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Month: August 2018

Wine of the Week

Matassa’s red Coume de l’Olla 2015

We have talked about Domaine Matassa several times. Read here about one of their white wines, and here is something from another project that New Zealand born winemaker Tom Lubbe is involved in.

The white Coume de l’Olla is a lovely, citrusy skin-contact wine. Today we had the red wine with the same name at a restaurant.

It’s made from grapes biodynamically farmed in the Calce region, on the northeast side of the Pyrenees. They are grenache 70%, grenache gris 20%, and macabeo 10%. The must was spontaneously fermented and aged in cement tanks.

Coume de l’Olla 2015 (Dom. Matassa)

Light ruby. Aromatic, smells of red fruits, both sweet and sour (plum, cherry, cranberry), floral overtones and hints to truffles and mature cheeses too. Quite soft, fleshy, but just enough tannin to bind it together, a fresh, natural acidity and some spice in the finish.

Price: Medium

Food: Light meat, salads and much more. At an Italian restaurant we tried it today with four different dishes, and it performed brilliantly with vitello tonnato (veal in tuna mayonnaise) and pasta with a creamy sauce and mushrooms.

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Vicenza province III: Contrà Soarda

From Siemàn in Colli Berici it was almost an hour’s ride back on the north side of the motorway, to Bassano del Grappa, in the extreme east of the Breganze DOC. Here is Vignaiolo Contrà Soarda, whose wines I had been familiar with since a few years ago. I had tasted their wines in London, both at the Raw fair, including the tasting that Fiona Beckett talks about here, and in natural wine bars.

I came half an hour early, so I started to make myself comfortable, as I believed I was going to meet the person with whom I had corresponded. So I started with a short tasting in the shop. It turned out that it was nobody else than one of the owners, Gloria Gottardi herself, that kept the shop going at that time.

The first wine was exactly the one that Beckett started her tasting with, as an alternative to sauvignon blanc to match with a goat’s cheese. And it stood the test with its crisp, citrussy flavours. That time it was the 2012. Now the Soarda Vespaiolo is in the 2017 vintage. Vespaiolo is a wonderful grape, one of the great Italian V’s (alongside verdicchio, vermentino, a.o.).

Vespaiolo (or vespaiola), named after the wasps (vespa in Italian) thrives especially well in this area of Veneto. -it’s our star grape, the whole family agrees. It is often used for passito (dried grapes) style dessert wines, such as the Torcolato, and the wasps have also found out that the sugar levels can be very high because of the sweet aromas in the vineyards. The grape is often fermented to dryness, and produces wines with high acidity and other aromatic characteristics.

Contrà Soarda’s Vespaiolo 2017, fermented and raised in steel and bottled unfiltered, was light straw coloured, with green apples, pears in the aroma, and a high, but well integrated, acidity. Vignasilan 2013 (made in the same way, also 100% vespaiolo); light straw, apple and citrus aromas, but it also goes towards peach and apricot, and a touch of honey. The great concentration and elevated acidity makes the finish long, and at five years of age it keeps very well. 121 B.C. Time Flows Bianco 2014, named after a fabled vintage a long time ago, is also a varietal vespaiolo, I tasted before I left for Italy, and it’s convenient to mention it here. It’s spontaneously fermented, with 7 days of skin-maceration, and stayed 12months in oak barrel (with steamed, not toasted staves), and no added sulphur. Nice golden colour; complex aroma with floral components, honey; concentrated and structured (high acidity and some tannin).

121 b.C. Time flows Bianco 2014

 121 B.C. Time Flows Rosso 2012, is the red version. Here the variety is carmenère. It’s aged for 18 months in steamed oak, the rest is similar. Deep cherry red; mature fruit (blackberry, dark cherry), with some herbs and spices; luscious and fresh in the mouth, with a light tannin structure.  Veneto Rosso 2009 is a blend of  marzemino 30%, merlot 25%, pinot noir 20%, and the rest teroldego and groppello, fermented in steel and barrel before blending, then matured 24 months in barrel and steel. Deep purple; fresh aromas of dark berries, cherries, morellos, herbs, and some underwood; fresh, immediate and juicy in the mouth, with a nice integrated tannin.

Back to the Bassano tasting, the last wine I tasted with Gloria was Musso Riserva 2007. A lovely wine from marzemino and merlot, and the first wine that really showed development: Brick nuances; developed aroma somewhere between cherries, dried fruits and smoke; quite slender on the palate with plums and some lickorice. -Musso is a different project, explains Gloria. -Musso means donkey in Venetian dialect. When thinking about terroir images of vines, soils come along. And our philosophy is based on the respect for our land, but alto the animals that live on it. So Musso offers a none ironic perspective, suggesting that the animals are in fact part of the terroir. Donkeys are much more than workers; they are gentle and intelligent companions, curious and with an incredible memory. While horses often will run away from any danger, donkeys are cautious and steadfast.

Anyway, in comes Marcello, the wine maker, and his father Mirco Gottardi (Gloria’s husband obviously), and we have a chat and a brief tour around the premises.

Mirco (left) and Marcello Gottardi

The hill was bought in 2000, and 2004 was the first vintage. They started with a 4 hectare vineyard, now it’s 18. A successful traditional restaurant in Bassano centre, that the family has been running for three generations, has been important for the project’s overall economy, says Marco. In 2011 the restaurant, Pulierin, was moved to the hills where the winery is located.

Down to some basic information: Contrà Soarda, meaning ‘on the slope’, is located in the hills at the foot of the Asiago plateau in San Michele of Bassano del Grappa, a place dedicated to vines and olive trees since ancient times. The soil here is volcanic, often called “onion type”, because it’s old lava solidified in various layers. This makes the rock easy to break, thus it’s easier for the roots to go deep. We also find clay and rocks with fossils here.

A green manure is used to improve the biodiversity. The vines are normally trained in ouble guyot. Only own grapes are used, growing and vinification is all natural, with natural yeast, spontaneous fermentation, and also natural temperature control. The first harvest is normally done in the 2nd week of September, three weeks later for the sweet wines. The winery is modern, but based on traditional winemaking techniques, such as gravity, and wisely integrated with the environment.

They come back to the vespaiolo, -our star grape, the family rejoices. -It’s versatile; we use it for sweet wine (torcolato), natural wine, basic wines, cuvées, and special selections. We love it for the high acidity and the citrus notes, the mineral character. And after ageing it gains in hydro carbon, like truffle.

Time flies, or flows, as the labels say. I take a look at the watch, appologize that the visit became shorter than intended. But the good impression I had before I came here is confirmed, and I am already looking forward to next time, when a visit to the restaurant should be obligatory.

 

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Wine of the Week

Guignier’s Beaujolais-Villages

Michel Guignier is a Beaujolais producer with whom I haven’t been familiar very long. He practices organic and biodynamic viticulture, makes his wines without any additions like industrial yeast, enzymes, acid alterations, there’s no filtering, no fining, no added sulphites… On the other hand he believes in biodiversity, healthy grapes and soil quality.

His farm is located in the forest outside the Vauxrenard village (northwest of Fleurie and Chiroubles), his vineyards are also in that area, and he could have labelled the wines with the name of the village if he wanted. Here at 500 metres above sea level there is a slower maturation than in most Beaujolais villages.

Drawing of the winery (Credit: M. Guignier)

The soils are granite with sandstone, and the vines range from 30 to 80 year old. They are found mostly around Vauxrenard, and some in Fleurie and Moulin à Vent. La Bonne Pioche is probably his most known wine. It originates in a 7 hectare vineyard near Vauxrenard, planted with more than 45 year old vines. Its exposure is south-east and the soil is a kind of loose granite. 

Guignier uses concrete tanks with epoxy lining for fermentation, that can be called semi-carbonic. In the winery he has a great variety of barrels, steel and tanks to play with. New oak is never used though.

The horse Bistere contributes to a healthy soil (Credit: M. Guignier)

La Bonne Pioche 2016 (M. Guignier)

Cherry red, slightly turbid. Lovely aromas of flowers and red berries (raspberry, redcurrant), and some barnyard notes underneath. Fresh acidity, meaty on the palate, with smooth tannins and a long and dry aftertaste.

Price: Medium

Food: Salads, light meat like bird, cold ham and meat, try with sushi…

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Wine of the Week

A Durella sparkling

You don’t travel much in Vicenza and other Venetian areas before you learn that durella is a grape you ought to come to terms with. It’s a grape that originated there. First and foremost it gives acidity.

In ancient times there was an underwater volcano in the eastern Verona province and neighbouring Vicenza. Now there are rolling hills here in the Monte Purga, with volcanic soil and huge amounts of fossils.

In Italian the name means “little hard one”. It is supposedly so called because of its thick skin, but also because the vines are difficult to manage.

While the high acidity in the past has been regarded a weakness, one has now learned to appreciate this feature. It contributes to the longevity of wines, and it’s very useful in blends. And it was in the hills of Monti Lessini that the first DOC was established in 1987.

In the time of afterthought, after coming home from the trip, I decided to order a varietal durella to be delivered to my local shop. And among three available wines I chose this one.

Flavio Prà, experienced producer and consultant based in Soave, started this project in 2000. The aim is to offer typical wines from several designations to a wide audience. The portfolio includes most Soave and Valpolicella categories. The cultivation is always organic, and they also employ other sustainable practises, such as renewable energy. Corte Allodola own some vineyards and also collaborate with farmers in rented plots, in the different areas. Fermentation, winemaking, ageing and tbottling is then done in the cellars in Monteforte d’Alpone, one of the Soave wine villages.

This wine is from the slopes of the Lessini mountains. It has the typical durella acidity (9 g/L), and is balanced with 6-7 grams of sugar.

I Campi Lessini Brut (Corte Allodola)

Straw colour, light mousse. Green apples and bread crust with citric notes. Slender, fruity, evident but integrated acidity, and a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Price: Low

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Vicenza province II: Siemàn

Coming from Tenuta l’Armonia, crossing the A4 motorway I arrive in the small settlement of Villaga after three quarter of an hour. We are now in the Colli Berici area. Siemàn has nine hectares, but only four is planted with vines, since it’s important to maintain the biodiversity of animals and plants. We went to the top of the hill, where we got a magnificent view of the slopes with the naturally ventilated vineyards and we could see as far as the Apennines. The ground is limestone, some clay, and where the tai rosso (aka tokai rosso, aka grenache) is one of the most prominent grapes.

Siemàn means “six hands” in the local dialect. I am welcomed by four of them, Daniele and Marco Filippini, who share the duties in wine. Siemàn also makes beer, from grapes! – and it’s the third brother Andrea who takes care of that part.

Daniele (left) and Marco Filippini

The owl in the logo must be explained by Italian terms: Owl is gufo in Italian, and gufare means to be lucky. -We all have other professional backgrounds, explains Daniele and Marco. So the people said, you can’t succeed. So the owl has become a symbol for being a bearer of luck, and so far it seems that it was a lucky choice of logo.

Vini di Sieman - Sieman's wines

The brothers have a low-intervention attitude, and there is meticulous cleaning at all stages. They don’t use pesticides or any chemicals in the vineyards. The grapes are almost exclusively autochthonous. In the cellar, fermentations takes place spontaneously with native yeasts, and nothing is added (except for a small quantity of sulphites, when necessary). The wines are kept in barrels, concrete and steel, according to what the consider best to express grape variety and land.

There is a high proportion of limestone in the vineyards, compared to the volcanic of the north side of the main road. There are two illnesses in the vineyards that need to be watched, oïdium and downy mildew. Oïdium is treated with sulphur. When it smells of mushroom you cut it off and throw it away. Mildew is normally treated with copper (mixed with water and sprayed onto the leaves). When the leaf looks as if it has oil on it, this part is burnt off. It is important to say though, that the amounts of both copper and sulphur are kept much lower than the legal maximum. This because they use fungus as a natural treatment to minimize addition of copper.

The first harvest was in 2013 (without label). –Angiolino Maule helped us in the beginning, say the brothers. (Read about his estate and wines here and in the article about Gambellara.) 2014, a very rainy year, was the first vintage on sale. The plantings are young also, only 4-6 years old. But all the wines have something to them. They are luscious, tasty and with a mineral character. And they will only get better in the coming vintages. -We are improving every year, says Daniele. And it’s easy to believe.

Camaleonte 2017 is a pét nat with second fermentation in bottle, from the grape varieties tai rosso, garganega and incrocio manzoni, the two latter (the white grapes) with two days skin-contact. The colour is deep yellow; on the nose some bread and citrus notes. an easy-drinking wine. In 2017 there were hailstorms that caused a 30% loss of grapes, says Daniele.

For the white and red wines, half is fermented in concrete, half in wood, then put together in stainless steel before bottling. Occhio al Bianco 2017, a still wine from that vintage -grapes garganega, tai bianco, and in some vintages incrocio manzoni- had shorter skin-contact and was subsequently lighter yellow, and also somewhat cloudy; white flowers and herbs on the nose; tasty with a salty mineral character in the finish. not very different was the 2016 version of the same wine: tai bianco and garganega, golden colour; white flowers like chamomile, and a slight touch of peel after 3 days of skin-contact. Mosca Bianca 2016, from 90% garganega and 10% moscato, stayed 2 days with skins. It’s yellow golden, aromatic with flowers (the small amount of moscato shines through), and a round body.  The 2017 had only 1 day skin-contact, and another difference was the grape composition, 50/50 garganega/moscato. This one had some peel character, but only a little. For me it was still more aromatic, in the moscato way. This wine come from a rented vineyard in Colli Euganei (to the east, in the Padova province), and has volcanic soil. It has 5,5-6 g/L acidity, like all the wines. All wines also come with less than 15 mg total SO2 (the current selection between 2-14).

Occhio al Rosso is their only red wine, from tai rosso. The 2017 was the lightest of the lot (bright ruby), and maybe not as expressive; as the others; nice and juicy with some fresh cherry fruit though. 2016 was a hot summer. This wine was the darkest of the three; red fruits, cherry, blackberry; and fruit all the way. In the 2015 no sulphur was added, and I think there was some brett in the aftertaste. To me it doesn’t matter at these low levels. Furthermore, it was very fruitdriven, with red berries in the front. The colour was light cherry, and the appearance clear too.

Both beers are in a sour ale style. Le Bucce is spontaneously fermented with yeasts of grapes (tai rosso, red grapes). The other is the Incocio, from the white grape incrocio manzoni. The grapes are the main reason for the difference in colour.

 
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Vicenza province I: Tenuta l’Armonia

Veneto has so much to offer. It’s enough to mention Valpolicella (with its ripasso and amarone), Soave, and we have now learned about Gambellara – each of these with their own sweet recioto. Then there is of course Prosecco, that the Veneto region must share with neighbouring Friuli.

Remembering that Gambellara is also Vicenza, now we shall talk about three more wineries located across the province. To try and keep it inside the blog format we will divide it into three parts. And we start with, freely after Tennessee Williams: An Estate called Harmony.

Andrea Pendin’s Tenuta l’Armonia is found in the small settlement of Bernuffi, municipality of Montecchio Maggiore. That means if you can find it after the narrow, long and winding roads. Arriving there you can experience the perfect harmony, and see for yourself the co-exsistence of people, land, chicken, turkies, and all the small creatures found in the vineyards.

It’s Lorenzo Fiorin who meets me. He’s working in export, but also a little bit of everything else, as it is useful to have an overview over the whole situation.

The estate has 10 hectares of vineyards planted with both indigenous and international varieties. It’s quite new, from 2008, but some vines are more than 60 years old. The vines are planted in the slopes and on top of a hill, in various exposures. Around 40.000 bottles are made per year, from own and rented plots (7 more hectares).

 

Lorenzo shows the pergola system

The soil here is volcanic with some schist and chalk. There is an amphitheater with white soil (chalk), shells and other fossils. Towards Verona in the west there is volcanic soil, and also tufa towards the south of Verona.

Both indigenous and international varieties are used. We walk past a planting done three years ago; merlot, syrah, cabernet franc etc. -The varieties are not the most important, says Lorenzo. -It’s the terroir, and also see how the grapes react together with it.

-A grape we really believe in is durella, especially for its acidity, but also for its history. It is really one of the traditional grapes here in Vicenza.

 

One has already understood that the cultivation is organic and biodynamic, so it’s about maintaining and stimulating biodiversity. Mint grows naturally in the vineyard, oat too. Green manure (based on plants and flowers) is employed.

The idea of harmony, the balance in nature, is also a message that winemaker David Xodo has preached from the very beginning. -In the long run we don’t need to work as much as with “chemical agriculture”, because the biodiversity we have created is holding itself up, says Lorenzo. -Furthermore, Veneto is a cool place, always windy. It’s then easier to work the vineyards organically. A light breeze is also welcome walking around the estate on a hot summer day like this.

Andrea Pendin

Andrea is a trained chef, so the chickens and the turkeys in his Garden of Eden shouldn’t feel too safe… He has also a stove with a pizza oven that can do magical things. There had been a party, with a lot of leftovers, and some other wines that had been opened up to 13 days before. so we had a lot to sample.

Bruno, Andrea’s father who started it all

Basically there are two different lines. “Pop” consists of high quality “easy” natural wines at a good price. “Cru” is a premium line from native varieties in clay and limestone. Here are some very brief notes.

Frizzi 2015 is a pét nat, or col fòndo sur lie at 12%. it’s a simple, easy, un-oaked, appley, not very structured, lightly bubbly wine. Pinot noir had a bad year, so pinot bianco and chardonnay were used together with the usual durella, the acidic grape that made Vicenza special in the past.

Frizzi 2017: Here was pinot noir fully ripe, so there is 60% and the rest durella. No maceration, no filtration. The only problem with our bottle was that there were no bubbles, as the re-fermentation had apparently not started yet. Another bottle of the same wine as better: Light salmon red, a touch sweeter; strawberry, apple, and a crisp acidity.

Pop is a series with more volcanic soil than the Cru, and doesn’t ripe that much.

Bianco “Pop” comes from a relatively high altitude vineyard at 500 meters. 2017 is light yellow with appley aroma and fresh acidity. The 2016 I find a little more ripe. This has some incrocio manzoni (or: manzoni bianco), a cross between riesling and madeleine royal. We also tried the 2012: Lightly browning, orange peel (from longer maturation on skins), ginger notes (from a proportion of garganega). For that vintage some carbonic maceration was used. -Acidity is what binds them together, Lorenzo points out. And rightly so.

Perla 2016. This is a “Cru”, which means smaller area, lower yield, older garganega plants (60-80 years). This is a varietal garganega, both early harvest and late harvest (with some botrytis), then blended. Andrea is a good friend of Sébastien Riffault of Loire, and it was Sébastien who gave him the inspiration for different harvest times. The wine shows a complex aroma of mature apples, nuts, flowers, apricot, towards honey; medium full on the palate, and a salty, mineral aftertaste. The acidity is there, but it’snot pungent.

Bolla 2013. This is their traditional method sparkler. The 2013 has 75% durella, pinot nero, got a light maceration and stayed 14 months on the lees. This gave a pink blush, some yeast and also some oxidative notes, like yellow or mature apples.

What followed now was like a “Capriccio Italiano”, a joyous ride over creeks and hills, with wines in a seemingly random order. Love it! On came a fresh and inspiring, waxy, appley, and a little smoky vespaiolo 2017. A teroldego-CS-garganega with light pink colour, flowers, pyrazine (sauvignon-like), with super fruit all the way. Brio 2017, in the Pop line and predominantly from cabernet franc, is a luscious, peppery carbonic maceration wine, made in cement tank. There was a fruity, partly carbonic maceration Barbera in both 2017 and 16 editions, the latter a bit more structured than the former.

And what about this!

G-Ray is from something called the “Lab” line, where Andrea works with another Andrea, namely Marchetti, among other activities founder of the Vinessum fair. This wine is from pinot grigio on volcanic soil, it has been in contact with skins 8 days, no sulphites and no filtration. As you can see: Turbid light red or rosé; aromas of strawberry, apple; quite good concentration actually, and not that simple as you maybe might think.

Lastly there was the Gioia of the Cru line. 2016 is from cabernet franc, hand-destemmed, no sulphites added, and no filtration. Pure, loads of red fruits, some pepper, and a promising tannin structure. 2012 (the first vintage of the wine), made from 100% carmenère, stayed in big oak tonneaux for 8 months: Some cigar box and pencil/carbon notes (graphite soil), with red fruits, and a good structure.

Epilogue:

Lorenzo tells that they are a sort of incubator that helps young vignerons from Vicenza area to develop their own projects. These are: MaterVi (Alberto Rigon), Yeasteria (Jacopo and Esmeralda) and Do-line (Nicola Rigo). Small production (less than 10.000 bottles) and sharing the same philosophy (no interventions in wine-making and respect for the living environment) are requirements to participate.

I think ‘s an honorable act supporting others in the same area and tradition, without seeing them as competitors. In the long run this will help the whole province, or region.

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Wine of the Week

Sébastien Riffault’s Sancerres

Sébastien Riffault has been mentioned in this blog many times, so it’s about time we highlight one of his wines. These are full of personality. Riffault’s sauvignons are maybe not you would think of when hearing the word Sancerre. But this is maybe Sancerre like in the old days, before all the corrections became the norm.

Sébastien cultivates twelve hectares of vineyard in Sury-en-Vaux. He also plants trees to contribute to the diversity. He can harvest several times, but in general grapes can hang on the vines for a long time -Mid-October is normal- so they achieve full ripening. .As a result of the late harvest, some of the grapes are affected by botrytis. Unlike most other Sancerre wines, Sébastien’s. wines also undergo malolactic fermentation.

To honor his Lithuanian wife Jurate, Sébastien have given the wines Lithuanian names that are expressions for the soil. Auksinis thus means “of gold” and is 2 hectares planted around 1975 on Portland limestone. 

Everything is cultivates according to biodynamic principles, and the whole vineyard is certified organic. Sébastien uses horse and plow in many of the vineyards, because it gives better soil quality. In the cellar, nothing is added, neither are they fined nor filtered (except for a tiny amount of sulphur and lightly filtering of one wine).