Getting Ready for Vinitaly and the Natural Wine Tastings 2017

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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!

Young to Young Tasting 2016: Part 2

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Back at Young to Young this morning, we had an absolutely stunning line up. Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo and Amarone. All well-known, prestigious regions, but from new producers who are yet to hit the big time.

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My most surprising discovery, which I would like to share with you first, is the VIGNETI DI ETTORE, based in Valipolicella, Veneto.

The Vigneti di Ettore is a curious partnership between Gabriele Righetti, our Young to Young speaker today, alongside his 80-year-old grandfather, Ettore.

Ettore, worked for many years for the Cantina di Negrar, the local cooperative. Gabriele studied oenology at Verona
University.  

They make approximately 40,000 bottles per year, from their 7 hectares of vines.
The organic vineyards are planted with the classic Valipolicella varieties: essentially, Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella but with a few others thrown in too.

Gabriele explains why he chose a career as a winemaker:
“Vines are not an essential form of agriculture. We don’t need them to survive… but growing grapes and then making wine gives pleasure. It adds pleasure to my day knowing that the people who drink the finished product will enjoy it.”

The wine we try is an Amarone della Valipolicella Classico 2012.

Amarone is often a very heavy style of wine; and to be honest, I was a little apprehensive about finishing my glass at only 11 in the morning. However, I needn’t have worried. This is one of the very best Amarones I’ve tried.

With a deep purple colour, the nose is wonderfully expressive: an explosion of red fruit and black berries, some spice – it’s quite beguiling!

It follows through with a fantastic structure as you sip and slurp; full bodied but the different components of acidity, tannins and fruit are so perfectly integrated and distinguished. It’s 16 deg ABV, but you really don’t taste it.

Retail price in Italy: around 30 euros.
Most imporant export markets: Scandinavian countries
Not currently imported into the UK… but if you are out there and reading this, I would recommend you snap it up ASAP

I don’t know many people in the wine industry who would turn their nose up at a Barolo.

Nicola Oberto is one of three associates to have a handful of hectares in the sandy La Morra area of Piedmont. They have 8 hectares of organically farmed vines of Nebbiolo, Barbera and a very small patch of Sauvignon Blanc. The resulting wines are commercialised under the label of Azienda Agricola Tre di Berri.

Nicola had his epiphanic moment back in 2001 when he was trying Jean-Pierre Robinot’s Anjou wines in the Loire. It was the point-of-no-return moment when he saw the potential for natural winemaking.

The wines are made with no sulfites during fermentation, therefore relying solely on native yeasts. Let me just say how rare that is for this area! The vineyards are certified organic and have been since the very beginning in 2010. The cellar is comprised mainly of botte grande and several barriques.

The wine we try is his Barolo 2012 – from the young vines ageing between 10 and 20 years old. Despite that, there are already some promising tertiary flavours – chocolate, balsamic – as well as the initial floral and mineral nose. Once the wine envelopes your tastebuds, you realise the huge ageing potential of this nectar. It has such promise – soft, beautiful tannins, clearly very ripe, healthy grapes and a nice acidity at the end.

When we learnt that the wine only costs 27 euros (retail), there was a gasp of disbelief that went round the room.
Speaking to Nicola later, he maintains that he has no desire to put a hefty price tag on his wines, just because he happens to be located in a very respected region. The wines are honest and the price point should be too.

Imported into the UK by Berry Bros & Rudd. No official importer in France.

We also tried a very elegant wine from Fattoria del Pino in Brunello di Montalcino. Jessica took the reins of this property in 2000 and started planting vines from 2002 until 2007.

More precisely, the vineyards are situated in the area of Montosoli, just on the slope of the Montalcino hill. The soil is a combination of clay, limestone and galet stones.

Jessica shudders at the prospect of working all day in front of a computer. She belongs in the vines, apparently. However, it’s not all daisies and buttercups; the manual work aspect (especially doing maintenance on the tractor and working in the cellar) she finds particularly challenging as a woman. It’s her desire to leave something tangible behind for her son that keeps her motivated.

We taste her Brunello di Montalcino 2011. Beautiful garnet colour, floral and fruit notes (especially prunes) on the nose. There’s no denying the very fine tannins, the continuity of dried fruit notes and the freshness on the end of the palate. It’s a very distinguished wine and Jessica is clearly someone to watch as her vines gain maturity.

Young to Young Tasting 2016: Part 1

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I’m pleased to say that I’m back for another round of Young to Young tastings. The concept is that selected wine bloggers (of which, again, I’m the only foreign one!) sit in a sterile VIP room, far above the bustle of the trade show and taste wines from new, interesting, small producers. 

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The Vinitaly wine tasting has one huge Achilles heel: Verona’s transport system. A producer from Sicily called the shuttle bus from the city centre as bad as one of Dante’s circles of hell. From personal experience, I can say that trying to find a parking space is no better.

So here we are, twenty five minutes after the tasting’s supposed start time and there are only four of the dozen writers and two of the three producers. Once again, Verona’s traffic has thwarted even the best made plans.

Finally, the tasting gets underway and we get to discover today’s selection of “Young to Young: Giovani Produttori Incontrano Giovani Consumatori.” (If you’re interested, you can see last year’s posts here and here.)

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Despite my whingeing, I actually quite like these tastings because it’s an efficient way to see who are the next generation of quality wine producers in Italy. These people are sure to be the names that we will hear more and more about as they establish themselves in their field and region.

We start with a producer from the Oltrepò Pavese. When I think of this region, to be honest, the first wine which comes to mind is the sparkling Bonarda which makes up the most significant part of local production.

Today, however, we try a Methodo Classico (i.e. Champagne-style) wine from Azienda Agricola Calatroni. It’s 100% Pinot Noir. We learn that the Montecalvo Versiggia hills are especially suited for growing Pinot Noir. The soil is heavily calcareous (limestone) which enhances the best qualities of this grape variety.

Stefano, our speaker today, is 31 years old and is the seventh generation of his family to work these 15 hectares of vines. He works alongside his older brother Cristian and they are in the process of converting to organic agriculture.

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He speaks well; lively, engaging and interesting. A particularly poignant moment came when he touched upon a short experience (3 months) working in the vineyards in the Barossa Valley. For him that was the moment when he realised that winemaking was not something necessarily stuck in the past but something that could be interesting and innovative.

His wine, Pinot 64 Brut is a straight Pinot Noir, Blanc de Noirs, which spent at least 36 months on the lees. So fresh, bursting with citrus fruit, it’s a great way to start the day. The nose is hugely expressive with some toasty notes but they don’t overly dominant. The taste is similarly elegant and the acidity is integrated and refreshing.

The style is very international but I’m not going to try and deny that it’s not very pleasant. I’ll be looking forward to trying more wines from this producer in the future. The price point – 16 euros a bottle  – is admittedly higher than your average sparkling wine from this region, but this wine can easily take on Champagnes, English sparkling wines and other quality sparkling wine.

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“Giovani Produttori Incontrano Giovani Consumatori” – Part 2

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This morning, I’m back at the Young to Young bloggers’ conference at Vinitaly again. In case you missed the first part of this story, here’s the link.

The two Ronnies are back too – again sporting those dashing bow-ties. This time, however, they are shoulder to shoulder with three bronzed winemakers, but of whom, none seem particularly young either.

Anyway, we start by a group photo.

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The first winery today is Ciù Ciù, in the Marche. The estate was founded in 1970 and has been working organically since ’96. I may have misunderstood – or rather, mistranslated – but I believe I heard that their vineyard extends to over 130 hectares!

Walter Bartolomei, the winemaker, cuts a curious figure. He walked into this rigid, white-tablecloth event wearing sunglasses and looking like he had just come off the set of the latest Italian mafia film. (He’s second from the left in the photo above, if you’re interested…)

He talks about his father’s attachment to the region and their experiences with different export markets around the world. Most recently, they have been pushing the US market and are currently waiting to see if the effort has paid off.

I’m very glad to have had two coffees this morning. The specifities of his particular winemaking technique were not easy to make out through such a thick accent.

Harvesting is, apparently, done by hand. They have a special way of reducing the temperature of the grapes during fermentation. The wine then spends 6 months in medium-sized oak barrels, on the lees, followed by 3 months to in bottles.

We try his Merlettaie 2014 (13.5% ABV) an Offida DOCG from Pecorino grapes (obviously not the cheese!) which sells for approximately 10 euros in an off-license in Italy. Offida is one of thirteen DOC or DOCGs in the Marche region. It has a gorgeous, very light, white gold colour. A very aromatic wine. A lot of banana flesh on the nose, with sweet tropical fruit coming afterwards – in particular, green mango skin and some vanilla. The wine continues on the banana theme in the mouth too, off-set by a sapid salinity. Easy and excellent value for money.

The next wine is from the Azienda Agricola Simon di Brazzan, located in Fruili. The farm comprises 11 hectares of vines, which are currently being fully converted to biodynamic agriculture. Apparently, they should receive the official certification later this year.

The owner, Daniele Drius, is 40 years young and their oenologue, Natale Favretto, is apparently a true naturalista. (What thay means exactly, I don’t know… but I hope it doesn’t mean he walks around naked….)

We try the Blanc de Simon Tradition 2010, a Venezia Giulia IGT at 14% ABV, made from Tocai Friulano. The wine is made with 6 days of skin-contact maceration, then 30 months of aging in wood and finally an additional 12 months to rest in the bottle.

It has a beautiful, intense, straw-yellow colour. Aromatically, it is rich and citrusy (in particular: cedrat), with spice (saffran) and honey. Structurally, it’s a fantastic wine. Full bodied, generous, persistent. There’s a superb finish to round the whole thing off.

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And finally, we have someone who speaks with some charisma! Cataldo Calabretta, a 38-year-old Calabrian local. (He’s on the far right in the photo above – the only one not wearing a suit.) As the microphone is passed over to him, his eyes light up. He smiles as he tells us of his background.

He studied oenology in Milan and worked for ten years in different places before coming back to take the reins of the family farm. He describes the challenge of working with minority local grape varieties, about which he was never taught at school. 2012 was his first vintage and last year, he produced approx 25000 bottles.

This is the first time I’ve ever drunk a wine from the Cirò appellation down in the southern-most point of the Italian boot. As is typical for such arid climate, the vines are grown in albarello. The soil is charcterised predominantly by clay and limestone and, apparently, everyone in this area has a vineyard, but only a very few are winemakers.

Cataldo Calabretta’s Cirò Rosso Classico Superiore DOC. 2013. Grape variety: Gaglioppo. Upon getting back to Paris, I was able to read up about this variety in my Wine Grapes. “A characterful red wine grape from Calabria” apparently. There is a total of 3700 hectares planted with this indigenous grape and it is nearly always the predominant grape in the Cirò DOC.

2013 was a relatively cool year in Calabria – n.b. 2012 was hot and very difficult! The maceration lasted two weeks, roughly, and then the nascent wine was moved to cement containers for 10 months of aging.

It’s a very nice discovery. A pretty ruby red tint. It reveals subtle aromas of red fruit and black cherries. There’s a touch of balsamic too. The mouth is light, fresh and full of energy. Tannins are rustic and still very young. They gain in force as you slurp but then subsequently mingle with a spicy acidity to provide a pleasant but short-ish finish. (Retails for 10-12 euros a bottle, apparently.)

I liked all the wines today actually. Simple, young wines but with three completely different personalities.

“Giovani Produttori Incontrano Giovani Consumatori” — Part 1

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At Vinitaly this year, I was invited to a conference called “Young to Young.” The idea was to get young Italian winemakers in front of a group of young wine bloggers. Despite – obviously – being delighted to have been invited to join this small committee of just ten people, I was also pretty chuffed to still be considered young!

The session was presented by two well-known Italian journalists, Paolo Massobrio and Marco Gatti, grandi uomini who were both, incidentally, wearing very old-fashioned bow-ties. It made for a rather marked contrast from the three winemakers sitting alongside them on the panel, who were each sporting differing lengths of facial hair.

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Because this is all about being young, I’m going to embrace this newly rediscovered spirit to the full and be uncharacteristically petulant. I was probably also the youngest person in that room (yeah, I know!) It also struck me as strange that for such an event targeted at apparently wild young things, the panel format with question-and-answer sessions was so unnecessarily stilted. Not to mention the guided tasting (“so first we assess the colour… “) which was nothing short of a WSET wet dream.

Anyway, onto my interpretation of the wines. The first winery was Cobelli, which is apparently in the wild Avisiane hills of Trentino. There are three brothers, who, so we were told, learnt everything from their father. The winery has been in the same family for 150 years and the 36-year-old winemaker, Devis Cobelli, speaks fondly and at length about his father’s influence on his work.

We try their Aldo Brut Natur 2010. It’s a spumante – metodo classico – made from 100% Chardonnay grapes. It supposedly came about as an attempt to recreate the type of wine that his grandmother used to drink. It’s spent 48 months on the lees.

Gosh, on first sip, the bubbles are over-powering and it leaves my tongue feeling rather violated. Upon returning for another onslaught, I’m able to appreciate a nice balance of acidity. It’s also smartingly dry – partly due to the limestone soil, but also the zero dosage apparently. I’m not totally convinced by this wine, if I’m to be honest. I would never in a million years have guessed that this is a Chardonnay. Despite his spiel about how the parte prima is the most important in making good wine, the classic (read: boring) French selected yeasts take over.

We move onto the second winemaker: Giacomo Altrettanto from the La Basia winery, in Lombardia. Apparently, it’s a very emotional story. I roll my eyes. He speaks of his mother, Elena, of her death and how this spurred the family to start making wine. (Yeah, I didn’t quite follow that connection either…) The winery is just a small azienda agricola, apparently, comprising 25 hectares in total but they also make polenta and the like. The word artisanal is repeated several times and when pressed, he claims that they are “More than just natural. We go further than that.”

Giacomo is the youngest of all the winemakers present at a tender 31 years old and is the second of five brothers.

“I’m personally quite happy with how this wine has turned out. Especially given how bad 2014 was. The summer was really horrible.”

2014 is actually their first vintage and the wine has been dedicated to their mother. It’s a Valtenesi DOC (I had to look that up too – apparently it’s an appellation not too far away from Lake Garda) and is made from a blend of Groppello, Barbera, Sangiovese and Marzemino. 12.5% ABV. Their terroir is the classic clay and limestone combo.

It’s a very, very light salmon pink colour. Aromatically it’s rather delicate with prominent light, fresh raspberry. I appreciate the acidity at the end. It is fresh and also very refreshing. A masterful finesse. The more I drink, the more I realise that I would quite happily have this as my go-to wine throughout the summer.

It’s then time for the third and final winemaker to take the floor. It’s 36 year old Giorgio Meletti Cavallari who makes a Bolgheri Superiore, in Tuscany. He also speaks about his father. Another thirty-something man talking about his family. Is there something in the water here??

He feels strongly that there is a new generation of Bolgheri producers coming through, who are building upon the success of the previous generation. It’s true that his modern label is a country mile away from the classic style that wine drinkers who decide purely upon the look of the bottle would go for.

The wine, Impronte, is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc. It’s 2011 and 14% ABV. His vineyard is situated on a hill of galestro stone, in Castagneto Carducci. On the first sniff, I suddenly realise that it’s been a really long time since I last drank a wine like this. It’s an old-school-style, old-world-wine.

Despite that introduction, the wine is very young. Possibly the youngest thing in this room, actually! It’s without a doubt made with selected yeasts and I get the impression that this is a wine whose destiny was already set in stone before veraison had even occured.

On the nose, it’s full of fresh frutti di bosco. Lots of them. Dark berries. Morello cherries. Classic. Elegant.

As I said at the start, it’s really young. It is naively fresh, but there’s a vivacous acidity too. At the end, the tannins win through for a strong and sustained finish. This wine grows on me. It makes me think of a perfect kid at school who always turns up without any creases in her uniform, with her hair perfectly in place and not a single scuff on her shoes. You don’t want to like her because she always gets top grades but actually, by the end, you appreciate her for who she is and you don’t mind hanging out some more.