Some wines have attitude, and others have altitude. Yes, you read that correctly, altitude, as in elevation.
There has been some discussion in my world on whether or not grapes grown at higher altitude, taste any different from those grown at more normal elevations. I would guess that most of you haven’t really paid much attention to where you wine grapes come from, much less, how high above sea level they were grown.
One challenge is that there is no set definition on what is considered “high altitude”. Is an elevation of 1,000 feet high, or just a hillside?, What if you move up to 2,000 feet? Most of the research into using high altitude vineyards, is being done by Nicolas Catena (owner of Catena Zapata) in Argentina. For 20 years, he has been locating microclimates at various elevations in the Mendoza region, usually above 3,000 feet.
According to research reports, “chemical analysis of grapes from four high-altitude vineyards supports the position that the same variety, in this case cabernet sauvignon, offers distinct aromas and flavors when cultivated at differing elevations and in varying soils.”
“The lower temperatures and higher solar radiation at these various altitudes make for more concentrated flavors in the wines,” Catena explains. “Cabernet Sauvignon samples in the test included fruit from the Uxmal Vineyard at 3,100 feet above the Mendoza Valley in the Agrelo district, which was ripe with blackberry and cassis aromas and flavors; the same variety and clone from the Domingo Vineyard, at 3,700 feet, showed more spice and black pepper intensity. There is also a thought that the UV rays are better able to penetrate the skins of the grape, and actually ripen the pips, so you end up with riper tannins. Additionally, the skins grow thicker in response to the UV light and lower temperatures, again allowing richer extraction during skin soaking and fermentation. This would lead to a higher intensity of phenolics (such as quercetine and resveratrol). This is typical of grapes grown in stressful conditions. The “stressful conditions” associated with high altitude are lower temperatures, higher UV radiation and light intensity, less oxygen and carbon dioxide, and shorter growing seasons.
Phenolics are the naturally occurring chemical compounds found in grapes, which give a wine its profile. These include the flavor and color compounds and tannins, as well as hundreds of other complex chemical components which are vital to a wine’s character.
Currently, the highest vineyards in the world are located in Argentina. They are located in the Salta region, and are located in the Altura Maxima vineyard at 9,849 feet. The wines are produced by Hess, under the name of Colomé. .Another vineyard has been planted further up the mountain at 10,206 feet, and should be ready for its first harvest this year.
Most wineries do not mention the altitude of their vineyards, so plenty of online research has to be done. I knew that Argentinian wines would be a must try so we are showcasing a Malbec. The highest vineyards in Europe had to be in the Alps, Dolomite, Northern Spain or Pyrenees mountain ranges, but I found the highest vineyards are actually located on Mt Etna, on Sicily in Italy (elevation of 10,992ft, with vineyards at around 6,600 ft.)
In the United States, I focused in on the Napa and Sonoma regions, looking at areas like Lake County AVA (vineyards at 2,000 to 2,400ft), Howell Mountain (1,600 to 2,200ft), Spring Mountain (2,000ft), Mount Veeder (400 to 2,600ft), Atlas Peak (1,400 to 2,400ft), Diamond Mountain (1,200 to 2,100ft) and Sonoma Mountain (600 to 2,400ft).
As more wineries explore higher altitude, it will be interesting to see if they tout their elevation. Right now, it takes a lot of research and a lot of shopping to find these wines.
Although I may be a wine enthusiast I am no way a vegetarian, I have had a lot of fun trying different types of wine with strictly vegetable dishes. Vegetable dishes may not have the richness or proteins of meat-based dishes but they aren’t as wine averse as we’ve been led to believe. It does take a little experimentation, however. Vegetables actually have an amazing depth and variety of flavor and they are rarely cooked alone.
That variety can make it difficult to find a wine that complements all those flavors.
Because of their natural sugars, many vegetables come across as sweet and some people prefer to balance that with a dry wine. Other people like to complement the sweetness with a fruity wine. The point behind pairing food and wine is to elevate them to something better than either is alone.
But since you rarely sit down with a plate of peppers and a glass of wine, the question often comes down to how the vegetable is prepared and what accompanies it. In short, there is no simple answer to what wine to pair with vegetables; no quick tip, like red with red meat, white with white meat.
The good news is that this means you get to try a lot of different wines. Actually that’s probably the best answer to the question. You may wind up puckering now and then, but here’s a tip I learned watching Master Sommelier and trained chef Andrea Immer: you can make just about any dish wine friendly if you season it with wine friendly ingredients. At the top of the list are shallots, garlic, thyme and olive oil.
Now what dish wouldn’t be improved by one of these? Some Good Wines to Start You Experimenting
- Red Wines: Go for lighter, softer reds that tend toward either spicy or fruity.
- Chianti, Merlot Pinot Noir, Shiraz and especially Zinfandel
- White Wine: Most whites will work with vegetables, especially the brighter, non-oaky wines. Save the oaky Chardonnay for richer dishes.
- Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Sparkling Wine
How to Begin Thinking about Pairing Prepared Vegetable Dishes
Since you probably won’t be pairing wine with raw vegetables, it’s more helpful to focus on the way the vegetables are prepared. In fact, some preparations, like roasting, can make vegetables even more wine friendly. Some tips:
- Roasting and grilling will caramelize the sugars in vegetables and give them a richness that’s almost meaty. Roasted vegetables can stand up to savory reds, like Merlot, Syrah or Zinfandel.
- Cream, butter and cheese add richness and body to vegetable dishes and they tend to pair well with oaky wines, like Chardonnay.
- Spicy dishes can go two ways. They can be balanced with a fruity wine, like Gewürztraminer, or enhanced with a bolder wine, like Merlot.
- Greens and herbal dishes tend to have a grassy freshness that can be easily overpowered, but pairs well with an equally herbaceous wine, like Sauvignon Blanc or a Gruner Veltliner.
- Pair dark, leafy greens like spinach or swiss chard with light reds such as Gamay; greens make full-bodied reds too astringent.
- Match mushrooms, lentils, miso and other earthy ingredients with an earthy red like Pinot Noir.
- Tannins intensify heat, so for dishes with hot chiles, pour soft, fruity reds like Zinfandel.
- Protein-rich vegetarian dishes (with cheese, for instance) often stand up to tannic reds like Syrah.
Again, pairing wine is a matter of personal taste. But here’s a cheat sheet I’ve pulled together from various sources and one I’ve used and enjoyed myself, to experiment.
Wine and Vegetable Pairs
|Cilantro, dill, parsley, basil||x||x|
|Rosemary, bay, sage||x||x|
Siena is likely Italy’s loveliest medieval city, and a trip worth making even if you are in Tuscany for just a few days. Siena’s heart is its central piazza known as Il Campo, known worldwide for the famous Palio run here, a horse race run around the piazza two times every summer. Movie audiences worldwide can see Siena and the Palio in the James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace.
Siena is said to have been founded by Senius, son of Remus, one of the two legendary founders of Rome thus Siena’s emblem is the she-wolf who suckled Remus and Romulus – you’ll find many statues throughout the city. The city sits over three hills with its heart the huge piazza del Campo, where the Roman forum used to be. Rebuilt during the rule of the Council of Nine, a quasi-democratic group from 1287 to 1355, the nine sections of the fan-like brick pavement of the piazza represent the council and symbolizes the Madonna’s cloak which shelters Siena.
The Campo is dominated by the red Palazzo Pubblico and its tower, Torre del Mangia. Along with the Duomo of Siena, the Palazzo Pubblico was also built during the same period of rule by the Council of Nine. The civic palace, built between 1297 and 1310, still houses the city’s municipal offices much like Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Its internal courtyard has entrances to the Torre del Mangia and to the Civic Museum. If you feel energetic, a climb up the over 500 steps will reward you with a wonderful view of Siena and its surroundings. The Museum, on the other hand, offers some of the greatest of Sienese paintings. The Sala del Concistoro houses one of Domenico Beccafumi’s best works, ceiling frescoes of allegories on the virtues of Siena’s medieval government. But it is the Sala del Mappamondo and the Sale della Pace that hold the palaces’s highlights: Simone Martini’s huge Maestà and Equestrian Portrait of Guidoriccio da Fogliano and Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Allegories of Good and Bad Government, once considered the most important cycle of secular paintings of the Middle Ages.
Siena’s cuisine is pure and simple, yet distinguished by the excellence of its ingredients. Sienese meats, vegetables and herbs are of excellent quality, and most recipes call for the use of olive oil (which in this region is among the highest quality).
The oak woods around Siena are still home to the Cinta Senese swine, a native breed reputed for the excellent flavor of its meat), and the Val di Chiana area continues to raise the Chianina breed of cattle, a very important one in Italy. This breed probably originated during Umbrian and Etruscan times in central Italy. Chianina cattle are famous for their white skin and remarkable size; until forty years ago it was primarily used as draft animal, while it is now a selected breed for meat production.
Sienes cuisine has ancient origins, first Etruscan, who introduced the simplicity of herbs, and then Roman influence. Spices, a valuable commodity of the past, give distinct flavor to Siena’s typcial dolci such as Panforte and Cavallucci. Soups are an important part of Tuscan cuisine, along with roasted meat, wild game, and several types of handmade pasta.
Tuscany is the most enduringly famous of all Italian wine regions, thanks to the romantic glamor of its endless rolling hills, cypress-lined country roads and hilltop villages. But even without all of this, evaluated on the merits of its wines alone, Tuscany stands tall, its reputation founded on such iconic wines as Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Situated in central Italy, Tuscany’s neighbors are Liguria and Emilia-Romagna to the north, Umbria and Marche to the east and Lazio to the south. Its western boundary is formed by the Tyrrhenian Sea. As is the case with almost all of Italy’s 20 regions, Tuscany has a long wine history; it can be traced back as far as the fifth century BC.
Today, Tuscany is one of the most famous and prolific wine regions anywhere in Europe. Its vineyards produce an array of internationally recognized wines in various styles. These go far beyond the well-known reds, and include dry whites such as Vernaccia di San Gimignano and sweet wines both white (Vin Santo) and red (Elba Aleatico Passito). The region’s top wines are officially recognized and protected by a raft of DOC and DOCG titles.
Climate is a vital factor in this region’s success as a wine region. Warm, temperate coastal areas are contrasted by inland areas (particularly those in the rolling hills for which the region is so famous), where increased diurnal temperature variation helps to maintain the grapes’ balance of sugars, acidity and aromatics. One variety that particularly thrives on these hillside vineyards is Tuscany’s signature red grape, Sangiovese.
Arguably the most important of all Italian wine grapes, Sangiovese is the mainstay variety in almost all of Tuscany’s top reds. Its long history and broad regional distribution means that it has acquired various names. In Montalcino it goes by the name Brunello, whence Brunello di Montalcino. In Montepulciano, it is known as Prugnolo Gentile. Under the name Morellino it is the grape used to make Morellino di Scansano. Sangiovese also features in Chianti, in which it is joined by small amounts of Canaiolo and Colorino, as well as increasing quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
With the rise of the Super Tuscans, the most famous of which come from Bolgheri, Cabernet Sauvignon has become a much more prominent variety in Tuscany. But despite the relatively recent appearance of such ‘international’ French varieties in Tuscan wines, native varieties still reign supreme.
The name is roughly translated “Sea-Fortress (castle [on the] sea) of the Gulf”, deriving from the medieval fortress in the harbor. The body of water it sits upon also takes its name from the fortress, Golfo di Castellammare.
From this name comes also the Castellamarese war, fought by Joe Masseria clan against Salvatore Maranzano clan for the leadership of the Italian Mafia in New York City. However, in the past 20 years Castellammare del Golfo has become an important tourist location as it is conveniently situated in between Palermo and Trapani.
The city itself was founded by the Arabs and its original name was “Al Madarig” (city of steps). In fact from its beautiful marina/port, abounding in restaurants and bars, which is named Cala Marina one goes up either winding steps or long staircases or streets that lead to Piazza Petrolo with its magnificent views or towards the Villa Comunale (main central gardens) where the city center lies with many shops, cafes and restaurants.
Sicily is Italy’s southernmost region, and the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. For more than 2500 years Sicily (Sicilia in Italian) has been a significant center of Mediterranean viniculture, although the reputation and style of its wines has changed significantly over that time. Although once famous for sweet Muscats, and later fortified Marsala, the island’s best known wines are now its dry table wines produced under the regional IGT title, Terre Siciliane.
At its widest point Sicily measures 175 miles (280km) east to west, and about one third that distance north to south. Its roughly triangular shape led the island to be dubbed Trinacria (the triangle) during the Middle Ages, and is reflected in the triskelion (a motif with three protrusions) at the center of the regional flag.
Blessed with consistently bright sunshine and reliably moderate rainfall, Sicily’s classic Mediterranean climate is ideally suited to the production of wine grapes. The warm, dry climate means that mildews and rots are kept to a minimum, particularly in well-ventilated areas which benefit from coastal breezes. This low disease pressure means that chemical sprays are hardly needed, so much Sicilian wine is produced from organic grapes. Alongside grapes and wine, Sicily’s key exports are the cereals, olives and citrus fruits on which its economy has been based for centuries.
Ironically, the island’s near-perfect vine-growing conditions played a key role in the downfall of Sicilian wine in the late 20th Century. Reliable sunshine and low disease pressure have always made it easy for Sicilian vine growers to push their vineyards into generating high yields, but when the Italian government offered subsidies for ‘upgrading’ to higher-yielding vine management techniques, the temptation was too much to refuse. Many thousands of acres of low-yielding bush vines were rapidly converted to high-yielding tendone (pergola) or guyot (cane-pruning) training methods. These higher yields naturally led to imbalanced, flavor-lacking wines – a drop in quality which was soon mirrored by a drop in consumer confidence. The market was soon awash with low-quality, low-priced Sicilian wine. Happily, the movement to reverse this reputation is well underway, and Sicily is now one of Italy’s most promising and interesting wine regions.
Sicily’s soils, and the mountains from which they came, are of particular interest when it comes to studying the island’s viticulture. Mount Etna, the towering stratovolcano, dominates the island’s eastern skyline, and is responsible for the mineral-rich, dark soils which characterize the Etna DOC vineyards. Vines are now being planted higher up on the volcanic slopes, to capitalize on the cooler air and richer soils there. Fifty miles (80km) south, the Iblei Mountains stake their place in eastern Sicilian wine. On their lower slopes and the coastal plains below them, the DOCs of Siracusa, Noto, Eloro and Vittoria sweep from east to west, forming a crescent which mirrors the arcing coastline. In western Sicily, the volcanic hills are less individually dramatic but just as influential to the soil types. The western fifth of the island is covered by the Marsala DOC, and also within this area fall the DOCs Alcamo, Contessa Entellina, Delia Nivolelli, Erice, Menfi, Monreale, Salaparuta, Santa Margherita di Belice and Sciacca. Also of note is the small Sambuca di Sicilia DOC, whose wines are not to be confused with Sambuca, the potent anise liqueur.
The key grape varieties used in Sicilian viticulture are a combination of ‘native’ varieties (those historically cultivated on the island) and newer, more fashionable imports. Nero d’Avola and Catarratto are the most important natives, occupying 16% and 32% of Sicily’s vineyard area respectively in 2008. The sheer volume of Catarratto juice created each year means much of it is shipped to cooler Italian wine regions, where it is used to increase the body and weight of otherwise thin, over-acidic wines. A large proportion of what remains on the island is used to make Marsala, for which it is joined by the white varieties Grillo and Inzolia. Although less famous than Marsala, another sweet wine of significance to the island is Moscato di Pantelleria, the Moscato grape in question being Muscat of Alexandria.
Other grape varieties of note are Grecanico, Alicante (Grenache), Perricone, Nocera, and Frappato, the latter being the key ingredient in Sicily’s only DOCG wine Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Sibling varieties Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio are also small players in terms of volume, but are of vital importance around Mount Etna. Syrah has been brought here from its home in southern France, where hot summer sunshine and sandy, rocky soils are also key components of the terroir. The robust red Rhone Valley variety shows every sign of adapting well to the Sicilian heat, and certainly better than Chardonnay, which is less able to produce balanced wines here. Trebbiano, the ubiquitous, high-yielding white variety found all around Italy, is also present in the wines of Sicily, although it has no role of particular distinction among them.
The island’s topography has affected more than just how, and where, Sicilian wines are created; it has also had a significant impact on the way commerce and customs have developed on the island. In the late Middle Ages Palermo was one of the largest city populations in Europe, and had a correspondingly voracious wine appetite. Despite large quantities of wine being made in the east of Sicily, Palermo’s wine supplies came as much from Campania and Lazio as they did from the other end of the island, so mountainous is the landscape surrounding the port city. Given the frequent contact Palermo had with the central western coast of Italy, and the proximity of Messina to southern Italy (it is separated from southern Calabria by the Strait of Messina, just two miles wide), these two key Sicilian cities were more influenced by the mainland at this time than they were by one another. And while Palermo was importing Italian wines, Messina was actually exporting eastern Sicilian wines to Africa and the eastern Mediterranean. Modern transportation and communication technologies mean that Sicily’s dramatic, volcanic landscape has less of an impact on the region’s social and cultural structures today. They remain, however, a vital part of its viticulture and winemaking, and may prove to be its unique selling point in the modern wine world.
Του όλα τα ελληνικά μου
Greece – the mountainous, Mediterranean country in the sun-drenched south-east of Europe – is often considered the birthplace of civilization. Archaeological evidence suggests that wine has been made in some parts of Greece for more than 4,000 years, and wine references in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey confirm that viniculture was prevalent here by the 8th Century BC. Wine’s importance is also evident in Greek mythology; Dionysus (the Greek god of wine) appears in legends from every part of Greece, from the plains of Attica to the Aegean island of Chios.
From the 4th century onwards Greece’s tumultuous history meant that winemaking did not flourish as it did in neighboring Italy. As a result, Greece’s importance in the modern wine world is far less than one might assume, given its early success. In the late 20th Century, however, Greek winemaking showed signs of revitalization, supported by modern winemaking techniques and a generation of motivated, quality-focused producers.
An Assyrtico basket vine on Santorini
The modern face of Greek wine combines the traditional with the modern. Native Greek grape varieties such as Assyrtico, Agiorgitiko and Xynomavro are found alongside such famous international (French) varieties as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The portfolio of 21st-Century Greek wine includes everything from fresh, citrus-scented whites and sparkling rosé to lusciously sweet reds.
Geographically speaking, Greece consists of its mainland and numerous islands. The Greek mainland covers the southern edge of the Balkan Peninsula, jutting into the Mediterranean Sea between southern Italy and Turkey. It is flanked to the east and west by the Aegean and Ionian seas respectively. This has a strong influence on the country’s various mesoclimates; the islands and extensive coastline bring a maritime influence to the otherwise Mediterranean climate, and there are even hints of continentality in mountainous far north, along the borders with Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria. The Greek landscapes vary from rugged mountains and lush river valleys to flat coastal plains and tiny, barely inhabited islands.
Viticulture can be found in virtually every corner of Greece, although its scale differs significantly from region to region. The preferred styles also vary considerably. While the north-west (Greek Macedonia) favors rich, tannic wines made from Xynomavro, the Peloponnese Peninsula in the south complements its Agiorgitiko-based reds with fresh, highly acidic whites made from Moschofilero. The Aegean Islands are internationally famous for the dry Assyrtico-based wines of Santorini and the sweet Muscat-based wines made on Rhodes, Samos and Limnos.
No description of Greek wine would be complete without reference to Retsina. This distinctively Greek, resinated wine style is said to have developed when pine resin was used as an airtight sealant for wine storage vessels. Today, Retsina is made by choice rather than necessity, through the addition of pine resin during fermentation. Modern-day Retsina wines, most of which come from Attica, are typically based on Savatiano, although Roditis and Assyrtico are also used by some producers.
Retsina serves as a link to the past, a reminder of how important Greece was in the development of European wine culture (even the Romans prized Greek wine above their own, as evidenced in the prices realized for Greek imports). Below is a brief overview of Greek wine history from the Middle Ages until the modern day.
The Malvasia trade of the Middle Ages (involving a complex set of grape varieties named after the Peloponnese area of Monemvasia) was a golden age for the Greek wine industry, with its wine becoming a major export to Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). Monasteries were granted tax exemptions and frequently gave land to the industry, setting it up for a period of viticultural dominance that would last until the arrival of the Ottoman Turks.
From the 15th Century, much of Greece was ruled by the Ottomans, whose Muslim religion forbade the consumption of wine. This meant an era of downturn for Greek wine production; vineyards were ripped out, banned, forgotten or planted to more lucrative crops such as raisins. Some remained, but the Ottoman rulers imposed heavy taxes on Greek Orthodox wine production. This period is often cited as the reason that Greece’s wine industry is not as well developed as those of France or Italy, despite its long history.
The Greek War of Independence from 1821 to 1832 plunged the country into turmoil, and winegrowing did not resume until well into the later 19th Century. During this time, the phylloxera crisis in the vineyards of Western Europe turned attention to Greek wines, and the country saw a surge in viticultural activity. Unfortunately, the two World Wars and Greece’s own phylloxera blight proved devastating to the country’s wine industry in the mid-20th Century.
It was during the 1960s that the industry began to pick up and modern winemaking techniques and technologies were employed by Greek wine producers. In 1971, anappellation system was introduced to mimic the great wine regimes of France and Italy and to prepare Greece for entry into the European Union.
Regions of historical significance were among the first to be granted appellation status, with conditions imposed on the varieties to be used and often on the altitudes required for cultivation. The Onomasia Proelefseos Anoteras Piotitos (OPAP) and Onomasia Proelefseos Eleghomeni (OPE) are the two principal designations for quality wine in Greece, covering dry and sweet wines respectively. At the lower level, the PGI-level Topikos Inos (local/country wine) and Epitrapezios Inos (table wine) cover a larger amount of Greek terrain and a wide array of wine styles and grape varieties.
The early 21st Century has been a tumultuous time for Greece, with political instability and an enormous debt crisis threatening the entire economy of Europe. However, heavy-set red wines made from Agiorgitiko and Xynomavro showcase the potential of Greece’s indigenous grapes, while the regions of Naousa, Nemea, Mantinia, Samos and Santorini continue to provide a benchmark for the rest of the country to aspire to. The future remains uncertain for this wine-growing nation that has traditionally relied on grape-growing co-operatives.
Cru is “a vineyard or group of vineyards, especially one of recognized quality”. It is a French wine term which is traditionally translated as “growth”, as it was originally the past participle of the verb “croitre” (to grow). As a wine term it is closely connected to terroir in the sense of an “extent of terrain having a certain physical homogeneity . . .considered from the point of view of the nature of the soil as communicating a particular character to its produce, notably to wine”. It may thus be defined as: “Terroir as a place of production” or an “Ensemble of terrains considered from the point of view of what grows there, from a particular cultivation.” More specifically, cru is often used to indicate a specifically named and legally defined vineyard or ensemble of vineyards and the vines “which grow on [such] a reputed terroir; by extension of good quality.” The term is also used to refer to the wine produced from such vines. The term cru is often used within classifications of French wine. By implication, a wine that displays (or is allowed to display) the name of its cru on its wine label is supposed to exhibit the typical characteristics of this cru. The terms Premier Cru, Grand Cru, etc., are generally translated into English as First Growth, Great Growth, etc.; they designate levels of presumed quality that are variously defined in different wine regions.
Grand cru (French for great growth) is a regional wine classification that designates a vineyard known for its favorable reputation in producing wine. Although often used to describe grapes, wine or cognac, the term is not technically a classification of wine quality per se, but is intended to indicate the potential of the vineyard or terroir. It is the highest level of classification of AOC wines from Burgundy or Alsace. The same term is applied to Châteaux in Saint-Émilion, although in that region it has a different meaning and does not represent the top tier of classification. In Burgundy the level immediately below grand cru is known as premier cru, sometimes written as 1er cru.
The Bandol wine region of France, located near the coast east of Marseille and Cassis, is one of Provence’s most internationally recognized wine regions. Based around the fishing village of Bandol, west of Toulon, the Bandol AOC covers the production of 8 communes with silicon & limestone soils. Those soils and the warm, coastal climate are ideally suited for the late ripening Mourvèdre grape which is the major varietal of the region. For both the red and rosé wines, Mourvèdre must account for at least 50% of the blend, though most producers will use significantly more, with Grenache & Cinsaut usually filling out the rest of the wine’s composition.
Bandol has had limited exposure in the United States, until now.
From the Massif de la Sante-Baume down to the shore of the Mediterranean, the vine is an integral part of the landscape and its presence is felt everywhere. Bandol terroir faces due south and benefits from exceptional conditions of light and heat, with nearly 3,000 hours of sun exposure a year. The vineyard lies in a natural amphitheatre. The vines are planted on terraces called “restanqes” on approx 1,500 hectares (over 3,700 acres). Several generations of vine growers had to shape the hillsides to make them suitable for vine cultivation and these terraced slopes are the result of their perseverance.
A Balcony Overlooking the Sea
In order to prevent ground erosion and to clear it of stones, the vine growers erected innumerable low dry-stone walls piece by piece, creating the famous Bandol “restanques”. The vine growers became builders in order to turn the steep slopes of the hillsides into patches of cultivable land, following the contour lines of the terrain. These grounds are particularly favorable for vine growing, and the very nature of the restanques allow for natural regulation of water resources. Today, the wine growers carry on the development of the lands abandoned at the beginning of the century. By resisting the pressure of real-estate developers, they make their contribution to the upkeep of the countryside, help protect the environment, and preserve the beauty of the landscape..
A Multifaceted Geology
The soils in the appellation area are mainly limestone and very pebbly, with sandy marls and sandstones in places. They are as diverse as could be expected in such an uneven landscape. The action of natural erosion on the bedrocks of the upper cretaceous age (calcareous sandstones and sandy marls) resulted in sandstone soils enriched in silico-calcareous elements. Those are the most typical soils of the Bandol appellation. In some places the soils are of Jurassic or even Triassic age and consist of red or white limestone, clay and marl or sand. The main characteristic of the Bandol appellation is the stone-like aridity and low fertility of well-drained, highly calcareous soils.
To preserve this character, the writers of the Bandol decree made a point of including in the appellation area only the plots of land situated on hillsides. The natural dryness of the soils is balanced by the humidity of the air from the sea and by rainfall (600mm/yr on average); the rainfall amount is low, yet perfect to compensate for the water deficit during summer. The appellation area encompasses eight communes suspended between mountain and sea to the south of the Massif de la Sainte-Baume: Bandol, La Cadière d’Azur, Saint-Cyr-sur-mer, Le Castellet, Le Beausset, Ollioules and Sanary.
BANDOL and MOURVEDRE
United for better
Just say “Mourvèdre” to a fine wine drinker and he or she will answer “Bandol”. Mourvèdre is a late-ripening, difficult and demanding grape variety. In Bandol, the character of the geology and microclimate constitute an ecological niche in which the Mourvèdre grape’s strong personality can blossom. Being enthusiastic fans of Mourvèdre, the Bandol wine growers have made Bandol its best-suited terroir. Today, their expertise in growing this uncommon grape variety is acknowledged all over the world.
Refusing to Do It the Easy Way
Mourvèdre is an upright bush vine that bears its stems with majesty. In time it forms a short stumpy trunk that will stand up to the mistral wind of France with vigor if carefully tended by the vine grower. Bandol vine growers give preference to “gobelet” pruning in order to reduce the amount of foliage and help the low-producing vine to bear triangular bunches with small, tight, dark grapes.
In other wine regions, Mourvèdre is used very sparingly because of the strength of its character. Nowhere else is Mourvèdre added in such proportions to the varietal mix. Bandol is the only appellation wine in which Mourvèdre is the dominant grape variety: it represents at least 50% of the blend in red wines. Inspired by the challenge of working with Mourvèdre, Bandol wine growers often go beyond this limit, adding up to 80% or even 95% of it to the mix. Where the authorized yield is 40 hectolitres per hectare, the wine growers do their best to control the productivity of Mourvèdre and keep it within lower yields (25 to 30 hl), so as to express its essence.
Part of the Secret
Mourvèdre is a late-season grape variety that keeps the wine grower waiting until it reaches its full potential. Every essence of the Bandol terroir (soil, subsoil, optimal sun exposure, sea influence and prevailing winds) collaborates to obtain beautiful, slow and full maturity. Rich in tannins, Mourvèdre contributes to the extraordinary aging ability of Bandol red wines and gives them an original and complex typicity, or their distinctive feature. Mourvèdre also gives rosé wines power and remarkable aging ability. This superb grape variety has found its home in Bandol.
RED, WHITE and ROSE
Three Colors, Three Great Styles
The Bandol terroir and savoir-faire are expressed in three colors: red, rosé and white, three very different styles of wine. Each wine bears the signature of the wine grower who produced it and reflects his own choice of winemaking techniques. Thanks to the geographical diversity and the geological conditions of the vineyards in Bandol—and their exposure to the sun, each wine possesses a rich palette of hues and characteristics.
Red: The Reference
Bandol is definitively red. The red wines of Bandol are primarily made from Mourvèdre, the “King Grape” of the appellation. Mourvèdre is the chief grape varietal in the blend (with a range of 50% – 95% used by different winemakers). It is harmoniously combined with Grenache and Cinsault, the former bringing generosity to the wine, the latter giving it finesse. Powerful, with natural distinction and great character, Bandol red wines, however diverse they may be, all have the specific character of Mourvèdre in common. Bandol red is the spearhead of the appellation.
It expresses its true nature in aromas of Havana, leather, and undergrowth that blossom against a mineral background, and shows even more complex notes with the subtlety of each vintage. In its youth, it reveals aromas of licorice, black fruits and violet notes. As it ages, it uncovers flavors of red fruits, jam, Morello cherry, spices, humus, undergrowth, leather, and truffle. After a minimum 18 months’ aging in wood, the tannic character of Mourvèdre will endow it with a complex, ample and elegant structure. Although it is the perfect type of wine for cellaring, one can also enjoy it in all the strength and generosity of its youth: that is the paradoxical nature of Bandol red wine. It delivers some part of its enormous potential at every stage of its evolution. To those who can bide their time, a 10, 20, or 25-year-old Bandol will be delightfully enjoyable.
Rosé: Gastronomy and Conviviality
Bandol rosés are enchanting. Their roundness and generosity make them different from other rosé wines. Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsault combine to give, by direct-pressing, a well-built, refined, pale-colored wine with delicate salmon hues. With all the subtle shades that enhance their color, Bandol rosés whole-heartedly express the specific characteristics of their terroir. They are to be enjoyed in their youth when their great freshness is most captivating; however, the presence of Mourvèdre brings out their typicity and encourages laying them down, as is the rule for red wines. Long-lived rosés acquire exceptional temperament and flavors. They are served at the most renowned tables; their complexity allows a great variety in food pairings.
To unveil the secret of Bandol, one must also taste its white wines. The wine growers take delight in surprising wine lovers with this style of wine, produced in very low quantities. Clairette, Bourboulenc and Ugni Blanc are the base of the varietal mix. Often made from grapes growing on hillsides facing north, which are invigorated by the sea breeze that heightens their freshness, Bandol whites have a clean attack followed by a complex harmony of aromas such as white flowers, citrus, exotic fruits or fruits from the orchard.
THE VIGNERON’S SAVOIR-FAIRE
The result of commitment
The wine growers dedicate themselves heart and soul to their land and craft. They perpetuate the spirit of their elders: they love to see work well done, patiently, stone by stone, the way the restanques were built on the hillsides. Most often, the land belongs to families rooted in wine making traditions. The Bandol appellation is indeed their common heritage.
A Constant Rigor
Together with the scrupulous observance of the appellation regulations, the wine growers maintain permanent vigilance to achieve quality. Young vines intended for the production of red wines are not allowed in the AOC production until the eighth leaf has appeared on their trunk. The yields are controlled at each stage of cultivation. The plantation density must be at least 5,000 vines per hectare. Spur pruning, i.e. leaving two-bud spurs on the trunk, is required. As early as June, the “green harvest” lightens the burden on the vines: the excess bunches are ruthlessly cut off to leave only five to six bunches per vine. The wine growers have a motto that expresses this voluntary limitation of the yield: “One vine, one bottle”. Chaptalization, or adding sugar to unfermented grapes to increase the wine’s alcohol content, is banned as well as “any enrichment or concentration operation, even within the limits of the legal prescriptions in force”. Machine harvesting is forbidden: the grapes are picked by hand to obtain a clean and carefully selected harvest.
However severe the appellation requirements may be, they will not be sufficient if the vigneron, or the wine grower, does not take the greatest care of his production. Technology has entered the cellars, allowing better control of the work and new progress in quality. Maturation is essential in Bandol, especially for red wines. The oak barrel, traditionally used in the appellation, requires great rigor, but is perfectly suited to the tannic structure of Mourvèdre. Concerning maturation, the vigneron’s know-how consists in bringing the wine to a state of balance through a process of slow, natural stabilization. At each stage of the process, wines are carefully selected and tasted. They are accepted only if they meet the requirements of their status. A blind tasting test is carried out in June of the first year to allow the wine growers to examine the evolution of the vintage. It is a“mock exam” from which each wine grower learns critical lessons of their trade.
By running their estates with the utmost attention, the Bandol wine producers have taken the Bandol appellation to the top of the French AOC classification and gained their peers’ respect. The B for Bandol that can be seen branded on old barrels ranks with the other great B’s of French wines.
Of all of the domaines we represent, no other serves more as our cornerstone, stands more in the defense of terroir, and is more intricately interwoven with our own history, than that of the iconic Peyraud family of Domaine Tempier. The pages that Kermit has written about them alone rival those of his dear friend, Richard Olney, who wrote the definitive history of the domaine and was the first to introduce Kermit to the family in 1976. Their story might be considered mythic if it were not true.
When Lucie “Lulu” Tempier married Lucien Peyraud in 1936, her father gave them Domaine Tempier, an active farm that had been in the family since 1834, near Le Plan du Castellet, just outside the Mediterranean seaport village of Bandol. Tasting a pre-phylloxera bottle of Domaine Tempier Bandol (a wedding gift from his father-in-law) inspired Lucien to research the terroir of Bandol extensively. Up until that point, old vineyards planted with Mourvèdre had been systematically replanted to higher-yielding varietals. However, more research not only showed its historical roots to the area, but the grape proved to be more resistant to oxidation, producing wines with great aging potential. By 1941, with the assistance of neighboring vignerons, Lucien worked with the I.N.A.O. (Institut National des Appellations d’Origines) to establish Bandol as its own A.O.C. Needless to say, large-scale replanting of Mourvèdre ensued, and Bandol now requires a fifty percent minimum in all reds. Lucien will forever be celebrated as the Godfather of Bandol, but also as the man who revived Mourvèdre to its former glory. Raising deep and structured wines of such refinement and longevity has made Domaine Tempier truly a grand cru de Provence.
Lulu and Lucien raised seven children, and nourishing family, friends, and wine lovers at table is a regularly celebrated tradition at the domaine. Much of that is attributed to Lulu, the beautiful, Marseillaise materfamilias who has carried on the great Tempier family ritual of serving guests fresh, cool rosé, hearty, soulful reds, and copious amounts of delicious homemade Provençal cuisine. Her traditional hearth cooking has attracted attention throughout France, even bringing Alice Waters over from California to learn in Lulu’s kitchen. When Lucien retired, sons François and Jean-Marie shared management of the domaine with François in the vineyards and Jean-Marie in the cellars. The two made a formidable team. Though Lucien passed away in 1996, and his sons have now since retired, the torch has been passed to the young, energetic, and talented Daniel Ravier, who has just the right savoir faire to carry on the great tradition and style of the domaine.
Beyond our affection and the enduring bonds of our friendship, objectively the celebrity of Domaine Tempier also lies deep in the soils of Bandol. Variations of clay and limestone soils between the vineyards produce wines that are undeniably world class. Whether it is the cult following they have established through their refreshing, age-worthy rosé (once praised by Robert Parker as the greatest rosé in the world), their Bandol Blanc, or the distinctive cuvées of Bandol rouge, the wines of Domaine Tempier stand as the proud benchmark when talking about Provençal wines. Through their passion, pioneering, and advocacy for Bandol, the Peyrauds have become legendary. We are fortunate to have their wines serve as the flagship of our portfolio, and even more grateful to have the Peyrauds and their extended family as cherished friends. If any wine can be said to have soul, it’s Tempier.
Domaine Gros Nore
Alain Pascal could be a character pulled right out of a Marcel Pagnol novel—a kind of Provençal Hercules. Like his father, Honoré, for whom the domaine is named, Alain is a strong, husky man with hands the size of bear claws. That he is a former boxer and an avid hunter should be no surprise, yet his physique matches both his spirit and his wine—this gentle giant and his cuvées are all heart. Of the many stories recorded in Kermit’s Inspiring Thirst, those of Alain are among the most entertaining. For years he sold his prized fruit from Bandol to Domaine Ott and Château de Pibarnon. Though he and his father would bottle their own wine for family consumption, they never labeled it under their own domaine name. Kermit has called those early family wines, “Magnificent Bandols made in the simplest manner, très franc de goût, with a whole lotta soul.” In 1997 after his father’s death, Alain officially started Domaine du Gros ‘Noré, a real shift that has brought him more than just casual notice. Alain is already a leading contender in Bandol, the appellation regarded as the grand cru of Provence.
He farms sixteen hectares of vineyards with the help of his brother, Guy, on the rolling hillsides around La Cadière d’Azur. The vineyards are composed of both clay and limestone, imparting a pronounced structure of earthy, splintered rock. This microclimate near the Mediterranean brings warm weather and full sun, tempered by the persistent Mistral. Alain leaves his grapes to mature fully on the vine, lending great intensity to the fruit. Where appellation law demands that each blend includes at least 50 percent Mourvèdre, Alain uses 80 percent—a choice that gives more power and concentration to the final assemblage. Do not be fooled by the strength and boldness of the Gros ‘Noré Bandol, though; underneath a big exterior is a wine of character, depth, complexity, soul, and finesse.
Les Vignobles Gueissard
Les Vignobles Gueissard was born of a passion for the art of winemaking and a determination to produce only the best wines from Côtes de Provence and Bandol. Working together, experts of vine and soil team up with the best winemakers in the Gueissard cellar to nurture the delicate palette and fragrances of Provence in all of our wines. Bottling, the final stage in the winemaking process, is truly an exciting experience for us. It sees all of our expertise brought together, from the skills of our field experts to the talent of our production team. The resulting product is an exceptional vintage wine from Provence. Now we want to share our art and passion with the world.
Providing more than simple pleasure, Gueissard wines evoke true emotion. This is because they are based on a philosophy rooted in traditional know-how combined with modern techniques. We select the best winegrowing regions and then strive for excellence in processing the wine. From the start, we decided to preserve the vines by limiting production, thereby ensuring the quality of our wine for years to come. Grapes are selectively picked by hand during the harvest. These values are at the center of the Gueissard vineyards, giving us the confidence to know we are achieving something truly special: some of Provence’s greatest wines.
Creating wines from both the Bandol and Côtes de Provence, Domaine Gueissard is an extraordinary find for us. Having previously served as winemaker at famous Domaine Tempier in Bandol, Clément Minne is creating some spectacular wines at Gueissard. He limits production (35-40 hectolitres per hectare), harvests manually and observes organic production methods.
LES VINS DE BANDOL SONT LA!
About two hours from bustling Milan and touristy Venice is Verona — a welcome sip of pure, easygoing Italy. Made famous by Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, Verona is Italy’s fourth-most-visited city and second in the Veneto region only to Venice in population and artistic importance. If you don’t need world-class sights, this town is a joy.
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet made Verona a household word. Locals marvel that each year, about 1,600 Japanese tour groups break their Venice-to-Milan ride for an hour-long stop in Verona just to stand in a courtyard. The House of Juliet, where the real-life Cappello family once lived, is a crass and throbbing mob scene. The tiny, admittedly romantic courtyard is a spectacle in itself, with visitors from all over the world posing on the almost believable balcony and taking snapshots of each other rubbing Juliet’s bronze breast, hoping to get lucky in love.
The city is so famous for love that it gets countless letters addressed simply to “Juliet, Verona, Italy.” There are even volunteers to respond to these mostly lovesick people (see www.julietclub.com). And they’re getting even busier, thanks to the movie Letters to Juliet, about a girl (Amanda Seyfried) who finds a letter while visiting the House of Juliet and travels through Italy to help reunite the author with her lost love.
Despite the romantic fiction, the town is packed with genuine history. Because ancient Romans considered Verona an ideal resting spot before crossing the Alps, the city has a wealth of Roman ruins. The well-preserved amphitheater — the third largest in the Roman world — dates from the first century a.d. and still retains most of its original stone. Over the centuries, crowds of up to 25,000 spectators have cheered Roman gladiator battles, medieval executions, and modern plays — including Verona’s popular summer opera festival, which takes advantage of the arena’s famous acoustics.
Corso Porta Borsari was the main drag of Roman Verona. A stroll here makes for a fun, ancient scavenger hunt. Remnants of the towns illustrious past — chips of Roman columns, medieval reliefs, fine old facades, and fossils in marble — are scattered among modern-day fancy shop windows.
You’ll end up at Piazza Erbe, Verona’s market square, where vendors come to slice and sell whatever’s in season. People have gathered here since Roman times, when this was a forum. The whale’s rib, hanging from an archway for 500 years, was a souvenir brought home from the Orient by spice traders. Today Piazza Erbe is for the locals, who start their evening with an aperitivo here. It’s a trendy scene, as young Veronans fill the bars to enjoy their refreshing spritz drinks, olives, and chips.
After spritzing, it’s time for feasting. And Verona has its share of excellent eateries. One of my happiest memories from a past trip is eating with my friends at Enoteca Can Grande, where we let the chef, Giuliano, bring us whatever he wanted. The carne cruda (raw beef), was, as Giuliano put it, “like seeing the smile of a beautiful woman after 10 years. You never forget her.” The mortadella (Italian-style baloney — not a high-end meat) was served with black truffle. It was exquisite. Imagine calling spam exquisite…just add truffle. Then came the best polenta I’d ever tasted, with anchovies. As it turns out, anchovies and polenta are a “good marriage.” For dessert: a plate of voluptuous slices of cheese. “Even if we do not talk,” said one of my friends, “with these cheeses we have a good conversation.” As I held the warm and happy tire of my full tummy, I thought about how Italians live life with abandon — and how they enjoy their food.
Besides eating, for me the highlight of Verona is the evening passeggiata (stroll). It’s a multigenerational affair. Like peacocks, the young and nubile spread their wings across the wide sidewalk promenade, made broad by the town’s Venetian overloads in the 17th century so the town’s beautiful people could see and be seen in all their finery.
A collage of the city of Verona, Clockwise from top of left to right: View of Piazza Bra from Verona Arena, House of Juliet, Verona Arena, Ponte Pietra at sunset, Statue of Madonna Verona’s fountain in Piazza Erbe, View of Piazza Erbe from Lamberti Tower
Veneto is a substantial and increasingly important wine region in the north-eastern corner of Italy. Administratively it forms part of the Triveneto zone, along with its smaller neighbors Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. In terms of geography, culture and wine styles, it represents a transition between the alpine, Germano-Slavic end of Italy and the warmer, drier, more Roman lands to the south.
Veneto is slightly smaller than Italy’s other main wine-producing regions –Piedmont, Tuscany, Lombardy, Puglia and Sicily – yet it generates more wine than any of them. Although the southern regions Sicily and Puglia were for a long time Italy’s main wine producers, this balance began to shift north towards Veneto in the latter half of the 20th century. In the 1990s, southern Italian wine languished in an increasingly competitive and demanding world, while Veneto upped its game, gaining recognition with such wines as Valpolicella, Amarone, Soave and Prosecco.
With fruity red Valpolicella complementing its intense Amarone and sweet Recioto counterparts, Veneto is armed with a formidable portfolio of red wines to complement its refreshing whites such as Soave and sparkling Prosecco. Although much of the new vineyard area which supported Veneto’s increased wine output was of questionable viticultural quality, today more than 25% of the region’s wine is made and sold under DOC/DOCG titles.
The Veneto region can be roughly split into three geographical areas, distinguished by their topography and geology. In the north-west the foothills of the Alps descend along the eastern edge of Lake Garda, their path mirrored by the Adige river as it descends from the heights of Alto Adige. Here in the cooler, alpine-influenced climate, fresh, crisp whites are made under the Bianco di Custoza and Garda titles, while refreshing, unassuming Bardolino from the shores of Lake Garda makes the case for Veneto’s lightest reds. Just east of the lake and north of Verona is Valpolicella and its sub-region Valpantena: the fabled ‘Valley of Many Cellars’ produces half a million hectoliters of fruity red wine every vintage. In terms of production volume, Valpolicella is the only DOC to rival Tuscany’s famous Chianti. Immediately east of Valpolicella is Soave, home to the eponymous dry white wine which now ranks among Italy’s most famous products, and beyond that Gambellara serves as an eastern extension of Soave, both geographically and stylistically. Garganega and Trebbiano are the key white-wine grape varieties here, while Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella are behind the vast majority of reds.
In central Veneto, around Vicenza and Padua, are the Colli Berici, Colli Euganei and Breganze. Although the plains below these hills produce vast quantities of wine, only the better-quality wines from more elevated areas have gained DOC status. International varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero here) and even Carmenere have proved successful here, as has northern Italy’s flagship white Pinot Grigio and Veneto’s own Tocai Friulano.
In the north-eastern corner of the region, on either side of the Piave river (which has its own Piave DOC covering the land between Conegliano and the coast), sparkling Prosecco reigns supreme. Still wines are also made here (Lison, Lison-Pramaggiore, Montello e Colli Asolani and Colli di Conegliano), but the common factor which unites almost all viticultural zones in north-eastern Veneto is the Glera grape (typically known as Prosecco), and the foaming spumante and semi-sparkling frizzante wines it creates.
Italy – the home of Moscato, Chianti, Amarone and Prosecco – has a rich and diverse wine heritage dating back more than two thousand years. Famous for its bewildering diversity of both grape varieties and wine styles, Italy is also significant for the sheer volume of wine it produces: just over 40 million hL in 2012, from 800,000 ha of vineyards. It is rivaled in this regard only by France and Spain.
Managing and marketing such a vast wine portfolio is no easy task, particularly in today’s highly competitive wine market. The Italian government’s system of wine classification and labeling uses a four-tier quality hierarchy made up of more than 500 DOCG, DOC and IGT titles.
Italy is divided into 20 administrative regions, all of which produce wine to some extent, and all of which contain various wine regions. The most significant, when both quality and quantity are taken into consideration, are Tuscany, Piedmont and Veneto.
Each region has its flagship wine styles. Some are famous because they are produced in large volumes and can be found all over the world, others because of their consistently high quality. Tuscany is known for its Chianti, of course, but among devoted wine aficionados its Brunello and Vino Nobile are even more highly regarded. Likewise, Piedmont’s most famous wine is now Moscato d’Asti (following a recent and meteoric rise in popularity), but the region is most respected for its Barolo and Barbaresco. Veneto’s vast output of Prosecco, Soave and varietal Pinot Grigio does little to boost its reputation as a fine wine region, and yet it produces one of the world’s richest, finest wines: Amarone della Valpolicella.
Italy’s vineyards are home to more than 2000 grape varieties, many of which are on the brink of extinction. The safest and best-known Italian grapes are Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Montepulciano and Pinot Grigio (although technically the latter is more French than Italian). These varieties cover many thousands of acres of vineyard, and can be found in various regions. At the other end of the scale are such little-known rarities as Centesimino and Dorona, which are found in tiny numbers in just one or two places.
All of Italy’s grape varieties, famous or not, face serious competition from better-known French varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. These internationally popular grapes are being planted in ever-increasing numbers all over Italy, and with high success rates. Some of Italy’s finest and most expensive wines are made from these “foreign” varieties. An obvious example is the Super Tuscan Sassicaia from Bolgheri, which is a predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon with a hint of Cabernet Franc.
Italy is unmistakable on the map, with its iconic, boot-like shape. Effectively one vast peninsula jutting into the Mediterranean, the country runs NW–SE for 700 miles (1,130km) along a strong, steep spine formed by the Apennine Mountains. On its western side, in the Tyrrhenian Sea, lie its two island regions, Sicily and Sardinia.
It is hard to summarize in any useful way the climate of such a long and topographically varied country. Vineyards here are planted anywhere from sea-level in eastern Emilia-Romagna to around 4200ft (1300m) in the alpine Aosta Valley. Latitude is also a key factor here; at 46°N, the northern Alto Adige region lies a full 11 degrees north of Pantelleria, leaving it some 680 miles further from the warmth of the equator.
Italian Wine Label Information
Italian wine labels, just like those from France and Spain, are required by law to show an established set of basic information (producer name, appellation, vintage, alcohol content and bottle volume). Italy began developing its official wine classifications in the 1960s, modeled on the French appellation system. The DOC and DOCG categories were introduced in 1963 (although the latter remain unused until 1982), and the IGT category followed in the early 1990’s.
The four official tiers of Italian wine classification:
- DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) is the highest classification for Italian wines. It denotes controlled (controllata) production methods and guaranteed (garantita) wine quality. There are strict rules governing the production of DOCG wines, most obviously the permitted grape varieties, yield limits, grape ripeness, winemaking procedures and barrel/bottle maturation. Every DOCG wine is subject to official tasting procedures. To prevent counterfeiting, the bottles have a numbered government seal across the neck.
- DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) is the main tier of Italian wine classification, and covers almost every traditional Italian wine style. There are around 330 individual DOC titles, each with a set of laws governing its viticultural zone, permitted grape varieties and wine style. Those which show consistently high quality earn promotion to DOCG status.
|Italian Wine Terms|
|Amarone||Dry red wine made from dried grapes (a form of passito)|
|Cantina sociale||Co-operative winery|
|Chiaretto||Pale red or dark rosé|
|Classico||Denotes the traditional, theoretically superior, vineyard area within a DOC/G zone|
|Metodo Classico||Sparkling wine made by the classic Champagne method|
|Novello||Literally ‘new’ – describes light, fruity wines intended for early consumption rather than cellaring|
|Passito||Generic term for wine made from dried grapes (typically sweet but sometimes dry)|
|Recioto||Sweet red or white wine made from dried grapes (a form of passito)|
|Ripasso||full-bodied, powerful wine style made by re-fermenting wine with amarone grape skins|
|Riserva||Literally ‘reserve’. Denotes extended ageing (in cask, then bottle) before the wine is sent to market.|
|Superiore||wines with greater concentration and higher alcoholic strength|
|Vin Santo||A dessert wine style originally from Tuscany, generally made from air-dried Trebbiano grapes. The style is now made in various Italian regions.|
- IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) was introduced in 1992, to allow a certain level of freedom to Italy’s winemakers. Prior to 1992, many wines failed to qualify for DOC or DOCG status – not because they were of low quality, but because they were made from grape varieties (or blends) not sanctioned under DOC/G laws. The IGT classification focuses on the region of origin, rather than grape varieties or wine styles.
- Vino da Tavola: means ‘table wine’ in Italian, and represents the most basic level of Italian wine. The Vino da Tavola category held a certain prestige in the 1970s and 1980s, thanks to experimental winemakers who produced top-quality (but unorthodox) wines under the title. This situation has gradually diminished, however, since the introduction of the IGT category with its more flexible production conditions, and Vino da Tavola has steadily returned to its original status as the lowest rung on Italy’s wine quality ladder.
This useful but unofficial term emerged in the 1970s, to describe a particular set of high-quality Tuscan wines which were precluded from claiming DOC or DOCG status because they broke traditional Italian winemaking norms (foreign grape varieties were used, and the wines were often matured in small, new oak barrels). Several of these wines earned global recognition and astronomical price tags – hence ‘Super Tuscan’. Originally these wines had to be labeled as Vino da Tavola because they contravened the stringent, tradition-focused DOC laws. This situation ultimately led to the creation of the IGT category, with its relatively relaxed production rules.
Italian wine is like Italian politics; it’s complicated, barely understood by the rest of the world, and often breaks its own rules. It is also delicious and diverse.
From the fragrant whites of the north, to the sun drenched reds of the south, Italian wine is pure pleasure on the tongue. That is as long as you know what you’re looking for.
Understanding of Italian wine becomes clearer with an understanding of the differences between each region; their cuisines reflect their indigenous wines, and vice-versa.
“Wine is ancient, and yet the beverage we enjoy today is thoroughly modern. For eight thousand years, through the great civilizations of Mesopotamia, Greece, and Egypt, to the Roman Empire and on into medieval Europe and the boundless opportunities of the New World, wine has been enjoyed by millions. It is in this history, this journey through time that wine has come into its “golden years”, with breakthroughs in viticulture and vinification has allowed grape growers, and wine makers to know the unknown, to control the uncontrollable, and even to improve the greatest and the least of all wines.”
The history of Champagne has seen the wine evolve from being a pale, pinkish still wine to the sparkling wine now associated with the region. The Romans were the first to plant vineyards in this area of northeast France, with the region being cultivated by at least the 5th century, possibly earlier. When Hugh Capet was crowned King of France in 987 at the cathedral of Reims, located in the heart of the region, he started a tradition that brought successive monarchs to the region—with the local wine being on prominent display at the coronation banquets. The early wine of the Champagne region was a pale, pinkish wine made from Pinot noir.
The Champenois were envious of the reputation of the wines made from their Burgundian neighbors to the south and sought to produces wines of equal acclaim. However the northerly climate of the region gave the Champenois a unique set of challenges in making red wine. At the far extremes of sustainable viticulture, the grapes would struggle to ripen fully and often would have bracing levels of acidity and low sugar levels. The wines were lighter bodied and thinner than the Burgundies.
Furthermore, the cold winter temperatures prematurely halted fermentation in the cellars, leaving dormant yeast cells that would awaken in the warmth of spring and start fermenting again. One of the byproducts of fermentation is the release of carbon dioxide gas, which, if the wine is bottled, is trapped inside the wine, causing intense pressure. The pressure inside the weak, early French wine bottles often caused the bottles to explode, creating havoc in the cellars. If the bottle survived, the wine was found to contain bubbles, something that the early Champenois were horrified to see, considering it a fault. As late as the 17th century, Champenois wine makers, most notably the Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon (1638–1715), were still trying to rid their wines of the bubbles.
While the Champenois and their French clients preferred their Champagne to be pale and still, the British were developing a taste for the unique bubbly wine. The sparkling version of Champagne continued to grow in popularity, especially among the wealthy and royal. Following the death of Louis XIV of France in 1715, the court of Philippe II, Duke of Orléans made the sparkling version of Champagne a favorite among the French nobility. More Champenois wine makers attempted to make their wines sparkle deliberately, but didn’t know enough about how to control the process or how to make wine bottles strong enough to withstand the pressure.
In the 19th century these obstacles were overcome, and the modern Champagne wine industry took form. Advances by the house of Veuve Clicquot in the development of the méthode champenoise made production of sparkling wine on a large scale profitable, and this period saw the founding of many of today’s famous Champagne houses, including Krug (1843), Pommery (1858) and Bollinger (1829). The fortunes of the Champenois and the popularity of Champagne grew until a series of setbacks in the early 20th century. Phylloxera appeared, vineyard growers rioted in 1910–11, the Russian and American markets were lost because of the Russian Revolution and Prohibition, and two World Wars made the vineyards of Champagne a battlefield.
The modern era, however, has seen a resurgence of the popularity of Champagne, a wine associated with both luxury and celebration, with sales quadrupling since 1950. Today the region’s 86,500 acres (35,000 ha) produces over 200 million bottles of Champagne with worldwide demand prompting the French authorities to look into expanding the region’s Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) zone to facilitate more production.
EST! EST! EST! di MONTEFIASCONE
Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone (also known as just Est! Est!! Est!!!) is an Italian wine region centered around the commune of Montefiascone in province of Viterbo in Latium. Since 1966, the white Trebbiano– and Malvasia bianca-based wines produced within the 1,000 acres (400 ha) of the region can qualify for Denominazione di origine controllata(DOC) designation under Italian wine laws.
The unusual name of the wine region dates back to a 12th-century tale of a German bishop traveling to the Vatican for a meeting with the Pope. The bishop sent a prelate ahead of him to survey the villages along the route for the best wines. At a Montefiascone inn, the prelate was reportedly so impressed with the local wine that he wrote Est! Est!! Est!!!(Latin for “It is”) on the door so that the bishop would not fail to stop by.
Today, the wine region is known primarily for wine tourism, catering to the visitors of Lake Bolsena north of Rome, with comparatively little Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone being exported. Among wine critics, the wine often receives mixed opinions with wine experts such as Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson describing in The World Atlas of Wine Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone as “usually the dullest white wine with the strangest name in the world.” Wine writers Joe Bastianich and David Lynch compares Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone to the Tuscan wines from Vernaccia di San Gimignano saying that the region’s “…history is more compelling than what’s currently in the glass.”
History of Retsina. The earliest wine jars yet discovered, at Hajji Firuz in Iran‘s Zagros Mountains, already show evidence of treatment with turpentine pine resin as a preservative. They have been dated to c. 5000 BC.
The earliest recorded mention of using resin with wine amphorae is by the first-century Roman writer Columella, who detailed in his work De Re Rustica, the different type of resin that could be used to seal a container or be mixed into the wine. He recommended, however that the very best wines should not be mixed with resin because of the unpleasant flavor introduced thereby. His contemporary, Pliny the Elder, does recommend the use of adding resin to the fermenting wine must in his work Naturalis Historia with the resin from mountainous areas having a better aroma than those that come from lower lands.
The Roman settlements in Illyria, Cisalpine Gaul and Gallia Narbonensis did not use resin-coated amphorae due to the lack of suitable local pine trees and began to develop solid, less leak-prone wooden barrels in the 1st century AD. By the 3rd century, barrel making was prevalent throughout the Roman Empire. The exception was the eastern empire regions of Byzantium which had developed a taste for the strong, pungent wine and continued to produce resinated wine long after the western Roman empire stopped. The difference in taste between the two empires took center stage in the work of the historian Liutprand of Cremona and his Relatio de Legatione Constantinopolitana. In 968, Liutprand was sent to Constantinople to arrange a marriage between the daughter of the late Emperor Romanos II and the future Holy Roman Emperor Otto II. According to Liutprand, he was treated very rudely and in an undignified manner by the court of Nikephoros II, being served goat stuffed with onion and served in fish sauce and “undrinkable” wine mixed with resin, pitch and gypsum—very offensive to his Germanic tastes.
Pilgrims and Crusaders to the Holy Land during the Middle Ages recorded their experiences with the strong, resin wines of the Greek islands. Pietro Casola, an Italian noble who traveled to Jerusalem in 1494, wrote about the wines and cuisines of the places he stopped at along the way. In one of his entries, about his visit to Modone on Peloponnese, he wrote about the bounty of good quality wines made from Malmsey, Muscatel and Rumney varieties. Everything he tried was pleasing, except the strong, resinated wine with an unpleasant odor.
Popular anecdote about the evolution of retsina stem from the Roman conquest of Greece. Stories claim that the Romans plundered the wines of Greece, angering the citizens who turned to pine resin as a way of extending their store of wine and as a deterrent to their thirsty conquerors. The harsh flavor was said to put off the Romans, who refused to drink the bitter ferment.
Some 1,200 years of viticultural history are associated with Johannisberg. An eventful history, which, among other things, led to the creation of the world’s first Riesling wine estate and with it, a unique wine culture that has existed at Johannisberg ever since. Founded as a Benedictine monastery, the Johannisberg abbey quickly became a viticultural focal point and initiator in the Rheingau. Today, in the heart of the cellar, is the underground library “Bibliotheca subterranea” – the famed treasure chamber of the palace, with its centuries-old wine rarities.
As of 1716, Schloss Johannisberg belonged to the prince abbot of Fulda, who had a grand, three-winged palace built in line with the taste of the times. It is thanks to this owner that the benefits of a “Spätlese” (late harvest) were recognized. In 1775, the courier annually sent to Fulda to receive official permission for the start of the grape harvest was delayed by several weeks. By the time he returned to Johannisberg, the grapes were infested with noble rot. Nevertheless, the courageous cellarmaster had the rotten grapes harvested and vinified, thereby producing a new style of wine – “Spätlese” – which thereafter became standard at Johannisberg. Although documents from 1730 report that a few growers “gladly waited for a bit of noble rot in order to increase the sugar level of the grapes,” the year 1775 marked the beginning of a deliberately scheduled late harvest of botrytized grapes. A monument adjacent to the Vinothek (wine shop), where the estate’s current vintages can be sampled, commemorates the famous courier whose delay led to the worldwide triumphal course of “Spätlese”.
In 1816, in the wake of Napoleon’s secularization of church properties and the ensuing joint administration by Prussia, Russia and Austria, the palace was ceded to the state chancellor of the Austrian emperor, Clemens Wenzel Lothar Fürst von Metternich, for his service at the Congress of Vienna the year before. However, to this day, one tenth of the annual harvest must be delivered to the House of Habsburg or its legal successors. The influential Metternich admitted: “I enjoy a peacefulness here that I regard as a blessing, and this pleasure is due to the character of the region.”
In 1942, the palace was hit by bombs and burned down. It was thanks to Fürstin Tatiana and her husband, Paul Alfons Fürst von Metternich, that the impressive palace and grounds were restored to their former glory by 1965. The grande dame, who, above all, was actively engaged in the promotion of culture in the Rheingau and many other causes, lived at Schloss Johannis-berg until her death in July 2006.
Wine culture at Schloss Johannisberg has outlived the many storms of the past. Riesling is truly at home here. The estate is well aware that the historical past brings with it a responsibility in the future – with every new vintage, Johannisberg strives to carry on this unique Riesling culture.
CLOS de VOUGEOT
The Clos de Vougeot vineyard was created by Cistercian monks of Cîteaux Abbey, the order’s mother abbey. The land making up the vineyard was purchased by the Cistercians, or donated to them, from the 12th century to the early 14th century. The initial vineyard consisted of donations in 1109 to 1115. The vineyard was complete, and a wall had been built around it, by the year 1336. It served as the flagship vineyard of the Cistercians, and has been a highly recognized name for centuries.
Château de Clos de Vougeot, situated inside the wall, was added in 1551 by rebuilding and enlarging a small chapel and some other buildings previously existing at the site. From 1945, this building has served as headquarters of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin.
In the French Revolution, all vineyard possessions were taken from the church by the French state, and sold off to private buyers. In 1818, the château and vineyards of Clos de Vougeot was bought by Julien-Jules Ouvrard, who also bought the Romanée-Conti vineyard in 1819. Ouvrard later moved to Château de Gilly, another former Cistercian property, but continued to take in an interest in the vineyards of Clos de Vougeot, which was then a monopoly. After Ouvrard’s death, Clos de Vougeot passed to his three heirs, but continued to be operated as a single property until 1889, when the heirs put it up for sale. It was bought by six Burgundy wine merchants, leading to a subdivided vineyard for the first time since its creation more than 700 years earlier. After that, the holdings have been progressively subdivided by inheritance and land sales. In the early 2000s, Clos de Vougeot was split among more than 80 owners.
One of the 1889 vineyard buyers, Léonce Bocquet, also bought the château, and initiated renovations of a part of it. In 1920, the château came into the hands of Etienne Camuzet, who was vineyard owner in Vosne-Romanée and politician. He put it to the disposal of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, and on November 29, 1944 sold it to the organization Société civile des Amis du Château du Clos de Vougeot (“Friends of the Château du Clos de Vougeot”), which gave the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin a 99 year lease on the property.
Dear Wine Consultor,
What is the origin of the Brits’ traditional nickname for Bordeaux wines as “claret”? There is a French white grape named Clairette, a Rhône varietal. Is that a coincidence, or is there a connection there?
Before “claret” was the nickname for Bordeaux wines, it meant “clear,” “pale” or “light-colored” wine (“claret” being derived from the Latin word for “clear”). This is back in the 14th and 15th centuries, when wines from Bordeaux were actually paler, almost like rosés. In the late Middle Ages, “claret” also referred to a heated wine poured over a bag of spices.
The first known references to “claret” as dark red Bordeaux wines were in the 1700s by the British trade. History buffs will recall that France and England were at war during this period, and it was right around then that the English started seeking out Portuguese wines to satisfy their thirst.
These days “claret” is used as a generic way to refer to Bordeaux wines (or wines styled after Bordeaux) and the associated dark red color that’s also used to describe anything from nail polish to yarn.
I couldn’t find a direct connection between “claret” and the Clairette grape, but perhaps Clairette—a white wine grape—is also related to the Middle French and Latin variations of “clear” or “light-colored” wine.
VINO NOBILE di MONTEPULCIANO
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is a red wine with Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita status produced in the vineyards surrounding the town of Montepulciano, Italy. The wine is made primarily from the Sangiovese grape varietal (known locally as Prugnolo gentile) (minimum 70%), blended with Canaiolo Nero (10%–20%) and small amounts of other local varieties such as Mammolo. The wine is aged in oak barrels for 2 years; three years if it is a riserva. The wine should not be confused with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a red wine made from the Montepulciano grape in the Abruzzo region of east-central Italy.
In a document dated 789, quoted by Emanuele Repetti in “Dizionario Geografico Fisico Storico della Toscana”, the cleric Arnipert offers to the Church of San Silvestro in Lanciniano (Amiata area), a farmland and a vineyard located in the Castello di Policiano; in another document of 17 October 1350, also mentioned by Repetti, you lay down the terms for trade and export of a wine produced in Montepulciano’s area.
In 1685 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is also mentioned by the poet Francesco Redi, who, in addition to praising the work Bacchus in Tuscany (Montepulciano is the king of every wines!), wrote an ode to Count Federico Veterani dedicated exclusively to praise of the qualities of this wine.
The name Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was invented by Adamo Fanetti. Until 1930 and beyond, the wine was officially called “Vino rosso scelto di Montepulciano ” but Adamo called his wine “nobile” (noble). In 1925, Adamo Fanetti produced about 30 tons of Nobile, all bottled and sold to two IT Lire a bottle and had great appreciation. The increased success was at the first trade show of the wines held in Siena in 1931, organized by Ente Mostra-Mercato Nazionale dei Vini Tipici e Pregiati, when Mr. Tancredi Biondi-Santi, a friend and admirer of Adamo Fanetti, said this prophetic phrase: “this wine will have a future”. Fanetti must be considered the first producer of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. ‘Cantine Fanetti’ has promoted Vino Nobile di Montepulciano all over the world in the years following World War I, and in the years of “economic miracle” after World War II. Other companies, which until that date had produced mostly Chianti, followed the Adamo’s example and in 1937 founded a ‘Cantina Sociale’ (Vecchia Cantina di Montepulciano) with the intention of creating a structure for the marketing of wine produced even by small farmers.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a French wine Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) located around the village of Châteauneuf-du-Papein the Rhône wine region in southeastern France. It is one of the most renowned appellations of the southern part of the Rhône Valley. Vineyards are located around Châteauneuf-du-Pape and in the neighboring villages Bédarrides, Courthézon and Sorgues between Avignon and Orange and cover slightly more than 3,200 hectares or 7,900 acres (32 km2). Over 110,000 hectolitres of wine a year are produced here. More wine is made in this one area of southern Rhône than in the entirety of the northern Rhône region.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape roughly translates to “The Pope’s new castle” and, indeed, the history of this appellation is firmly entwined with papal history. In 1308, Pope Clement V, former Archbishop of Bordeaux, relocated the papacy to the town of Avignon. Clement V and subsequent “Avignon Popes” were said to be great lovers of Burgundy wines and did much to promote it during the seventy-year duration of the Avignon Papacy. At the time, wine-growing around the town of Avignon was anything but illustrious. While the Avignon Papacy did much to advance the reputation of Burgundy wines, they were also promoting viticulture of the surrounding area, more specifically the area 5-10 km north of Avignon close to the banks of the Rhône River. Prior to the Avignon Papacy, viticulture of that area had been initiated and maintained by the Bishops of Avignon, largely for local consumption.
Clement V was succeeded by John XXII who, as well as Burgundy wine, regularly drank the wines from the vineyards to the north and did much to improve viticultural practices there. Under John XXII, the wines of this area came to be known as “Vin du Pape”, this term later to become Châteauneuf-du-Pape. John XXII is also responsible for erecting the famous castle which stands as a symbol for the appellation.
In the 18th century, the wines were shipped under the name vin d’Avignon. Records from the early 19th century mention wines of the name Châteauneuf-du-Pape-Calcernier which seems to have been a lighter-style wine than the Châteauneuf-du-Pape of today. They seem to have increased in reputation within France until phylloxera hit in the early 1870s, which was earlier than most other French wine regions were affected. Prior to World War I the bulk of Châteauneuf-du-Pape was sold to Burgundy as vin de médecine to be added to Burgundy wine to boost the strength and alcohol levels.
“What has not changed through history is the romance associated with wine. It may well be that the historic accounts and anecdotes of great and memorable wines have more to do with the event at which the wine was served than with the wine itself. Nevertheless, it remains true that a fine bottle of wine makes a grand meal even grander, and many a simply picnic has become an unforgettable meal in the company of even the simplest of wine. It seems that nothing will change the fact that good wine can magnify the pleasure we find in good food and good company. This seemingly common-place piece of knowledge appears to have been at least readily accepted if not understood by our forebears.” Joe
“All The Best With Wine & Life”
Turin Torino, pronounced [toˈriːno] is a city and an important business and cultural center in northern Italy, capital of the Piedmont region, located mainly on the left bank of the Po River, in front of Susa Valley and surrounded by the western Alpine arch. The population of the city proper is 911,823 (December 2012) while the population of the urban area is estimated by Eurostat to be 1.7 million inhabitants.
The city has a rich culture and history, and is known for its numerous art galleries, restaurants, churches, palaces, opera houses, piazzas, parks, gardens, theatres, libraries, museums and other venues. Turin is well known for its renaissance, baroque, rococo, neo-classical, and art nouveau architecture.
Much of the city’s public squares, castles, gardens and elegant palazzi such as Palazzo Madama, were built in the 16th and 18th century, after the capital of the Duchy of Savoy (later Kingdom of Sardinia) was moved to Turin from Chambery (nowadays France) as part of the urban expansion.
Turin is sometimes called the cradle of Italian liberty, for having been the birthplace and home of notable politicians and people who contributed to the Risorgimento, such as Cavour. The city currently hosts some of Italy’s best universities, colleges, academies, lycea and gymnasia, such as the six-century-old University of Turin and the Turin Polytechnic. Prestigious and important museums, such as the Museo Egizio and the Mole Antonelliana are also found in the city. Turin’s several monuments and sights make it one of the world’s top 250 tourist destinations, and the tenth most visited city in Italy in 2008.
The city used to be a major European political center, being Italy’s first capital city in 1861 and being home to the House of Savoy, Italy’s royal family. Even though much of its political significance and importance had been lost by World War II, it became a major European crossroad for industry, commerce and trade, and currently is one of Italy’s main industrial centers, being part of the famous “industrial triangle“, along with Milan and Genoa. Turin is ranked third in Italy, after Milan and Rome, for economic strength. With a GDP of $58 billion, Turin is the world’s 78th richest city by purchasing power. Turin is also home too much of the Italian automotive industry.
Piemonte, in the far north-west of Italy, enjoys an unrivaled seat among the world’s very finest wine regions. It is the home of more DOCG wines than any other Italian region, among them such well-known and respected names as Barolo, Barbaresco, and Barbera d’Asti. Although famous for its austere, tannic red wines made from Nebbiolo, Piedmont’s greatest success story in the past decade has been sweet, white, sparkling Moscato d’Asti.
Piedmont sits at the foot of the Western Alps – the name Piemonte means ‘the foot of the mountains’ – which encircle its northern and western sides and forms its naturally formidable border with Provence, France. To its southeast lie the northernmost Apennine Mountains. These low coastal hills divide Piedmont from its long, thin neighbor Liguria, and the Mediterranean Sea beyond.
Piedmont: ‘at the foot of the mountains’
The Alps and Apennines are great significance here, in various ways. They are largely responsible for the region’s favorable climate, and for many centuries provided a certain level of protection from invasion. It wasn’t until the region’s mountain defenses were successfully breached (first by the Romans, then repeatedly by the French) that advanced oenology finally arrived here. The introduction and regular updating of foreign winemaking technologies is one of the main reasons that Piedmont remains so viticulturally advanced compared to other Italian regions. The region’s proximity to France also plays a part in this.
Piedmont is often described as the ‘Burgundy’ of Italy, a reputation due to its many small-scale, family wineries and a focus on quality which sometimes borders on obsession. What Burgundy does with Pinot Noir, Piedmont does with Nebbiolo – not the region’s most widely planted grape, but the one which has made the largest contribution to the quality and reputation of its wine. Nebbiolo grapes are behind four of Piedmont’s DOCGs: Barolo and Barbaresco (two of Italy’s finest reds), Roero and Gattinara. Nebbiolo wines are known for their ‘tar and roses’ bouquet, and the pronounced tannins which can make them unapproachable in their youth but underwrite their excellent cellaring potential. The grape is known as Spanna in the north and east of Piedmont, and is used in at least ten local DOCs including Carema, Fara and Nebbiolo d’Alba.
Barbera, a dark-skinned variety from the Monferrato hills, is Piedmont’s workhorse grape and the region’s most widely planted variety. It is long been used to make everyday wines under a number of DOC titles, but is now behind a growing number of superlative wines. Piedmont’s best Barberas are sold under the Barbera del Monferrato, Barbera d’Asti or Barbera d’Alba titles. These are classically Italian in style: tangy, sour-cherry-scented reds with good acidity and moderate complexity. Less astringently tannic than their Nebbiolo-based counterparts, Barbera wines are enjoyable (and marketable) within just a year or two of vintage, giving them a competitive edge in today’s fast-paced, impatient wine market. This has made Barbera popular with both wineries and consumers.
The third red grape of Piedmont is Dolcetto. It has several DOCs devoted exclusively to it: Dolcettos d’Alba, d’Acqui and di Ovada are the top three. Although its name means ‘little sweet one’, Dolcetto is usually used to make dry red wines with an appetizing, gently bitter finish. Unfortunately, the care and attention lavished on Nebbiolo and Barbera too often leave their poor cousin Dolcetto lacking refinement and complexity.
Brachetto is also worthy of mention, not least for its role in the sweet, sparkling reds of the Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG. So too is Freisa, with its broad portfolio of sweet, dry, still and sparkling red wines made in Asti and Chieri.
Although Piedmont is known as a red-wine region, it produces several well regarded white wine styles. The most obvious (in every sense) are crowd-pleasing Moscato d’Asti and its less-ambitious cousin Asti Spumante. Both of these are made from Moscato grapes grown around the town of Asti, but there is a key distinction: Moscato d’Asti is sweeter, more lightly sparkling and generally of higher quality.
Much less frivolous than the sparkling whites of Asti is Gavi, the Piedmont white of the connoisseur. This is made from Cortese, a variety which struggles to produce wines of any aromatic complexity anywhere else, and is now facing serious competition from the alluringly aromatic Arneis. Although not as prestigious as the whites above, Arneis, the best of which comes from Roero, is increasingly popular for its delicate, exotic perfume. A final white worthy of mention is local obscurity Erbaluce (of Erbaluce di Caluso), which has naturally benefitted from the 300% increase in Piedmont’s white-wine production over the past three decades.
With more DOCGs and DOCs than any other Italian region, and about 40% of its wine produced at DOC/G level, Piedmont is challenged only by Veneto and Tuscany for the top spot among Italian wine regions. It is a region which has identified its star grapes, while continuing to experiment with new varieties in the background. Viognier has been trialed by at least one well-respected winery, and the ever-successful Chardonnay is also present in many Piedmont vineyards. Although secure for now, over the next decade Piedmont will be exposed to increasing competition from other Italian wine regions seeking to usurp its crown.
Any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me
The Ginger Man
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The Ginger Man Blog
- The Ginger Man Presents: Primitivo / Zinfandel January 2, 2017
- Yalumba November 28, 2016
- The Ginger Man Presents WINES WITH ALTITUDE October 30, 2016
- Vegetarian – “Do they actually taste better?” (With wine that is…☺) August 14, 2016
- Siena, Toscana July 20, 2016
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