Wine by and for the people – Cavit and Mezzacorona, the cooperatives of Trentino
Wine cooperatives are a brilliant solution for areas like Trentino or neighbouring Alto Adige. Here arable land of any sort is scarce as the majestic Dolomites leave only the river plain and the lower slopes available. Most of the plain is taken up with large-scale apple growing. But ordinary families still have their small plots of land on which they can grow grapes. These weekend/evening grape growers have an average holding of less than one hectare. The choice, therefore, is to make wine for family and friends or to sell the grapes to a larger producer, often a cooperative. The latter can then invest in new equipment, professionally trained viticulturalists who can advise growers, winemakers and marketing and selling. This is an excellent model, especially if the cooperative sets high standards and challenges/incentivises the growers to grow quality fruit.Mezzacorona (in the town of Mezzocorona) and Cavit (south of Trento) both provide exactly this sort of service to their growers – and just as important to their customers. These are big concerns. Mezzacorona has 1,600 growers, while Cavit, a consortium of 10 wineries, has 4,500 growers farming 5,500 ha of vine. It produces 60% of the entire region’s wine. (There are smaller cooperatives as well.) These companies produce large volumes of technically correct wines at moderate prices, as well as high-quality wines at very reasonable prices. I was fortunate to taste the latter during visits in late November 2017 and had the bonus of brilliant late autumn weather. Here is a selection of some of the wines tasted. The sparkling wines will appear here (link to follow).
Cavit offers a well-balanced palette of both international varieties and local specialities. It is not surprising that Pinot Grigio (for the Italian and international markets) and Chardonnay (for the home market and parts of Europe) dominate in terms of pure volume. But they also grow white Nosiola (one for aficionados of rare Italian varieties), Müller Thurgau, Pinot Nero and, of course, red Teroldego, the local hero here. The wines are super clean, with precise ripe fruit (yellow apple in the Chardonnay, a touch closer to peach in the Müller, lightly nutty in the Nosiola), signature fresh acidity and the whites often aged in stainless steel, not oak.
Nosiola DOC Trentino, 2016, from the Bottega Vinai line, made from the fruit of old vine Nosiola: a very subtle aromatic nose with a touch of peach and hazelnut (from which it probably gets its name), well balanced, worth a try if you are in the area.
Rulendis, Pinot Grigio DOC Trentino Superiore 2016, from the Trentini Superiori line: grown in the best-selected vineyards, all above mostly 500-600m of altitude which is rare for this variety, picked three weeks later than lower grown fruit here at just four tons/hectare (extremely low yield; the regulations allow for 10tons/ha), after fermentation the wine remains on the lees for 9 months. The resulting wine shows a level of melon and pear concentration which few Italian Pinot Grigio’s show, plus a smoky, tobacco note. Impressive. UK retail about £15.
Brusafer, Pinot Nero, Trentino DOC, 2015 from the Trentini Superiori line. The fruit here comes from two vineyards and one third is whole bunch and the rest is destemmed but whole berries are retained. Fermentation temperatures are low, 25ºC, to retain fruit esters. The wine aged for 18 months in tonneaux, one-third new. Delicious, raspberry and red plum-fruited wine with an elegant tannic structure. The wood is well handled as is well covered by the fruit.
Teroldego Rotaliano DOC 2015 from the Bottega Vinai line. Teroldego is Trentino’s signature black grape variety. It is related to Lagrein and Marzemino, all natives of northeast Italy and they are all related to Syrah. They make deeply coloured, plummy, moderately tannic wines with a full, lush texture. From 30-50-year-old vines, some whole berries in the ferment, 10 days on the skins, 50% aged in used barrels. Cavit also makes a Riserva wine from much older vines which is given more new oak but I think the basic wine is much more typical and shows what Teroldego does well: rich colour, floral and plummy fruit, great drinkability.
I concentrated on the Rotari-branded sparkling wines at Mezzacorona but did taste two of the higher quality wines, a Pinot Grigio Reserva (see below) and their flagship Castel Firmian Teroldego Rotaliano DOCG Reserva which I found densely fruited but over oaky. This last wine is remarkable value – the 2013 is currently available for a staggeringly low price of £8.25 from the Wine Society. And has probably got over its oak by now.
Pinot Grigio Trentino DOC Riserva 2015, 13% – Trentino’s quality advantage over the Veneto is the cooler conditions and the resulting picking date two weeks later than on the plain. Cooler nights mean that the skins thicken and so can withstand longer on the vine, building up flavour intensity – not a phrase you can often use of Pinot Grigio in Italy. This example was honeyed in youth with a ripe melon fruit. There is a touch of savoury richness too, probably due to the fact that 60% is fermented and aged in 3-4-year-old barrels. This is a lovely wine, hailing from 200-400m of altitude above Lake Garda: great view too!With thanks to Vini del Trentino for their support for this trip.
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