In The Vineyards With: Franco & Giulia Masiero (Veneto)

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When I think of the wine-producing regions in the Veneto, my mind goes to immediately to Valpolicella, Soave, Prosecco. After a short pause, I go to the Colli Berici (south of Vicenza, where there’s young, promising producer Sauro Maule) and the Colli Euganei (home to the eccentric Marco Buratti) but the truth is that there’s actually so much more.

I myself am now based in one of the smaller winemaking towns which was summarily  described by Nicolas Belfrage in “Barolo to Valpolicella” (1999) under the title “other garganegas of the Veneto.” We’re effectively satellites of Soave and that comes as a cutting blow because there is so much talent that deserves to be uncovered. Discovering and sharing these other areas in the Veneto is going to be my focus of the next year or so.

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Franco Masiero

Let me introduce you, therefore, to Franco Masiero. His eponymous winery, Masiero, is based in the Lessini hills in what is essentially a viticultural no-man’s-land.

8 different wines are made from a gamut of grape varieties: garganega, chardonnay, pinot grigio, merlot, tai rosso, cabernet franc, pinot nero. In fact, there are so many micro-cuvées that many of them never get released onto the market but remain as treats for guests and friends.

These wines originate from just 4 and a half hectares of vineyards, which are split over two sites: in volcanic Selva di Trissino and limestone-and-fossil-heavy Sant’Urbano. The vineyards are farmed according to biodynamic principles and the cellar sees next to no sulphur, only natural winemaking. Speaking of winemaking, you’ll find all kind of receptacles: cement tanks, stainless steel, large old wooden barrels and even a doll-sized marble vat.

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This is where Giulia comes in.

To construct a winery was Franco’s dream but it falls on his elder daughter Giulia’s shoulders to take it forward. Her first vintage was 2015 and whereas you might have expected her to be something of a puppet, in the shadows of her charismatic father, she’s actually shown herself to be highly competent. One of her first moves (implemented just in time for the 2016 vintage) was to install large, untreated cement tanks. A risky decision but it has paid off. She works in the fields, tending each vine manually – day in day out. Multi-lingual, poised, and she’s only a mere 24 years old!

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Giulia Masiero

Winemaking is not something that’s been in the Masiero blood for generations so I wondered how this initial dream of Franco’s came about.

Apparently Franco’s best childhood memories are of him, with his father, going up into the hills for a week in November, hunting small game and drinking locally-made grappa. This precious week in the hills was essentially a moment of bonding between father, son and their guests. As I see it, Franco wanted to create an environment in which those same back-to-the-roots, simple pleasures were present in the modern day…. and what better way to spark conviviality than with a bottle of wine.

“Most people spend their disposable income on fast cars or fancy holidays. I could have bought a couple of Ferraris but instead I built a winery.”

I inquire as to the extent of his implication in the winery but whilst he maintains a strong interest, he has new dreams that he wants to see through. What I’m therefore looking forward to following closely is how Giulia will make her mark. They’ve had some difficult years recently – the elements have not been kind and the yields have been low – but this is a winery with huge promise.

Il Verdugo cresce, le annate cambiano, ma le emozioni restano. 💣💣💣 #Repost @perrikinobevevino with @insta.save.repost • • • Good people make good wines. I still remember when I tried this Merlot with @mathiasskovmand for the first time… we were immediately blown away. Without thinking to much, we both decided we had to bring some bottles back to Denmark! They told us we could buy as many as we wanted, but up 48bottles! The production of Verdugo still is so limited, but I eventually managed to increase the volume of my allocation year by year (now is 60bottles). A wine made by the most genuine family I know, where you breathe nothing but joy, and when you drink their wines you get it all. Yesterday I had the 2015 at Bæst: BOMBA!

A post shared by Giulia Masiero (@giuliamasiero) on

Visit: 11 January 2018

Official Website / Facebook

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Terre di Pietra’s “Stelar” Valpolicella Classico 2017

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Last week was a busy week in Verona because the who’s who in the wine world came to Romeo and Juliet’s historic city for the Anteprima Amarone.

As you may have deduced, Anteprima is a sneak peak at the just-released vintage, which this year for Amarone is 2014. But…. and this is a big but…. 2014 was a disasterous year in this part of the world and many quality producers chose not to make an Amarone.

The brave souls who came from all four corners of the world were secretly asked “but you’re not really going to drink and actually rate that, are you?” by the local wine trade.

Despite there being a bad year here or there, Amarone doesn’t need any help to be sold. Exports to Germany (its biggest market) are up 30%, + 15% to China and Japan, + 10% to the USA. Nomisma Wine Monitor reckons that the total value of Amarone sales in 2017 was an eyewatering 355 million euros (as reported in the local newspaper, link here.) Today, I wanted to stay in the Valpolicella region but to talk about something a little different: the most recent vintage from Terre di Pietra.


This might be a rather strange thing to say out loud but I prefer tasting entry level wines. A winery’s entry level gives me a better idea of the personality and the spirit of its other wines. High-end wines tend to be rather monotonous – mostly fruit forward, barrel aged, full bodied – but a base wine is more revealing and more telling. Also, if you are capable of making a good base wine, now we’re talking!


TERRE DE PIETRA “Stelar” Valpolicella Classico barrel sample 2017 (Corvina 40%, Corvinone 30%, Rondinella 20%, Molinara 10%)

Terre di Pietra is a relatively recent winery, based in the eastern section of the Valpolicella region. It started off in 2005 when a talented, passionate woman, Laura Albertini, just 25 years old, was given a bit of garage space at her father-in-law’s house in which she could make wine. Her own father had pushed her into a degree in chartered accounting and wanted her to lead a ‘conventional’ life. She, however, had her own mind.

It took 5 years to convince her father but finally, in 2010, construction started on a fully equipped winery. The first vintage at this new magnificent winery in Marcellise was in 2011. She was widely touted as one of Valpolicella’s upcoming winemakers to watch.

This story has a tragic twist because Laura died suddenly in March 2017. In the past year, her widow, Cristiano Saletti, has had to wrangle with the loss of his wife whilst also making important decisions about the future of the winery.

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I managed to get my hand on a couple of barrel samples from 2017. This, therefore, is the first vintage of Cristiano calling all the shots. but it should be said that he was given a helping hand by reputed oenologue, Franco Giacosa. I wanted to get a taste of the direction that the winery was heading.

Initially, the most striking thing is its colour: a beautiful dark pink, reminiscent of wild raspberries or the ideal tint for a trusty, go-to lipstick. Aromas are vinous, spicy and inviting. Lots of morello cherry.

One sip becomes two and two sips become three. I catch myself reaching for the bottle and refilling my glass. Of the barrel samples that I tried (and there were several) this is my favourite. There’s nothing pretentious or out of place about it: very light, bone dry, easy-drinking, and despite having been such a hot, parshed year, it retains an amazing amount of freshness and minerality.

It is so light that it would probably be overwhelmed by most food pairings but it will excel on a hot day on its own or with a a slice of salami or a bit of cheese (like the local cheese Monte Veronese.)

Based on the previous vintages, I get the feeling that Cristiano will be continuing along the natural path that Laura started and maybe taking it even further. Time will tell.

I imagine the wine will be released for sale in the springtime. It’s wonderfully juicy and definitely up there on the drinkability level with the Poulsard that I wrote about last week.  Served slightly chilled, it would make for perfect summertime drinking. Retails for around 10-14 euros.

Tasted 7th February 2018.

Terre di Pietra official website and Facebook

In The Vineyards With: Laura Rizzoto (Balestri Valda, Soave)

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“I’m the wild child in the family,” claims Laura Rizzotto.

Balestri Valda is a relatively-recent, family-run winery, with vineyards and the cellar perched just above the town of Soave, in the Veneto of Italy.

I say relatively-recent but it is worth mentioning that the family are far from being newcomers. They are well-known locally and made their name as contractors specialising in sparkling wines. (i.e. if you wanted to make a wine in autoclave (prosecco-style) but didn’t have the means to do so yourself, you take your still wine to them and they’ll transform it.)

Laura and her father, Guido, work together on the Balestri Valda winery, while her brother and grandfather are still actively making bubbles for other local producers in Soave and the surrounding area.

The Balestri Valda cellar was clearly a huge investment; it is large and spotlessly clean. Currently 65,000 bottles of wine are made per year and it’s predominantly Soave Classico DOC.

The Balestri Valda cellar

At the end of 2016, Laura finished university and moved back to Soave. She’s taking an increasingly important role at the winery and she’s a huge believer of biodiversity.

“My father waits for me to go on holiday and the first thing he does is cut the grass!! It’s not good for the bees. They need longer grass.”

Photo (c) Laura Rizzotto

Yes, did I mention that Balestri Valda make their own mille-fleurs/millefiori honey?

 

Laura is bringing in several important changes to the Balestri Valda winery: firstly, that they are in the process of obtaining official organic certification.

Secondly, their new wine “Libertate” – is Laura’s pet project. It is made from Trebbiano di Soave only – a far call from the traditional Soave (from garganega grapes or a blend) – and vinified in amphora and stainless steel. They’re not quite natural wines yet – I’m used to wines with a little less SO2 – but if Laura gets her way, Balestri Valda is heading very much in the right direction! A winery to watch!



Balestri Valda website and Facebook