All posts by A Cassese

BOLLINI: A TOP PICK IN CANADA

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Toronto Life has released a short list for “the best international bottles of white wine from the LCBO,” which is “one of the world’s largest buyers and retailers of beverage alcohol,” located in Canada. Considering LCBO has 650 retail stores with over 225 agency stores, as well as catalogs and special order services, and offers 24,000 products annually to Canada’s wine and spirits’ drinking community, it was quite an honor to see Bollini Pinot Grigio listed!

Read below for the stunning review:

Bollini 2015 Pinot Grigio

$17.95 | Trentino, Italy | 88 points

Bollini has produced a very fruity young pinot grigio (more so than most pinot grigios from Italy) with generous poached pear, yellow plum, grapefruit and honeysuckle florality. Despite the ripeness, this vintage is lively and a touch spritzed with alcohol warmth. Chill well before serving.

To check out the full article, click here.

YEAST ACCORDING TO MANUEL MARCARINI

marcarini-estate-sm-2Yeast is a subject that will generally turn the conversation to another topic quickly, but when it comes to wine, consumers and buyers are rapidly becoming more interested in what goes into producing it.  Empson recently spoke with Manuel Marchetti of Marcarini Winery to get more information.

First, it’s important to note that there is no one procedure when it comes to choosing the right type of yeast to use during the winemaking process.  All strains have their pros and cons, and the trick is finding the best compromise to obtain the results a winery may want.

Yeast’s role in winemaking is attributed to Louis Pasteur in 1860. Before then, nobody knew why fermentation began.  At that time, most of the wines had a high quantity of residual sugar, and many of them spoiled because of re-fermentation and disease.

You could say that the discovery of yeast and the understanding of its role in transforming the glucose contained in the grapes into alcohol and carbon dioxide signaled the start of modern-day winemaking.

Today, the wine industry separates yeast into a few categories:

  • indigenous yeasts are those you find on the grape skins;
  • wild yeasts can have different explanations, but are best described as yeasts found outside the vineyard or that are brought into the vineyard from the outside (by way of wind, birds, insects, etc.);
  • selected yeasts belong to the species Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and is chosen because the physiological, biochemical and ecological characteristics are ideal for the result a winery may be looking for. For example, the production of glycerol, higher or lower alcohol, less volatile acidity, etc.
Grape Harvest

Grape Harvest

Winemaker Manuel Marchetti gave us some insight on the different uses of yeasts.

Indigenous yeast

“On the grapes, you can divide the various yeasts into groups of Saccharomyces and non-Saccharomyces. One thing to consider in particular is that Saccharomyces cerevisiae is rare on healthy grapes, but the atmosphere in the cellar can make them potentially develop through contamination from the equipment, tanks, pipes, etc.

When fermentation begins, it is tough to say which species of yeast will prevail during fermentation and which will survive until the end.  Non-Saccharomyces species dominate during the first two to three days of fermentation but then because of alcohol and temperature increase, die. The Saccharomyces species then prevails.

Spontaneous fermentation is characterized by a large biodiversity of inter- and intra- yeast species, and this means there will be considerable variations during the winemaking process and final result. This influences the structure of the wine and can make wines with great complexity and typicity.”

Selected Yeast

“The use of selected yeast gives you the security of knowing you are using Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast, and that this species will prevail during the winemaking process.  This results in a quick start of fermentation, the complete use of the glucose contained in the grapes, shorter fermentation times, less volatile acidity, less chance of fermenting bad grapes, and gives wines better stability and fining.

The problem is that you can lose the wine’s natural characteristics and standardize the wine’s flavors.

Nowadays, to avoid standardizing, researchers have reproduced the yeasts that are typically present in the vineyards, like BRL yeast, which is found in Barolo vineyards.”

Manuel went on to explain that at the Marcarini Winery, they use different selected yeasts for each wine, giving them control, without sacrificing their wines’ character.  “We use selected yeasts obtained from indigenous yeasts that were discovered by researchers in the area,” he explains.  “We use BRL yeast for the Barolo Brunate and La Serra, so we do not lose typicity and benefit from all of the advantages of using selected yeast.”

In doing so, Manuel has protected his winery from spontaneous fermentation, which changes the wine’s characteristics, and from fluctuations in volatile acidity, caused by non-Saccharomyces yeasts, which can result in higher levels of acidity, forcing you need larger quantities of SO2 (sulfites).

While it is not entirely possible to eliminate contact with wild yeasts, which can be involuntarily introduced during the transport of the grapes to the winery, and yeasts present in the cellar, Marcarini’s history of quality is evidence that their passion for their craft extends beyond just the vineyard.

Written by Empson Staff Writer

THE OFTEN-OVERLOOKED VINO NOBILE DI MONTEPULCIANO ACCORDING TO VINEPAIR

montepulciano-from-siteVinepair has posted a comprehensive article explaining the ins and outs of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and it is sure to get your mouth watering in no time.  Often overlooked in the world of Italian wine, some wineries are working hard to put the appellation on the everyday drinker’s dinner table.  Boscarelli is certainly one of those wineries and they are doing a bang-up job. Taking the utmost care in the vineyard and in the cantina to serve up the best and cleanest wines possible, their wonderfully elegant and balanced wines full of typical Montepulciano goodness, frequently grace the lists of the most important critics in the world.  Boscarelli was recently featured by WineSearcher and Wine Spectator (and once again on the cover) and one of their wines was even voted one of the best Italian wines by Vinepair themselves.

If you’d like more information about Vino Nobile di Montepulciano that just might get you closer to beginning a long-lasting love affair with their different interpretations of the classic wine, take a look at Vinepair’s article. Here is just a snippet:

“If there’s a red wine that you don’t know but should, it’s Tuscany’s noblest bottle of them all, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Not to be confused with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (made from the Montepulciano grape), this Sangiovese-based red is just as noteworthy as its celebrated Tuscan neighbors, Chianti and Brunello. For your next dinner party, holiday gift, or Friday night on the couch, look no further than this distinguished Italian classic; vibrant, fresh, and exquisitely tasty, Nobile truly goes with everything!”

Click here to read the full article.

MOLINO DI GRACE – HONEST WINEMAKING

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One can’t help but want to taste – and love – Il Molino di Grace’s wine after being on the receiving end of one of Frank Grace’s big smiles and hearty handshakes. After all, Il Molino di Grace’s wines must reflect his warmth, right? If truth be told, they do, with their soul-warming colors, beautiful, clean aromas, inviting palates and memorable finishes. They are one of a kind, just like the Graces’ stunning estate. Indeed, the vineyards – each named after one of Frank and Judy Grace’s grandchildren – reflect the love and care they and their staff have always put into cultivating perfect, healthy plants. Further cementing this idea, the winery became certified organic in 2014 – with the first vintage release in 2015. But make no mistake, they had already been practicing organic viticulture well before going through the formalities.

 Il Molino di Grace is located in the heart of Panzano, which by no coincidence is the largest organic-growing district (we’re talking 500 hectares) in Italy. At least nineteen out of twenty wineries in the area are organic and they each belong to the association called the Vintners’ Union of Panzano in Chianti. Being part of this elite community affords them many advantages, not least is the one giving them constant access to the expertise of a “group” professional agronomist, paid by the associates to keep a close eye on any potential disease and/or pest infestations across the area. Because the entire zone is organic, this system of checks and balances eliminates the risk of potential outbreaks and spread. The other side of the coin is that it also eradicates the threat of contamination of synthetic pesticides or weed killers used by neighbors. Consider that even the posts used to tie the vines are organic chestnut. That is just how important it is to them.  Why? The answer to this question illustrates why a winery might choose to go organic in the first place.

panorama_05_homeGrapes at Il Molino di Grace.

Iacopo Morganti, general manager of Il Molino di Grace, explains the root of the issue: “Synthetic treatments of all types enter the lymphatic system of the plants. This means the plants are treated from the inside out,” he explained. These chemicals absorb very quickly and become part of plant’s inner workings, even making life too easy for them.  They don’t have to build up much immunity if everything is being done for them. He continues, “On the other hand, organic viticulture treats the plants on the outside. The leaves are sprayed, when necessary, with totally organic products. And rain can potentially wash them off. In fact, the more precipitation, the more treatments are hypothetically needed.” In this way, the plants grow strong, lush and resilient and are not dependent on anything. Treatment is nothing more than an all-natural helping hand and each treatment takes much longer to take effect.

The peaceful vineyards surrounding Il Molino di Grace’s spectacular estate, an unpretentious private residence and their many sculptures cover 30 hectares (74 acres).  Each vine basks in welcome sunshine from the south, southeast, and southwest, while the Gratius vineyards face east. The vines, ranging from four to sixty years of age, were organically cultivated long before the winery was officially certified. This comes as no surprise as it seems that for most growers, it is a way of life. We asked Iacopo if he had any “before and after” shots of the plants or even the soil and he said he did not. Because they’ve been using organic products for so long, it’s hard to pinpoint a true “before” moment.

For pest control, they, like Speri, also employ sexual confusion tactics, using the same strips and traps placed throughout the vineyards. The traps are frequently checked and any captured bugs are counted to see that the strips are working.  Occasionally, Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt), a microbe naturally occurring in soil, is used to fight larvae that furrow into the grapes while they are small, grow as the grapes grow and kill them from the inside out as they feed and eventually try to escape. For disease, copper and sulfur are used.  The winery has almost always used natural fertilizer and currently plants favino (fava or field beans) every other year to use as natural fertilizer. They also manually cut grass and use it as mulch. They agree that more manpower is needed as a result, but say that this is a good thing as it allows them to be in constant contact with the vines. Plants are left to do their thing, but under the watchful eye of the winemaker and his staff. With traditional cultivation, no contact is needed at all. You just spray your chemicals and walk away.

favinoNew Growth of Favino.

Organic winemaking is honest winemaking. There is nothing to hide behind. “Each wine is a true expression of its terroir and the vintage. Year after year, you see how the wines evolve, the effects of each seasonal trend, how the winemaker dealt with each problem or lack thereof, and the differences and similarities between each vintage. It is winemaking par excellence,” explains Iacopo. “The grapes are everything. The plants are happier when grown organically and the wines reflect that.” We asked how the wines have changed and he said, “They are fruitier – you really taste the primary aromas. They are also fresher.” The winery also uses cement casks, which helps to further preserve the primary aromas of the grapes.

galestroA large piece of Galestro.

The hilly vineyards in Panzano are also blessed in more ways than one. The high altitudes, day/night temperature swings and galestro soil allow for slow ripening, high acidity, elegant structure, good alcohol and color, and a recognizable one-of-a-kind flavor. This combination leads to excellent ageability, even up to fifteen years. But that is not their only blessing. They say the land itself is blessed, having once been owned by a thousand-year-old church called La Pieve di San Leolino. The vineyards themselves are 300 to 400 years old and many references to the wine they produced have been found. Now, a statue of Saint Francis, the patron saint of Italy and all things natural stands tall above the vineyards at Il Molino di Grace. Frank Grace commissioned Sandro Granucci, a local Panzano artist, to sculpt the statue and dedicated it to Judy for their 45th wedding anniversary. A befitting choice, we asked Frank why he chose Saint Francis, and he grinned, “Because that is my name!” Indeed, Frank and Francis dutifully watch over the naturally cultivated fruit of the vines day in, day out, letting nature guide their every move and acting in the least invasive way possible and only when absolutely necessary. After all, the grapes – and their health – are the stars of any good wine.

francesco The statue of Saint Francis, overlooking the vineyards.

Photos courtesy of Il Molino di Grace.

VERTICAL TASTING OF FRANZ HAAS’ MANNA

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Franz Haas recently held a private dinner for the press celebrating Manna, a flagship wine for the winery. About thirty years ago, Franz and Maria-Luisa began trying to create a wine that would be so versatile, you would only need one wine at your dinner table. They finally released their first vintage in 1995 and to no one’s surprise, it swiftly became a go-to wine for many a dinner. According to Marco Magnoli, each vintage is better than the next. Please read his account of this wonderful tasting held just a few weeks ago.

Manna 1995-2015: A Staggering Vertical

One evening of 1989 Franz Haas and Maria Luisa Manna were comfortably sitting at a Michelin starred restaurant table. They were the only customers in the room and they had a sommelier, all the waiters and the entire kitchen crew at their disposal; the result was a memorable dinner of seven delicious courses accompanied by just as many bottles of wine.

While driving back home Franz and Maria Luisa started to fantasize about a wine so complex and full of nuances that would be able to accompany all the different courses of an articulated and rich dinner such as the one they had just enjoyed.

Six years later, in 1995, Franz gave a first concrete shape to their ambitious idea by creating a blend of Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc (since 2013 a percentage of Kerner has been added to it too); and so Manna was born; dedicated to Maria Luisa, a wine destined to become one of the symbols of the winery based in Montagna (Bz- South Tyrol); a wine which has been refined and redefined year after year on an ongoing search for perfection.

Cuvee of some of the most classic white grape varieties grown in South Tyrol, the Manna of the Vineyards of the White Dolomites (this is its full name) is produced from different vineyards in the municipalities of Montagna, Neumarkt, Aldino and Brixen, at altitudes between 350 and 800 meters above sea level and on very different soils of a variable nature between dolomite, porphyry, sandy and marly. The grapes are harvested and vinified separately obviously because of their different maturation periods. Over the years Franz has continued to experiment and perfect his winemaking technique also playing with different proportions of the vine varieties; Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc ferment in barriques, while Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Kerner in steel tanks; young wines are added on a later stage and after about ten months of laying on the yeasts the wine is bottled, followed by a further refinement of a few months in a cool cellar.

Having now reached vintage 2015, the Manna has gone through two decades in the history of the Haas’ Vinery. This was an important milestone that Franz and Maria Luisa wanted to celebrate in the best way by creating a staggering vertical of twenty-one vintages (all the ones that have been produced and marketed up to today), which took place last Monday, 13 March and to which we had the honour and great pleasure to participate.

A deeply evocative tasting, starting with the extraordinary view created by the long table full of glasses and the row of all the bottles lined up, which reserved great emotions with each one of the glasses; each single glass revealed a different wine although coherently part of a well-defined path.

We believe that presenting a pedantic list of detailed tasting notes vintage by vintage would ultimately deprive that atmosphere of its poetry and it really does not deserve this. Better, then, to limit ourselves and just refer in a general way to the sensitive differences shown by the wines from 2007 to 2015 compared to previous years. Those were bottled with a screw cap, rather than with the traditional cork, and that was able to preserve a more distinctive freshness and the fragrance of all the aromas together with a more evident vegetable imprint of the Sauvignon (even though we understand and appreciate the choice that Mr. Haas has made to definitively overcome the danger of defects often due to the use of cork, we continue to prefer the more relaxed evolution that cork gives to white wines); and also to tell you about of the most mature and evolved sensations that the wines started to convey beginning from the vintage 2000 and going back to 1995.

Of course the sensations that people had on the individual vintages were the most varied: there were those people who preferred the rich articulation, the sweetness of the fruit and flavour of the 2010 vintage; those who were seduced by the elegant balance and the gentle subtlety of 2002; or by the persuasive fullness and maturity of 2006, with its slightly vanilla flavoured softness, the warm spices, intriguing hints of saffron and citrus peel. There was who instead appreciated the most recent years, the 2012 with his nose incredibly floral and sweet, almost created “for a perfumery” or the newborn 2015, which in fact made an impression for its intense power, immediate, fragrant and generous tropical fruit flavour, prodded by a wonderful sapidity and enlivened by the gentle vegetable touch (a vintage that, incidentally, seems to mark a further stylistic evolution in the dynamics of the Manna’s history). We also need to mention the wonderful nose exhibited by the 1996, the extraordinary seduction of its evolutionary tones of honey and dried rose, or of the inebriating 1995 estate, that by letting it breathe slowly into the cup, became gradually fuller and fuller, more complex and engaging.

We must confess that we were personally quite captivated by the charm of 2003, extremely rich in spices, mellow and ripe fruits, full and sumptuous as expected because of that exceptionally warm year, and yet not at all tired or sagging, but animated by a vein of freshness, acidity and a note of anise appetizing and unexpected; but even more captivated by the superb personality of 2001, splendid in its floral scents and in the delicate hints of hydrocarbons, in its return of refined citrus, sweet and sour, intense and subtle orange zest together, refined and elegant sample of balance, measurement and finesse.

Beyond personal tastes and preferences it is impossible not to admire the talent and dedication of Franz and his team of collaborators: in Italy there are not really many winemakers indeed who can afford to present with confidence on the same table twenty-one consecutive vintages of a white wine, all perfectly enjoyable, most of them excellent, some definitely exceptional. Let’s then raise our glasses of Manna and drink to Franz and Maria Luisa, thanking them for what they were able to donate us and wishing them increasingly bright fortunes.

HARVEST 2016 – TAKING THE LEAD FROM 2015

einaudi-harvest-2016Harvest 2016 is long over and the grapes are well underway to becoming – or have become – that wonderful nectar we all know and love. The predictions were spot on for this vintage, as the weather was mostly forgiving in Italy, with a few problem areas here and there. This fabulous news has had the wine industry looks forward to toasting to another excellent vintage, between new releases, barrel samples and listening to the winemakers’ reports on longer-aging wines.

Assoenologi has confirmed this in their last report, and we asked some of our producers to give us a first-hand understanding of what we can expect for the 2016 releases.

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PROJECTED QUANTITY

About the same as 2015 (0-2% less): approximately 51.5 million hectoliters of wine and must.

PROJECTED QUALITY

Varied, but mostly excellent in all of Italy, with some areas of extreme excellence. The weather was good to winemakers throughout harvest season, with a few problems in September and October in Central and Southern Italy.

GROWTH CYCLE

Winter was mild all over Italy, with above-average temperatures and lower-than-average rainfall in most of the country. Coming in at 289 mm (compared to the seasonal average of 436 mm), this lesser amount did not have a negative effect on the cycle, as the plants had plenty of water left over from fall. Heavier rains in February and March replenished the water reserves and April and May were less rainy. In general, bud burst took place around mid-March, about 5-10 days earlier than normal. Hail was also recorded in many areas during that period (like in Umbria), which was accompanied by unexpected low temperatures and frost. While this reduced potential production, it did get the growth cycle back on track in terms of timing.  Flowering also had to endure several and often violent storms, causing the early fall of the flowers further reducing potential quantity. A rainy June coupled with low temperatures delayed the physiological cycle of the plants, and caused the outbreak of disease and fungal infections (peronospora and oidium). However, winemakers on the whole acted quickly, successfully fighting them off. The end of June finally brought the summer heat, even sweltering in some areas.  August was marked by excellent temperatures swings that will be crucial to the quality of this vintage. Overall, this vintage’s grapes were beautiful and healthy. Most harvests took place somewhat later than usual, about 5-10 days late. This vintage will be remembered for its contained water and heat stress and excellent quality, especially for those who successfully managed their vineyards.

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PIEDMONT

The weather was atypical this year with a particularly dry fall and winter, accompanied by mild temperatures. Even spring registered low temps, with late frost and lots of humidity. Dry temperatures returned in June, with some scattered storms, which sometimes brought hail, compromising quantity and quality. August was hot, with excellent temperature swings. Budbreak and flowering were normal and the productiveness of the vines was generally good. In fact the quantity is about 3% higher than 2015, but with smaller grapes because of the lack of water. Plant protection was difficult this year. Even though fungal infections didn’t spread at the beginning of the season, urgent measures were required in July. Barbera d’Asti will benefit from a wonderful season and thanks to excellent ripening, initial tastings reveal excellent color. Nebbiolo, Barbaresco and Barolo show wonderful aromas and soft tannins, thanks to excellent phenolic ripening. Total wine production should be around 2.5-2.6 million hectoliters, while the quality is without a doubt ideal, with many areas of excellence.

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Poderi Einaudi has confirmed what happened in its corner of Piedmont, “It was a long harvest compared to others.  The weather was mild with very little rain in January and February while March and April were cool, with plenty of rain, guaranteeing good water reserves (though lower than the year before). The late cold snap slowed the growth cycle of plants by at least ten days compared to previous years. Spring brought considerable rain, lengthening the phenolic ripening delay just a little bit more. Good day/night temperature swings were recorded as summer arrived, contributing and guaranteeing the quality and health of the grapes and maintaining good sugar levels. We can expect wines with excellent balance and important aromas with outstanding structure and high alcohol.” Davide Mozzone of Bongiovanni was also happy with the results at harvest’s end, “This vintage is excellent, not much different from 2015. We were lucky to have excellent conditions from beginning to end and not much of a delay in the cycle. The ratios for acidity and alcohol were excellent and the grapes were exceptional and healthy. We honestly could not ask for more.

LOMBARDY

Lombardy’s weather changed from area to area in terms of quantity and health. Bud burst and flowering went off without much of a hitch, but heavy rains caused extensive loss of flowers, reducing production. Many storms and hail caused a further reduction in some areas as did peronospora, especially for organic wineries. The more delicate varieties (Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Merlot) were affected by the fungus, but on the upside, there were excellent day/night temperature swings and maturation was constant albeit slow. Regina Valzelli reported that harvest went well: “We consider the primary characteristics of typical fresh, ripe fruit, with great depth and excellent minerality to be excellent for 2016. Our vineyards’ excellent locations guaranteed a morning breeze that ensured exceptional health and acidity that will almost certainly accompany the primary characteristics of our wines, especially the Rosè.” Laura Gatti expounded on the situation at Ferghettina, which is anything but bleak: “Harvest began 18 August, about 10 days later than 2015. The rain in early August slightly delayed ripening. However, from 15 August on, the weather conditions were perfect with sunny days and medium-to-high daytime temperatures and cool nights. Thanks to this weather, the grapes ripened impeccably and in excellent health with perfect sugar and acidity numbers for Franciacorta base wines. Harvest ended 10 September and the quality of the wines is excellent.” The region experienced a 15% decrease over last year, but the numbers are in line with the ten-year average.

TRENTINO ALTO ADIGE

Assoenologi has nothing but positive things to say about both areas and the varieties grown there: perfect health, excellent sugar and acidity levels, intense colors and soft tannins for the reds. It is going to be legendary vintage. As to the growth cycle, because the temperatures were lower than normal this year, harvest was 10-12 days late. The average weight of the grape bunches was lower than last year for white grapes. Alfredo Albertini for Bollini confirms, explaining that “the 2016 harvest maintained – and in some cases exceeded – our initial expectations. This goes for white wines as well as late-ripening red varieties like Merlot and Cabernet. The favorable weather conditions during the last ten days of August and all of September, with their beautiful sunny days and vast temperature swings (25-27 °C/77-80.6 °F by day and 14 °C/57.2 °F by night) and the total lack of rain allowed for a balanced ripening of the fruit, an increase of sugar and a slight reduction in total acidity. Thanks to these conditions, we were able to perfectly plan and organize the harvest, picking every variety at its ideal moment. When we did pick them, they were intact and perfectly healthy with excellent sugar levels. The white wines were very balanced, structured and pleasant, with quite intriguing complexity and great freshness. The red wines have an intense color, soft tannins and a significant phenolic profile.” Quantity decreased by about 7% in the area.

VENETO

speri-harvest-2016

Davide Dal Cero of Corte Giacobbe reports that it was an unusual year. The first six months of the year were very rainy causing them to worry about quality. However, there was a happy improvement in summer, which was extremely hot. The summer heat perfectly dried out the extra water, leading to perfect balance. Grapes ripened to perfection, especially up high on the hillside. Davide explained “For me, harvest 2016 is the best of the last five years. We experienced mild weather throughout the summer, with warm days and cool nights. There was no significant rainfall during the months of harvest (September and October), allowing us to wait for the exact degree of grape ripeness. In fact, I would say that this year we really enjoyed ourselves. It was fantastic. We found the quality of the wines to be higher than 2015. The acidity is excellent, which will give our wines longevity and crisp and intriguing aromas, drawing people in.  A fantastic vintage.” Elsewhere in the Veneto, Luca Speri elaborated on the situation at Speri vineyards, “Harvest went really well, confirming and even improving the already excellent quality of the vintage.  It was a really dry and healthy harvest, and because of this, was not quick or hurried. It was intentionally long in that the weather conditions and health of the grapes allowed us to wait for the perfect moment to pick in every plot. Drying, as usual, is natural and not forced in any way and went very well. Winter was quite dry and thus perfect for maintaining the health of the grapes. The pressing of the grapes for Amarone began in mid-February and was followed by a long fermentation. We just racked the wine and are going ahead with the Ripasso. This vintage promises to be beautiful with great balance and elegance, good color and wonderful acidity and structure. Further evaluations will be done in a few months.” As for the region in general, the growth cycle began about 10-15 days late in the highest wine-producing region in Italy. In some areas, low temperatures and precipitation caused weak flowering, triggering millerandage in the more delicate varieties. Temperatures in June and early July were well above the norms, but leveled out to normal temperatures for the season thereafter. The region also had to fight off disease and it seems they were able to combat it.  Nevertheless, quality held on strong. Quantity is up about 7% over 2015.

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FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA

Challenging spring weather – which was altogether unusual for the region – with sudden weather jumps from mild weather to heavy rains negatively influenced flower set and its uniformity in addition to causing millerandage. It was also very difficult to keep peronospora and oidium at bay, especially for organic wineries. However, the weather this growing season was great during the summer, allowing for perfectly healthy grapes. And even the majority of insects were not particularly problematic. Grape production is 5% lower than last year due to the spring weather.  White wines have good sugar and acidity levels and an interesting aromatic profile, thanks to great day/night temperature swings.  Red grapes are also great quality.

TUSCANY

Winter was rainy with higher temperatures than usual. Those rains continued through spring with downpours and hail. Temperature swings during spring caused staggered flowering and fruit set resulting in coulure and millerandage. Winemakers also had to fight off peronospora and oidium and even phylloxera in some areas of the region. From July until the end of the season, the almost total absence of rain and heat created some stress for the vines, even though there were good water reserves. Veraison began about a week later than last year. The weather changed from area to area, sometimes from vineyard to vineyard, in Tuscany. But the quality is still expected to be good if not great. Harvest for early-ripening whites began in late August. Native and international reds were harvested through October, especially in the Chianti Classico area. Franco Bernabei confirms, “It will be a great year for Tuscan wines, the rains in early September gave the late-ripening varieties that last push they needed to reach perfect maturation, especially those used for our traditional wines. We are unquestionably satisfied. Early September rainfall came on gradually, with no damaging storms, allowing for the penetration of water without ruining the grapes still on the vine. In fact, the plants worked really hard in terms of photosynthesis, allowing for excellent ripening. Simply put, the vintage is slightly larger, thanks to the abundant rainfall when the grapes were growing, but they also enjoyed hot and sunny weather all through September and early October, which can only mean the grapes matured perfectly. Sangiovese ripened to perfection, in terms of extractable color and the disappearance of herbaceous aromas in late September, when the sugar levels also reached medium to high levels and the acidity remained normal. This trend continued and thus the wines won’t have an alcohol content that is too high. We think this harvest will bring amazing results, not much different from 2010 and 2015.” And Pasquale Presutto of Terrabianca tells us that the “Cabernets and Sangiovese of Massa Marittima will be excellent having ripened perfectly. Alcohol levels are good and the wonderfully beneficial day/night temperature swings will guarantee excellent quality. The grapes for Scassino were picked in early October. In light of the rain, we waited until 20 October to begin harvesting. The grapes selected for Croce Chianti Classico Riserva were good quality.”  Quantity is down 7% this season, but just about in line with the ten-year average.

LE MARCHE

April was cool with a lot of rain, but budbreak still began about a week early, while flowering was held back by several storms. Veraison of red grapes began slightly late. There were also some problems with disease that were quickly eradicated. Maturation is about 7-10 days late, but Ampelio Bucci of Villa Bucci said, “It was a great growth cycle and harvest went well with beautiful weather and little rain. While it was helpful to cool and clean the grapes, it didn’t make picking difficult because the soil remained dry. Also because we have lots of grass, as per the organic-growing principles we’ve been practicing for nineteen years in all our vineyards. The quality seems great in terms of alcohol, acidity and dry extract. There was no rot. The quantity is without a doubt 10-15% higher and we expect excellent white and red wines for this vintage.”  The region on a whole is expecting several areas of excellence, producing balanced wines. Quantity is the same as last year for the region.

UMBRIA

Winter was particularly mild, but spring’s tempestuous weather and frost caused problems for budbreak and flowering. June rainfall was higher than normal while the temperatures were lower. This caused the growth cycle to slow down in some areas as well as some problems with disease. A hot summer finally arrived thereafter and there were excellent day/night temperature swings in August. Umbria production will be down about 5%. Peter Heilbron of Tenuta Bellafonte told us that at the end of growth cycle, beautiful sunshine paved the way for “great ripening and therefore big, plump grapes, which means wonderful aromas and perfumes.”

vendemmia-2016-bellafonte

ABRUZZO

Because of the weather – cool temperatures, storms, humidity and little sunlight – the region experienced a very slow start to the growth cycle and many obstacles. However, things got much better in June and July, bringing excellent bud burst. Though, it also created abundant foliage which led to problems with disease. Harvest begun in early September (with white grapes) and will continue through the end. In spite of the aforementioned weather, the grapes have pulled through and the vintage is shaping up to be one to remember.

CAMPANIA

Last winter was dry and mild with higher-than-average temperatures. Spring was warm, fueling early bud burst. This area also had its share of wacky weather with numerous storms and low temperatures.  Flowering took place at the end of May/beginning of June with fruit set taking considerably long, producing loosely-packed bunches.  The temperatures rose in late June and throughout August, there was good ventilation with great temperatures, a few storms and excellent day/night temperature swings. Harvest took place all throughout September and October. Quantity will be down about 20%. However, quality should be among the best.

PUGLIA

The region experienced a lot of rain through winter and spring. June and July were hot, with just a few cool periods, which favored maturation. There were no problems with disease as thankfully, any hint was swiftly fought off. August was especially hot, with a few storms. Quantity is up 15% in the region.

SICILIA

Fall and winter were rainy and spring was moderately humid. May and June saw some problems with peronospora and oidium. However, they were quickly eliminated quickly.  In general, Sicilian grapes are reported to be in good condition with good quantities though there will be about 7% less than last year. Gianfranco Sabbatino says that he is looking forward to an “excellent vintage, with slighter lower quantities, at least in the Messinese area.”

SARDEGNA

Sardinia has not had it easy the past three years, with drought conditions making life difficult for agriculture and beyond. Fall and winter were dry, with mild temperatures while spring brought lots of rain. However, it wasn’t enough to fully replenish the water reserves. Budbreak was early and even.  May and June were cooler, and the growth cycle slowed down drastically. The unusual winds kept the vines dry, fending off certain types of disease while causing concern for others. Near the end of July, there were healthy amounts of rain, which coincided with veraison. Harvest began mid-August and continued throughout September. Some areas experienced copious rain during harvest but later-ripening grapes were not affected. The health of the grapes is mostly excellent.  Quantity is the same as 2015.

THE END IS ONLY THE BEGINNING

So what can we make of all this? With harvest behind us, we are happy to report that most will be looking towards a bright future! And we are happy to drink to that!

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Photos courtesy of Einaudi, Cascina Bongiovanni, Speri and Tenuta Bellafonte.

BOSCARELLI FEATURED IN WINE SEARCHER

Boscarelli gets heaps of attention from journalists and it’s no surprise as to why. Their wines are spectacular interpretations of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a wine that dates as far back as 789. Boscarelli is also run completely organic and the De Ferrari passion infects not only the staff, but anyone who drinks them. Their wines are among the most attractive wines coming out of the area today.

W. Blake Gray agrees and recently wrote a glowing post for wine-searcher.com about his visit to the winery. Please click here to read.

CONTERNO FANTINO’S FABULOUS FOUR

Conterno Fantino is located high above the ancient fortified town of Monforte d’Alba, relishing in a privileged position in the legendary Barolo wine zone. Founded in 1982 by two friends with strong roots in the winemaking business, the winery’s philosophy has remained unchanged over the years. And that philosophy is to run the winery “with the utmost respect for the land and tradition.” This is because the owners and their team believe this is the best way to guarantee quality wines. To help ensure excellent health and quality, the grapes are cultivated organically with no use of synthetic pesticides or weedkillers. They normally use half new and have second-use French oak barrique for their aging but it depends on the vintage. But this is not a hard-and-fast rules and each vintage is treated according to its specific characteristics.

What’s in a Name?

mappa-del-barolo-1Conterno Fantino makes four Barolos, all similar in expression yet unique to their specific microzone. Each is located within the Barolo zone, which is broken up into eleven municipalities over 1700 hectares (4,200 acres): Cherasco, Verduno, Roddi, La Morra, Grinzane Cavour, Castiglione Falletto, Diano d’Alba, Barolo, Novello, Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba. There are then 170 Additional Geographical Definitions that stretch across all eleven municipalities. There are eleven of these in Monforte d’Alba, including Ginestra, Mosconi and Castelletto, where the Conterno Fantino Barolo vineyards are located. Hence, these are not proprietary names, and other wineries in the districts can and do use them.  The second name is the name of Conterno Fantino’s specific vineyard (vigna in Italian) or plot – Vigna Sori Ginestra, Vigna del Gris, Vigna Ped, and Vigna Pressenda. The names do not have specific meanings, but are the historic names of the vineyards. Sori’ Ginestra may have come about because sori` means “south” in the Piedmont dialect and the vineyard is in fact in the southern portion of the Ginestra district. Since this is how they had always referred to the vineyard, the name stuck. Vigna del Gris takes its name from the gray-colored soil of the vineyard as gris means “gray” in Piedmontese.

So what are the differences in these four stellar wines?

ginestra-vigna-sori-ginestra-labelSori` Ginestra is Conterno Fantino’s flagship wine. The vineyard is located in the Ginestra district on one of the most important hills in Monforte, if not Barolo itself. It is the thoroughbred of Barolos, and fully reflects its terroir. Located 340 meters (1,115 feet) above sea level, it fully benefits from southern exposure, which affords the vines warm sunlight from morning to night. The soil is not sandy, and is a bit more compact. The wines from this vineyard are bigger, with much more body, structure and tannins.  The older part of this vineyard was planted in 1971, giving the wine its unique elegance and complexity.

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Vigna del Gris is the “princess” of Conterno Fantino. It’s feminine and delicate, and the most accessible of the range, thanks also to its unparalleled intrigue, finesse and elegance.  Located just 300 meters (984 feet) above sea level in the Ginestra district, the vineyards are southeast-facing with a lighter sandy soil. The wines are opulent and refined.  The oldest vines in the vineyard were planted in 1978.

mosconi-vigna-ped-labelVigna Ped is located on the historic Mosconi hill (in the Mosconi district) and Conterno Fantino has a small plot in the southernmost area. The wine from this vineyard is all about power, structure, freshness and elegance. It stands up to long cellaring – as do the others.  The vineyard is up high on the hill coming in at 360 meters (1,181 feet) above sea level and the oldest vines were planted in 1960. Like Sori Ginestra, the soil is rich in clay and limestone and quite compact. Because of this, this Barolo is assertive, masculine and structured, and has noticeable acidity due to the elevation.

castelletto-vigna-pressenda-labelVigna Pressenda is found in the Castelletto district of Barolo. It is Conterno Fantino’s new challenge. The vineyard was already recognized for excellence through its past winemakers, but it’s time to see how Conterno Fantino puts its inimitable spin on it. The vineyard is 360 meters (1,181 feet) above sea level and is southeast-facing.  The wines are most similar to Vigna del Gris, and are somewhat lighter, perfumed and refined. The oldest vines were planted in 1969.

In a nutshell:

Vigna Sori Ginestra is a bold wine, a purebred Barolo, with big tannins, and body. Vigna Ped is decisive, muscular, and makes a statement, also with decisive tannins. Vigna del Gris is elegant, polished and delicate. And finally, Vigna Pressenda is pleasantly fragrant and refined with grace and elegance.  Each Barolo is balanced, complex, extracted and perfectly ageable.

Map Source: http://www.stradadelbarolo.it/territorio/vino-e-prodotti/i-vini/lista-vini/il-barolo/

PIETRADOLCE IN WINE SPECTATOR

pietradolce-012Wine Spectator recently featured one of Etna’s sweethearts – Pietradolce. In an article entitled Heirloom Etna, Robert Camuto quotes Michele Faro: “I buy monuments. These vineyards are monuments.” Indeed, Michele loves and adores old vines and what they give to his wines. In his own words: “I love pre-phylloxera vineyards because you get naturally more concentration with a small quantity of fruit.” We strongly suggest you take a look at this article. It’s a good read about an excellent vineyard on the rise.

Click here for the full article.

SPERI: ORGANIC SINCE 2015

When a winery spans seven generations, it’s a given that tradition is going to be a big part of its formula for success. But what happens when tradition is paired with invention? Going back to basics – or rather, going certified organic – is oddly seen as being progressive in a world of winemaking dependent on synthetic materials for pest, fungus and rot control. But that is just what Speri spent the last ten years doing.

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Indeed, part of Speri’s success is due to its unyielding respect for tradition. They only make five traditional Valpolicella wines and only grow grapes native to the area. Nevertheless, their trailblazing attitude has always led them to look for ways to better themselves, to remain current, to further their education, and to find ways to improve their wines and their future. Because of this, they are no strangers to experimentation. At any given time, there are six barrels of “experimental” wines in their cellar; they are personally responsible for creating the “pergoletta Speri,” a vine training system designed to allow light and air to pass freely, encouraging better grape maturation; and they were among the first to try to highlight single vineyards in the 1970s when it wasn’t quite popular in Italy yet. Not afraid of change, Speri started looking towards organic farming. You could say the groundwork was already laid as the family’s philosophy has always included a total respect for the environment and a desire to highlight their unique terroir. In fact, they began working the land organically at least ten years (even twenty years for some things, such as weed control) before beginning the bureaucratic procedures for certification. The “official” conversion took three harvests (as per EU regulations) and their first full “bio” wine was the 2015 vintage.

speri-vineyards-santurbano-estate-1024x576The Sant’Urbano vineyard.

Speri owns and cultivates 60 hectares (almost 150 acres) of the 100 hectares (almost 250 acres) of organically farmed land in the Valpolicella Classico area. This is a great privilege – Speri is fortunate enough to not have to buy any grapes to make their wines, hence giving them full control over the quality – but it also comes at a great cost. Organic farming is a financial commitment that demonstrates just how dedicated one is to creating a natural product and protecting the environment – and consumers. Why does it cost so much more? Mostly because it requires more manpower in the vineyards and more, albeit natural, treatments aimed at preventing disease and infestation. While pesticide treatments could be done three to four times a year, organic cultivation requires many more, perhaps as many as thirteen treatments in one growing year. Incidentally, these preventative measures paid off in 2014. Because of them, organic growers suffered the effects of the vintage’s changeable weather much less than conventional growers. Additionally, production tends to be somewhat lower. So even though Speri has purchased 9 more hectares (22 acres) in the last two years, they won’t be producing many more bottles than the average of 350,000 bottles they currently produce. Speri has looked to offset these costs by expanding their cantina and vinification areas. In doing so, they will save on air conditioning (something they have had to depend on in one of the current storage areas) because the cantina is eight meters (26 feet) underground and thus remains cool all year round. They’ve also installed solar panels to cover their electricity needs. This will not only balance out costs, but has made it so their impact on the environment is even more minimal.

What does organic mean in Italy? Organic viticulture is all about cultivating grapes and making wine using all-natural practices, ultimately aiming for the best quality possible. This includes the production of nutrients as well as weed management and parasite and disease prevention. It is considered a complete method whose final product must reflect the local terroir in every way: the environmental conditions, such as the hydrology, soil, and microclimate as well as traditional workings of the land. Every aspect of cultivation – from the fertility of the soil, to the management of parasites and disease – are managed to maximize the quality and health of the grapes. (Source: http://www.ifoam-eu.org/sites/default/files/page/files/ifoameu_reg_wine_dossier_20130_it.pdf). Organic agriculture is further regulated by the European Union and growers, once certified, enjoy the use of an EU organic logo.

speri-family-now-chiara-carlo-laura-giampaolo-giampietro-giuseppe-luca-alberto-speri-smallThe Speri family.

Chiara and Giuseppe Speri are cousins that represent the sixth and seventh generations. Here, they explain how and when Speri made the change. “We were on the fence about going organic because pesticides salesmen consistently told us true organic farming was impossible,” said Giuseppe, junior enologist, the son of Alberto Speri, the senior enologist at Speri. Undeterred, they decided to do a year trial. While it was a risk because they were travelling into the unknown, they were pleased with the results. “At the end of the year, we noticed the plants were actually healthier.” With the idea that healthy grapes make healthy wines, they never looked back. Speri dropped or replaced any and all pesticides, antifungal, and weed control products and began using all-natural products and organic farming practices. Now, Speri sprays copper and sulfur to combat rot and disease. (Note that EU regulations dictate that only six kilograms of copper per hectare may be used per growth cycle while there are no limits in the use of sulfur dustings.) As for pest control, Speri uses what is known as sexual confusion. Strips containing pheromones are placed throughout the vineyard. These pheromones emanate throughout the fields and stop the insects from breeding as males can’t find the females, and females think the males are females. (To make sure the treatment is working, traps can be placed in the vineyard to catch the insects. However, if they are empty, it means the treatment is working.) The pest population is effectively controlled without the use of any synthetic pesticides and the grapes remain unspoiled.

Careful soil management aimed at safeguarding the soil and its fertility as well as maintaining optimal balance of the vines are key factors in the cultivation of organic grapes. According to Chiara and Giuseppe, turfing, cover cropping, and their management, are vital at Speri. Grass naturally grows in the vineyards and can be adapted, according to what the microclimate requires at any given time. For example, perhaps you might let the grass grow if there is too much water so the vines don’t become water-logged, something that could affect the quality. More frequently though, the grass would be cut, and then used as mulch. This helps make sure the vines receive all the vital nutrients in the soil. Ever the innovators, Speri also created a special “Sant’Urbano grass mixture” that they use as their green manure. It is planted in winter only to be cut later and turned into the soil as a sort of natural fertilizer.  Finally, Speri also uses an aerator to freshen the soil. It is used after harvest when the soil is dry, making holes for oxygen and water as the machine passes over. This helps the roots grow deeper, producing stronger, more vigorous plants.

Speri also uses organic practices in the cantina. Every product used, such as yeast, must be organic and sulfites must be used sparingly, if at all. Speri has never used a lot of sulfites because the amount naturally produced during vinification has always been enough to preserve their wines. Giuseppe quipped, “We drink our wine. So we make the wine we want to drink.” Their objective has always been to highlight the grapes and the territory – which is part of why their philosophy meshes so well with organic growing – and this shows even in their aging preferences. They do not use barrique for their dry wines, preferring tonneaux and botti, looking to gently rather than aggressively enhance the wine’s aromatic and flavor profiles.

speri-ageing-cellar-smallSperi’s aging cellar: botti on the left, tonneaux on the right.

We asked Speri if the change was difficult and they said, “Only the bureaucracy!” That is especially the case when it comes to understanding and complying with the different rules of the different countries their wines are exported to. For example, for the wine to be labeled 100% organic in the U.S., no sulfites may be used. However, wines can be labeled “made with organic grapes,” which is what most organic Italian wineries do. The Speri family, which never backs down in the face of a challenge, remains committed to and enthusiastic about organic methods. We asked Chiara and Giuseppe if bio-dynamic winemaking was the next step. To which they laughed, “Whoa, slow down there, one step at a time.”

speri-winery-okSperi’s s renovated façade.