Merotto – Il Fondatore, still wine, fine bubbles
Merotto is another big name producing Prosecco Superiore in the hills east of Valdobbiadene, in this case just east of the Cartizze zone. His wines tick all the boxes – fresh fruit notes of pear with a floral touch, soft in the mouth, good slightly almond bitter notes and a drying finish, pleasant and complex. But as is so often the case there are wines of real interest at the top of the range (not surprisingly) and in the curiosities department.
We were shown around the winery by Dino Maule who showed a real enthusiasm for the land and the winery, emphasising the commitment to the steep slope of vines above the winery, to precision with the harvested fruit and quality control at every step along the way. Three wines really stood out for interest – for entirely different reasons:
Cuvée del Fondatore Graziano Merotto, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Rive di San Col Martino DOCG 2010 – is a long name for any bottle of wine but justified on this occasion. The ‘founder’s cuvée’ is the trading name, the rest the quality designation which on this occasion can add the name of the slope (‘rive’) on which it is grown. This wine gets a lot of attention at every point of production: in the vineyard, 20 days before the projected harvest date, one of the two fruit-bearing branches of the vine is cut. This means that all the plant’s energy goes into the remaining branch and its bunches, ensuring maximum ripeness; the other side dries out slightly giving a greater concentration of sugars and remaining acidity. In the winery, the still wine is handled like no other Prosecco – no additional sugar is added on transfer to the autoclave where it spends a very unusual six months (the minimum is one month) at a low-temperature with remuage every 12 hours to get maximum interaction between wine and yeasts, dead and alive. The wine is then clarified and bottled with no less than seven manual interventions required – no least for that real wax seal you can see on the bottle. The wine was marked by very fine floral and fruit notes, followed by the same on the palate with a long mineral finish. Well worth all that trouble!
I cannot pretend that the next wine is a world-beating bottle – but it was illuminating. This was Olchera 2011 – a ‘Prosecco bambino’ as the locals charmingly call it, ie a still wine made from the same Prosecco/ Glera grapes, a simple vino bianco. This we tasted over a really splendid meal at a local restaurant da Gigetto, a generous piece of hospitality on the part of Sig. Merotto which I am keen to acknowledge here. This has wonderful food and one of the greatest cellars you could hope to see – with wines, mostly Italian but French classics too (see Ch. d’Yquem above), to dream about. But back to the simple glass of Glera … this was light, pleasantly perfumed and drinkable, a slight touch of saltiness and lemon on the finish. Perfectly drinkable … and perfectly clear why we would never have heard about the Prosecco grape if the Charmat/ Martinotti second fermentation in the tank method had been invented. Prosecco definitely needs bubbles to stand out from the ordinary.
We will finish with fine bubbles of course – we also drank the Merotto Cartizze Dry (ie sweet) with its fine fruit and contrasting acidity. But the other intriguing wine was Royam 2008, Passito di Prosecco – another interesting thing you can do with the modest Glera grape. This is a honeyed, light and pleasant sweet wine (14% alcohol, 120g residual sugar) made from semi-dried Glera grapes. The word Royam refers to the little ‘torrents’ on the hillside, with a nod to the long-gone Lombard culture. With the Prosecco grape variety, It’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it that counts.
Many thanks to Dino and to Maria Luisa Dalla Costa who did a great job in showing us around and giving us an insight into what drives Sig. Merotto to produce fine wines. And we have to complete the picture with the founder’s grandson at the age of nine playing his part in quality control in the winery – no need for a grand train set when you have a winery to work in! I don’t think we will need to worry about the future of this winery.
PS We loved Dino’s regular custom for drinking wine in the evening: half a glass of sparkling wine as an aperitif (not just Prosecco but from anywhere as it is important to know other people’s wines), one glass of white, two or more glasses of red … sounds very good to me! What a civilised rule.