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Just what the doctor ordered at Apotekergaarden

I was recently visiting Grimstad, a beautiful small town on the Norwegian southern coastline, where the houses are white, small private boats are moored and the seagulls are part of the scenery. I have a special relationship with the town, because I was born there, and my family has since spent many summers there.

Fresh crabs on offer in the town’s inner harbour

The town could have boasted of its seafaring culture. My late father left from there to work on a ship at the age of 14. And that night I borrowed the house of a friend, the daughter of my father’s captain at that time. But Grimstad is not of that sort, boasting is not part of its personality. It’s just lying there, a southern Norwegian idyll bathed in the summer sun.

These days the small town is home to the restaurant with the most amazing natural wine list on the whole long coastal strip. Founded in 2001 the restaurant has since enjoyed a reputation among the citizens, for its food, its atmosphere, but also as a concert arranger. However the upgrade to the natural wine haven that we know today started after a bankruptcy in 2010. Kjetil Jørgensen, one of the original founders, has a good relation to natural wine importer Non Dos, through his friend Jørgen Ljøstad, also from Grimstad. Sometimes a strong tie to one importer can feel somewhat awkward, or difficult. But here it’s more logic, and has probably helped along the way to success. Having said that, the restaurant also works with other importers. These days they also have their own micro-brewery, led by Mathias S. Skjong.

The food is based on local ingredients. The burgers are made from Hereford cattle grassing only a stone’s throw away, and there is of course delicious fish and shellfish right out of the sea. Pizza or vegetarian options too.

Apotekergaarden translates as the Pharmacist’s Shop, and refers to playwright and poet Henrik Ibsen, who was a pharmacist apprentice in Grimstad before he became famous, and this particular place also formerly housed one of the town’s pharmacies.

Ida Konradsen pulling up a Contadino, her own soft drinks at the table

Ida Konradsen is sommelier and restaurant manager, and strongly contributed to a great evening. She told us with great enthusiasm about her experiences from working at Sebastien Riffault‘s estate in the Loire. She is also involved in a new project creating soft drinks, generally popular in Norway (as everywhere I suppose) with children and non-wine addicts. All have the taste of the basic ingredients intact and come with a lot less sugar than usual for this type of drink. In between our first and second wine she offered us a tasting of three products that are sold locally, a lemon and ginger drink (based on Sicilian lemons), one from orange (and a touch of lemon) – and lastly an interesting take on a soft drink for the Christmas season (“julebrus” in Norwegian), based on biodynamically farmed grape juice of the variety zweigelt from Austrian wine producer Meinklang, well-known for readers of this blog – with some star anise, juniper and cinnamon, and without addition of sugar.

Meinklang is also responsible for some of their house labels, Skolegada 3 (the restaurant’s adress), otherwise known by other names in the market.

But while there are not more than 12-15 wines in their by-the-glass selection, Ida gladly opened three more to us, as she was going to host a special party the next day and could use the rest there. And these were fabulous wines from three natural wine legends.

Robinot’s Fêtembulles, with sourdough bread, olive and truffle oil, and olives

Fêtembulles 2017 (J.-P. Robinot), Loire, France
100% chenin blanc, biodynamically farmed, bottled without added sulphites and unfiltered.
Light yellow, small integrated bubbles. Smells of mature apples, citrus (orange), a bit waxy. Tastes of apples, is creamy with a crisp acidity, and a stony minerality in the finish.

Contadino 2016 (F. Cornelissen), Etna, Sicilia
This is a field blend dominated by some 90% nerello mascalese, biodynamically farmed. No sulphites added, unfiltered.
It’s light cherry red. Aroma of red berries (cranberry), hint of herbs (basil), some spice. The mouth is dominated by red fruit, but with and underlying carbon or smoke taste (from the Etna volcano maybe), and with a solid tannic grip.

Teroldego 2015 (E. Foradori), Vigneti delle Dolomiti, Italy
Another well-known producer for readers of this blog. This wine is from the teroldego grape grown in Trentino, near the Dolomites. It was fermented in cement and aged in cement and old oak.
Dark cherry red. Packed with red berries (cherry), plums, dark fruits (blackberry), with some balsamic notes (menthol). Cool, clean fruit in the mouth, very lively and fruity.

Typical paintings collected in one of the rooms

And on the veranda while the sun goes down we finish the evening with a craft beer from the acclaimed local brewery Nøgne Ø, that takes its name from Ibsen’s poem “Terje Vigen”. And to drink one of their beers in this moment seems more right than ever before.

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Wine of the Week

Asinoi: We are donkeys

Let’s not forget the inexpensive, but oh so good! everyday wines. For me a trustworthy “workhorse” (pun intended) has for ten years been the Asinoi, meaning ‘we are donkeys’, by many around here simply called “the Donkey wine”, because of its label.

In a market like the one in my country -Norway that is- many barberas were sweet, oaky, and not much fun. This one was different, more slender, elegant, fruity, natural, and a lot better with food too. So no wonder it soon found many followers.

Donkeys at Carussin

The producer is Carussin, Bruna Ferro and Luigi Garberoglio with their family, and the farm is located in San Marzano Oliveto, south of Asti in Piemonte.

The producer has many interesting wines, but to be honest I’m not sure if this particular one is found to any extent outside Norway, where their importer Non Dos is a good customer and collaborator.

The farming is biodynamic. The grapes are hand-picked, and fermentation is spontaneous. Only a tiny amount of sulphur is added before bottling. All ageing is carried out in steel, and sometimes cement.

Asinoi Barbera d’Asti 2017 (Carussin-Bruna Ferro)

Ruby red. Fruity aroma of cherries, other red berries and herbs. Mellow, juicy in the mouth, low in tannin, but with a clear and fine-tuned acidity.

Price: Low

Food: Pasta, pizza, light meat, white fish (!), vegetables, and a variety of cheeses. I must admit (although it’s against my principles, I think) that I’ve had this wine without food at all, and with a lot of joy.

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Wine of the Week

From the Friulian frontier

Castello di Rubbia has been highlighted before. Here you can read more about their Friulian wines and their estate near the Slovenian border.

Just a brief introduction: They are found in Carso, called Kras on the other side. Their village is San Michele di Carso, where they dispose of the 13 hectares historic Ušje vineyard, with its rocky terrain of limestone and red soil. The winery enjoys long macerations and fermentations with indigenous yeasts.

This wine is made from around 20 years old vitovska vines. Manual harvest is carried out quite late, towards the end of September. The grapes are de-stemmed and fermented with natural yeasts in steel vessels and macerated on the skins for around 20 days. While fining is done naturally over a period of 1 to 1 and a half years, the wine also undergo malolactic fermentation. After three years it’s then bottled without filtration.

 

Vitovska 2013 (Castello di Rubbia)

Dark yellow/golden. Intense aroma of white flowers, herbs or hay, dried fruits, and a touch of honey. Full on the palate, good concentration, and a stony minerality.

Price: Medium

Food: Very versatile, and can go well with light meat, rice dishes, omelettes, salads and vegetables, charcuterie, Asian, seafood…

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Articles

At the Vella Terra fair, Barcelona

Vella Terra, now in its 4th edition, is organized by Alejandra Delfino and Stefano Fraternali. In Barcelona’s Estació del Nord there were on 10-11th February gathered more than 100 producers. In addition there were several activities linked to the fair. One of these was an Asian-Catalan fusion kitchen with orange wines, presented by the Casa Xica restaurant and held at the festival’s own Garage Bar, and a tasting of natural sparkling wines at the Toto restaurant. Another was a presentation of aged natural wines from the Catalan pioneers, also at the Garage Bar, where I was lucky to get a seat.

I would say that this event has a more international air to it than the Vins Nus, held in the city at the same time. Here were many winemakers from Catalunya and other Spanish regions, but the features from other countries were much more evident. France, Italy, Portugal and Austria were among the well-represented places. Just like the Vins Nus the objective is to raise people’s awareness of natural and organic wines, and to eat and drink healthier. Like at the other fair, the goal is to present wines made by minimal intervention. But I would say that there is a slight difference in approach, and that the producers here are, well maybe not more open, but could we say: less strict in their view of the use of SO2 (to say it simple, or maybe over-simplified).

Vella Terra at the Estació del Nord

There were so many interesting, personal wines, that I can only present some highlights. And again, I will try to limit myself to one wine from each producer, though I know that again it will not be easy.

Antonio Portela

While the albariños of coastal Galicia should be well-known the reds don’t have the same recognition. Forget the images you may have of dark, sturdy, bubbling, bitter wines from the old days! Now there are several producers who show how fine, elegant and cool the coastal reds can be. Two of them were represented here. I will tell more about Antonio Portela later, whom I visited a couple of weeks after this fair. Although he is not far from Cambados, where the headquarters of the Consejo Regulador of Rías Baixas is located, his farm on the Morrazo peninsula is outside the delimitations of the DO area. So he uses terms as ‘tintos marineiros’ (something like ‘reds from the sea’), he uses grapes like espadeiro branco (related to the loureiro), tinto caiño, and he is a defender of the local grape tinta femia (related to the caiño redondo). His low vineyards in or near the beaches are the most atlantic in the whole of Galicia.

His red wines are from the parish of Cela in the town of Bueu, and the white wines from O Hío in the town of Cangas. They are all fresh and vivid – from the  Quereres de Berobreo 2017 (called ‘viño mareiro’, mainly espadeiro blanco), with its light, green apples, citrussy fruit, via the rounder, more mellow Quereres do Hío 2017 (also viño mareiro, albariño-dominated) to the delicious, grapey Area Donón 2017. Donón is the village where the grapes grow, to the extreme west, just before you reach the island of Cíes outside the Ría de Vigo. These are practically wine from sand, from the beach. The red Namorado 2017 (tinto mareiro), fermented and aged for 12 months in used French oak, has all the virtues that this area can offer: It’s light in colour; pure, with fresh, red fruits on the nose; a vibrant flavour, a good natural acidity and in a long saline finish.

Juan of As Furnias hasn’t learned the tongue-in-cheek trick yet

As Furnias is more inland, in the Rías Baixas subzone Condado do Tea. After his studies in enology Juan González Arjones went to Barbaresco, to work with a small family producer, then also in a wine shop in Torino. Then he went back to his native Crecente to start his own project. He has also been managing a vineyard for the reknowned producer Terras Gauda, nearer to the coast in the subzone O Rosal. In 2010 he planted his own vineyard down there. Pícaro 2015 was a terrific red sparkling wine from a variety of grapes (albariño, treixadura, blanco legítimo, brancellao, sousón, espadeiro), with a lovely red fruits nose (raspberry, strawberry), and some tannin. After this came a vertical of his emblematic wine, the As Furnias, in vintages 15, 16, 17, 18. This too is a multi-varietal where each grape gives its contribution; the espadeiro gives both freshness, some herb and mushroom, and some special flavour characteristics (like cherry), while the balsamic notes come from caiño longo, and the spice from the sousón. They are typically made with 12 days fermentation in steel, and with no sulphite additions. The 16 was an early picking from a hot year, but everything went right in 15. As Furnias 2015 had all the best; quite dark, inky colour; pure yellow fruits, red berries, herbs and some menthol; a good tannin structure and a wonderful acidity.

Ismael Gozalo, MicroBio

In my opinion the small settlement of Nieva has long been and interesting spot on the Rueda map. This small, high altitude settlement in the province of Segovia houses producers like the Viñedos de Nieva with their excellent old pie franco vineyards, the Herrero family’s new project, not to say Ossian. Ismael was born here, and he also was involved in Ossian. But now he goes solo, and his project surpasses it all. I have covered some of his whites here and reds here. And there are several other wines mentioned elsewhere on this blog. The whites are a study in the possibilities of the verdejo grape, mostly very old and un-grafted, combined with the extreme climate of this part of Castilla. The reds include tempranillo, rufete and syrah.

This time I tasted two pét nats, the early-harvested (and reductive wine-making) Nieva York 2018 and the younger vine (and oxidative wine-making) Correcaminos 2018, the fresh and citrussy MicroBio 2018, and the Rack 2018. For this wine Ismael has been looking for a reduction. Some gas was added to the musts fermenting in steel to raise the turbidity. No battonage. All this to keep the reduction and the wine’s selv-protection. Not a beginner’s wine, with the green-greyish colour, the cloudiness, the bubbles, the creaminess, and the acid-structured taste. Flowery, citrussy, stone-fruity too, I should add.

Mariano Tabernero, Bodegas Cueva

I didn’t visit Mariano’s table that day, I just took a couple of snapshots as I went by. But later that night I was taking part in a tasting at the Bar Salvage of the Gràcia neighbourhood. I was then sitting next to Mariano and his wife, and they let me taste some wines. More about this soon.

Eduardo of Azpillaga Urarte

The family has a long history in wine in Lantziego, Rioja Alavesa, but it was not untill the 1970’s that they started to make their own wines. It was when Eduardo Pérez de Azpillaga Urarte started in the family company that the way towards an organic, sustainable farming began. So, in 2001 their vineyards finally got their organic certification. Maybe I liked best of all the white, non-DO Viña el Pago 2016 from garnacha blanca. It was macerated with whole bunches at 7 degrees for 72-100 hours, on stirred lees for 4-5 months. The result is a quite dark yellow wine with mature apples, some citrus, aromatic spices and a touch of dried fruits on the nose. In the mouth it’s medium-bodied with some tannin structure. The reds include a carbonic maceration wine with the same name, and an interesting clay aged wine called Fincas de Aztule 2015.  Under the label Naturostean 2017 they had a dark, rich, sweet and quite alcoholic tempranillo, not from dried grapes, but with added alcohol. They stress that this was an experiment. A winery to watch.

 

Friedrich Schatz: The Acinipo will now have a label representing the nettle, or preparation 504

Friedrich, or Federico, Schatz of Ronda has long since established himself as one of the leading producers of table wine in Andalucía. He has been in the avantgarde of organic and biodynamic farming in the area, and uses both international and local grapes. I have visited him several times, and you can read more about his whole range here. Many will know that his wines carry one special letter that together spells his name, and as such they have become some kind of collector’s items. However, this will now come to an end. Schatz presented this time the first vintages that will come on the market without that one letter. In-stead they will carry a drawing of plants used in biodynamic farming.

Other than that, the wines are the  same, full of taste, with a touch of something exotic, and also with a good level of acidity. When asked I have often picked the Acinipo as a favourite, because it refers to the Roman ruins just down the road, and it’s made from lemberger, a grape from where his family can be found – and because it has been a good wine of course. This time I pick the Pinot Noir 2013 (formerly known as C), is made with 12 months of ageing in French oak on lees that has been moved a few times. It has a dark cherry colour, an aroma full of red fruits with cocoa and some aromatic spices. In the mouth it’s medium-bodied, tasty, with a lovely acidity and also with a slight bitterness in the end. The acidity can be said to come from the cool night temperatures, and it was also an extreme year with a lot of rain and snow in winter, and temperatures down to -12ºC.

Jean-Phillippe Padié

I finally got the chance to meet Jean-Phillippe of Domaine Padié whose wines I have known for some time. From Calce north-northwest of Perpignan, Roussillon, he releases one wonderful wine after another. I tasted some samples and some bottled wines. Quickly through the 2018 samples, there was the limestone-blend Fleur de Cailloux, with its yellow colour, mature apple-scent with flowery tones, full with some tannin, the light and luscious Calice, a carignan from young vines in schist soil, the juicy Gibraltar – and finally the Petit Toureau, from older carignan plants in limestone, with its ruby red colour, and very fresh fruit.

Among the bottled wines I tasted the red Le Tourbillon de la Vie 2017, partly own vineyards, partly chosen from others: quite dark, luscioius, plums, red fruits, light tannin. Unpretentious, I would say, but very good. The Petit Taureau 2017, that originates from limestone marls (carignan) and schist (syrah), made with reduction in mind (both the grape varieties and the concrete vats environment). The wines was cherry red, with expressive fruit (red and dark berries), some flowers and herbs, and soft tannins in the mouth with a super and long, cool acidity. Ciel Liquide 2012, from grenache and carignan in equal proportions, from what Jean-Phillippe calls “a mosaic of terroirs” from Calce (limestone, calcarious clay and schist).  and 5 years in barrels of 600 liters, 2 years in tank after that: Ligh cherry red; on the nose there is some warmth, the citrussy notes appear, also stone fruits (cherries, plums); good balance between the elements, with just enough tannins, and super acidity in a long finish.

There were a couple of French producers that I didn’t know, but are worth mentioning. Les Vins Pirouettes were represented by Vanessa Letort. They are winemakers from Alsace who work in close collaboration with around ten small producers, all working organically, some with biodynamics – each producers with his characteristics. Some of the most interesting wines were made by  Stéphane Bannwarth, who is based in Obermorschwihr, south of Colmar. There was a lovely, appley riesling, with great acidity, and a full rose-scented gewürztraminer. I chose the Tutti Frutti de Stéphane 2016 (gewürztraminer, pinot gris, pinot blanc and auxerrois) was a light coloured wine, with a touch of gas, round and medium full, and with a lovely acidity.

Domaine Balansa has 15 hectares in Corbières. I tasted some clean, fruity wines from grenache blanc and gris, and syrah. A speciality was the Muscat 2018 aged in amphora, very light in colour, aromatic (both fruity and flowery), medium bodied, and with just enough acidity. Domaine Carterole was established in Côte Vermeille (coastal southern Roussillon) by Joachim Roque. The 10-70 years old cooperative plots he had bought were transformed little by little to be able to make natural wines. In 2014 he rented a winery in Banyuls-sur-Mer. I tasted a slighty pétillant white Ton Sec 2018, a well-balanced, but a bit on the “wild” side, apple, tea and ginger-smelling Esta Fête Le Blanc 2018, from 90% grenache blanc and the rest rousanne. An interesting wine was Vermentino Amphorae, that was light yellow, quite open, with apple, pear and citrus tones, and a slight tannin-structure.

Andrea Pendin of Tenuta l’Armonia

I visited Andrea following a London wine fair last year, and you can see my report here. He has a creative approach, and makes several styles of organic wines from volcanic terroir in the small settlement Bernuffi (Montecchio Maggiore, Veneto region). His wines can maybe be characterized as inviting, simple, fresh, and very difficult to stop drinking. In spite of that they have a strong sence of place too. He uses biodynamic techniques, green manure and very little intervention, and of course always spontaneous fermentetion. Repeated from my article about them: ‘Basically there are two different lines. “Pop” consists of high quality “easy” natural wines from volcanic soil at a good price. “Cru” is a premium line from native varieties in clay and limestone.” Should I chose only one wine, let it be the Frizzi 2017, a pét nat, or col fòndo sur lie from the “pop” line. It’s simple, un-oaked, slightly bubbly, light salmon-pink, apple and strawberry-scented wine, not very structured, and oh! so delicious. In addition to a varying content of different grapes, here pinot noir 60%, the constant is the local durella, a grape providing acidic backbone, that the vintners in the area are very proud of.

Catarina and Antonino, Valdibella

Valdibella is a small cooperative operating from Camporeale, on the north side of Sicilia. They encourage biodiversity, and they concentrate on native varieties, both for grapes and other crops such as olives. Enologue Antonino Vilardi work closely with the growers. He says they want the whole chain, from grower to consumer, to share the same values, or visions, and to know about how the products are made. Therefore they can appreciate the quality, and they will understand that the products can not have a very low price.

I tasted a couple of interesting grillos, Ariddu 2017, a light, grassy-citrussy wine, Grillo sulle Bucce 2017, (bucce meaning skins), so the colour was light orange, with aromas of flowers, peel, a touch of white pepper, and some bitterness in the finish. Zi bi Bò 2017 (from zibibbo, a synonym of muscat of Alexandria) is an aromatic, rose-mango-scented wine, slightly off-dry. A wine full of character was Dhyana 2017 from perricone, a light rosé of salmon colour; strawberry and redcurrant aromas; some warmth in the mouth, but also with an acidity that carries on to the end.

Niklas Peltzer representing Meinklang

Werner and Angela Michlits of Meinklang are found in Burgenland, Austria, in the village Pamhagen on the Hungarian border. In fact some vineyards are on the other side, and they also bottle a Hungarian wine from the volcano Somló. Here is a perfect biodiversity, vines and other crops between the natural ponds of the area. They fertilize with compost that they produce themselves, using sheep, cow and horse manure and several other components.

Meinklang has a full range of very reasonably priced high-quality wines, and is mentioned in many posts of this blog. Here is one of the wine-of-the-weekend articles, where you can also see a picture of their Angus cows. Today we concentrate on their Hungarian pét nat Foam Somló 2017. The 35-60 year old vines (6o% harslevelü, 4o% juhfark) are grown on volcanic rock with a light layer of loess. The fermentation started in tank, then it was bottled with 10 grams residual sugar, and finished fermentation in bottle. No additives, no filtering. The result is a fresh, vibrant wine, low in alcohol, high in acidity. The colour is light straw, slightly turbid; aromatic, pears and peaches, some spice (white pepper); a certain warmness (or rather: a component of mature fruits like apple marmelade), but kept alive of a long, cool acidity.

Ondřej Dubas, Krásná Hora

This is, believe it or not, another producer that we have covered more than once on this blog. Read here a report on various Czech wines tasted in England last year. I like their sparkling wines, and the Blanc de Pinot Noir 2018 wasn’t bad at all; light, with a slight blush, aroma of apples and red berries, well-structured. They offered an aromatic Chardonnay 2018, and equally convincing as before was the skin-contact, gooseberry-rhubarb-scented Gewürztraminer, now in the 2018 vintage. Our focus will this time be put on La Blanca 2018, a blend of riesling (40%), sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, and gewürztraminer from several vineyards (a total of 40%), and the last 20% is pinot blanc. The wine is partially fermented in old barrels and partly in steel. Only a minimum of SO2 is added. It’s a bit cloudy, light golden; apples pear and citrus on the nose; low alcohol, bone dry, with a steely acidity.

It’s maybe unfair, but there is a limit to how much one can do in one day. There were many producers that I should have spent more time with, such as the locals Clot de les Soleres, Casa Pardet, Cosmic, Escoda-Sanahuja, Gratias, Mas Candí, Recaredo, Can Sumoi, Pepe Raventòs, Laureano Serres and Alfredo Arribas, all of whom I know make good to excellent wines. Elsewhere in Spain there are Sistema Vinari, 4 Kilos, and abroad: Carussin, Casa Belfi, Colombaia, Quinta da Palmirinha, La Cave des Nomades, the list goes on…

This was my first Vella Terra, but I really want to go back, to be a part of the positive vibe that are found in the city these days. And, as Alejandra Delfino, co-founder of Vella Terra, states, “natural wines are not a passing fad, but rather a trend that has come to stay, and something that will continue to increase demand among wine lovers”. Amen to that, and we could add that while the natural wine has been something of a punk movement, I think it’s right to say that the mainstream is now moving in that direction.

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Wine of the Week

Altura’s Ansonaco

Former maths teacher Francesco Carfagna is the owner of the Altura winery on the island of Giglio off the coast of Toscana. It has become a popular tourist destination, but only 600 people are actually living there.

Carfagna has himself revived the former traditions, and makes wines from indigenous grape varieties farmed biodynamically. It’s especially the ansonica (sic!) that has seen a revival in the hands of Francesco. As for today he is the only one who bottles his own wine.

This wine was included in a recent tasting of lesser or -for many- not known varieties.

The wine comes under the designation DOC Isola del Giglio. The soil is sandy granite, and the plants from the small vineyard are of various ages (20-80 years). It’s spontaneously fermented, aged for up to a year in steel tanks. Unfined and unfiltered. Low-sulphur (less than 30 mg/l).

Ansonaco 2013 (Altura)

Amber colour, slightly cloudy. Strong peel character, smells of plums, bitter almonds, slight barnyard. Full, grapey and tasty. Lots of character and charm.

Price: Medium

Food: Grilled and fried fish, tasty seafood, salads, lightly spicy food, light meat, cheeses (try with mild blue cheese)

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Wine of the Week

Col Fondo from Emilia-Romagna

Many people think of Col Fondo as some kind of an old-fashioned, or sometimes, low-intervention/ high-quality Prosecco. But the term is not restricted to that area.

This one is from Emilia-Romagna further down south. It’s made from the grasparossa grape, organically grown. It underwent a natural alcoholic fermentation in steel, with the second fermentation in the bottle.

Falcorubens Col Fondo 2017 (TerraQuilia)

Dark red, with fine bubbles. Dark berries, earthy notes. Youthful and inspiring, quite long with good acidity a slightly bitter tone in the end.

Price: Low

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Wine of the Week

Valdibella Àgape Nerello Mascalese

Valdibella is a small cooperative in Camporeale, in the Palermo province of Sicilia. Their cultivation is carried out in respect of nature, and they value native grape varieties.

This delicious DOC Sicilia wine from the nerello mascalese is made in stainless steel. It’s spontaneously fermented and has a low sulphite content (between 45-50 mg).

Àgape 2015 (Valdibella)

Cherry red. Fruit-driven, red berries, lightly spicy, herbs. Light tannin, fresh acidity, mineral finish.

Price: Low

Food: Light meat, lamb, salads, hard cheeses

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Wine bars and restaurants

Verona’s Osteria Nosetta

Verona is located in near vicinity of many recognized wine areas, but I can’t see that it has a lot of dynamic wine bars. One can always go to the Antica Bottega, that boasts hundreds of wines, not least for references, as they present many of the leading houses in several vintages. But I am more attracted to the smaller, distinctive bars with a clear idea, call it underground, avant-garde, rock’n’roll, jazz or whatever you like – especially when the idea is to present organic, natural, artisan wines, that the proprietors and sommeliers have a personal relation to.

Osteria Nosetta is located in the pleasant neighbourhood of Borgo Venezia, just outside Verona center. And Nosetta is the kind of place that I am talking about. The restaurant is intimate and full of atmosphere, the decor is a rustic, retro, and the music was vintage jazz on vinyl when I was there. The food is without limits; their small dishes -locally called ‘cicchetti’- are vegetarian, vegan, and you can have fish and meat too. The kitchen is based on fresh ingredients. The inspiration is from various places though, not least Asian-middle east, and there are some vegan dishes alongside more usual Italo-European stuff. The menu of the day was taped onto page 98 and 99 in an old paperback.

And the prices are undoubtedly to live with.

Andrea and Lorenzo

Lorenzo Folati has been leading the venture until now, but Andrea Venturini and a couple of friends are in a period of taking over.

They have a fine selection of wines and beers from independent artisan producers. I enjoy picking smaller ‘bites’ among those displayed at the bar, to go with a few glass of wines. Some were mint glass, a falafel, various greens, such as the delicious tomatoes, frittered squid, tomato and eggplant sandwich, zucchini with cous-cous, onions, honey and balsamico, and -why not- chocolate salami. The list goes on.

Here are a few of the wines that I enjoyed during my visits. (The order is changed according to “normal tastings logic”.)

Durello 2017 (Calesio dalle Ore) is made with the charmat-method. It’s a light coloured, apples, citrus, and bread scented, light-bodied sparkler with good acidity. Simple and good.

A postcard on the wall-board

Trachite 2016 (Alla Costiera), an unfiltered, yellow and cloudy moscato-prunella-garganega regional Veneto white with a sweet (moscato) sensation, together with flowers and citrus peel, and with a medium body, light tannin, and slightly bitter aftertaste.

Lugana 2015 (Marangona). This is a lugana from 100% turbiana grapes. It’s a fresh, simple, dry wine with light, almost blank colour, with a greenish hint. And the aroma is dominated by pears and citrus.

On the contrary, the next wine, was all but simple. Sassaia 2016 (Angiolino Maule), a varietal garganega showed light yellow, slightly turbid, and on the nose could be found mature apples, flowers, ginger and a touch of toast. Slightly yeasty, quite full and with decently acidity, all in perfect harmony. Maule is a long time favourite, and there is a report from a visit in an earlier post in this series.

Musella is one of the better producers of both standard valpolicella and amarone. Here is a white IGT from the Valpolicella area, biodynamically cultivated as always. Pinot Bianco “Fibio” 2014, from that variety, is a bit more on the wild side. Yellow with green hints, smells deliciously of flowers, yellow apples, and I would say, plays with oxidation.  Quite slender, integrated acidity, very pure, and the fruit shines on to the end.

On to a real rarity: Il Fresco Cesane 2014 (Marco Antonelli), that is from the DOC (sometimes: Cesane di) Olevano Romano, Lazio. Got it? The production area lies in the province of Roma and includes the municipality of Olevano Romano and, in part, Genazzan. The wine was nice enough; cherry red, red fruits, plums, and hints of leather on the nose; smooth, juicy, and with an adequate acidity.

Merlot “Casa e Chiesa” 2015 (Lenzini) is a biodynamic Colline Lucchesi. It’s cherry red, hints of green green pepper, a sweetish element from the oak elevation, and a light tannin on the palate and a touch of bitterness in the aftertaste. (14,5% alcohol, while most of those tasted here were around 12.)

We close the chapter from this gem of a wine bar with another pleasant surprise, nothing sensational, but better than most of its kind, a Moscato d’Asti 2017 from producer Emilio Vada. We are talking about a straw yellow coloured wine with the typical moscato rose aromas, clean, and pure. It’s a lightweight, but it has an inspiring acidity and it’s not sticky sweet, compared to what you often can find in this category. The alcohol here is 5%.

Arriving in Verona centre after a nocturnal walk

 

See the other posts in my Veneto series:

#1 – Maule’s Masieri

#2 – Prosecco in Verona’s Osteria la Manzorla

#3 – Gambellara: Maule and the two Davides

#4 – Zýmē’s Recioto Amandorlato

#5 – Vicenza province I: Tenuta l’Armonia

#6 – Vicenza province II: Siemàn

#7 – A Durella sparkling

#8 – Vicenza province III: Contrà Soarda

#9 – Filippo Filippi, Soave top producer

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Filippo Filippi, Soave top producer

Filippo Filippi is a top producer; not only of a high esteem, but the vineyards are also the highest in Soave. (See an earlier post.) Compared to other regions it’s not very high, only 400-something, but combined with the cool winds and the soils it’s just enough to give freshness to the wines.

We are in Castelcerino, a district (‘frazione’ in Italian) of the small, picturesque Soave town. This is the northernmost part of the wine area. It borders with the Val d’Alpone to the east, the last of a series of parallel valleys in the Verona province that brings cool air down from the pre-Alp Lessini mountains. To the east of the valley is the Monte Calvarino, where there was a underwater volcano. You can read more about this and see some pictures in the article about Gambellara. While the ground in Gambellara, Vicenza province, is almost entirely volcanic, Verona is more varied. But there is a lot in the eastern part of Verona too.

Filhppo and his mother

The estate has belonged to the family since the 12th Century, but the winegrowing didn’t start untill a hundred years ago or so. Most of the around 20 hectares of vineyards were planted in the 1950’s, and the farming is now biodynamic. When we say family, there are really two. The company’s official name is Visco & Filippi, the former being the family name of Filippo’s mother.

Monteseroni, an 80 year old vintage, with Soave town in the background

We were walking around the beautiful estate. Here it’s almost like time has stood still, quiet, except for the sounds from the crickets and some birds, and very different from the A4 motorway and the Soave-San Bonifacio exit we passed only 5 minutes ago. There is forest all around.

Here it smells of wildflowers and herbs, such as mint and rosemary. Collegue blogger Emma Bentley, who worked here for a few years, tells in a blogpost that she is is astounded by the wildlife in the woods: “I’ve spotted deer, grouse and a snake and seen traces of wild boar. Turns out that wild boar like to munch on any low-hanging grapes…”

As you have already seen, the family has a long and deep relationship with this beautiful and historic property. So it’s no wonder that Filippo is more focused on expressing the virtues of each plot and their individual characteristics, rather than promoting the DOC Soave. There are many others who take care of that, we could add. To achieve his goals he sticks to the principles of old vines, organic farming and low yields, again contrary to many others in the area.

Filippo is a fan of the ‘pergola veronese’ binding method. It’s perfect for garganega, because this variety is very productive, so it is protected by the leaves. He has introduced Guyot in some of his sites too, to see how it works.

Vigne della Brà with its togo soil. The highest part has more clay. In the landscape there are also cricket sounds the bee is an indicator that the soil is organic

In the cellar too, it’s mostly a low-intervention attitude. Though some modern techniques are used, such as temperature-controlled steel vats, and some movements by gravity. But generally it’s just like in the old days; in the ageing room the temperatures vary according to the seasons.  On the question if it’s easy to get the fermentation going, Filippo laughs and says no: “piano, piano” (‘wait’) he adds.

The Castelcerino vineyard

In the highest vineyard, Turbiana, at 400 meters. Here there are only trebbiano grapes

The vineyards vary considerably in composition, including soils of basalt, limestone, sand, and clay in the property’s five parcels: Castelcerino, Vigne della Brà, Monteseroni, Turbiana, and Calprea.

For the tasting Filippo presented a map of the vineyards, and a stone that represented the most dominant soil on each plot. Here are some brief comments.

We started with Castelcerino 2016, a garganega from two parcels at 320 meters of volcanic soil, and southeast exposure. The wine is made in stainless steel vats. It’s light in colour with a yellowish (or: slightly brown) tinge; aromas of apples, white flowers, almonds; very tasteful, slightly bitter in the aftertaste (a garganega feature), mineral salt (from the volacanic soil), and with 3 grams residual sugar it was rounded off against the acidity. He works with fine lees in all the wines, mostly 8-9 months, but one wine stayed on the lees for no less than 56 months. It doesn’t masque the terroir, according to Filippi, because the character of soil and grape are that strong.

Vigne della Brà 2016 comes from a 60-70 year old vineyard at 380 meters, with southwestern exposure. The soils shifts between clay and sand, with some basalt and limestone. Like the former wine it’s a varietal garganega elevated in steel. It stayed there for 14 months on the lees. The appearance is light and clear; aromas of apples, flowers, mint, melissa; more acidity than the previous wine, refreshing, and with a slight bitterness. It was not filtered, not clarified, but it had been moved between different vessels a couple of times before a late bottling. It’s not very unlike the former, but more acidic, refined and elegant.

While the two first wines are DOC Soave, the next two are IGT Veneto.

Monteseroni 2016 is from the estate’s  warmest site, the south-exposed vinayard at 350 meters, with mostly calcareous soils. It was accordingly more yellow in colour; more mature apples in the aroma, together with flowers and herbs. We can say that it was a bit “wilder”. It was also fuller, pure and tasty and long, but with less acidity as the Brà.  In general this vineyard has 70-80 year old vines, but some are younger. The soil is calcareous.

Turbiana 2016: This is the trebbiano di Soave (also called ‘turbiana’) from that highest elevated vineyard at around 400 meters. The soil here is very poor, rocky and sandy, and the yields are low. It’s elevated in stainless steel, where it has contact with the lees for at least 6 months. Light in colour; mature apples and mint on the nose; round and balanced, with a natural acidity. It has the lowest quantity of SO2 of all his wines.

After this we tried some Castelcerino wines to see how they were developing: Castelcerino 2015 (from the part called “drio casa”): Yellow; honeyed at the beginning, spices, white fruites, medium full, mineral, salt. Castelcerino 12 “56 mesi sui lieviti – Foglio 1”. You have now guessed that this was the 56 months on the lees wine that I talked about. The designation “foglio 1” means that this was the first vineyard to be mapped in the Soave commune (at that time it was called Alberti, by the way). Filippo proudly shows me that map as evidence. The wine: Yellow colour; mature apples, followd by rounded citrus like clementines, and some notes of apricot/nectarines and mynth; grapey and round in the mouth and genereally elegant.

We also had a glance the other way, towards the future, with tank samples of Castelcerino and Vigne della Brà 2017. This was a hotter year, with some hail in the end of august. This showed in the samples, but this is just the way it is.

See the other posts in my Veneto series:

#1 – Maule’s Masieri

#2 – Prosecco in Verona’s Osteria la Manzorla

#3 – Gambellara: Maule and the two Davides

#4 – Zýmē’s Recioto Amandorlato

#5 – Vicenza province I: Tenuta l’Armonia

#6 – Vicenza province II: Siemàn

#7 – A Durella sparkling

#8 – Vicenza province III: Contrà Soarda

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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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