Celestino Gaspari had worked with Valpolicella master Guiseppe Quintarelli, and married one of his daughters, before he set up his Zýmē winery in San Pietro in Cariano, in the heart of Valpolicella Classico. Celestino had also helped several others with various projects (among them Bertani, Santa Maria alla Pieve and Musella) – and several wineries were born under his guidance (like Monte dall’Ora, also in San Pietro).
Zýmē was the name of his consultance agency, and became the name of his own winery, when he in 2003 started with 7 ha. on rent. Now there are 30 ha., where ecosustainability and respect for the rhythms of nature are vital aspects. Zýmē, from Greek, means “yeast.” For Celestino this has a symbolic meaning as a continuous striving towards transformation. The logo represents a leaf, formed as a pentagon, which is a symbol of the five basic elements needed to make wine; soil, grapes, sun, water and man.
There were many good wines to chose from; Oseleta (a 100% varietal), Kairos (from 15 grapes, 4 white and 11 red), From Black to White (from a natural genetic mutation of Rondinella) and an Amarone Classico della Valpolicella on the dry, almost elegant side.
Still I chose the Recioto Amandorlato, a wine dedicated to the memory of Giuseppe “Bepi” Quintarelli, his father-in-law, who passed away in 2012. The wine was first presented at this year’s VinItaly.
Celestino describes Recioto Amandorlato as a synthesis between traditional recioto and amarone. One could say a recioto with the lowest possible sugar residue.
Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2011 Amandorlato “to my teacher …” (produced in 1,500 bottles of 0,5 l) is a blend of corvina and corvinone (60%), rondinella (30%), molinara (5%) and croatina (5%). After drying, the grapes were vinified in cement, then matured for 20 days in Slavonian oak barrels of between 350 and 500 l. In May 2017 it was bottled.
In the concrete tanks the temperature is natural, the yeast too, and there is very little movement of the must. The tumultuous fermentation stops due to the effect of sulfur, alcohol and residual sugar. Now the product is divided. Sugar tends to precipitate, so the first part removed is the one richest in sugar, the Recioto. The second part, in contact with the brandy, with less sugar, more organic substance and more extracted, becomes Amandorlato. (Then there is also Amarone Riserva.)
Recioto della Valpolicella Classico Amandorlato “al mio maestro…” 2011 (Zýmē)
Dark cherry colour. Ripe fruit (cherry, plum, blueberry), peppery spiciness, bitter almonds and a sweet component like cocoa. Quite glyceric, with soft tannins, sweet (but not too sweet), and with a lingering finish.
Alentejo has a more than two thousand years old unbroken tradition for clay-aged wines. The area now experiences a fashion for these wines, and in 2010 a specific DOC was even awarded.
Talha is a large clay container. They come in different sizes and degree of porosity, but they are definitely recognizable. Since they are porous, most are sealed inside. Most common is a form of resin, mixed with other ingredients. The tradition has been kept alive by local restaurants. Now the number of commercial producers that take up the tradition is still increasing.
Here is a short version of how the wines are typically made: The grapes are pressed and transferred to the talha, where a spontaneous natural fermentation takes place. During this period, the grape and skins float to the surface and forms a thick mass. This is pressed down with a piece of wood to extract the color, aroma and taste of the wine. Fermentation is completed, and the mass sinks to the bottom. When the wine runs through a hole at the bottom of the jar, this mass helps to filter, together with straw designed for the purpose.
A toast of talha wine at the traditional producer-restaurant in the village of Cuba
The grapes are picked in September, transported into the wine house, pressed, then transferred to the jars – with or without stem. During fermentation, batonnage is carried out. The mass is pushed down twice a day to extract colour and flavour, but also to prevent it from blocking the opening and the jar exploding. As a rule, the fermentation is completed 8-15 days after the grapes are placed in the jar, so it takes a few weeks for the lid to sink to the bottom. For many, the wine is now finished and the drinking can start. Traditional restaurants usually serve it more or less directly from the “talha”. The modern, commercial wine houses usually leave the wine on the steel tank, some place it, surprisingly maybe, in oak barrels. Traditionists put the wine back on the jars. These are often covered with lid of wood, clay, cardboard or anything. A more effective protection against oxidation is olive oil, which is poured into the jar.
The DOC Vinho de Talha was created to preserve tradition. The regulation states, among other things, that the grapes must be cultivated within the 8 subregions of DOC Alentejo, they must be rejected, fermentation must be done in closed containers (talhas) and the wine and grape must remain in the jars until 11th November. One can store the wine longer, but this is the day when official officials come to certify the wine. This is St. Martin’s Day and traditionally the day one drank the wine for the first time that year. Martin from Tours was a soldier for the Romans, but became Christian as an adult and then lived as a monk. In Portugal, the day is primarily associated with celebration of the new wine.
Moreto is the grape variety that stands out as the traditional bearer. But the tendency is that other grape varieties are used, and the wine spends less time in the vessels in contact with the skins.
Talhas at Esporão
Herdade do Esporão is a property that can actually track its borders back to the 13th century. It was purchased by two private individuals in 1973. The first wines came on the market in the 1990s, and almost instantly it was a huge success.
It’s maybe of importance that a large company like Esporão participates in the collective talha experiment that is now taking place in the area, because those who no one else can register and catalogud knowledge and experience. Perhaps they can also help promote the Alentejo region to consumers.
Esporão inserts the jars with beeswax (made after a complicated recipe), to avoid anything evaporating. This certainly gives some taste to the wine, or rather: it reacts with the wine. To avoid oxidation, a layer of olive oil is placed on top of the talha.
Their Vinho de Talha is only sold in the house’s own shop, to keep an image of exclusivity, it is said. The 2014 vintage comes from old, rented vineyards in the cool Portalegre sub-region to the north, high in the São Mamede mountains, with varieties moreto, castelão and trincadeira. The grapes were picked late in the autumn, end of October-beginning November. No SO2 is added and the yeast is completely natural.
The wine makers are David Baverstock and Sandra Alves.
From Esporão’s shop
Vinho de Talha (Amphora Wine) 2014 (Herdade do Esporão)
The wine is relatively light ruby. Aroma of red berries (ripe raspberries) with flowers, some spice and liquorice. Intense fruit on the palate, fresh acidity (typical of northern Alentejo), elegant tannin, and some sweetness at the end.
This week’s selected wine is from nobody else than natural wine guru Jean-Pierre Robinot.
As the story goes, Robinot fell in love with wine at a young age, moved to Paris, met some of the pioneers of natural wine and opened L’Ange Vin, one of the first bars dedicated to that kind of drinks.
Soon he decided to make natural wines himself, and moved back to Chahaignes, where he grew up, in the north of Loire.
The rest is history, as they say. He offers one wine better than the other; easy-to-drink and serious at the same time, they keep for weeks after opening, they express their origins magnificently, and they are highly original.
Jean-Pierre owns around 8 hectares of vines in the two appellations Jasnières and the Coteaux du Loir, soils red clay, limestone and silex. And the fermentations, they can last for months, years, in the ancient underground caves.
L’Ange Vin Nocturne 2015 (Jean-Pierre Robinot)
Light cherry red. Typical aromas of violet and black pepper, red berries (cranberry). Fresh, juicy and pleasant on the palate, with fine-grained tannins, and long, chalky minerality. So elegant, so full of energy and vitality.
Food: Fish and fowl, lamb and swine, game. and a variety of cheeses
Simplesmente… Vinho is the kind of wine fairs that I love, where you meet only individual producers off the beaten wine track. I have already published a short report from the fair itself, I presented a wine from Dão in my weekly column, one from Algarve, then one from the Açores, and finally one from Douro. I visited Rodrigo Filipe’s Humus in the Lisboa region before the fair, and lastly I also prepare an article from my visits in Dão. Here are just a few of the rest.
Quinta da Palmirinha
Fernando Paiva was one of the pioneers of biodynamic farming in Portugal, in the unlikely region of Vinho Verde, a humid region with a strong Atlantic influence. When looking closer at the map he is based in Lixa, near Amarante in the southern part, not far from Douro. His wines are wonderfully balanced, flowery, and with the acidity in percfect harmony with the rest. The main white grape is loureiro. The Quinta da Palmirinha Loureiro 2016 was oh so light, fresh and citric, with balsamic (pine) notes, and with a fresh natural acidity perfectly well integrated. The red Palmirinha 2016 (vinhão-espadeiro-azal tinto), no sulphur added, was dark, with ink, plums, and aciditywise it was in line with the whites (high but hidden). Paiva is also involved in the Mica project, where four producers are joining forces, making greatly enjoyable wines at a lower price. I liked the 2017, an azal-treixadura-avesso tropic/mellow blend at 17 g/L residual sugar.
Vasco Croft went biodynamic since the beginning, at his farm near Ponte de Lima, where he has 18 hectares, uses own sheep compost. All wines are made using native yeast.
Vasco Croft (right) talking to Brazilian reporter Didu Rosso
Aphros Loureiro 2016 is light, with lemon, flowers, slender, citric, and with a good, steely acidity. Daphne 2016 comes from a different plot, granitic, more rocky (while the others are sandy). It had 12 hours skin-contact, was then fermented in concrete eggs of 1600 liters and stayed there untill bottling. This wine was full, a bit darker, with aroma dominated by apple. Phaunus Loureiro 2016 stayed 6-8 weeks in amphora, with olive oil on top. The colour was yellow, towards orange; with that white flower aroma that amphoras can enhance; quite full on the palate, somewhat richer, and with a pleasant structure. Phaunus Pet-Nat 2016, bottled while still fermenting; yellow apples, some citrus, and good acidity. The Rosé Vinhão 2017 (sample) had a cloudy peach colour, and a promising acidity. Phaunus Palhete 2016 is a fresh and lovely amphora-elevated wine, made from both red and white grapes with skin-contact for 6-8 weeks. I will come back to this in a wine-of-the-week post. The Vinhão 2017 was pressed by foot, fermented by itself, and no further extraction: Dark, with a violet hue; dark fruits, blackberry, flowers, raspberry, and decent acidity. Lots of character and energy!
Over the border to Spain, and two Galician wines we tasted at the DOP restaurant, run by the celebrated local chef Rui Paula.
Finca Teira 2014(Manuel Formigo) comes from the inland DO Ribeiro: It’s made from godello, treixadura and torrontés. The wine is light yellow; a little buttery, mineral, with darker citrus (orange/mandarine); broad, full on the palate, with the acidity to match. Traste 2015 (José Aristeguí) is another inland Galician wine, this time from Valdeorras (neighbouring the Castilan region of Bierzo). The grapes are garnacha tintorera (alicante bouschet) and mencía. Dark; rich and warm (15% alc.), hints of morello, and some coffee; tough tannins, the alcohol shows again in the finish, but it’s not without charm either.
Here we are talking about a collaboration with Raúl Pérez, especially known from Bierzo, Spain. These are stylish wines. Mirandela 2015 (from Tras-os-Montes north) is a white field blend of moscatel-malvasia a.o.: Pear, citrus; quite full, good acidity. Tinto 2010 from tinta amarela, tinta roriz and touriga nacional: Dark; very fresh for a 10, red fruits, good structure.
Among the rest from this region the following stood out. Quinta de Arcossó Reserva 2009: Dark colour; dark fruits (morello, blackcurrant); powerful, evident tannins, some alcohol in finish.
Rita Marques has impressed for some years with remarkably elegant wines for a hot region like Douro. Near Vila Nova de Foz Côa in the Douro Superior her ranges are called Contraste and Conceito, and she also makes some port.
Contraste 2016 from various grapes: Light; very fresh, citric, herbs; luscious, soft and natural, with an integrated acidity. Conceito 2016, fermented in barrel, a field blend: Light; white flowers, peach, some vanilla, honey; full on the palate. Ontem (=yesterday in Portuguese) 2016, Terras de Beira, in other words from outside the Douro. The grape varieties include encruzado and rabigato, and the soils are granitic. It’s a flowery, fruity, full wine with vibrant acidity and evident mineral tones.
Contraste 2015: Cherry red; red fruits; soft, some tannnin structure. Conceito 2015: Dark colour; dark and red berries, some vanilla, mint, some toast, but fruit-driven nevertheless. Legítimo 2016: A carbonic maceration wine: Purple, violet; dark fruits, pepper, a bit lactic; young tannins. Outem 2015, a wine made from baga 60-70%: Bright red; some green pepper, raspberry; cool and fresh, and some structure.
Rita and Manuel
The Verdelho family is found near Vila Nova de Foz Côa too, and I have tasted many of their Dona Berta wines through a mutual friend. The wines, made by professor in oenology Virgilio Loureiro, I have learned to recognize as well-made wines, more robust than elegant. They are proud of their rabigato, and deservedly so. The Rabigato Reserva Vinhas Velhas 2016 made in inox was full and creamy, with notes of citrus, nuts, wax and melon. Among the other wines worth mention were first Sousão Reserva 2013, dark and fruit-driven, juicy with some spice and lickorice. Then the Reserva 2013, an “entry-level” blend: This is a fresh red, with notes of red berries, plums, an earthy touch, but with a quite elegant structure. Tinto Cão Reserva 2012: A structured wine with red fruits, blackberries, solid tannins and good acidity.
Quinta do Romeu
This is one of the most northern wineries in the Douro Superior, a really cool place north of Vila Nova de Foz Côa. They work biodynamically, and have organic certification. It’s always spontaneous fermentation, and SO2 only after malolactic and before bottling.
Quinta do Romeu 2016: Open, immediate and aromatic, with red fruits and herbs; smooth, glyceric, and a good acidity. Quinta do Romeu Rosé 2016: Light salmon colour; strawberry, gooseberry; fresh, with a good natural acidity. Quinta do Romeu Tinto 2011: Dark cherry red; red fruits; juicy, luscious, cool and fresh on the palate. Quinta do Romeu Reserva 2015: Made from touriga nacional, touriga franca and sousão, fermented in lagares of granite, moderate extraction: Dark red; smells of dark berries, tobacco; full on the palate with a good acidity. Quinta do Romeu Touriga Nacional 2015: Dark, dense, violet; aroma of dark fruits with leather; young and robust tannins. They also make a colheita port.
Folias do Baco
Tiago Sampaio is the winemaker of Folias de Baco, a project he started in 2007. He never forgets the roots and the terroir, but it’s always something creative about his wines. And though he can experiment at every stage of the process, the extraction is always very gentle. He is found in Favaios, the traditional moscatel stronghold, in the sub-region of Cima Corgo, and the vines are on schist and granite at an altitude between 500-700m.
When he came back from Oregon with a degree in oenology in 2007, he established the brand Olho no Pé. The latest editions however, come under the name Uivo.
I tasted a cloudy, fruity and very tasty Uivo Pet Nat from the very early harvested 2017 (started 8. August), a very fresh, flowery Olho no Pé Moscatel from the same vintage, smooth but also with a lovely acidity, and the Olho no Pé Vinhas Velhas 2016, a no SO2, skin contact, barrel-fermented wine with more colour, somewhat tropic, waxy aroma, and a glyceric appearance in the mouth – a wine for keeping.
Among the reds there was the Uivo Renegado Tinto 2017 (a field blend with both red and white grapes, so to call it rosé is maybe better), a little turbid, earthy, strawberry/raspberry, and a tough grapefruity acidity, and the light, transparent Olho no Pé Pinot Noir 2014 with raspberry, full and round. Uivo Tinta Francisca 2016, had a deeper colour, very fruity with red berries and plum, juicy and grapey in the mouth, with a graphitic mineral touch. The last wine I will mention here is the impressive Olho no Pé Colheita Tardia 2012, an orange/amber wine with sweet honeyed bouquet from 100% botrytisized grapes.
Quinta do Infantado,João and Álvaro Roseira
Infantado was the first winery to export directly from the Douro valley in the 1980’s, and I visited them twice shortly after. They weren’t given first priority in the tasting hall this time, but at the DOP restaurant of Rui Paula we tasted two ports and the Roseira 2011, a project from Joaõ Roseira of Infantado (and Simplesmente Vinho, of course). Dark colour; red berries and forest fruits; good tannins, still young (good with baby goat). Two well-matured ports: the Colheita 2007, a tawny with vintage, had a young, red colour, beginning developement; figs, nuts, berries, elderberry; fruity, not very sweet, long. Vintage Port 1997 (magnum): Very fruity (blackberry), but also with some chocolate, spices and a warm, raisiny hint. Lots of tannin in the mouth, matching acidity, and still fruity after all these years.
Casa de Saima
This was an occation to meet the lovely Graça Miranda again, whom I had not seen since I visited the winery in Sangalhos many years ago. Saima was known as a tratitional producer, and I have still a few older vintages in my own cellar, such as the superb Garrafeiras 1991 and 2001, and I remember a foot-trodden rosé with more than 10 years of age when it was released. But they also embraced the new opportunities that appeared some years ago, with new grape varieties such as merlot.
The white Vinhas Velhas 2017 (sample) was light; fruity, with citrus and apples; full, concentrated, good acidity, fresh. I think this will be great in a not too distant future. The same wine from 2016 (a hot year) was waxy and herby, but also with fine flower notes; full in the mouth, with a fine acidity. Garrafeira 2015 (the first garrafeira white), made in old oak with 3 months of batonnage in big 3.000L vats: Darker, more creamy, quite waxy, with a touch of honey, concentrated, glyceric, smooth, and long. Promising.
The Pinot Noir 2015 I found interesting; fruity and saline. Baga Tonel 10 2014 (10 is the name of the vat [tonel in Portuguese], while 14 is obviously the vintage): Light colour; red berries, forest fruits, some greenness; luscious in the mouth, tannins still come creeping, and a good acidity ends it all. Baga Vinhas Velhas Grande Reserva 2014: Grande Reserva means here that it must be in oak for at least 24 months. The wine is cherry red, has some greenness, good fruit, lots of tannins, and good acidity. Maybe a classic Saima with great ageing potential.
Quinta do Montalto
I have known André Pereira of Montalto and Pedro Marques of Vale da Capucha for some years, visited their quintas and met them at fairs, such as the London natural wine fairs. André not only makes good wines, but with an almost unbeatable quality-price ratio. His farm is in Ourém, in the Encostas d’Aire area, some of the vineyards in Leiria, but most of the wines are classified as regional Lisboa.
André is currently experimenting with amphora, coated with natural resin. An clay-aged fernão pires from 2017 (the name is to be announced, possibly something with ‘talha’, denoting clay wines in Portugal), harvested early, was light in colour; flowery, fresh, fresh, but also nutty and a bit waxy, and full of life. His Medieval d’Ourem 2017 (DOC Encostas d’Aire) is based on an old Ourém tradition. It’s defined in the strict DOC rules that it must be 20% red and the rest white grapes (here tricadeira and fernão pires). The 2017 was light red, with a lovely raspberry scent; luscious and round, but also with a citrussy freshness. Although the alcohol is 14,5% (spring was hot and dry) this must be the best “medieval” wine I have tasted from André so far.
A Touriga Nacional 2017, this one also aged in amphora: Dark, violet; aroma of flowers, red fruits, blackcurrant; a touch of tannin, and also a bit warm at 14,5%. As the name suggests Cepa Pura is a series of varietal wines. Cepa Pura Baga 2016 was totally destemmed, put in 50% used barrel, and the rest inox. 2016 was a difficult year here, with a great loss because of rain and fungus. The wine was nice, with and aroma of red fruits, green pepper, cherry, and some spice; fresh and luscious in the mouth, with soft tannins. Cepa Pura Fernão Pires Late Harvest 2015: This is another example of fernão pires’ many talents: Yellow colour; aroma of yellow fruits, citrus and honey; semi sweet, rich, and with a good acidity. No botrytis.
One of the big revelations this year was Cabeças do Reguengo. They currently have 11 ha. vineyards, in the north of Alentejo, near the São Mamede national park. Rui Felé tells that they encourage the biodiversity, with man, wildlife, olives, other crops and vines in harmony. The grape harvest is all done in a single day and in the cellar there is very little intervention. The only product used is a little SO2. The wines stay in old oak, and in the near future only black oak – the autochthonous species.
One of the wines that stood out was an orange wine called Luminoso 2016. It’s made from arinto, fernão pires and rupeiro, had 10 days skin-contact, no SO2. The colour is orange/amber; aroma of peel, nectarine, mandarine, a touch of honey; full, structured (tannin), and fruit all the way. The red Felisbela (“my mother”, says Rui), no SO2: Dark cherry; dark fruits, blackcurrant, forest fruits; a bit carbonic, a feature that matches the slightly warm fruit. Courelas da Torre 2015, aragonêz, trincadeira, alicante bouschet: dark; mature fruits, blackcurrant, round, full, some lickorice. There was also a pleasant rosé, quite dark and with some structure: Courelas da Torre Rosé 2016.
Under the Cabeças label came wines like Equinocio 2015, aged in mainly old wood for one year: Some butter, nuts, and full on the palate. Seiva 2014: Red and dark fruits, concentrated flavours, long. Solstício 2015, made with whole bunches: Dark colour; wild fruits; rich and a bit tannic.
Quinta do Mouro
Quinta do Mouro is one of the famous producers of Alentejo, based in the northernly Estremoz, and one of the few (maybe together with Herdade do Mouchão) who strongly believed in the variety alicante bouschet at a time with castelão (locally called periquita) was popular with both producers and local wine authorities. I meet Miguel Louro father and son, the father fronting Mouro and the son both this and his own project. Mouro is about as good as Alentejo gets, and they have a freshness that is difficult to achieve if you’re not located near the mountains in the Portalegre sub-region. So here are a few, only briefly described (partly because I visited them late in the evening when the crowds came in and the music was turned louder, and I actually was “on my way” back to the hotel for a rest).
From Miguel junior’s project Apelido 2016, a fresh and clean white, a wine with the 1 o (primero =first) symbol), Nome 2016, full, rich on glycerine, with good acidity, and Apelido 2015, a dark, fruit-driven red, also with some earthy notes.
Some brief notes on the Mouro range too: Zagalos Reserva 2013: Dark colour; wild fruits, blackcurrant, blackberry; full in the mouth. Quinta do Mouro 2012: Dark; red and dark fruits, balsamic (menthol); full and complete. Quinta do Mouro (Goliardos) 2012, a wine made with some cabernet in the blend, various types of oak, in collaboration with the Goliardos (see an interview with Silvia here): Very dark, dense, almost opaque; still cool fruit, balsamic: a lot of tannins, but not aggressive at all.
Gambellara is a small village at the foot of Monti Lessini in the western corner of the Vicenza province. To the west it borders Soave (Verona). It has a DOC for the whole area, a “classico” designation for wines with lower yields and higher alcohol, and a DOCG Recioto di Gambellara. The DOC is comprised of 4 municipalities, most important are Gambellara and Montebello.
When the prosecco boom took off, many of the grapes in the flatlands were replaced with the glera grape (formerly called prosecco). One of the results is that the general quality of Gambellara wine is extremely high, and as much as 60% of the grapes are grown in the hillsides.
In one day I visited three of the best, in or around Gambellara village, and maximum 5 minutes drive from each others.
Angiolino Maule – La Biancara
The most important of these is La Biancara, run by Angiolino Maule, who has been in the avant-garde of local and national natural wine movement and inspired many younger vintners. He founded the VinNatur organization in 2000 and leads the Villa Favorita natural wine fair held in Vicenza. The objective is to establish contact between collegues, to be able to support and learn from each others. They are currently looking at the possibility of replacing copper and sulfur, widely used in organic farming, with plants and extracts that help vines build up resistance. Maule is now also studying the possibility to certify natural wines.
Most of Maule’s wines though, come under the IgT Veneto designation, as Angiolino can be said to have a general mistrust in the Consorzio, and the wines are not regarded “typical” by the them either.
It’s Francesco Maule, one of Angiolino’s sons, who meets me on this warm summer morning. First we take a stroll through the vineyards and the estate, to get an overview. The soil of Gambellara is volcanic, with just a little limestone in the heights. This is easy to see from here.
Maule has approximately 12 hectares own vineyards on south facing slopes in these hills, about 150m to 250m above sea level. They are managed in a strictly organically way. They use naturally produced plant compost and control fungal diseases with herbal teas and other natural products. Contrary to tradition, here the predominant binding technique is the Guyot, but also some pergola.
Here around the winery there are 5,5 ha. garganega grapes, many of them used in the Sassaia wine. Higher up, as the name implies, the grapes for the Pico are grown. There is also some trebbiano and durella, and merlot and others for the reds.
-At La Biancara we use modern technology, as we want to have control, at least “enough” control. To oxygenate we add air to the must. Fermentation starts by ifself, because of the hot weather. We may use the pied de cuve technique, 2 or 3 different ones, to see which one is best. It’s important to have a fresh pied de cuve.[A short note: Pied de cuve is a technique that is often used for white wines. Some grapes are collected a week or so before the grapes are ready to be harvested. A small amount of this “stock” is then used to “kick-start” the fermentation, and helps to avoid any possibility of early oxidation.]
-After some years of “strange things” (high volatile, extreme skin-contact), some 10 years ago we decided to do some adjustments in the cellar, says Francesco. -We were lucky, as my father knew Josko Gravner (top Friuli producer with long experience in orange wines). He had also been making extremes wines, and then changed slightly. We also got some help from a retired enologist from Zonin (the region’s big player, just down the road).
-Normally we don’t add sulfites, only in the cheapest wines, that can have quite high volatile acidity.
We tasted a few wines together. And Francesco has nothing to hide, a sympathetic approach, as we start with their pét nat:
Garg’n’go 2017: In 2017 we have problems with re-fermentation, so here are practically no bubbles. That’s the way it is with pét nat (natural pétillance/bubbles), when there is no nat pét, there is just one way to fix it: we have to wait. The colour is quite dark, with flavours of yellow apples, yeast, and good acidity from the durella grape (20%). We can imagine how it will be in good condition. -We have no tradition for bubbles, says Francesco. -My father never thought about it, but I love it, and it’s easy to sell. Francesco fetches another bottle, that has a little more bubbles. OK, so there is hope.
Over to the still wines, the first one all garganega: Sassaia 2016, as we said from the vineyard close to the house. 70% were directly pressed, the rest skin-macerated for 2-3 days, then barrelfermented. Because we don’t use SO2 tannin and polyphenol from the skin-contact help the wine to stay healthy and live longer. It shows a light golden colour; mature apples, white flowers, ginger (from garganega) and some toast on the nose; it’s quite full and very tasty.
The relatively high altitude Pico has for me been a favourite, if I were to pick only one wine. Selected grapes from three relatively high vineyards, Pico 2016 was 50% directly pressed, an equal part had 2-3 days skin-contact. In fact there was also a tiny amount (one barrel, maybe 2%) that had extended skin-contact for 2 1/2 months. -’16 was a good harvest, and it rained at the right moments. The wine showed dark, almost amber; with mature apples, white pepper, ginger, a touch of honey; rich and glyceric in the mouth, with an integrated acidity and an extreme length.
Rosso Masieri 2017 is a young and luscious, fruity and herb-scented red wine from merlot, tokai rosso (grenache) and cabernet sauvignon. See link #1 at the bottom of this post for more.
Passito Monte Sorio 2015 is a recioto style, IgT (though they have a DOCG Recioto too). The garganega was harvested before the other grapes. They were all hung in vertical nets, for 4-5 months to dry. Then there was one week skin-maceration, and fermentation for 2-3 months. More normal is 14% and 150 grams residual sugar, but in this vintage the alcohol is 16% and sugar 76 grams. Some sulfites are added, simply because the wine gets cloudy after 2-3 years because of some protein bindings. Amber colour; on the nose: nuts, some raisin, iodene, lightly oxidezed style; on the palate: long and with a good acidity.
Let’s close this chapter with a recommendation from Francesco Maule: Recioto and parmesan cheese: a fantastic combination! (Parmesan, or parmiggiano, is “almost local”, as Parma is only one and a half hours from Verona.)
Climbing downhill to the center of the village we find both our next wine people, the two Davides. Vignato is not an uncommon name in Gambellara, and in the short street I ring the doorbell at two other Vignato’s houses before the right one stands before me.
Davide is third generation vigneron, so he’s born and raised in the village. But he is the first to have organic wines certified as DOC Gambellara. He has 14 hectares of vineyards that are characterized by these mineral soils. He works them organically, with techniques like green manure. Grape varieties are mainly garganega, but also durella, glera, chardonnay and merlot.
In the ancient amphitheater of Monte San Marco
He takes me to the biggest of the two amphitheaters formed by the ancient volcanoes. It’s the one in Gambellara, close to his home, the other is in the aforementioned Montebello to the east.
-I want to make organic wine, but I also want clean wine, for me this is important, Davide says. He also believes that the volcanic soil gives a salty, mineral character to the wines. Both these opinions can be backed by the tasting.
Balaltic dark rocks of volcanic origin
Primo Incontro 2016, IgT Veneto: The “first meeting” is a garganega frizzante (light pressure), where the second fermention is catalyzed by some of the dried grapes. The yeasts remain in the bottle, so the “sur lie” technique is employed, with batonnage once a week. -The final bottling was done after 15 months, no SO2, so I prefer to do malo-lactic fermentation, says Davide.
The wine shows a light yellow colour, slightly cloudy; aromas of apples, white flowers and citrus; there is a balanced acidity, a slightly salty, simple, good summer drink.
Cuvée dei Vignato 2013: A spumante metodo classico (high pressure) from 90% durella, and the rest chardonnay, with 40 months on the lees.
Somewhat lighter; green apples, citrus, bread crust; more evident, pungent acidity, long and mineral aftertaste.
Then follow two still whites, both 100% garganega.
El Gian 2016, Gambellara Classico, a tribute to his father Gian Domenico: This wine is from 25 year old vines in the hills. As usual: Natural yeast and only a small quantity SO2. It stayed on the lees in steel tanks for 5 months before bottling.
Light straw colour; green apples, white flowrs, citrus, clean (no tropics); quite mellow in the mouth, but the acidity shines through, and typical for the garganega grape it has a nice bitterness towards the end.
Col Moenia 2016 , Gambellara Classico: This is from 40 years old vines, and the grape selection is stricter. No de-stemming. It stays on the lees for 7 months, and batonnage is carried out once in a while.
Light straw, clear; yellow apple, ginger; full on the palate, more concentration than the previous wine, and more integrated acidity (the harvest was 20 days later), slightly bitter aftertaste.
A general observation can be added here: Garganega has a long cycle, and late picking is normal. Durella is approximately one month earlier, around mid-september.
Regarding the wine styles, at this point it should also be clear that Vignato’s wines are clean, the fruit is a bit more acid and the apple notes are greener. La Biancara is more turbid, obviously unfiltered, plays with oxidation, and the fruit is more yellow and mature.
1950 Merlot 2016, IgT Veneto: -1950 was the year when my father planted the merlot vineyard for this wine, because he realized that he was tired of drinking only white gambellara, says Davide. The pressing is light, and the wine matures in steel tank with occational batonnage.
The colour is ruby with some violet; with aroma of red fruits and some herbs; medium body, soft tannins, quite easy drinking really.
The “picai” technique is still used, bunches hung from the roof to dry
Cal d’Oro 2009: This is a passito wine with mahogany (or dark amber) colour; iodine notes, umami, dried fruits and dates; some tannins, medium sweet (120-30 g), a bit raisiny, and also salt in the finish.
Ca’ Ronchi 2007, Passito Rosso: Dark red, a little browning; red berries and forestfruits (morelloes, blackberries), nuts; quite slender, good tannin structure, medium sweet (same as the former), wonderfully balanced by acidity.
After a sandwich and a coffee in the bar on Gambellara’s central square, I climb the labyrinths of the neighbourhood where Davide Spillare has his house and winery, and several of the vineyards are there too. I meet Davide together with Lanfranco Fossà, who helps him with various tasks in the office.
Davide and Lanfranco
A little background: Davide Spillare (his last name should have a stress on the first syllable) was born in 1987. He went to agronomy school, then worked 4 years for Angiolino Maule, to learn and to gain experience. In 2007 he started on his own. He is third generation. Antonio, his grandfather, worked in real estate, and made wine in the weekends. Mariano, his father, worked with machines and repair, he made more wine than his father, but he only sold it to the cooperative.
So Davide’s project is in a way still young. He owns 4 hectares of vineyards, and has 6 on rent (the latter will come into production from the 2019 vintage). In fact 50% of Davide’s production is today sold to Japan. The wines are also found in a handful more countries. I tasted them in London’s 40 Maltby Street wine bar.
The annual production is now 20.000 bottles, and will increase to 30.000. Not very much. From Davide’s house there is a nice view over the village, and you can easily see the big Zonin winery.
Davide has 5 labels, mostly garganega, except for some durella for sparkling (up to 70 years old), and also some merlot for the red. He employs biodynamic viticulture, and there is almost no technology in the cellar. The old vines are bound up in the pergola system, but for the newer plantings he uses Guyot.
In the plains, at around 200 meters above sea level, there are clayey soils. The rest is mostly volcanic.
In general we could say that after Vignato’s clean and clear wines we are now, not surprisingly maybe, back towards the style of Maule’s La Biancara. In a way the wines are elegant, with their crisp acidity. But they clearly take place in the natural wine category, without added sulfur, and no filtration or fining, so they also come with a rich mouthfeel and loads of taste.
Here are some short notes from the tasting.
L1 (named after Lumber 1, the lowest rib in the back, that Davide once broke in a tractor accident): It’s made from 90% garganega, and 10% durella (only for acidity). The second fermentation was in the bottle. -We don’t use yeast, but the moist from the sweet wine. (It rings a bell now from both visits earlier that day.)
The colour is yellow; aromas of yellow apples, light bread; very good acidity
Bianco Crestan 2016: 100% garganega, from the flat area (with less mineral soil).
Straw yellow, aromas of green apples, citrus (lime); quite glyceric, mellow, a nice and simple wine for everyday drinking.
Bianco Rugoli 2016 (12,5%): From the 80 old vineyard that gives name to the next wine, the bushes trained in pergola. Spontaneous fermentation, like all his wines, here in used oak barrels. The first bottle is bretty. Davide says it’s from the cork. When the water isn’t changed often enough this can happen. The water should be changed for every 100.000 corks.
The nose is more complex than the previous, but maintaining a good acidity and a strong minerality.
Straw yellow; more mature apples, wax, aromatic herbs; smooth yet fresh, fruit all the way (4-5 g/L acidity), slightly bitter aftertaste.
Vecchie Vigne 2016: It had 100% skin-contact for 5 days, then fermented in barrel 7-8 days. 13,5% alcohol.
Golden; more mature apples on the nose, together with pear, honey and nuts (it was a very late harvest); concentrated on the palate, a warmer, richer style, with a salty mineral aftertaste. This wine is still young though, and will open more.
Rosso Giaroni 2016: Merlot at 13,5%.
Dark cherry, me green pepper, red fruits; fruity, bit tannic.
I am just home from Verona. I love the city for its architecture with granite buildings, its atmosphere, the river Adige that snakes through, and in my opinion it’s unfairly overshadowed by nearby Venezia.
This week’s wine could be many, because it was a rewarding week. But they will appear in future articles. This one was served at the Osteria La Mandorla, only two blocks from the city’s outdoor opera Arena. Mandorla, aka Vini Zampieri, is a small, colourful, historic bar with a good selection of organic and natural wines, a knowledgeable staff, and cool jazz and rock soundtrack. With the wines they serve tasty bites like toasted focaccia, characuterie, and their wonderful arancini (rice balls).
I had a Monte dall’Ora Valpolicella, a Mosconi Soave and a Sternau Campania falanghina, but I chose the first wine of the evening, a “sui leviti” (sur lie) Prosecco from the province of Treviso. (See also last week’s choice.)
Luca Pietropoli serves the Prosecco, the arancini in the foreground
The history of Gregoletto starts in 1600, when the family signs a contract with the Abbey of Follina for cultivation of some vineyards, still managed by them. We are in the hills between the three small towns, Conegliano, Valdobbiadene and Vittorio Veneto. The two latter have soils consisting of clay, and a cooler climate than Conegliano, especially the northern ridges. South oriented vineyards near Pieve di Soligo have a warmer climate and soils consisting of limestone and clay.
The vineyards are situated in the subzone of Premaor in the commune of Miane, between the three aforementioned towns. They also buy grapes from a handful of grape growers with whom they have had close relationship for a long time. Only grapes grown on hillsides are used for all wines. Compost is rarely used, and herbicides are never applied in any plots.
The harvest is done by hand, the grapes gently pressed in pneumatic presses, and fermented by indigenous yeast in steel tanks. It remained on the lees for another three months after which it is bottled. The refermentation of this wine takes place in the bottle (not in the conventional tank).
The wine is not disgorged, but remains for on its lees until it’s served, just like in the old days.
Prosecco Frizzante Sui Leviti(Gregoletto)
Light straw colour, somewhat cloudy, fine and persistent bubbles. Subtle nose of green apples, with some bread crumbs. Completely dry, and with a fine acidity.
In the days leading up to the Simplesmente Vinho fair we drove around in the Dão region, and it was no doubt that the fires of 2017 had left its mark on the region. And not only among those directly hit.
Here is an article from our Dão visits, recently published in Norway’s Vinforum magazine. It’s in the Norwegian language, but here I chose one wine from each featured producer, and supply a few pictures from the article.
Casa de Mouraz (Mouraz outside Tondela): Well-made wines, clean and direct, fruity and balanced. Wine from all categories, also Vinho Verde. 25 ha. own vineyards, more clay than usual in Dão, but some granite too. Sara and António were probably the most severely hit by the fires, and guests of honour at the fair.
Here I chose their Elfa 2014, from 80% baga and around 30 other varieties, that went into the fermentation tanks with whole bunches. It’s a great wine, fresh and quite direct, with red berries, green pepper, medium structure and a balanced natural acidity.
Quinta do Perdigão, Silgueiros: 7 ha., granitic, mostly quartz. Biodynamic prictise. The fires stopped right outside the quinta gate, and José and Vanessa went through some terrifying hours that night. The late-released rosé is an all time favourite, and aside from that one the white and the youngest reds are the best wines for me. Good varietals from jaen, and the one I chose here:
Alfrocheiro 2011 has kept the dark colour well, and shows aromas of blackcurrant, pepper and some balsamic, and with good support from tannins and acidity.
João Tavares da Pina (Quinta da Boavista), Penalva do Castelo: Cooler, higher (around 500 meters), clay and schist (from maritime sediments), 13 ha. planted (50 in total). João has a passion for the jaen grape, well-suited here, with its long cycle. His entry-level wines Rufía! are direct, fruity, acidic, turbid and easy to put in the “natural wine bag”. But the reds also demonstrate their ability to age. João searches for both freshness, but also the decadent mushroom and underwood aromas. The jaen grape and high fermentation temperatures (up to 32°C) are tools to achieve this. João is also a passionate horse-breeder, a creative chef, and maker of Serra da Estrela cheese until recently.
While waiting for the lamb chutlets to be finished we tasted some 20 wines that João had placed on the stove. A white Rufia! 2016 was opened 13 days earlier, had one week skin-contact in a small steel lagar. Light orange and turbid, flowery aromas, citrus peel, and a wonderful, stimulating acidity. He plays with oxidation, but balances masterfully.
António Madeira, making wine from 6 ha. spread over 6 villages, most near -or in- the Estrela: He is French, from Portuguese descendant. His project is to identify and categorize the great vineyards of Dão. He started to make wine in 2011 from a 50 year old vineyard, while still living in Paris. His wines all have freshness and energy. To say that they are promising is an understatement.
2017 will be remembered by the fires, but the vintage itself is promising, dry (not surprisingly) and very early harvests. Liberdade Branco 2017, his first almost-no-sulphites wine: Complex, still a bit reductive, but fine spicy notes, pear and citrus. Good acidity, with a salty minerality (oysters, according to himself) in the finish. Wait until this really opens!