Posts tagged ‘garganega’
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.
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!)
Luciano Piona, Cavalchina (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
A few other examples of Custoza I thoroughly enjoyed were from Cantina di Custoza, Le 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?
Garganega is the grape of Soave and gives to that wine its body, acidity and structure and well as wonderful aromatics of honeydew melon, pear and yellow flowers. While many examples of Soave are steel aged, some vintners age their wines in oak casks, yet most of these wines have relatively similar profiles that emphasize the brightness of the Garganega grape.
I just tasted a wine made entirely from the Garganega grape that turns everything you thought you knew about the variety and its resulting wines on its head. It’s from a artisan producer named Dama del Rovere, managed by Massimo Prà. Located in the hamlet of Brogoligo di Monteforte d’Alpone in the eastern reaches of the Soave Classico zone, the winery was established by Prà in 2003.
Prà works only with the Garganega grape and produces sparkling Durello from the hills near Soave along with a traditional Soave Classico, named “Tremenalto”. The 2009 is the current release and it is nicely balanced with fresh melon and pear perfumes backed by lively acidity and good depth of fruit. It is a typical Soave and a fine example of the quality of this zone.
But it is the 100% Garganega bottling he calls “Spinaje” in which Prà really displays a uniqueness rarely seen with the variety. The 2006 is the current bottling and it is identified as an IGT Veneto Bianco, as this is not anything like the Soave Classico he produces. The grapes are from vineyards in Monteforte d’Alpone, ranging from 10 to 76 years of age; after manual harvest, Prà lets the grapes dry naturally in the appassimento manner for several months; this is the same drying process as is used for Amarone as well as the sweet Recioto di Valpolicella and Recioto di Soave.
The wine is then partially fermented in various sizes of French oak for approximately twelve months and is then bottled. The result is something truly special, which you note with one glance at its color, a brilliant orange/amber. Not knowing anything about this wine before I tried it a few nights ago, I thought that given this was a wine from the 2006 vintage, I must have received a flawed bottle, given its deep color. Boy was I wrong!
The wine features aromas of Bosc pear, dried honey, a hint of pineapple and wheat germ (!). Medium-full, the wine has a dry, clean finish with very good persistence, pure fruit flavors, good acidity and notes of sweet brown spice. What I love most about this wine is its remarkable freshness; many white wines that have undergone appassimento often have a dried, slightly oxidized character to them, almost like an older sherry. Not so with this wine, which tastes much younger than its age. I expect this wine to drink well for another 3-5 years, perhaps longer.
Dama del Rovere is one of thirteen producers of Soave that has joined together in an organization called Vignaioli del Soave, whose stated goal is to “restore the dignity” of Soave to consumers. Other producers include such renowned estates such as Pieropan, Inama and Ca’ Rugate; on the website, you can learn more about this organization in general as well as each specific producer. While the “Spinaje” from Dama Del Rovere may not technically be a Soave Classico, it shares the same base material. It’s how Massimo Prà used the Garganega grape to fashion such a remarkable wine that is the story here; a new wine from an ancient variety.
Soave has several identities, from simple sipping wine to a long-aging white with distinct minerality and outstanding complexity. Unfortunately too may consumers only associate Soave with the first description; yet the truth today is that there are dozens of the area’s producers that are crafting glorious bottlings. First and foremost among those is Leonildo Pieropan.
The Pieropan family has winemaking roots in the Soave area from 1890; here at their palazzo in the town of Soave, Leonildo Pieropan, Senior, was creating the lovely dessert wine, Recioto di Soave. Today his grandson Leonildo is considered one of the stalwarts of this area, working “with the precision of a Swiss watch,” as written in a brief introductory text in Duemilavini, the wine guide of the Association of Italian Sommeliers (A.I.S.).
While Pieropan produces two special bottlings of Soave, there are many who will tell you that his Soave Classico normale bottling is his finest; it certainly is his most representative everyday Soave offering. It is produced from 85% Garganega and 15% Trebbiano di Soave in most years and offers textbook aromas of honeydew melon and yellow flowers backed by lively acidity and a touch of minerality. It is beautifully balanced and has excellent complexity; all of this is especially nice, considering the $15 retail price in America (and I’ve seen it for less in some areas.)
There are two other special Soaves made at Pieropan; Calvarino and La Rocca. Calvarino, produced from an estate vineyard of volcanic soils, is 70% Garganega and 30% Trebbiano di Soave; Pieropan has opted for this blend as it was a typical one from decades past in this area. The wine receives no wood aging, as Pieropan opts to let the perfumes of the varieties emerge. This wine ages beautifully, usually drinking well for 10-12 years. I recall tasting the 1989 bottling at the winery in 2006 – it was sublime!
La Rocca, also made from a single vineyard (the oldest vines here are 50 years old), is 100% Garganega that has been aged in mid-size and large barrels for one year. This is a lush, almost fat Soave with great concentration and a well-structured finish. This is also a wine for cellaring; generally the wine is at its best from 10-12 years of age. This is a very individualistic bottling, yet it is without doubt a Soave; today there are a few other producers in the area that have used La Rocca as a model for their top offering.
What strikes you about each of the three wines is the combination of richness, yet at the same time elegance. While the La Rocca is a very powerful rendering of Soave, it never goes over the top, maintaining its finesse. This is an admirable quality, and one that certainly matches the character of Leonildo Pieropan, a confident, assured individual, who is also down to earth. I met with him at this year’s VinItaly wine fair and was impressed by his easy-going, charming ways. I spoke with him about the refined qualities of his wine and he replied with a quote that I think befits his winemaking philosophy quite well. “Elegance is one of the most difficult qualities to transmit in a wine. But when you understand it, it is the one that brings the greatest pleasure.” A lovely thought and one I think many other wine producers believe in as well; yet I’ve never heard it professed as eloquently as I have from Leonildo Pieropan.
There is also a stunning example of the famed dessert wine, Recioto di Soave, that Pieropan labels Le Colombare. A few years ago, Pieropan opted to produce local red wines as well; the first effort a wine called Ruberpan, an IGT blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Croatina from the Val d’Illasi hills. Now comes the exciting news that he has added Amarone to his production. I tasted the inital 2006 release (this will be available in the autumn of 2010) and as you might expect, this is a rich, yet restrained offering of this famous Venetian red. There’s that elegance again, this time in a wine most people think of as powerful. But as this was made by Leonildo Pieropan, would you expect anything else?
I’ve written quite a bit about specific Italian wines, from Piemonte in the north to Sicilia in the south, but today I thought I’d step back a bit and discuss the unique characteristics of Italian wines in general. I hope you enjoy this post! - TH
What makes Italian wines so fascinating? There are many explanations, but for me the primary reason is the fact that Italian wines are unique, a world apart from the follow-the-leader- wines being produced by so many estates today, eager for consumer acceptance.
The world of wine is becoming homogenized these days. Just look at the most famous offerings from France and California and you’ll discover that they are made from the same six varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay (the chocolate, strawberry and vanilla of the wine world), Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah. I’m not forgetting about Zinfandel from California or Gewurztraminer, Riesling or Pinot Gris from Alsace in northeastern France, but they take a back seat in the press and in retail selections to the previously mentioned six.
Now think about the countries around the world that have become a major force in the wine world over the last decade. Countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and now South Africa. What grapes are their most famous wines made from? You guessed it- the Big Six. You can’t blame the producers in these countries for taking the lead of France and California, as success breeds success. What will a winery in South Africa have a better chance of selling to the American public – Pinotage, which is a local specialty or Cabernet Sauvignon? If you don’t know the answer to that, say hello to Santa Claus for me this Christmas as he comes down your chimney.
That’s what makes Italy so special in the world of wines. Producers in Campania might be able to make a name for themselves if they planted Chardonnay, but they continue to craft lovely white wines from grapes such as Greco, Fiano and Falanghina. The same holds true for the vintners of Abruzzo, who are beginning to see the intricacies of the Montepulciano grape and are creating more complex versions that more consumers want as they move away from quantity and towards quality.
This is not to say that international varieties (such as the Big Six) are not planted in Italy. Tuscany has adopted them in some of their most lavish bottlings (the so-called Super Tuscans often contain Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot in large proportions) and there are thousands of acres of Chardonnay and Merlot in the Veneto that are used for inexpensive bottlings. But international varieties are not what Italy does best; it is the indigenous varietals that represent the heart and soul of Italian viticulture.
Try a Soave made from the Garganega grape planted in vineyards in eastern Veneto. When made by an artisan producer, this is one of the country’s loveliest whites with aromas of honeydew melon, pear and lilies and offering beautiful texture and a light note of minerality in the finish. Or go with a Pecorino (yes, the wine, not the cheese) from Abruzzo or Marche. This grape yields a lovely dry white with flavors of peaches and cream that is lovely for pasta primavera or white meats such as chicken, veal or pork.
One of the most interesting native red varietals in Italy is Dolcetto from Piemonte. While too many wine publications focus on the famous Piemontese red wines made from the Nebbiolo grape (Barolo and Barbaresco), the natives pay a lot of attention to Dolcetto. This is the everyday red wine in the same locales where Barolo is produced and it is a great choice for lighter pastas and meats. The Barbera grape, the most planted grape in this region has plenty of spice with naturally high acidity. Vintners are experimenting with this varietal today, with versions ranging from the traditional, high acid, rustic styles (perfect for salumi) to riper, more oaked, slightly less acidic versions that stand up to roast veal and pork.
The best way to experience these indigenous varietals is with food. The publications that are obsessed with scoring wines on a 100-point system miss the point as their scores represent a bigger-is-better approach. If you truly believe that concept is true, then awarding a wine points might make sense. But as a winemaker once told me, “Bigger isn’t better, it’s different.” Or as a winemaker in Soave told me recently, “There are wines for tasting and there are wines for drinking,” In other words, some wines are just better with food because the winemaker isn’t interested in power or making the wine as rich as possible, but instead is interested in balance and finesse. The better balanced a wine is – white or red – the more foods it can accompany. And isn’t that why we drink wine in the first place? A humble Primitivo from Puglia that sells for $10-12 per bottle may not stand up to prime rib, but drink it with a slice of pizza or spare ribs and you’ve got a great partnership and one that brings pleasure.
There are literally hundreds of indigenous varietals from the entire country – far too may to mention here, even if I knew all of them. Fact of the matter is, no one in Italy knows all of them either; it turns out that varietals thought to be extinct are being discovered in vineyards from Piedmont in the north to Sicily in the south. But that’s the charming thing about Italy and its native varietals; there’s always something new – and different – out there for our pleasure.