Foja Tonda – A Rare Pleasure
Last week I attended a small press luncheon at Pelago Restaurant in Chicago to taste the wines of Albino Armani. As is the case with so many small to moderate size wineries in Italy, they have a fascinating story to tell and equally intriguing wines.
The winery in question is Albino Armani, located in the Val d’Adige DOC in northern Veneto; presenting the wines was Egle Armani, wife of Albino, who serves as winemaker. The winery makes several types of wine, including Prosecco, Pinot Grigio (their Corvara bottling is quite distinctive) and Amarone, but their specialty is the wine they make from a rare indigenous variety named Foja Tonda.
There is a grand total of 14 hectares (about 35 acres) of this grape in all of Italy, with the Armani winery owning 12. In fact the actual name of the grape is casetta; Armani trademarked the name Foja Tonda (“round leaf” in Italian) and labels their wine with both names – Foja Tonda Casetta. They are the only producer who can legally use the Foja Tonda name.
We tasted three different bottlings – 2005, 2006 and 2007 – and each wine was quite different, owing to differences in those vintages as well as a traditional winemaking style. Thankfully, Armani made the decision to age the wine in botti grandi, in this case, Slavonian oak casks of 4500 liters, which minimizes the wood notes in the wine. This allows the fruit of the grape to emerge; in this case, the wines have aromas and flavors of red cherry and currant and even a touch of cranberry. There is also delicate spice and tannins are moderate. The wines taste a bit llike a traditional (non-ripasso) Valpolicella – these particular wines have less wood however than many examples of Valpolicella. They are a pleasure to drink; the 2005 is a bit more complex now, which is no surprise, given the wine is a bit older; The 2006 is nicely balanced, but displays a bit more tannin than the other wines. My favorite is the 2007, which is the most elegant wine of the three with beautiful levels of acidity. Incidentally, the 2007 is now labeled with the recent Terradeiforti DOC; previous vintages were labeled as IGT Rosso Vallagrina.
It’s a treat to try a wine such as Foja Tonda, which helps all of us more greatly understand the mysteries of Italian viticulture – how many of these indigenous varieties there are! It’s also a pleasure to sample this rare variety as made by Albino Armani, who respects the grape’s heritage by using only large oak casks. It’s also a delight when these wines are priced at $20 a bottle, a price that makes our curiosity a not too expensive condition.
To read more about these wines, see this post by Charles Scicolone.