I am on my way to Croatia, to perform at a festival on the Dalmatian coast. I don’t know yet if there will be an opportunity to visit some of the country’s many good and promising wineries. Anyway, what could be better than warming up with one of the country’s many wonderful wines.
The Roxanich winery has been a favourite after several fairs for natural wine, most recently at London’s Rawfair. Roxanich is found in western Istria, Bačva area, where they have moved back to their original site in the historic town Motovun, in the crossroads between Venetian and Austrian-Hungarian culture.
They can be labelled low- (as close as possible to non-) intervention, low-sulphites, and they take their time.
Their vineyards are cultivated according to ancient methods and minimal use of technology. The maceration and alcoholic fermentation take place in vats of 55 to 70 hectolitres.
Motovun is famous for its white truffles and its grapes. But there is also a rumour that this is where the oldest amphora filled with wine was found, in the surrounding area of ceramics producing Brkač. Roxanich add on their website, -Motovun is also considered as the most powerful source of positive energy in Istria because it is located at the crossroads of three dragon furrows, which transmit the Earth’s energy and supply it to all living creatures.
As a consequence, they decided to return to that mystical place because they consider wine somewhat of a spiritual discipline.
This week’s pick is a stately, statuesque white from the grape variety mavasia, or malvazija istriana, as it’s called when grown in the peninsula’s red soil. The wine is labelled Antica, and the vintage on the market is 2010. It underwent a spontaneous fermentation, then followed 6 months of skin-contact, then pressed. It was then aged for 6 years in old barrels of big volume. Biodynamically treated, it’s bottled on a waning moon, and without clarification or filtration.
Mladen Rožanić in London, with the Antica to our left
Roxanich plays some power chords here. Amber or bronze colour with some orange hints. Rich aroma of flowers, butter, apricot, roasted almonds, dried fruits and some volatile acidity. It’s full-bodied, tastes wild and strong, it’s dry, but with some sweet hints like roasted apples, nuts and caramel, all tied together with just enough natural acidity and rounded tannins. The finish is rich, with a volatile hint, it plays with your restistance towards oxidation, and should not leave anyone un-touched.
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%.
We are near the tiny village of El Pego near the southern border of Toro, Castilla y León. Aciano is a 3 hectare vineyard that Alvar de Dios Hernández inherited from his grandfather. The altitude is more than 700 meters, the soils here are sandy, quite special for this area. And for this reason the 100 years old ungrafted vines have survived the phylloxera plague. Aciano was his grandfather’s nickname, so the wine is baptized in his honour. The vineyard practise is organic and biodynamic.For this wine the grapes were hand harvested. 60% whole clusters, 3-4 day pre-fermentation maceration, natural yeast fermentation in big vat, daily soft pigeage, 20 day maceration are other keywords. The ageing was then done for 12-14 months in big, old French barrels, mostly neutral.
Alvar was born in El Pego, but he came in contact with Fernando García and Dani Landi of Sierra de Gredos, and was at a time cellar master for Fernando at Bodegas Marañones. (See various write-ups about the two around this blog; here is one.) Their influence can maybe explain Alvar’s search for coolness in his wines, and for Toro this must be a much needed fresh air.
Aciano 2016(Alvar de Dios Hernández)
Dark cherry red. Perfumed aroma; flowers, dark and red fruits (blackberry, cherry), a slight touch of coffee. It’s tasty and quite solid, yes, but it’s not coarse-heavy-rough like toro can be, and the acidity is good, natural. The most elegant red from this appellation I have tasted for years.
Food: Roast suckling pig (traditional Castilian dish), other light meats, game, Villalón and other fresh and hard cheeses
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.
I am attending the first edition of Duero International Wine Fest in Burgos, and I have just participated in a comparative tasting of ‘Ultreias’ from different soils. What could then be more natural than to highlight something from that tasting as wine of the week?
Raúl Pérez makes wine in several regions, mostly the Spanish northwest. It’s also here, in Bierzo’s Valtuille de Abajo, that the family has made its living for generations.
In the Ultreia series there are a couple of entry-level “village” wines from various sites, and then a collection of single-vineyard wines from vineyards with different soils such as limestone, basalt, slate and sand. Most these are within the limits of Valtuille de Abajo.
The Rapolao was one of the more constrained and elegant wines from the tasting. It is made from very old vines, planted in the late nineteenth century and has a field blend of mostly mencía, but with a small percentage of bastardo, garnacha tintorera and the white doña blanca. Some of grapes have in fact a little botrytis. The soils are rich in iron, with a high organic content. The must was fermented in open chestnut stems and elevated in smaller French casks.
Ultreia Rapolao 2016(Raúl Pérez)
Young colour, dark violet hue. Both fruity and somewhat earthy aromatics; red berries and forest fruits (blackberry, cherry, plums), and a trace of coffee. Medium weight, fine-grained tannins, great transparency, with a stony minerality, and a natural acidity, and a long aftertaste.
Food: Cured meats, light meat, hard cheeses, a variety of salads…
Domaine de la Graveirette is located in the Southern Rhône valley, to the east of Châteauneuf du Pape, where they also make wine of that appellation. Julien Mus started the project in 2005, after finishing his studies in Burgundy. The 25 hectares of vineyards are farmed organic, and the wines now certified biodynamic. They have a freshness well above average in this part of France, and they are lovely drinking, though not at all simple.
The Ju de Vie is a favourite, with all its character and lusciousness. The 2016 is made from grenache 35%, merlot 30%, marselan 25% and mourvèdre 10%, grown in sandy soils with the typical round pebbles. It was aged for 8 months in concrete tanks, and only given a tiny amount of sulphur.