Stefano Inama: Soave and much more
Stefano Inama‘s wines are pretty well known in the UK, partly through their high quality and partly through the tireless work of his importer, Michael Palij MW. This is a partnership of 22 years standing. But it is only when you meet him in person that you realise what an enormous enthusiasm Inama has for the wines of Soave – and well beyond. What led him to plant Sauvignon Blanc in one of Soave’s most famous vineyards … or indeed to champion Carmènere in an unknown nearby denomination? Or a decade later to enter into a joint venture to make wine in Abruzzo? A visit in July 2017 threw a lot of light on this great producer.
The Soave challenge
The challenge for any Soave producer is the double-edged sword of the reputation of Soave. On the hand it is a well-known name and easy to pronounce. On the other hand it has a reputation for being a dull wine, an old-fashioned restaurant classic: it won’t offend anyone. In a way it was the Pinot Grigio of its era but its era in the spotlight has long passed, even if the wines continue to sell. As a result top quality Soave is principally sold on the producer’s name, not the appellation.
Inama’s response to this was multi-layered. First, produce outstanding Soave so that his became one of the ‘names that sell’. Secondly, he decided to plant Sauvignon Blanc in the Foscarino vineyard, a hill-top site of enormous quality for the Garganega variety, the principal variety in Soave. This was very controversial – a bit like planting Garganega in a prime vineyard in Meursault! But he is quite clear that he did it because of the poor reputation of much Soave. He wanted to make a point about the quality of the site.
Carmènere in the Colli Berici anyone?
One of Italy’s challenges is the sheer number of DOCs and other sites with great potential. Clearly visible from the hills of Soave Classico is another range of hills in which Bordeaux blends have been grown for decades. These wines are consumed locally, but the potential for quality is there. The nearest city is Vicenza and as a result, the Colli Berici are studded with sublime villas designed by Andrea Palladio (1508-80). As a result, the potential for wine and cultural tourism is great, but sadly no one has heard of the Colli Berici. However, this has not stopped Inama making some of the world’s best Carmenère-based wines from fruit grown in these hills. As mentioned has also entered a partnership to make wine in Abruzzo under the Binomio label. There is no narrow parochialism here!
Let’s hear it for the workers
My visit was in early July and therefore full summer. Below us, privileged visitors, were a group of Inama’s workers, attending to the newly planted Garganega vineyard in Foscarino. However idyllic the setting there is no getting away from the amount of repetitive, manual work that is required in a vineyard. Some of the workers were filling up the spraying tank before taking it out in the fields, others were working with their hands. Inama is at his most engaged and enthusiastic when he talks about them. We see the men work with the roncolo, the pruning knife which has not changed for generations and with larger hand tools. As Inama says, without their great work we could do nothing at all, there would be no great wine. And yet no one writes about them or their contribution. He particularly singles out the work of the longterm team of Punjabi workers. When people go on about immigrants he says, they have no idea that we are completely dependent on their immense labour.
Back in the quiet and air-conditioned comfort of the winery’s tasting room, we enjoy the fruit of others’ labour:
Vin Soave, Soave Classico DOC, 2016, 12% – Inama describes the style as ‘modern ancestral’ referring to the older practice of skin maceration which made it easier to release the juice from the grapes before modern presses where available. Here the maceration is overnight at 12-16ºC, followed by a moderate fermentation temperature, under 18ºC. He uses selected yeasts for a clean, neutral outcome which allows the delicacy of the fruit to shine. The wine is aged in stainless steel on fine lees for 8 months.
This is a wine I could get very excited about. Of course, the single-vineyard wines are more complex, weightier and worth ageing. But this wine which is 50% of the total production is a true ‘small luxury for every day’. It is remarkably complex on the nose with floral, slightly tropical and salty notes, a taut restrained palate, fine ripe acidity, absolutely delicious at this level. About £11 in the UK, can be £8.50 with discounts.
The two crus, Vigneti di Foscarino (fermented in used barriques) and Vigneto du Lot (small single vineyard on the Monte Foscarino, ferment in barriques, 30% new) were both from the 2015 vintage and perhaps won’t have the same capacity to age that better years might offer. The former was hit by hail in August with a big loss. On this occasion, I preferred the richness of the latter with its tropical touch plus vanilla/ cinnamon from the new oak, with excellent concentration. Vulcaia Fumé 2015 is inspired by good, old-fashioned top quality Californian Sauvignon Blanc. It comes from a selection of the best Sauvignon in the prestigious Garganega vineyard and is fermented in high-toast barrels, 30% new. Again the oak works well with the defined mango and lime fruit. (There is an unoaked Sauvignon too.)
Of the reds, by far the most interesting are the two Carmenère-based wines. However, the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva, Binomio, 2013, 14.5% from the low-yielding ‘Asia’ clone also deserves a mention for its outstanding depth of fruit. The introduction to the variety that Inama has championed is Carmenère Più 2014, 13.5%, a blend of the named grape with 30% Merlot. Back at the end of the 1990s Stefano Inama wanted to develop a great red wine which wasn’t Amarone. From the varieties grown in the nearby Berici hills, he chose to go with Carmenère having fallen in love with its quality potential. It has been a struggle to promote but that wouldn’t stop Inama. This is a stylish, savoury red-fruited wine. It has a slight herbaceous touch but, even in a cool year like 2014, nothing like some Chilean examples. Oratorio di San Lorenzo, Collio Berici Riserva 2013, 13.5% is much grander wine and reflects the best site, the upper part of the vineyard, which is hot and has good day/night temperature variation too. It is only made in the best years. The wine is aged for 18 months in barriques (50% new, 50% one-year-old), plus a year in bottle. The Oratorio has a real aromatic lift, dark plummy fruit, a lovely balsamic note, fine creamy oak and a svelte tannic structure. I can’t say I have tasted many top Carmenère bottles but this has to be up with the best.
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