Posts Tagged ‘Torrevento’
Andover Wine Friends’ January tasting gave the opportunity to review the stirrings of a quiet revolution going on in the heel of Italy. Puglia’s recent history – to add to the waves of foreign overloads going back to Greek times – has been of a reduction of the huge production, overproduction, of the 1980s (13 million hectolitres per year) down by half to seven million by 2005. This tidal wave of wine went into the vermouth industry, cheap red blends or had to be distilled to prevent the European wine lake bursting its banks. Even the so-called quality wine legislation allowed ridiculously high yields – 100-120 hectolitres per hectare on the vast plain of northern Puglia producing characterless wines, a better 63 hl/ha on the Salento peninsula. But alongside this obsession with quantity, the last 25 years has seen a focus on quality. The big cooperatives, the large private firms (both typical of Puglia) and the small number of small to medium sized quality producer-growers have all produced high quality lines at very reasonable prices.
If you step back from the history of bulk wine production in Puglia, this is hardly surprising. The region has a warm to hot Mediterranean climate, with the extremes of heat being moderated by the effect of the sea or altitude. The Salento peninsula is surrounded by sea on three sides. The Murge is a calcareous plateau with 450-500m of altitude. The region receives around 700mm of rain a year but nearly all of that is in autumn and winter, leaving a long, dry growing season. Drying winds further help to keep vines healthy. The soil is basically limestone – always a promising start for quality production – with a mixture of iron oxide. Land is relatively cheap and thus attracts inward investment from quality minded growers. Finally, while many of the alberello bush vines have been grubbed up in the name of progress and EU subsidies, many remain and, as they age and yields drop further, they are a great source of potential quality for the grower who can work them manually or in a semi-mechanised way. There are many factors which point to the potential for quality in Puglia.
This tasting comprised nine wines, two whites, one rosato and six reds. We started with Alta, Puglia IGT Bianco from Teanum, 2010, which was the test that the Bombino Bianco grape variety, responsible for some very dull wines indeed, can rise to the quality call. Harvesting by hand ensures good selection, while keeping fermentation temperature done to a, by Puglian standards, positively chilly 14°, ensures a clean wine with modest lemon fruit, some structure and refreshing mouth feel; not a bad wine but expensive for what it is in the UK (£8.75) with the rest of the world’s wines to choose from. Much more interesting was the Fiano from Villa Schinosa 2010. This grape variety is quickly gaining ground in Puglia, partly on the back of its great success in Campania across the Apennines. A warm medium lemon in colour, moderately buttery, honey notes, some herbs, good persistence and weight in the mouth, with a almond bitterness to finish. The rosé was a very typical example – medium deep salmon pink in colour, prominent strawberry aromas, some vinous aromatics, concentration on the palate, medium persistence, quite a robust wine intended for food, and good value at £6.75.
On to the reds which of course are the wines the rest of Europe and the world value from Puglia. First a real old favourite: Masseria Monaci’s Eloquenzia, 2007 from Copertino on the Salento peninsula. This is the enologist Severino Garofano’s own estate and features the Negroamaro variety, one of a trio of great red varieties to be found in the region. Medium ruby with hints of ageing, complex bouquet of violets and prune aromas, good fruit and development, balanced and medium plus in length – and all this for £6.95 a bottle, remarkable in terms of the quality/price ratio. We then took a quick detour via an old Puglian variety, Susumaniello, on the point of extinction because of its uncoperative habit of dropping production levels after only 20 years when most varieties will be highly productive for around twice that time. Sum 2007, from Racemi’s Torre Guaceto estate on the Brindisi side of the peninsular. A distinctive floral and bright black cherry to plum nose, bright fruit on the palate, good acidic finish – well worth saving from extinction.
Four excellent, premium reds followed. First a great personal favourite which Janet and I drank regularly on our Puglian trip of last Easter: a single vineyard Nero di Troia wine made by the big company Torrevento: Vigna Pedale 2007. This grape variety is paler and more elegant than the other two main Puglian varieties, giving Puglian reds more diversity of styles than you might imagine. Grown on the high plateau near Castel del Monte, the grapes are late picked for maximum complexity but still only make a wine of 13%. Superbly complex red fruit and oak notes on the nose, subtle red fruit to follow, a lovely savoury character, great balance and length, just under £20 in the UK.
Much better known is Primitivo from the Salento peninsula. We compared two examples from Racemi, who delight in the various soils available to them (black, red, sand) to produce different styles of wine. The simpler example was Sinfarosa 2009: from the red soils (that iron oxide we noted above), which has complex red and black fruit, is medium in weight with soft tannins and good acidity. Only 30-35 hectolitres per hectare, half the resulting wine aged in large barrels, the rest in stainless steel. Most people thought this was a £15 wine – in fact it is £8.95, showing that value again. By contrast there is inky concentration in Dunico 2007, from the Masseria Pepe estate, also run by Racemi, but this time on the sand near the beaches. Great depth of mainly black fruit, earthy notes, small amount of residual sugar, 15.8% alcohol – but well hidden by the fruit and acidity, still very drinkable.
And finally a Puglian cult wine which I had never tasted before as we did not visit Vallone last year. This wine was created by Severino Garofano to put something on the table in Milan and Rome and (especially) Verona at the national trade fair which would change the image of Puglian wine and say: great wines can be made in the far South. The best Negroamaro grapes are selected in the best years only and then, as with Amarone, are dried on graticci, mats, and then made into wine. The result is Graticciaia 2006. Very inviting nose of prunes and sweet, plummy fruit, a broad and luxurious palate, fine balance, very long. This is not a block buster wine – it is a powerful and seductive wine that you want to drink and to savour. A fitting conclusion to an introduction to the quality wines of Puglia.
The May meeting of the blind tasting group was a great evening out … if more chaotic than usual. It wasn’t obvious why. We had the same format: everyone brings a good/interesting bottle, we taste them blind, we get the wrong answer (mainly), we have a fine meal courtesy of the Red Lion, Overton, everyone has a great time and vows to do better next time. Even the photographer, despite spitting all evening, seems to have had an off night and my notes are scrappier than usual. The only excuse I can think of was that, as it happened, we started with a series of near impossible whites, lost motivation and so concentration flagged. But that did not affect the enjoyment one bit … the wines were interesting (on this occasion not all good), the company excellent. Here is a flavour of the evening, summed up perhaps by the first photo.
|Printable suggestions for the nose of this wine included: cabbage, cheese, Waldorf salad, mushroom. By contrast the palate was creamy, medium dry and pleasant. And what was it? Nobody got close to a 15 year old English white: Harborne, High Halden, 1996, a blend of Muller Thurgau and Ortega. ‘Null points’ for deduction.|
|Alsace Grand Cru Zotzenberg, Reifel, 2005 had very neutral nose, a rather crunchy palate and then a rather chemical finish. It doesn’t sound very appetising does it for a Grand Cru wine? The colour looks quite good in the picture, but I fear that is mainly down to the rather gloomy light. The quest for a really good wine made from the Sylvaner grape goes on.|
|This should perhaps have been better, indeed the person who brought it said other bottles were better. Quite attractive sharp apple fruit and some creamy/yeastiness perhaps brought about by stirring the sediment, but then really high and rather untamed acidity. Perhaps it was just to soon to drink Chablis, PC Les Fourneaux, Patrick Piuze, 2008|
|One of the Way/Tomlinson wines kept up the noble tradition of this tasting group of the curve ball: in this case, a white wine made from a little-known red Italian grape. But a very attractive, full bodied white, smooth, with good fruit and acidity: Come d’incanto (‘like a spell’), Cantine Carpentiere, Puglia, Italy, 2008, made entirely from Nero di Troia probably could age successfully.|
|Hurray, finally an easy spot: old Riesling, more fuel aromas than your average petrol station. But was it Old World or New, young or old? This wine split the group – some liked the extreme petrol notes and the lime cordial fruit, very dry on the palate, others didn’t. The Contours, Riesling 1999, Eden Valley, Australia|
|Everyone thought this was Pinot Noir, but then the fun began. Initial thoughts about the New World were overwhelmed by a Côte-de-Beaune, Burgundy, consensus … wrongly. Pretty opulent raspberry and strawberry fruit, taut palate, good finish, a very enjoyable wine. In fact it was Cloudy Bay’s Pinot Noir 2004, so New Zealand and definitely New World. Always stick with your first instinct …|
|Another controversial wine, with started with some wet cardboard and/or farmyardy notes, prompting questions about its soundness. But then a lot of fruit on the palate and quite a lot of tannins. Most thought it was Claret but then opted for the wrong side of the river – this was Right bank, and so predominantly Merlot: Ch. du Tailhas, Pomerol, Bordeaux, 2001|
|Lots of praise for this wine, with its rich palate, and complex pencil shaving, coconut and pepper nose, and well managed finish. But what was it? It seemed rather too rich to be straight Northern Rhône, unless it was very grand and anyway the acidity was lower. But at least we were roughly right: Sotanum, 2004 Les Vins de Vienne, Cuilleron, Gaillard, Villard, Vins de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes – Syrah from the Rhône but the ‘wrong side’ of the river. A pretty grand wine.|
|Claret lovers, do you recognise this label? The wine was superb, perhaps the wine of the evening: cloves and leather to start with, then dense but lively developed fruit, excellent poise, structured and delicious. Ch. Chasse Spleen, Moulis en Médoc, 1986 … a twenty five year old wine in vibrant mid life. If you are going to drink Bordeaux, drink the best you can.|
|Bright red and black fruit, smoke and chocolate notes, we have to be in the New World, with lots of new wood. A much appreciated wine, this turned out to be a pretty complex bend, called appositely, The Blend, Errazuriz, Aconcagua Valley, Chile, 2007: this year’s mix is, as the label says, 45% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Franc, 20% Carmenere, 5% Roussane. The sum is greater than the parts – a very informative label indeed!|
|Again much admiration for this wine and lots of debate. As it was a Way/ Tomlinson offering it was deemed to be Italian, but views varied on whether it was from the South because of the alcohol level and body, or from the North for the fine savoury notes and cherry fruit. Full marks for perception. This was in fact Nero di Troia again (see Come d’incanto above) but in its normal red guise. A very fine example in an over-weight bottle: Vigna Pedale, Castel Monte DOC Riserva, Torrevento, Puglia, 2007. We then reminded the group that we had just had two weeks in Puglia … so it had to be.|
Supposed the final wine, we agreed this was a New World Bordeaux blend of some sort, and most likely Australia. In fact the gorgeous rich fruit notes and lively acidity was Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 1, [vintage], a fine blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot, Malbec and a little Petit Verdot. And sorry, no bottle shot, so we will have just do with the drinkers.
|A bonus bottle, generously offered, just in case there was not enough to taste/ drink … an old Caviste friend, the excellent Rusden Driftsand, a blend of Grenache and Syrah. I can’t help noticing I didn’t take a single note so concentration not high, for obviously pleasurable reasons. Here is to the next meeting.|