long finishes as hallmarks. I am looking forward to my next fix.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme


Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Piemonte whites: Elvio Cogno and the resurrection of the Nascetta cultivar

White wine grapes in the Langhe are forced to compete with powerhouse, world-renowned reds for vineyard space and customer attention. This state of affairs, combined with a reputation for "finnikiness," almost led to the demise of the Novello-origin cultivar Nascetta in the period between the two World Wars. I explore this variety, and the 2016 vintage of Elvio Cogno's offering, in this post.

The Variety
There is written reference to the variety -- and Novello as its origin -- in literature dating back to the mid-1800s. Alternatively referred to as Nas-cetta, or Anascetta, the cultivar was vinified as a sweet wine or as the aromatic contribution to Piemonte blends. It had a reputation of being "a delicate and sensitive grape" which was, due to inconsistent yields, "expensive to produce." The characteristics of the grape, and its authorized production within the Langhe, is shown in the chart below.


No significant plantings of Nascetta existed in the Langhe when, in 1993, Elvio Cogno and Valter Fissore (both of Elvio Cogno), plus a number of other Novello producers, attended a tasting organized by the journalist Armando Gambara. The subject of the tasting was a 1986 Nascetta and the Elvio Cogno duo were so impressed that they decided to pursue producing a wine from the grape. They were able to procure a few vines after a diligent search and produced an initial vintage of 800 bottles in 1994.

The wine producd in 1994 did not fall under any of the in-place wine production regulations. As a matter of fact, Nascetta was awarded its DOC in 2002 and then gained a further authorization in 2010 for Langhe Nascetta del Comune di Novello for 100% Nascetta wines produced within the confines of the municipality.

The wine that I tasted for my exploration of this grape's expression was the 2016 Elvio Cogno Anas-Cëtta Langhe Nascetta Comune di Novello.

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

Elvio Cogno and its vineyards
(Source: elviocogno.com)

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

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

An approximation of the Ravera Cru illustrated in brown

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

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

The Wine
Grapes for this wine are grown on an eastern-facing, 2-ha plot on top of the hill. The soil is limestone/clay with a small percentage of sand. The vines, planted at 4000/ha, are vertical-trellis-trained and Guyot-pruned. Half of the vines are newly planted while the remainder are between 10 and 20 years old. 

The 2016 vintage was one of the longest seasons on record, according to the Cogno website. It was the perfect vintage for Nascetta, yielding fresh and bright acidity and intense, complex flavors. 

The grapes were cold-soaked (skin contact) for 12 hours prior to fermentation with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tanks. The wine was aged on the lees for 6 months prior to bottling and spent a further 2 months in bottle before commercial release.


The wine had a yellow-green color with golden flecks. 

Green herbs, minerality, and a marine character on the nose initially. Star apple and white peaches and increasing salinity with time. 

Searing acidity on the palate along with astringency from the skin contact. Medium weight. Grapefruit, salinity and minerality. With residence in the glass exhibits the rusticity that I associate with white wines made in the Barolo zone.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme