As Janet and I had been in Piemonte but not got to the Gavi area, we made a bee-line for the home of the Cortese grape at Vinitaly 2010. This massive wine fair allows you to taste some of the real specialities (and peculiarities) of Italy and that includes some little known sparkling wines. Here the focus will be on two little known sparklers, from the Gavi (South East Piemonte) and Franciacorta (Lombardia) areas.
Generally, Gavi has a reputation a bit like Soave – rather a basic, mass-produced white wine, popular in the past with Italian restaurants, with a few good exceptions which only wine buffs know about. La Scolca, or Soldati La Scolca to give it its full name, have always held out for quality and especially for the steep rise in interest which bottle ageing brings to good Gavi. The company has just celebrated 90 years so it clearly has done some things right.
All of La Scolca’s whites are made exclusively from the native Cortese grape. The entry-level Gavi 2009 is a fresh, moderately fruity wine, well made without being very attention-seeking. Gavi di Gavi 2009 must come from the commune of Gavi is not itself a big jump up in quality but is much more persistent in its flavour. By contrast, the selection Gavi di Gavi D’Antan 2000 is a revelation. First of all, it is made from the best grapes in good years only, secondly, it has the benefits of a decade of ageing. It has a pronounced nose of pears and melon fruit, then a strong lime streak. In the mouth, it is quite a big, structured wine, with great persistence. The company has these older bottles to sell, in this case at €35. You can suddenly taste what all the fuss is about.
La Scolca has also made a speciality of sparkling versions of Gavi. The great majority of Italian sparklers are tank-fermented which is a cheaper process and preserves the freshness of the fruit for wines for drinking young. By contrast, La Scolca’s wines are all metodo classico, ie second fermentation in the bottle, like Champagne, and all are from individual vintages. The Metodo Classico 2006 has a honeyed nose with good fruit and fairly modest yeast notes. It has a noticeable bitter finish – highly prized in Italian food and wine but not to everyone’s taste. The Metodo Classico riserva 2002 is a pale straw colour with a green tint and has really benefitted from its seven years on the yeast in the bottle – a much more complex nose, lovely yeasty, patisserie notes followed by plenty of delicious fruit. Better again is the D’Antan riserva 1998, which has spent a full eleven years on the yeasts of the secondary fermentation in its bottle. The nose is yet more sophisticated and the wine is beautifully smooth in the mouth – a real treat.
Brief aside – all wine bottles are difficult to photograph successfully because of the light reflecting off the bottle. But this bulbous shape takes the biscuit. Every single one of my general ‘whole bottle’ shots has my reflection in it – just to prove I was there! Low angle next time.
Finally, we tasted the rosé. True to their own, this is basically white Cortese grapes but with a 5% component of the skins only of Pinot Noir for colour. This starts out as a pale salmon pink and ages to this rather lovely apricot. D’Antan Rosato 1998 shows the influence of even this tiny addition of Pinot Noir with some more (now very rounded out) raspberry fruit, altogether a class act.
Just over one hundred miles North East, the other side of Milan is the Franciacorta area. I was cheered to read in Tom Hyland’s Vinitaly blog that one of the reasons he gives for going to this wine fair is Franciacorta. Where else can you try these quality sparklers, so prized in knowledgeable Italian circles, so unknown elsewhere? Basically the wine comes from a zone in Lombardy, near Brescia, is made from the same grapes as Champagne, by the same method, and costs much the same price. But the style is rather different, no doubt because of the geology plus the warmer weather. There is a market out there for a Champagne-style wine but with richer, more mature fruit, but cracking it will be a huge challenge. In the meantime, it is one to search out.
This time we tasted wines from just two growers, the first of whom makes just one wine. Santus is a new venture between two agronomists who pay tribute to their vine/wine consultant, Alessio Dorigo, who they charmingly describe as rigoroso spumantista! With their ‘precision bubble maker’ the two of them have done a great job in producing something really rather distinctive, in comparison with the fresh, subtle but fruity, sparkling wines, typical of the zone. A key difference is their practice of keeping the grapes on the vines for 10 days or so after full maturity. 10% of the wine has been aged in old barriques and all the wine is kept in its bottles on the lees for 21 months. This produces a wine strawy yellow in colour with a rich, extracted palate and a dry finish. A very promising debut and we look forward to the rosé which will appear in the future.
We then enjoyed the wines of Bredasole, a more typical Franciacorta company with five sparkling wines. These are classic Franciacorta – around two years in the bottles during the second fermentation producing nice yeasty flavours above ripe fruit (Brut 2007). By contrast, the Satèn (2007) style is made from white grapes only (in this case 100% Chardonnay) and has slightly less pressure. It has a delicate nose and lovely subtle fruit. The most ‘serious’ of the five, is Nature 2006, which is a blend of Chardonnay (50%), Pinot Nero (30%) and Pinot Blanc (20%), spends an impressive three years in bottles in the second fermentation stage and has no balancing sugar/alcohol added at the end. The yeast notes are beautiful and pronounced as is the excellent fruit. Two-party pieces follow – a rosé and a medium-dry version. The former – Rosé 2007 – is the palest apricot pink, the product of the freshly pressed grape juice being held with the Pinot Noir skins for just 2-3 hours. Nice raspberry fruit, entirely dry finish. By contrast, Demì starts out life as a rather more acidic base wine but with a higher dosage, so more sugar added to offset the acidity. In the mouth, the sweetness-acidity balance is good, definitely sweet but not at all sickly. Would be excellent with patisserie. This is a really good range at decent prices – but sadly not available in the UK.
And finally, a part of the Piemontese wine scene that is massively undervalued, the lovely, quite sweet, sparkling Moscato. It’s a classic which gets little attention because it’s not ‘important’, ie at least one of expensive, fashionable, or in need of long ageing. But it is straightforwardly delicious, full of flavour (it actually tastes of grapes, how strange is that) and low in alcohol. Perfect for tea time (how English!), for picnics, for celebrations, for desserts.
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