What Is Prosecco?

Standard

For a Brit like myself, Prosecco basically means cheap Champagne. We don’t care how it was made, or that the grape varieties are completely different from Champagne… it’s fizzy and it’s cheap!

However, if you’re reading my blog, it’s already a sign that you’re above hoi polloi and that we should dig deeper.

If you know anything about Prosecco, it may well be that Prosecco is made using the charmat method (in contrast to Champagne and Cava.) “Charmat” means that the secondary fermentation takes place in a tank and the subsequent sparkling wine is filtered and bottled under pressure to maintain the bubbles. The majority of Prosecco that you find in conventional supermarkets is indeed made using charmat. But if you’re into your natural wines, you may have heard of col fondo prosecco, which is very different. (More about that very soon.)


What is Prosecco? Well, it’s also the name of a grape variety. Helpfully enough, the prosecco grape is the dominant variety for making Prosecco wine. Less helpfully, the prosecco grape is also known as glera. *eye roll* Continue reading

Lusenti’s Bianca Regina 2010

Standard

I went to Venice yesterday. Had a delicious lunch at Estro (highly recommended, by the way!) and then decided to see if I could retrace my steps to a cute, little wine bar that I stumbled across in December.

Fortunately, my trusty nose / ability to find wine / sense of direction is pretty good and, even though I didn’t remember the name or address, I was able to find my way back to the Cantina Arnaldi (also totally worth the visit.)

Andrea at Cantina Arnaldi, Venezia

Andrea of the Cantina Arnaldi, Venezia

I actually had a secret agenda – I wanted to bring a bottle of something a little different back for my boyfriend, “A”. I asked Andrea at Arnaldi (pictured above) for a suggestion… and it turns out to have been spot on. It’s one of the most interesting wines I’ve drunk recently.


LUSENTI (Colli Piacentini DOC, Emilia) Bianca Regina 2010 Malvasia di Candia Aromatica (13.5%)

Lusenti is an organic winery and part of the VinNatur association but one that I didn’t know of before. They’re located near Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna, set in a unique micro-climate between the Po river and the Apennine mountains.

Once harvested, the grapes are left for three or four days for a skin-contact maceration at controlled temperatures.

I’m actually a pretty mean girlfriend because, once I got home, I put some aluminium foil around the bottle and poured a glass for “A” to taste blind.

On first impressions, it smells sweet: lots of ripe apricot, honey, quince and fresh nutmeg. “A” got it straight away, “Malvasia!”

With a traffic-light amber colour, the wine’s vintage was harder to guess. It’s clearly relatively mature because the juice is completely in place but there’s no hint of oxidation. Timeless.

What I found particularly enjoyable about this wine is the gustatory sensations. Despite the sweet nose, the wine is almost completely bone dry. It seduces you in phases: starting with fleshy fruits and almonds, moving through tannins, acidity and mentholated freshness and finishing on a slight bitterness, very typical of skin-contact wines. Lipsmackingly moreish!


Tasted: 13th March 2017

Price: €€

Rating: ****


Lusenti website and Facebook

Getting Ready for Vinitaly and the Natural Wine Tastings 2017

Standard

Sometime in early April every year, the city of Verona and the surrounding areas come alive for one week.

You see, it’s our annual appointment with Vinitaly, the largest wine exhibition in the world… and exclusively dedicated to Italian wines.

As I sit here, in my rural ‘office’, a helicopter has just flown by heading towards the city of Romeo and Juilet and reminded me of the frentic energy that always accompanies this event. (9 – 12th April, 9.30am – 6pm.)

Photo: Paola Giagulli

Photo: Paola Giagulli (April 2016)

If you are in the wine industry and looking for the classic trade show experience, you can amuse yourself for at least a couple of days amongst the dozen pavillons and the countless stands. You’ll find all the regions of Italy represented from Alto-Adige and Basilicata to Umbria and the Veneto.

As evening entertainment, you have various events organised under the umbrella of “Vinitaly and the City“.

 

To be honest though, I have only once managed to get into central Verona and participate in the Vinitaly and the City events.

My days look more like this:
– 7.30am: I hit the road. Parking around the Expo is always a nightmare and traffic is often at a standstill. If I leave early enough, I will miss the worst of it.
– 9am: The fair is not yet open, but there is a café by the entrance where I’ll have a cappuccino with a fellow sommelier.
– For the best part of the day, I’ll be juggling between giving a helping hand to the winemakers with whom I work whilst also tasting wines for my own pleasure. You may remember from previous years (2015 (1 and 2) and 2016 (1 and 2)) that I have enjoyed the Young To Young tastings.
– I try to leave the Fair before the main rush so normally I’ll get to the restaurant for dinner with a few minutes to spare. There’s nothing like a cold beer after a whole day of wine tastings!
– I’ll have dinner just outside Verona with one of my winemakers and his importers… until about 10.30pm, when it’s time for me to gate-crash another dinner with another winemaker!
– Needless to say, by 1am, I’m ready for my bed!

If, like me, you’re into organic, low-intervention wine, you should not miss out on the unofficial parallel tastings.

The VinNatur Association are hosting 170 natural wine producers from 9 countries in a stunning location (see featured photo) closer to Vicenza called “Villa Favorita.” (8, 9, 10th April 2017, 10am – 6pm.)

A little further south of Verona, in the town of Cerea, Vini Veri hold a smaller tasting – of approximately 100 producers. (7, 8, 9th April, 10am – 6pm.)

In 2016, a third parallel tasting popped up, organised by Meteri. They cleverly decided to shake up the programme by scheduling their event in the late afternoon and evening. 40 winemakers at “Notturno.” (9, 10th April, 4pm – 1am.)

By now, you’ll probably understand why I described the “Vinitaly week” as frenetic! Repeat my schedule for a full five days and you’ll understand why they call this work!

Backstage at the Soavino Wine Tasting

Standard

Earlier this week, Soavino held their annual tasting at the Villa Gritti, near Soave. Not having a restaurant, wine bar or off-licence, I shouldn’t really have been allowed in but I am a regular client of their enoteca (also near Soave) and I also happen to be friends with several of the exhibiting winemakers who put me on the guest list.

In the wine world, we sometimes get so caught up in tasting notes and comparing vintages that we forget about what is happening backstage, on a human level….

mel_danielaChampagne’s most recent power couple!

You may remember that I spent the afternoon with Melanie Tarlant at their winery near Épernay last year. Well, there’s news, hot off the press:

She met Daniel Romano quite by chance, while she was presenting her family’s Champagnes at the Villa Favorita tasting in Italy in April 2016. Daniel, an accomplished sommelier specialised in natural wines, stopped by the stand to taste… and Cupid shot them both with his arrow! Daniel moved to France at the end of 2016 in order to be closer to Melanie. Best of luck to both of them!


Going back to basics with Olivier Varichon

olivier_varichona

The quality of the cork closure is fundamentally important for a winemaker. A bad cork can ruin a year’s worth of work in an instant.

We commonly talk about TCA (cork taint) affecting a wine, by making it “corked”, but a bad cork can actually spoil a wine in other ways… turning it bitter, flat or dusty.

When winemakers get together, one of the questions that I hear the most is: where do you get your corks? Amongst old world winemakers, the most highly respected regions are Portugual and Sardinia.

At the Soavino tasting, I got chatting to Olivier from Domaine Vinci, in the Roussillon (south-west France.) He explains that his corks are from the French part of the Basque country and are completely untreated. A cork manufacturer may add wax to fill in the holes and give a more appetising tan colour to the final product. Olivier’s, on the other hand, are distinctly knobbly and have a bleached white colour.


axellea

The talented Axelle Machard de Gramont whose 2014 Nuits-Saint-Georges are showing beautifully.


In case you were wondering what the featured photo was in the header of this blog post…. it was taken during a brief pause on the André Beaufort stand. The Italians love Champagne and André Beaufort’s are one of the biggest sellers at the Soavino shop. Unsurprisingly, they got through a ton of bottles at this tasting.

Many of the Beaufort Brut Champagnes have a fairly high level of added sugar (dosage, in French.) The exact level ranges between 5 and 10 grams/litre.

Having a little extra sugar helps in markets like the USA, Canada and other “newbie” consumers for whom completely bone-dry Champagnes tend to be too sharp.

Réol (pictured below) is the 6th of the eight Beaufort children. He explains that this style of Champagne is very much to his father’s liking, especially because he has found that dosage helps with the ageing process of the wines.

He comes over to talk with us later and reveals that his personal style is rather more towards having a lower dosage, maybe around 2g/l. Obviously, having such a large family – most of whom are in some way involved in the family business – you can’t always get what you want… but, once again, the passing from one generation to the next is not easy.

Réol Beaufort

Six Great Red Wines from the “Vin Passion” Tasting 2017

Standard

While the entirety of my Facebook community was in the Loire Valley this past weekend for the annual circuit of Greniers Saint Jean, Pénitentes, Anonymes, La Levée and La Dive, I was at home, nursing my luckless puppy back to four paws.

I was, however, fortunate enough to hit up a small natural wine tasting called Vin Passion (formerly “Les Amis de la Cugnette”) near Lyon the week before.


Here are my six favourite red wines from the tasting:

TENUTA GRILLO (Piedmont) “Pecoranera” Monferrato DOC 2004 Freisa (75%) with Dolcetto, Barbera & Merlot (14.5%)

Freisa is one of the most underrated grapes from Piedmont. Tenuta Migliavacca make a delicious version which I’m familiar with, but to taste Tenuta Grillo’s Freisa from 2004 was very interesting. The aromas were obviously more evolved and but still showed plenty of delicious red fruit. On the palate, it’s a little rustic, but it’s very typical of this area. Lots of liquorice spice and jammy cassis fruit. The tannins from the dolcetto bring a persistent mouthfeel but it tastes remarkably fresh for its age. Would make a delicious pairing with mushroom risottos or lamb with wild herbs.

PITHON-PAILLÉ (Loire) “Dessus Narçay” Chinon 2015 Cabernet Franc

Vibrant, old-vine Cabernet Franc at its best. This wine balances effortlessly upon a tightrope of spice (cloves, mace), fruit (jammy and cooked) and savoury characters (game and bell pepper.) The delicious finish bears testimony to 2015 being such a good vintage in this part of the Loire.

2016, in contrast, was a disaster in Chinon. Jo’s vines suffered first a bout of ice and then drought. Sadly no Chinon will be produced.

WALTER MASSA (Piedmont) “Monleale” Colli Tortonesi DOC 2010 Barbera (14%) 

Walter is known for his white wines (made with the little-known grape “Timorasso”) but his reds are also noteworthy. This Barbera (bearing the same name as Walter’s village) maintains an incredible freshness. It has huge vivacity in the mouth with lively acidity – typical for Barbera. This only accentuates the red fruit characters (raspberry, red cherry) which dominate the palate. Complex.

FRANCK PEILLOT (Savoie) Bugey AOC 2015 Mondeuse

A surprisingly elegant and supple wine. An inviting violet colour, leads to dense fruit characters (black cherry and garrigue) and a mildly smoky nose. The palate is open and expressive. Medium-bodied. Smooth finish, rounded out by very delicate and integrated tannins.

CHRISTOPHE ABBET (Valais, Switzerland) Syrah 2014

Christophe Abbet’s juice was, for me, one of the most interesting discoveries at the Vin Passion wine fair. All beautifully-balanced, elegant wines, I chose to write about the syrah because it was so totally different from the wine I’d sipped the night before (see below!) This had a deep, dark colour; a midnight blue. The nose was medicinal (eucalyptus), fruity (cassis) and floral (violet) and totally surprising. Such an aromatic start turned into a delicate mouthfeel (think, blueberry yoghurt and crème de cassis.) Utterly delicious.

NOËL VERSET (Rhone) Cornas 1999 Syrah

It is wines like this that remind you why you work in the wine industry in the first place. This is one of the most aromatic wines I’ve had the chance to drink in a long time and it’s a textbook example of a perfectly mature syrah: tobacco box, leather, vanilla, tart blueberries… Despite 18 years of ageing, this Cornas still tasted amazingly fresh. The silky tannins melt away and are replaced by an acidity which deserves its own Ode to Joy. It’s my wildcard because, obviously it wasn’t one of the wines in the exhibition. (Noël Verset retired in 2000 and died in 2015.) I tasted it at the winemaker dinner on Saturday night. Thank you to Eric Texier for bringing his treasured bottle over to me!

The Landscape of Soave

Standard

“Arguably, more than any other Italian wine, Soave is characterized by a pyramid-shaped production philosophy that puts a rigorously limited number of family producers at the apex and large, commercially driven cooperatives at the base. Depending on your point of view, Soave’s class-versus-mass dynamic is either its strongest selling point or its biggest weakness.” (Wine Enthusiast)

It’s hard to explain the realities of “Soave” to a newcomer. I don’t entirely agree with the quote above because it rather over-simplifies the situation. We’ve (fortunately) moved far away from the days of Soave Bolla and of insipid white wines costing next to nothing.

The Soave landscape of today is a complex mosaic of backward growers, established families and a dabbling of small, independent wineries, all of whom co-exist under a pervasive blanket of fog, which is the cantina sociale.

Within the Soave DOC (I’m taking the flatlands together with Soave Classico and Colli Scaligeri) there are close to 3,000 people who own vineyards (yep, three thousand growers).

Of these, 190 are what you would consider winemakers (in the sense that they make wine) and only between 50 and 60 actually bottle and commercialise their production.

That means that over 2500 local villagers (contadini) sell their grapes directly to the cantina sociale. (For the sake of strict accuracy, there are actually several active co-operatives in the area but for sake of this post, I’m only referring to the cantina sociale as a single, abstract entity.)

In 2016, the cantina sociale of Soave set a new record: they vinified over one million quintals of grapes. To put that into layman’s English, this means they turned one hundred million kilos of grapes into wine.

As easy as it is to poo-poo the cantina sociale, they provide a regular livelihood for many in this area. Without it, the region’s key industry would be wiped out overnight.

However, making such an absurd quantity of wine means they sell with very low margins. There is no denying that this extremely competitive price point has directly led to Soave’s reputation as a cheap wine. Personally, I point the finger of blame at their many labels, on which there is not enough transparency for the consumer to easily identify a co-operative wine from independent family wine.

cantina sociale soave portfolio wines

Screenshot of the Cantina Sociale portfolio. n.b. a large proportion of their production is also red wines. 

Speaking of the families…. don’t be fooled by attempts from the established families to convince you that they are small producers. They may bottle their own wines but they’re far from being small.

Pieropan, for example, makes 700,000 bottles per year. Gini has 55 hectares (135 acres) of vineyards. Their wines are some of the most prestigious in Soave but don’t let them pull the wool over your eyes. It’s a commercial operation.

There’s an ugly side to some of these established families too. The head of the Zonin family was, for 20 years, the president of the Banca Popolare di Vicenza and is now under investigation for fraud after allegedly mishandling over a billion euros and swindling four thousand account holders.

It’s not all bad news. There are true, small, independent wineries in Soave, much as those you find commonly in France. Because they don’t have the same resources as the cantina sociale or “the families”, they are not so easy to find… but watch this space, over the coming weeks, I’m going to identify them.

The more I think about it, once you look beyond the picturesque hills of Soave and their endless trellises, the image that the Wine Enthusiast should have used is not one of a pyramid but actually one of two triangles: one inverted over the other, showing the smaller producers being squeezed by the giants and the cantina sociale.


Part Two: The Terroir of Soave (coming soon!)

(All information contained in this article is to the best of my knowledge and in good faith. My sources include: Il Soave, local winemakers and employees of the Cantina Sociale. If there are any errors, please bring them to my attention by email or in the comments below.)

#WomenDoWine respond to the “Femme de Chef” Awards

Standard

You may or not be aware of my feminist leanings. I try to keep them to a minimum on this blog but, on rare occasions such as this, I can’t contain myself.

I’m part of a recently-formed group called “Women Do Wine” (already 1200 members on Facebook, in under a month) which aims to highlight the bleeding obvious – that women, despite the fact that we don’t have a Y chromosome or much facial hair, are actually capable of working in the wine industry.

The objective of the WdW group is to increase the visibility of women in all aspects of the industry. As I see it, to set an example to others starting out (showing possibilities in different areas, not just sales and marketing) and supporting those who are on their way.

15940948_120234401816578_5561043252370523033_n

It is through this group that we learnt of a new French award called Femme de Chef… which translates into English as Wife of a Chef. Yep, you read that correctly.

The feature photo in the header is the cover image for this Award. The qualities they’re looking for are (L-R): give, love, bring, pacify, comfort, accompany, reassure, support, guide, share and serve. Yep, you read that correctly too.

In response to this atrocity of an idea, Women do Wine have penned an open letter to its founder. The original letter can be found here. Below is my hasty translation. Continue reading