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Friday, March 13, 2015

Northern Italy

NORTHERN ITALY

Weird right?  In France we went region by region, and the France we know is hardly a modern concept.  French people are likely to tell you they are from France.  They will not tell you they are from Burgundy. 

Italy is different.  The concept of a united Italy is a VERY modern concept.  Italy was a collection of smaller nation states until 1861.  Yet, we talk about Italy and their wine making collectively.  Why?  Well, that is because it is not France.  Just like we will likely talk about the USA and their wine making as a collective.  More to come on that when I am in a class on NEW WORLD WINES.  That will not be until next semester.

Now back to Northern Italy.  When I talk about Northern Italy, we are talking about the area surrounding Piemont.  This includes Liguria (Cinque  Terra), the Acosta Valley, Lombardy, Trentino-South Tyrol, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna.  Note that I will make an arbitrary cutoff and say that Tuscany is part of central Italy.  Why?  Because my teacher said so.  Note the word arbitrary.  

Today's class had two remarkable discoveries.  First, I STILL LOVE Nebbiolo.  It is yummy.  Second and perhaps more remarkable, there is a wine region in Italy called Soave.  If you do not know it, you should.  Mostly because it will save you a lot of money.  It is a rare bargain in the wine business of an age-worthy WHITE wine with great almond, vanilla, peach and wood.  Similar in a lot of ways to Burgundy but at a fraction of the price.  I will say more later.

First Piedmont.  Most of the wines produced here are either DOC or DOCG.  Remember, it is only special if not everyone has the designation.  Piedmont is home to Nebbiolo.  It flourishes here.  With two wines, not just one.  The first is Barolo.  A manly, wine with lots of tannins.  It is grown in a rocky soil.  The Italians will tell you that grapes grown in hard soil produce manly wines, while grapes grown in soft soil produce softer wines.  Barbaresco, also made from Nebbiolo is grown in sandy soft soils.  In a lot of ways Barbaresco is Barolo's softer sister.  She is approachable, drinkable today, and is really fun to be around.  On the other hand, Barolo is the gruff older brother.  He can be harsh when he is young.  But with a bit of age, he is mellow and also a lot of fun to be with.  Barolo must be aged 3 years, and Barbaresco only 2.

Be careful if you buy a Barolo.  THIS IS IMPORTANT because there are two types of Barolo wines.  The ones made in a modern style, and those made more traditionally.  Why did i say IMPORTANT.  Lets say you want to drink your wine today, and you are making some great steaks for your friends who are coming to dinner.  You buy a traditional Barolo at the store, and you take it home.  SURPRISE.  That wine will not be drinkable, much less be good for at least 10 years.  A big Tannin BOMB.  Teeth shrinking in their sockets, not enjoyable tannin bomb.  If it was 10 years old, you might be able to drink it, but it will not be for another 10 years that it will be FANTASTIC.

Now, lets say that you bought the same vintage from a modern producer.  He/She has realized that a profit is important, and that people don't have the space or the desire to cellar wines for eons.  Therefore, the modernist has figured out that spending less time on the skins and aging in smaller barrels leads to more approachable wines that are drinkable and enjoyable sooner.  Ahhh, this is what you were after.   Regardless, Barolo is considered to be one of Italy's most cellar worthy, best wines.  The wines that are modern in style and therefore approachable earlier on include:

Ceretto, Paolo Cordero di Montezemolo, Elio Altare, and Renato Ratti

In more recent years the line between the two has blurred with both sides taking the best from what the other has to offer.


Barolo is produced predominantly in 5 areas.  The further south, the softer the soil, and the softer the wine.  They are as follows:
  • Barolo (Softer wines)-Tortonian Soil
  • Castiglione Falletto
  • La Morra  (Softer wines)- Tortonian soil
  • Monforte d'Alba
  • Serralunga d'Alba 
Some of the best wines from Barolo include Canubi, Brunate, and Samassa, in La Morra Brunate, Cerequio, Le Rocche.  Serralunga d'alba has producers Lazzarito and cerretta, Castiglione Falletto has Rocche, Monprivato, Villero and Bricco Fiasco, and finally Monforte d' Alba has Bussia, Ginestra, and Santo Stefano.

Barbaresco is broken into 3 communes, Barbaresco which has top Crus Asili, Roncagliette, Martinenga, and Rabaja.  Neive which has Serraboella, Gallina, and Basarin, and finally Treiso producing crus in Pajore, and Bricco di Treiso.

Other wines that are produced in Piedmont include Dolcetto (Little sweet one) which is usually dry despite the name, and Barbara (3rd most commonly planted grape in Italy) perhaps the most under-rated approachable wine of the bunch.  The beautiful soft tannins and acid make Barbara a perfect pairing with most meals.  You can also find Asti Spumante here, but why would you want to?  Cortese,  a white grape can be found in a white wine called Gavi, and another white grape called Arneis. There has also been a push since the 1980s to grow more experimental varieties here as well.  They are vast and not traditional Italian grapes like Syrah, Cab and many others.

Roero DOCG produces reds also from Nebbiolo, but is most known for a floral white from the Arneis grape Gattinara and Ghemme also produce wines from Nebbiolo but they blend Vespolina and Bonarda to get a wine called Spana.  It is lighter and more acid focused then its Nebbiolo cousins.Lessona and Sizzano also produce Nebbiolo based red blends.Barbera d' Asti and Barbera del Monferrato produce Barberra in the Monferrato hills east of the Barolo country.  Barbara d'asti is released after just 4 months of aging, however, Monferato must spend 14 months aging with six months being spent in wood prior to release.

Dolcetto is produced in 3 DOCGs including Dogliani, Dolcetto di Ovada and Dolcetto di diano d' Alba.  All Dolcetto must be aged for a minimum of one year.  In Ovada, the wines must be highr in alcohol to qualify for DOCG, but the others benefit from the status just by being.

Gavi is also a DOCG.  Made from the Cortese grape it is usually still but can be found in slightly fizzy forms as well.

Others include a sweet wine called Brachetto d'Acqui, Asti (From Moscato), Alta Langa (Champagne like from Pinot Noir and Chardonay), Brachetto d'Acqui (Sparkling red), Freisa (Red similar to Nebbiolo), A favorite of mine Grignolino (light red with great acid and pepper), and Moscato d' asti (Lightly sparkling).  As you can tell, Italians will make wine out of just about anything.  Sparkling, still, sweet, dry, red white, and rose.  In Italy, wine is life, and life is wine... or at least it is food, which needs the wine to go down.

North of Peidmont is the Valle d' Aosta DOC.  This is a region that sits furthest North in Italy.  It has few people, it makes less wine than any other region in the country, and it has a continental climate with cold winters and hot summers.  Top wines produced are Blanc de Morgex.  These are cool grapes because they are still on un-grafted rootstock and have never been impacted by phylloxera probably due to the elevation and seclusion they enjoy.  Enfer d' Arvier made from petit rouge grapes with others blended in.  It is a medium body wine with racy red fruits.  Similar to a Beaujolais with an Italian ZIP.

Lombardy is next.  Most known for their sparkling wines, Lombardy is also the state that contains Milan.  Fashion conscious, wealthy business people have quite a thirst for their wines, but ironically, the wine making regions are far from the city capital.  Lombardy has 5 DOCGs including Franciacorta, Oltrepo Pavese metodo Classico, Valtellina Superiore, Sforzato di Vatellina, and Moscato di Scanzo.  There are also 4 DOCs.  More on that later.

Franciacorta makes sparkling wine by the traditional method.  These wines are Champagne like and produced using Chardonay, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Bianco.  The aging on these sparklers is amazing.  NV wines must be aged for 18 months, while vintage must get 67 months of aging with 5 years spent on their lees.  Pink versions must be aged a minimum of 37 months.

Oltrepo Pavese Metodo Classico produces classic Champagne style wine from Pinot Nero (70% min), and if they have at least 85% Pinot Nero, they can be labeled Pinot Nero (Same as Pinot Noir).  NV must spend 15 months on the lees, while vintage must spend 2 years.

Valtellina is the most important of Lombardy's red wine making zones.  Again, the star is Nebbiolo, but unlike it's neighbor in Piedmont, these wines are lighter in style.  In the region, Nebbiolo is known as Chiavennasca. Valtellina Superiore is a higher version of the Valtellina and must be aged for a minimum of 2 years with 1 year in cask, and 3 years if a Riserva wine.  Finally Valtellina Sforzato is produced from dry grapes like Amarone.

Other wines from the Lombardy region include Botticino (Red blend), Barbera, Bonarda Piemontese, Butafuoco, Cortese, Trebbiano, Trebbiano di Soave, Lambrusco (Sparkling red),

Liguria is the state that holds the idyllic vacations spot know as the Cinque Terre.  Beautiful cliffs overlook the ocean.  Here the vineyards are planted on extremely steep slopes and have beautiful views of the ocean.  All grapes must be picked by hand.  The grapes benefit from sea spray.  These wines are good, but they are expensive.  Mataossu is similar to Vermentino.  It has racy snappy acid with a layer of peach/orange Popsicle.  It pairs perfectly with lighter fish so frequently enjoyed in the region.  Rossese di Dolceacqua is a pale cherry color with a pink rim.  Floral accents with wood get a berry fruit and a vegital finish.  Minerals and acid make this a great wine to drink with food.Vermention is a white wine with great acid and freshness.  These wines are very aromatic.

Emilia Romagna is the home to lots of famous Italian things including Ferrari, Lamborghini, Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, and Moderna Balsamic vinegar.Unfortunately, their wines are far less interesting.  Such a let down after that set up...No?

Lambrusco is the most interesting wine produced in that it is a red sparkler that pairs well with the dried meats of the area.  Lambrusco rose is a newer take on this wine and is gaining popularity.  Albana di Romagna, a white that comes in all levels of sweetness from dry to sweet.

North is a dual town that really is two towns in every way.  Trention-Alto Adige/Sudtirol.  In this community there are 7 DOCs including Caldaro, Casteller, Teroldego Rotaliano, Trentino, Trendo, Valdadige, and Alto Adige.  The town of Trentino is found to the south of its sister.  Trentino is mostly Italian speaking, while its sister town Alto Adige speaks German.  Wines produced here can be from a number of grapes including Chardonay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Muller-Thurgau, and Sauv Blanc in the whites, and Gewurztraminer (Which may be from here originally).  The town is well known for its white wines, however reds are produced here as well.

Schiava is the predominant red grape.  This grape may be combined with Lambrusco, Merlot, and others to provide blends.  Lagrein is another red that is denser and spicier then Schiava.  Teroldego is also a red grown in the region.Often described as a cross between a Beaujolais cru and a Chianti.

Vento is next on the list.  It is at the base of Italy's Butt (Boot reference).  Veneto houses it's capital city of Venice.  It rpoduces more wine than any other region of Italy.  this is LARGELY a low quality, High YEILD area.the most important wine from the region is Amarone della Valpolicella.  Made from raisins, this wine grabs great complexity and high alcohol content.  the wine is made from Corvina blended with Rondinella.  Other grapes may be used as well.  Appassimento is a higher order of Amarone in which it ages for an additional 2 years prior to release.  It may also get the label of Riserva if it sits and ages for 4 years.

Made from the same grapes is Valpolicella Classico.  this has had a long history of being Meh wine.  Yep technical term in the wine industry.  Valpolicella comes in Classico and Ripasso, a technique in which they take the Amarone skins and soak them in the Valpolicella to get greater depth, and Appassimento.

Bardolino lies between Valpolicella and the shores of Lake Garda.  Corvina and Rondinella grapes dominate and they are slightly lighter then Valpolicella.  Rose exists as well as Bardolino Chiaretto.

Perhaps the BIGGEST SURPRISE (PAY ATTENTION cause it will bring cheap pleasure).  Soave is the principal and most important wine in the Veneto.  These wines are primarily made from the Garganega grape.  (FUN TO SAY)  Soave may also use Trebbiano di Soave and Chardonay as well.  The expanse of the DOC has been ridiculed in the area, but the DOCGs (Recioto di Soave, and Soave Superiore make some great wines.  Soave Superiore is aged for at least one year and may be called Reserva with two years of aging.  We had one in class that tasted similar to a white Burgundy with great complexity, and it elevated and changed over the evening in the glass.  Note some of the extensions of the DOC have marred the reputation of the wine for good reason, but the wines in this region that are good, are GREAT.  A recommendation includes VIGNETO DU LOT SOAVE CLASSICO.  it retails for 20 dollars and has a flavor and complexity far beyond that price.  Gambellara and Breganze Torcolato make similar wines to Soave.

Prosecco is made in the region in all sweetness levels and can be a very refreshing wine.  Look for ones that are dry or off dry.  There are two DOCGs   Conegliano Valdobbiadene, and the more obscure Asolo Prosecco.

In closing, Italy is a charming, beautiful place, with beautiful food, beautiful people, and a beautiful culture.  Wine is an accent to be paired with the food.  One thing I have noticed over the years, is Italian wine is tough to sip.  Without food, the wines of Italy are like pasta without sauce.  Eat well and drink well.





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