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Wine talk about La Stoppa

These notes are from another wine talk in the Vinestor-series. (Read my first report here.) Now the time had come to La Stoppa and their Norwegian importer Vinum, represented by Runar Nikolaysen.

I suppose that for many people La Stoppa’s Ageno was the first orange wine they ever tasted. This because of its presence in several markets.

Representing the winery was Nico Sciackitano, who was born in the USA, where he among other things worked as a sommelier in San Francisco. But he wanted to follow another path. Thus he came to Italy, worked for Arianna Occhipinti in Sicily, and through her met Elena of La Stoppa. He is export representative, but he also works in the vineyard and in the cellar.

Nico Sciackitano on the pc screen

La Stoppa, the winery in Emilia-Romagna, can trace its roots back to the 19th century. The farm has now 58 hectares, of which 30 are planted with local varieties barbera, bonarda, malvasia, ortugo and trebbiano. One of the features that distinguish them from the mainstream is long skin-maceration, especially a particularity for white wines. Otherwise good raw material and little intervention are key words.

La Stoppa is found in Rivargaro, south of Piacenca. And Ageno, Giancarlo Ageno, was the founder, who bought the land that they own today. They have three little hills and three valleys around them. He planted some 40 different grape varieties, and was one of the first in the area to bottle his wines. There is a lot old red clay in the area, and rich in iron, not unlike parts of Bordeaux. This Nico tells while showing a picture of a bottle of “bordeaux” that Ageno made himself. It was in 1973 that Elena’s father Raffaele, from Piacenza, bought the farm. It was when her father died in the 90’s that Elena’s mother convinced her to come back, and together with winemaker Giulio they decided only to focus on local varieties and to express the terroir of the farm.

La Stoppa makes basically red wines. Nevertheless, the one white wine, named after the founder, is maybe the most famous one.

Nico tells that its not the climate that differes the most from the more famous neighbours (like Veneto and Piemonte), but the soils. Barbera with its acidity is the most important grape variety, as the cuisine is quite fat. Piacenza is more of a diverse farmland than many of the neighbouring wine regions. Around La Stoppa the vines are mostly on the hills, so when it’s harvest time the animals will rather eat corn and tomatoes in the valleys floors than their grapes, explains Nico.

Interestingly the Ageno that the founder made himself was a müller-thurgau, riesling, sylvaner, moscato and sauvignon blanc, and made without skin-contact as today. The new owners continued that tradition (but mostly with chardonnay and sauvignon), untill the 90’s, when it was changed to the wine that we know now, based on a thick-skinned malvasia. 2002 was the first vintage of today’s Ageno, born as a nod to the history of skin-macerated wines, not only in Emilia-Romagna, but in Europe as a whole. -This is the reason I am here, tells Nico. -I was tasting the wine blind. It smells sweet, then comes the dry taste and the tannic mouthfeel. And the colour, within a year it changes from yellow to amber to dark orange. Ageno kind of plays with your mind, says Nico. In recent vintages 18, 19 and 20 the weather has been different; cooler with more rain. Thus the colour is much paler than in the preceeding vintages. The maceration lasts on skins untill winter, that is 3-4 months.

Historic picture: Giancarlo Ageno on the right

They always macerate everything outside in tanks without temperature control. So it’s important that the temperature stays high, so the fermentation can continue. In 2016-17 there were sudden falls in temperatures, so they had to cover up the tanks.

You have understood that La Stoppa stands for a low-intervention winemaking, “hands-off” in the field, just spray copper and sulphur when necessary. It’s a question of paying attention, prune well, and let time work. -Guilio’s 40 years of experience lets him not needing to do anything.

A feature is also that they don’t necessarily release the vintages chronologically. 2017 was ready before 16, and they also found out that to realease the 19 alongside the 16 could be a way for people to understand and appreciate the differences.

Ageno 2016

The grape composition varies. The 2016 is made from malvasia di candia aromatica 90%, the rest is divided between ortrugo and trebbiano. Here are some more key figures, in short: Quite young vines, 20 years. No fertilizing, no weed-killers. The soil contains clay silt. The trellis system is simple guyot. 4 months maceration on skins in stainless steel and cement tanks. Spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeasts, aged in 40 hectolitre wooden tanks. No filtration, no sulphites added.

Deep golden, amber. Concentrated aroma with both fresh (red apples), dried and pickled fruits (apricots, figs), honey, floral overtones, and some volatile acidity. Full-bodied, fruity, evident tannins, long with good acidity and also here a slight volatile character.

Trebbiolo 2019

This is a rather unpretentious wine from the traditional blend barbera (60%) and bonarda from the lower plots. I like it a lot, and makes for excellent drinking now, with charcuterie, light meat or a variety of antipasti. Some key information: Organic farming with biodiversity. No fertilizing, weed killers or pesticides. Clay Silt. Mostly simple Guyot. Age of vines: 7, 15 and 40 years. 20 days maceration on skins in stainless steel and/or cement tanks. Spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeasts, in stainless steel and cement tanks.

Dark ruby. Dark and red fruits (mature blackberry, freshness cherry), and a smoky tone. Medium weight with a bit firm, but agreeable tannins, adecuate acidity and a nice touch of stony bitterness.

Macchiona and Barbera are more “serious” wines. They have the potential to age for a long time (especially in cooler vintages). Ageno is a newer project, so the producer claims that one doesn’t don’t know yet its ability it has to age.

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Wine bars and restaurants

Apotekergaarden revisited

A visit at Apotekergaarden, Grimstad on the southern coast of Norway is always a highlight. This is a popular place in every sense of the word, with a fascinating mix of people coming for great natural wine served by manager and sommelier Ida Konradsen, and people coming in from the street for burgers and pizza, served by the staff, some of them really talented. There are also concerts in the backyard during the summer season. We were there last Sunday, when our meal was followed by a gig with Norwegian folk-rock band Valkyrien Allstars. I have played there myself too, in fact it was one of the last things I did before the lockdown in March. A more detailed background to the restaurant you can read here.

On Sunday they made a special plate of Italian cheese and ham, olives and other stuff for us, followed by a main course of duck with a compote of red onion and a burger with spicy mushroom and onion, and on Tuesday we shared various pizzas.

An impromptu first platter

Here are some of the wines, some of them in fact outside the official menu, but generously offered by Ida and the staff.

Foam Somló 2019 (Meinklang), Somló, Hungary, made by Meinklang of Burgenland, Austria who owns vineyards on both sides of the border. This is a pét nat from Hungarian grapes hárslevelű and juhfark.

Light golden; aroma of yellow apples, hints of pumpkin and gooseberry; concentrated, with a sweet-irh sensation, inspiring indeed.

Brut Nature Reserva Anne Marie (Castell d’Age), Cava, Catalunya, Spain

A traditional cava from one of the pioneers in organic farming in the Penedès area, named after Anne Marie Onyent, one of today’s leading ladies of the company. The grapes are the three usual cava “suspects”.

Slightly bubbly; fresh and appley; fine natural acidity.

La Croix Moriceau 2018 (Complémen’ Terre)

A full and concentrated, mineral muscadet full of character.

Yellow; waxy, with mature apples and white peach; quite full, mineral (chalky), a nice bitterness in the aftertaste.

Palmento 2019 (Vino di Anna), Etna, Sicilia, Italy

Skin-contact wine made from the Sicilian carricante grape in fiberglass tanks.

Golden towards orange; aroma of citrus peel, clementine, apricot, mango; full in the mouth and slightly textured. Not too acid, low alcohol (11,5) and perfect while waiting for the main course.

Handwerk Riesling Trocken 2018 (Leiner), Pfalz, Germany

Biodynamically farmed riesling.

Light yellow; aromas of apple, citrus (lime), with a mineral touch; rich, with a good acidity and splendid concentration. Superb with the duck plate.

Jürgen Leiner’s Handwerk

Completo 2019 (Carussin)

A light, fruity barbera that comes in a full litre bottle (hence the name), made by the producer behind the famous “donkey wine” Asinoi. At best when chilled.

Lght cherry red; light berries (strawberry), herbs; lively in the mouth (slightly pétillant), juicy, with a good natural acidity.

Montesecondo 2018 (Montesecondo), Toscana, Italy

Located in the Chianti area, but not always classified as such. This is an entry-level wine, with 2% of trebbiano blended in with the sangiovese. If my memory doesn’t fail me it’s a light vintage for this wine.

Rather light cherry colour, aroma dominated by red berries; juicy and refreshing.

Viña Ilusión 2017 (Martín Alonso), Rioja Oriente, Spain

Made from tempranillo grapes in Arnedo in the lower part of Rioja. Not completely natural, but with a low amount of sulphur added.

Dark red; blackberry and spice; full, fresh and fruity.

Duck with riesling

After a few wines I often like to round it off with a beer, to “stabilize” the stomach that by now feels like full of acidity. So I asked Mathias S. Skjong, the in-house brewer, if he had something special, maybe something personal. So he produced Terje (made by Mathias himself in collaboration with Grimstad’s successful brewery Nøgne Ø and given a wide distribution by them, for the restaurant’s 10 year anniversary. It’s a very very hoppy, citrussy and dry India pale ale. Perfect to round off another good meal at Apotekergaarden.

Matihas serving his own beer
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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.

Filippo 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. Colleague 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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Wine of the Week

Holy wine for the holiday season

When the halls are decked, and the ding dong goes merrily on high, a vin santo can be a perfect wine to the seasons sweets, not least Italian delights such as panettone and biscotti.

As many of our readers would know, vin santo (meaning “holy wine”) is a type of straw wine, as the grapes are typically dried on straw mats, as the story goes, untill Easter. The sweetness can vary a lot, but it’s almost always quite sweet or very sweet.

Badia a Coltibuono (meaning “abbey of the good harvest”) has been a leading Chianti producer for long, with origins back to the 11th century, when the Vallombrosan monks planted the first vineyards in the area. It was finally acquired by the present family in 1846, and now it’s run by Piero Stucchi-Prinetti and his children.

They also make a riserva “occhio di pernice” (‘partridge’s eye’), the rosé version, from typical red chianti grapes. This vin santo is made by the traditional white varieties trebbiano and malvasia, all -both red and white- organically farmed.

The grapes are hand-picked, then dried in well-ventilated rooms, before fermentation is carried out with the help of native yeasts. Ageing is then done for 6 years in big casks and barriques.

Vin Santo 2009 (Badia a Coltibuono)

Golden amber colour. Aroma with figs, roasted nuts, figs and a touch of honey. In the mouth it’s opulent, but not as sweet as many others. It’s balanced by a very good acidity, and the finish is long.

Price: Medium

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