What Is Prosecco?

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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

The Landscape of Soave

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“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.

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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.)

In The Cellar With: Alessandro Maule (Veneto)

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The name “Maule” is one of the most evocative for natural wine in the Veneto, north-east Italy.

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The story starts in the late 1980s when Angiolino Maule and his wife buy a small farm-holding of six hectares and start making little-to-no-intervention wines. This small farm-holding, near Gambellara (just east of Soave), included the house La Biancara which subsequently lent its name to the winery.

Famiglia #vinnatur @alice.feiring @filippisoave #angiolinomaule #wine2wine @paolagiagulli @burntcream_hq

A post shared by Paola Giagulli (@paolagiagulli) on

 

Even from the very beginning, Angiolino had a clear idea of how he wanted to make wine (putting nature first and not pumping it full of commerical yeasts, enzymes and the like) but found that his vision was leaps and bounds ahead of the market. Continue reading

In The Vineyards With: Cristina, Gelmino and Andrea Dal Bosco (Le Battistelle, Soave)

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In my attempt to visit as many of the small, independent wineries in Soave (there are not as many as you might think!) the next on my list was Le Battistelle.

The house and cellar for Le Battistelle are located near the village of Brognoligo, in the heart of the Soave Classico DOC, but on the eastern-facing side of the Soave hills.

Gelmino’s family has been working these vineyards for decades but it’s only been since 2002 that they started making and bottling their wines, rather than selling the grapes to the local co-operative.

He, his wife, Cristina (pictured above), and son, Andrea (below), showed me around.

dsc08049aWithin the first few minutes, you realise that this is a small, entirely family-run entreprise, crafting completely hand-made wines. They have 9 hectares of vineyards of pure garganega, split between four different plots on the surrounding volcanic hills. These vineyards are perched on such steep slopes that most are impossible to pass through with a tractor.

Gelmino and Cristina strive to work without chemicals in the vineyard as far as possible, but are not certified organic because they want to maintain the possibility of using something stronger than copper in a bad year.

The vineyards are so precipitous that they become very dangerous after heavy rainfall (which is unfortunately when bugs and other nasties tend to propagate) and to be doing treatments every other day is simply not realistic.

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This is apparently the “easy” vineyard!

Because the work in the vineyards is so laborious, the vinification in the cellar is very simple. There are just three wines: the most basic (“Montesei”), a reserve (“Le Battistelle”) and one with two days of skin contact (“Roccolo Del Durlo”). When the grapes arrive in the cellar, they are destemmed and pressed. The temperature-controlled fermentations take place in stainless steel with selected yeasts. The top two wines will stay on the fine lies for 6-8 months with regular batonnage.

Gelmino doesn’t have any wooden barrels and he doesn’t let the malolactic fermentation occur, meaning that the wines retain their fresh, fruity character and remain crisp and mineral. A perfectly classic Soave Classico.

dsc08040aWhat I haven’t mentioned yet (I’m saving the best for last!) is the age of the vines at Le Battistelle – some are a spectacular 100 years old! The bulbous base of the plant emerging from the volcanic rock, amongst all the fallen leaves and the pruned branches, was a treat to see.

As I’m tentatively making my way through the vineyard in pursuit of the perfect vine, Cristina tells me about an association (CERVIM) specialised in “mountain and steep slope viticulture.” Very deservingly, two of their single vineyards Le Battistelle and Roccolo del Durlo have been classified as “heroic viticulture.”

As a permanent reminder, the logo for Le Battistelle is a shoulder harness with two baskets, which was used until only very recently to carry out grapes from their vineyards.

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The terracing makes it impossible to go through with a tractor.

Visit the website: http://www.lebattistelle.it/

Le Battistelle are also on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

Visited: 5th December 2016


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In The Vineyards With: Marco Buratti (Azienda Agricola Farnea, Veneto)

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“Go round the back; you’ll find the keys in the flowerpot. Let yourselves in. I’ll be back in about 15 mins.”

That was how my visit to Marco Buratti’s house in the Colli Euganei, near Padova, started.

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KEY FACTS

Marco has 2 hectares (~4 acres) of old vines and 3 hectares of woodland, on the volcanic soils of the Colli Euganei National Park, near Padova.

He makes between 8,000 – 10,000 bottles per year of red, white and rosé.

His first vintage was 2007. However, 2010 and subsequently 2011 were both washouts because of a severe hailstorm.

Varieties include: Moscato, Tokai and Malvasia, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and small quantities of another 5 very rare, red varieties.


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We take a seat and wait for Marco to return. The radio is on and David Bowie’s voice is echoing around the room. It’s an absolutely beautifully appointed house; reminiscent of a mountain cabin with exposed stone walls and old wooden beams… but there are a couple of quirky touches: a kitchen which could easily pass for a professional restaurant and in the living room, stylish art nouveau lamps. In pride of place, is the dog basket. Continue reading

Harvest 2016: The Final Week

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We are (finally!) approaching the end of Harvest 2016, up here in Castelcerino, in the Soave hills. It’s been by far the longest harvest that anyone here at the winery can remember. Since the 1st September, between 3 and 6 people have been hand-harvesting the 15 hectares, meticulously arranging the precious bunches of grapes into small boxes.


Looking Back Over Harvest 2016

The Preparations – starting the yeast pied-de-cuve.

Early September – at the beginning of the harvest, when I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

Mid-September – at this point I still had plenty of energy and had concretised my place in the team.

End of September – with the end of harvest in sight, I was feeling tired but happy.


Continue reading