A Comprehensive Look at Italy’s Native Grapes

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The name of this blog is Learn Italian Wines; I’m happy to write about my knowledge of this subject, which has been formed by more than 60 visits to wine regions around the country over the past fifteen years. I’ve been able to talk with winemakers, vineyard managers and winery owners – as well as other journalists that share my passion – about specific Italian wines and have learned about an incredible array of products that seem to be endless.

So it was with great excitement when I read the recently published book Native Wine Grapes of Italy by Rome-based writer/educator Ian d’Agata. Simply put, this is an exhaustive, encyclopedic study of this particular subject that is first-rate. While it is admittedly written for the serious student of Italian wines, I do think that casual Italian wine lovers will enjoy this book as well, given its dearth of information as well as its tone.

D’Agata covers everything here – and I mean everything. Everyone who knows Italian wines is familiar with famous varieties such as Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Barbera. If you’re a more serious student of this topic, then you probably know about cultivars such as Piedirosso, Fumin and Oseleta. But have you ever heard of Ortrugo, Cjanorie or Corenossa? They’re all part of this book as well.

 

The author covers a lot in this book and your enjoyment will depend on how much information you need. For example, there are detailed listings of various clones of the hundreds of varieties listed here; for example, there are two dozen separate clones of Barbera listed. I’m not certain how many people reading this book will care about this, but it’s always better to have too much information that too little in my opinion.

For each grape, D’Agata goes into great detail about its history and in many cases, explains how the grape received its name. He is smart enough to list two or more explanations for many of these varieties; I mention this as there have been too many writers these days that list only one theory, as though we’re supposed to believe this as gospel. I’m fascinated with words and their meanings, so it’s wise of the author to make this topic a more complex one.

But getting to the meat of the sections on each variety, D’Agata writes about the areas in which these grapes are grown, the soils and the distinctive characteristics of each variety. He includes quotes from winemakers about particular cultivars and also comments on examples of wines made from many of these grapes from outside Italy, including versions from California (and other parts of the United States), Canada, Australia and a few other countries. These sections, titled “Which Wines to Choose and Why,” is especially nicely organized and helpful to the reader searching for the best wines made from particular varieties. He rates his favorite wines from Italy with stars – one, two and three – instead of the meaningless point system; for me this is a real plus, especially as most readers will discover some excellent wines that are little known outside their immediate areas.

 

While this is a very serious book, D’Agata does offer his opinions – this is not a dry analysis of Italian wine. For example, he states that “Verdicchio is arguably Italy’s greatest white grape variety”; regarding Nebbiolo, he opines that it is “Italy’s greatest native grape… and one of the world’s five or six great cultivars.” These opinions are held by other experts on Italian wines and varieties, but it’s nice to read this from the author, who then gives us a multitude of reasons why he feels this way.

He also writes with a nice sense of playfulness from time to time. Describing the red variety Uva di Troia from Puglia, he writes, “the wine is never a blockbuster, but rather an exercise in equilibrium: think Marcello Mastrojanni, Cary Grant or Hugh Grant, not the bodybuilders in your gym.” When describing the stylistic changes in Barbera over the past few decades, he writes,”like many who have decided to consult plastic surgeons in these appearance-dominated times, Barbera wines have also undergone a remarkable makeover.”

 

There is also a chapter, almost 70 pages in length, titled “Little Known Native and Traditional Grape Varieties.” If you thought the varieties I listed earlier, such as Ortrugo and Corenossa were obscure, wait until you read this chapter to discover varieties such as Corinto Nero (Sicily), Francavidda (Puglia), Lecinara (Lazio) and dozens of others. This chapter is followed by three separate tables with detailed information about grape plantings throughout Italy in terms of hectares planted as well as percentages; this information is very helpful. This book covers it all!

 

D’Agata mentions that this book is the result of thirteen years of conducting interviews and walking through vineyards as well as many more years of tasting. He is to be commended for his tireless research and for taking the time to write this book which I highly recommend.

 

Native Wine Grapes of Italy

Ian d’Agata

University of California Press, 620 pages ($50)

 

 

 

August 11, 2014 at 11:50 am 2 comments

Interview with Danilo Drocco

 

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Danilo Drocco, Winemaker, Fontanafredda, Serralunga d’Alba

(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I recently interviewed Danilo Drocco, winemaker at the historic Fontanafredda estate in Serralunga d’Alba in the heart of the Barolo zone. Below is the initial text from the interview for wine-searcher.com

 

Where were you born?

I was born in the area, in a little village near Alba – Rodello is the name. It is a little south of Alba.

 

Did your family make wine?

My grandfather owned a little winery in Novello, but he died during the Second World War. So my grandmother had to sell the winery to my cousins because she could not manage it by herself. My father decided to move to Alba. I was born in 1965.

 

To continue reading, please see the article (here) at wine-searcher.com

August 5, 2014 at 12:10 pm Leave a comment

First-Rate Sparkling wines from Piemonte


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(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Talk about the wines of Piemonte and no doubt, great reds such as Barolo and Barbaresco come to mind. Perhaps you might think about other well-known reds such as Dolcetto or Barbera. Or maybe you’re a fan of the white wines of Piemonte, such as Arneis, Gavi or Timorasso. There are plenty of beautiful wines from this great region, but chances are you don’t think about the sparkling wines. That’s understandable, but if not, you’re missing some beautiful bubblies.

There are numerous producers that make metodo classico sparkling wines in the region and there are several types. Arguably the finest examples are the Alta Langa; currently there are about a dozen firms that make one or more of these wines. Some of these producers are quite small, while others are rather large, but all of them have taken the high road and are producing premium quality sparkling wines.

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The name Alta Langa, means “high Langa” (Langa, a.k.a. Langhe is a district in southern Piemonte where these wines- as well as Barolo and Barbaresco – are produced). This particular territory is called the Alta Langa because of the elevation of the vineyards that receive cool breezes from the nearby Liguria sea; while much of the Langa is quite warm – a necessary condition to ripen the red grapes – the Alta Langa is much cooler, making it an ideal location for the production of sparkling wines.

Quality is high if for no other reason than only Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) and Chardonnay grapes are allowed in these wines. The production method, as mentioned, is the classic approach, with secondary fermentation in the bottle. Minimum aging on the yeasts is 24 months for a classic bottling, 36 months for a Riserva (Alta Langa is a D.O.C.G. classified wine.)

In my upcoming book The Wines and Foods of Piemonte, I will have a thorough section on Alta Langa and its best wines. For now, I want to tell you about my favorite examples from Enrico Serafino. This is a relatively large winery, located in Canale, and is a member of the Campari group, which also includes wine estates from Tuscany and Sardegna. The range of wines at Serafino include very good to excellent examples of Roero Arneis, Gavi, Nebbiolo d’Alba and Barolo among others, but it is with the Alta Langa wines that this producer has recently gained a lofty reputation.

There is an entry level Alta Langa that ages for 36 months in the bottle before disgorgement. I tasted the new release from the 2008 vintage at the winery with winemaker Paolo Giacosa at the winery in May. This is very fresh with beautiful aromas of magnolias and melon and has very good acidity and a clean, satisfying finish with impressive length. This is an excellent introduction to the wines of Alta Langa, as this is a sparkling wine with lovely varietal purity as well as finesse. This is not a powerful wine, but it is perfectly balanced and is quite tasty.

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Paolo Giacosa, winemaker, Enrico Serafino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

As good as that wine is, Serafino and winemaker Giacosa have hit the jackpot with their Alta Langa Brut Millesimato “Zero”, a blend of 85% Pinot Nero and 15% Chardonnay. The wine is called “zero” as there is no dosage, making this an extremely dry sparkling wine. While many sparkling wines of this type are a bit sharp or slightly bitter in the finish, this is a delight, with ideal balance and excellent length and complexity. This is a late disgorged sparkling wine, one that has spent a remarkable 60 months (that’s five years!) aging on its own lees. There are many vintage Champagnes that aren’t aged on the lees for that long of a period. Needless to say, this is also much more reasonably priced than Champagne, as this cost of this at an enoteca in Piemonte averages around 24 Euro a bottle.

The 2007 Enrico Serafino “Zero” was named as the Italian sparkling wine of the year by Gambero Rosso, one of Italy’s leading wine publications. That meant the wine sold out quickly, so I tasted the brand new 2008 release with Giacosa. Che un vino! My notes go on about the beautiful Bosc Pear and elderflower aromas, the very good acidity, the remarkable balance and purity as well as the excellent complexity. This is a delicious sparkling wine with a very satisfying finish, as it cleans the palate and gets you ready for another sip. This is so wonderful on its own, but it is a marvelous accompaniment to most seafood, especially river fish. I rated this wine as outstanding and estimate it will drink well for another four or five years, though I’m not sure I can wait that long as far as the other bottles I have!

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Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Giacosa has now followed up the great success of the Brut “Zero” with a new product, the Alta Langa Brut Rosé. This wine spent thirty months on the lees; I tasted the second release, the 2011 vintage. I love rosé sparkling wines and this one certainly did not disappoint. The color is a very appealing bright pink/strawberry and the perfumes are of cherry, currant and orange roses. The perlage, as with the “Zero” is quite fine, while there is a long, elegant, dry finish. This too is ultra delicious and simply a great sensual pleasure! I’m thrilled that Serafino is now producing this wine, as it is a great addition to their lineup as well as the roster of Alta Langa wines.

You’ll probably have to go to Piemonte to purchase or enjoy these wines, but believe me, the trip will be worth it!

P.S. Please note the glass in the photos. This is the special Alta Langa glass, designed by Sir Giorgetto Giugiaro. It is one of the most beautiful sparkling wine glasses I have encountered and it is as distinctive and as elegant as the wines themselves!

June 27, 2014 at 10:06 am 8 comments

2010 Barolo – Values and Legendary Wines – Notes on more than 100 Releases

 

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The town of Barolo, early morning  (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I recently tasted more than 125 examples of Barolo from the 2010 vintage at the Nebbiolo Prima event in Alba, Piemonte. This event is held each year for a select few dozen journalists (about 70) from around the world, who taste the wines blind over the course of several days. This was the tenth year in the last twelve I have participated in this event and it’s one I look forward to each year with great anticipation.

I was especially eager to taste the 2010s, which have been receiving tremendous praise from all corners. In fact when I attended this event three years ago, while I was tasting the 2007 Barolos (an impressive vintage in its own right), several winemakers that week told me the same thing – “wait until you try my 2010s.” They knew back then that 2010 was something special!

Gianluca Grasso, winemaker at the Elio Grasso estate in Monforte d’Alba, told me that 2010 was “one of the longest vegetation cycles ever.” He also knew right away that his wines would be something quite distinctive,” I remember that when I destemmed the first bunch of Nebbiolo for 2010, the perfumes, the aromas that we got during the vinification were something unbelievable. We knew since the beginning it would be a wonderful vintage.”

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Lazzarito vineyard, Serralunga d’Alba (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I recently wrote a brief overview of the 2010 vintage for Barolo, including my thoughts on the best producers and wines at wine-searcher.com. The article can be found here. In this post, I will briefly mention a few other things about these wines in general.

First, this was a year in which the majority – a great majority – of producers made excellent to outstanding Barolo. Believe me, this does not happen every vintage (for proof of that, one only needs to look back to last year when the 2009 Barolos were released). So from a great, truly classic year such as 2010, yes, there are first-rate wines from famous Barolo producers such as Renato Ratti, Vietti, Ceretto, Francesco Rinaldi and many others.

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So how nice to find so many examples of Barolo from 2010 that are truly excellent, even from producers you may not have heard about, such as Giovanni Viberti, located in the frazione of Vergne, on the outskirts of Barolo. I’ve had the Buon Padre” Barolo from this producer almost every year for more than a decade and it’s one that I’d describe as a nice introduction to Barolo in general, as it has good varietal character and balance. But I have rarely (if ever), rated this wine as excellent- that is, until this year. My notes for this wine mention the “rich mid-palate, balsamic, dried cherry and sage aromas, medium-full to excellent concentration, impressive complexity and varietal character.” This is a beautiful wine that can be served for dinner tonight (though I’d wait a few years), while it has the stuffing to last 25 years. This is quite an accomplishment for a wine that should sell for about $65 retail in the US when it becomes available in a few months. (My rating – 4 stars (out of five) – excellent.)

baroloI was also quite impressed by the Batasiolo 2010 Barolo. This consistent producer gets impressive reviews from many Italian publications for its portfolio of wines (ranging from Gavi and Arneis to Dolcetto and Barolo), yet somehow they are not as well known as they should be in America. The firm has holdings in several distinguished cru in the Barolo production zone and releases as many as seven (yes, seven!) different Barolos from any given vintage. This is the classic Barolo, blended from vineyards in several communes. My notes on this wine: “aromas of balsamic, dried cherry and dried currant, excellent concentration, very good length in the finish; youthful, graceful tannins and very good acidity. Peak in 20 years.” Again, we are looking at a wine that should retail for $60, perhaps a few dollars less. Another 4-star wine from me and what a nice wine for restaurants to buy for service now and over the next few years. Both this and Viberti are brilliant examples of how good the classic Barolos are from 2010. (Incidentally, I also tasted the “Brunate” bottling from Batasiolo for 2010; this from the famous cru situated on the La Morra-Barolo border; this also performed well, but it was clearly made for consumption down the road. I’ll be interested in tasting the other 2010 cru Barolo from Batasiolo soon.)


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While I am on the subject of great values, I have to mention the 2010 Vietti Barolo “Castiglione”. This is always one of my favorite Barolos from this outstanding producer, as this is sourced from their vineyard holdings in Castiglione Falletto, Barolo, Monforte d’Alba and Novello (the firm owns parts of some of the finest cru in the Barolo production zone; in fact, very few producers have as many vineyards in as many great sites in the area as does Vietti).

This is a lovely wine, one that has richness as well as a great deal of finesse. My notes: “aromas of currant, orange peel and tar, medium-weight tannins, very good acidity, peak in 12-15 years.”  I also noted that “this is one of the best examples of this wine produced to date.” The 2009 version of this wine averaged about $50 in the US, so again, we will be looking at a marvelous value when the 2010 is released soon. What a delicious, stylish wine and what a wonderful choice for consumption over the next few years!

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I have put together a 20-page pdf document with my tasting notes on the 2010 Barolos, reviewing exactly 118 wines. My highest rating is 5 stars – outstanding. In this report, I have given this highest rating to 31 wines (26.2%). Yes, the 2010 vintage is that good! Among the finest were the Renato Ratti “Rocche dell’Annunziata”, the Vietti “Rocche di Castiglione”, the Paolo Scavino “Bric del Fiasc”, Bartolo Mascarello and many others. These are truly classic examples of Barolo, so you might expect these wines to rise to the occasion in a great year such as 2010 and they most certainly did! These are wines that will peak in 35-50 years. I know I won’t be around to see these wines at that stage, but it’s nice to know they will last that long (it’s also quite a pleasure and blessing to know I can at least try them now!). These wines will cost you upwards of $100 a bottle, but if you are a Barolo lover, you need to find a few of these wines! (Incidentally, the great examples of Barolo are priced much more reasonably than the finest Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa or examples of Bordeaux or Burgundy of similar quality. This is something that is rarely discussed, but it is a fact and it’s something I need to point out; the best Barolo are under valued.)

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If you would like to receive a copy of this 20-page pdf report (it was sent to contributors of my upcoming book “The Wines and Foods of Piemonte”), the cost is $10, a very reasonable price for this overview of these great wines. Payment is by PayPal – use my email of thomas2022@comcast.net (If you choose not to use PayPal, you can send along a check to me in the mail – email me for information).

June 12, 2014 at 11:48 am Leave a comment

2011 Barbaresco

 

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Vineyards below the town of Barbaresco (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Once again in mid-May, I was invited to Nebbiolo Prima, an event held in the town of Alba in southern Piemonte to sample soon-to-be-released examples of the new releases of Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero Rosso. This anteprima (preview) tasting is reserved for about 70 journalists from around the world, who are able to taste these wines before their release in the market and write about them for the public.

Of course, Barolo is always the featured attraction and how could it be otherwise for a product known as “the king of wines, the wine of kings”? Add to that the fact that this year’s tasting focused on the 2010 Barolos, wines that have already been labeled as classic. So Barbaresco, which always has to take a back seat to Barolo, was treated with even less than the usual attention this year, given that 2011 was a warm year, which can often lead to wines that are a bit heavy, alcoholic and tannic – in other words, wines that lack finesse.

My reviews of 2010 Barolos will appear soon, but for today’s post, I’m going to deal with the newest releases of Barbaresco. As I mentioned above, 2011 was a warm growing season: Giovanna Rizzolio of Cascina delle Rose, an outstanding traditional producer at the Rio Sordo sector in the commune of Barbaresco compares 2011 in that respect to 2009. She adds that this is a year that will show “the skills of the producers regarding their work in the vineyards,” as she notes that it was critical to not take away too many leaves from the plant, so as to shield the grapes from too much sun. Her summary of the 2011 Barbarescos: “good acidity and structure, very fine and silky tannins – the wines will show even better with a few months’ time.”

After tasting several dozen examples of 2011 Barbaresco, I agree with Rizzolio in prinicipal. I found some lovely wines with round tannins and beautiful ripeness and overall balance. Many of these wines were from the commune of Barbaresco, which is in keeping with my usual tastes. The producers here seem to be able to craft a wine that communicates Barbaresco; that is a 100 % Nebbiolo that is not trying to be a Barolo – or worse yet, some sort of modern, dare I say, international wine with too much flashy oak. Examples of the best producers here include the impeccable Produttori del BarbarescoAlbino RoccaMarchesi di Gresy and the aforementioned Cascina delle Rose.

Barbaresco is also produced in two other communes, namely Treiso and Neive (there is also a very small part of Alba where Barbaresco can be made, but this is a tiny percentage of these wines). I’ve tended to favor wines from Treiso over Neive, if only for the fact that the wines from Neive are often over oaked. Not all of course – Pasquale Pelissero and Giuseppe Negro are two producers who beautifully integrate wood into their wines, but there are just too many oaky Barbarescos from Neive in any given year for my tastes.

So on to my favorites. My top wine was a wine that I can’t say was a pleasant surprise, as this producer has been making beautiful wine from this vineyard for some time now; it’s just that the Ceretto “Asili” from the highly-regarded cru in Barbaresco has rarely been so elegant and traditional at the same time. Winemaker Alessandro Ceretto has been taking small steps year by year with all his wines, resulting in more elegant and complete bottlings. This has a beautiful pale garnet color with aromas of dried cherry, dried roses and cedar, is medium-full on the palate and offers a lengthy finish with very fine tannins. What a beautiful example of richness and finesse at the same time. This is as traditional a bottling of this wine as I’ve had – I admit to being a lover of traditional wines – but it’s more than that, it’s a wine that is terroir driven as well as being ideally structured for peak enjoyment in 12-15 years- perhaps longer. In an email, Ceretto told me “I’m excited about the quality achieved with my wines these past few vintages.” He should be and wine lovers should be as well!

Other highly recommended 2011 Barbarescos for me included the Produttori del Barbaresco; Giuseppe Negro “Gallina” (from Neive); Albino Rocca “Ronchi” (Barbaresco); Cascina delle Rose “Tre Stelle” (Barbaresco); Prunotto and Francesco Rinaldi.

No big surprises there, especially with the Produttori bottling. This cooperative producer is a reference point for Barbaresco, both in terms of quality – they have contracts with several dozen growers in the Barbaresco commune that represent some of the area’s finest sites, such as Asili, Rio Sordo, Pora and Montestefano – as well as consistency. Try a bottle of this producer’s Barbaresco – be it the classic bottling or one of the special cru (this year the 2009 crus are being released) – and you will taste the essence of Barbaresco, one where Nebbiolo fruit – and not oak – is the dominant feature. The 2011 offers beautiful balsamic and orange peel aromas, perfect ripeness and lovely varietal purity; this will be at its best in 10-12 years. Congratulations to general manager Aldo Vacca on such a superb track record of producing such classic examples of Barbaresco!

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It was very much a pleasure- as well as a bit of a pleasant surprise – to see that one of my favorite 2011 Barbarescos was from Francesco Rinaldi (the wines are tasted blind, so we have no idea which wine is which when we sample each bottle). I’m always impressed with the wines from this estate and it seems they have the Midas touch with everything, even with Gavi, which they recently started producing, but I must admit to rarely considering this producer about Barbaresco; I say that as their Barolos are so sublime! But this Barbaresco, from a vineyard in Neive, is exemplary with its delicious cherry fruit, very good acidity, beautifully balanced tannins and excellent persistence. Once again, the house style of Francesco Rinaldi shines through, as this is an ultra traditional wine aged for two years in large Slavonian oak casks for two years; you can barely sense any wood notes. I estimate peak for this wine at 15- 20 years – this was one of the richest examples of 2011 Barbaresco I tasted at this event. This is an exquisite wine – don’t miss it!

Space is always limited with these posts, so briefly, here are a few other notable releases of 2011 Barbaresco: Michele Chiarlo “Asili”Poderi Colla “Roncaglie” (Barbaresco); Ugo Lequio “Gallina” (Neive); Socré “Roncaglie”Angelo Negro “Cascinotta” (Neive) and Castello di Verduno. From a warm growing season that could have been problematical, it is nice to experience so many distinguished wines!

May 23, 2014 at 8:45 am 4 comments

Wines and Foods from Piemonte – my next book

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Vineyards in Serralunga d’Alba looking towards the snow-covered Alps (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Exciting news- my next book will be about the wines and foods of Piemonte. I’ll be heading there next week for a ten day visit and will be doing some research – tasting, reporting, taking photos, and of course, eating! Then I’ll be working on the book throughout the summer.

I have enjoyed very fine success with my first book Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines, which was released in February 2013 and is still selling well. That was a self-published book, but for this project, I believe it is time to upgrade. So this will be a hardcover book complete with 24-28 full color photos. I’ll also be working with one of the finest academic publishers in the nation, the University of Nebraska Press.

Clearly this will be a much more expensive project to undertake, so to make this work, I am asking my friends and colleagues to help me out with a financial contribution. I have begun a campaign on indiegogo.com (click here), which explains more about this book as well as the various perks offered for contributing, from photos to a signed book.

I do realize that today’s economic climate is difficult, but I hope that enough of you will be able to contribute even on a small basis. I’m confident that my goal will be reached with your help.

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The classic tajarin pasta of the Langhe – this with vegetables and seafood (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Besides interviews with winemakers from various areas of Piemonte, I will also be writing about the classic foods of the region, from tajarin to coniglio (rabbit). I’ll include interviews from chefs as well as thoughts from them (along with winemakers) about the best wine and food pairings of the area. There are many books on food and a few on wine, but very few that deal with both aspects of one region, so I’m excited to write this book.

The fundraising campaign for the book has just begun and will run through June 6. I hope you can help!

The Wines and Foods of Piemonte

By Tom Hyland, University of Nebraska Press

Fundraising campaign at Indiegogo.com 

April 30, 2014 at 10:57 am 2 comments

Custoza – One of the Best Italian Whites you probably don’t know


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Silvio Piona, Az. Agr. Albino Piona (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

So many excellent whites from Italy, so little time…

Recently, I was in the western reaches of the Veneto region near Lake Garda, tasting new releases of Bardolino. A bonus of this event was an additional tasting of a lovely white from the area known as Custoza, named for the small local town. I had tasted a handful of these wines over the years and had enjoyed them, but had never studied the wine in great detail. I’m glad I’ve had this experience, as Custoza is a white that offers beautiful complexity, is ageworthy and has become one of my favorite Italian whites; this is a wine that certainly deserves to better known.

Custoza is also known as Bianco di Custoza, but you don’t see that designation much anymore, as the producers most certainly wished to make the name of this town and wine forefront. It’s a blend of a few grapes, as few as three, as many as six or seven. The principal variety (as much as 40%) is Garganega, which is the same grape that is the backbone of Soave, another beautiful Venetian white. Other varieties include Trebbiano Toscano, Trebbianello (a local clone of Tai or Friulano), Bianca Fernanda (a new one for me, I must admit; this is a local clone of Cortese, the same grape used in the production of Gavi from Piemonte); there are also small amounts of Chardonnay, Malvasia, Pinot Bianco, Incrocio Manzoni and Riesling Italico allowed in the blend. With a makeup like that, you can imagine how varied the styles of Custoza are from the area’s producers.

Most examples see only steel aging; this of course, helps preserve the engaging perfumes of Garganega as well as Malvasia and some of the other varieties. While Garganega helps give this wine its charm, it is the other varieties such as Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia that are important as far as acidity, which assures aging potential.

Custoza is rarely a “big” wine, so perhaps that’s why it isn’t more familiar to wine lovers; it’s also a bit in the shadow of Soave, which is quite well known. Add the fact that it is a blended white, a type most consumers have not yet embraced and you see the problem with marketing this wine.

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Marico Bonomo, Monte del Fra (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

One of the premier producers of Custoza is Marica Bonomo at Monte del Fra, in the town of Custoza. She sources her grapes from her own estate and makes two versions, the signature bottling called Ca’ del Magro, which is one of the most famous – as well as most highly rated – examples of Custoza. I’ve tried both the 2011 and 2012 versions in the area and loved both wines. Offering perfumes of lemon zest, mangnolia and chamomile, this has very good acidity along with notable persistence. Again, this is not a powerful wine, but what a charming wine, one with ideal balance and a nice sense of finesse. It’s especially lovely at the table and I love it with tortellini, risotto and more delicate seafood. Both wines will drink well for another 3-5 years, with the 2012 a candidate for an extra two to three years.

Another top Custoza estate is Albino Piona, where Silvio Piona performs winemaking duties. A pleasant, subdued individual, he clearly fits the bill of someone who lets his wines do the talking. His 2013 classic Custoza is excellent, offering lovely floral (peony) and fruit (melon) aromas backed by very good concentration, excellent persistence and beautiful structure. Enjoy this over the next 3-5 years.

Piona also produces a special bottling called “Campo del Selese”; a truly excellent wine. Here there are subtle differences in respect to the classic bottling, as the Selese has a bit more richness in the mid-palate as well as a longer finish. The Custoza I really enjoyed from Piona that week however, was his 2008 classic bottling. Deep yellow with aromas of lemon peel, grapefruit rind and dried apples, this was quite rich with excellent complexity. A beautiful wine, one that is quite stylish from the excellent 2008 vintage (a sorely underrated year for whites and reds in Veneto and many other Italian regions), this was drinking beautifully after five plus years and should offer pleasure for another three to five years. Tasted at lunch after my visit to the cellars, this was particularly wonderful with tortellini stuffed with pumpkin, a classic dish at Ristorante alla Borsa in the town of Valeggio. (Note – this is tortellini heaven – you must have lunch or dinner at this restaurant – I guarantee you will love it!)

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Luciano Piona, Cavalchina (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

A few other examples of Custoza I thoroughly enjoyed were from Cantina di CustozaLe Vigne di San Pietro and Enzo Faccioli; this last one, particularly well done with its attractive floral perfumes, bright fruit and excellent persistence. One final wine I wanted to single out is the marvelous 2012 Custoza Superiore “Amadeo” from Cavalchina. This is a textbook Custoza, with engaging aromas of pineapple, golden apple, spearmint and lillies. Medium-full, this has excellent persistence and complexity and is truly a lovely wine! This is just now being released and should drink well for 5-7 years, given its ideal structure and balance. I’d love this with risotto primavera, while it’s rich enough to stand up to tuna.

An added bonus regarding Custoza is the price, as you can find classic bottlings from the best estates on retail shelves in America for $12 or so, with the special bottlings coming in around $16-$20, which are excellent values. So what are you waiting for?

April 23, 2014 at 9:31 am Leave a comment

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