We are very excited that more Italian wines are hitting the shelves this week at Bishop’s Cellar.
After the success of our southern Italian splash, Bishop’s Cellar is introducing and re-stocking some star performers from northern and central Italy.
Petite Arvine is an old and rare grape from Valais, Switzerland. Valle d’Aosta, the smallest region in Italy produces wines from this white grape. Valle d’Aosta is an Alpine region located in northwest Italy, between France and Switzerland. The highest peaks in the Italian Alps are found here including Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe. Lovers of mountaineering and skiing from all over the world seek out the resort of Courmayeur.
By virtue of the higher altitude and cooler climate this, and other Alpine wines, express a purity and freshness.
In northwest Italy, surrounded by the Alps, is the region of Piemonte, which translates to “the foot of the mountains”. This region in famous for Fiat, chocolate, hazelnuts, cheeses, truffles and of course wine. It has the most quality designated wines (DOCG). Wonderful white wines and sparkling sweet Moscato are made here, but wine lovers get excited about this region’s red wines.
Nebbiolo dates back to the 12th or 13th century and has an affinity to the soil here. The grape has thin skins, so the wines are never deeply pigmented, but they are known for ethereal aromas (pronounced, complex and refined, rose petal, violets, licorice, tar) with high tannins. It is the first of the Piemontese red grapes to bud break in the Spring and the last to be picked in the Fall, so it is traditionally planted in the best sites – the warmest south facing vineyards. This region is notorious for fog, fog in Italian translates to ‘nebbia” and some people think the name “Nebbiolo” derives from this.
The Nebbiolo grape finds its ultimate expression in Barolo and Barbaresco (though it is grown in a few other regions throughout Italy). Barolo and Barbaresco are situated on either side of the town of Alba. The main differences between Barolo and Barbaresco come from the soil and their ageing requirements.
Barolo & Barbaresco
The soil in Barbaresco is richer in nutrients and more fertile than Barolo. Both wines are structured and complex, though the middle palate of Barolo is generally fuller while Barbaresco tends to be lighter and fresher. Barbaresco has a minimum ageing requirement of two years, while Barolo has a minimum ageing requirement of three years. With the Riserva designation requiring an additional 2 years ageing for both appellations.
Barbaresco as it is produced today has been around since 1894; the growers of the region started to make Nebbiolo in a more serious manner and market it as an alternative to Barolo; similar but a bit more approachable and lighter. Today Barbaresco has its own identity as a quality wine. For both Barolo and Barbaresco, single vineyard bottling from exceptional sites are becoming increasingly common (similar to “cru” in France).
Barolo is about 50 years older than Barbaresco and was traditionally made as a sweet or a sparkling wine! The sweetness was used to tame Nebbiolo’s crazy tannins. The wine the world knows as Barolo today is actually a fairly recent construct. In the middle of the 19th century the nobles made a decision to honour the Marchesa of Barolo by naming the highest quality wine “Barolo”. There are 5 major communes that produce Barolo – vineyards in the western part of the region in the townships of Barolo and La Morra are known for their calcareous marl soil from the Tortonian era and their wines are often described as elegant and aromatic. While the eastern part of the region where Serralunga D’Alba, Monforte D’Alba and Castiglione Falletto lie, are characterized by older Helvetian sandstone resulting in more structured and slow maturing wines spicier wines.
Style of Barolo has changed a lot since the 1970s. At one time, it was a wine you had to cellar for 25 years. In the late 1970s early 1980s some winemakers in Barolo started to approach winemaking with different techniques and here is where two styles of Barolo began to emerge; traditional and modern. In terms of vineyards practices, there aren’t too many differences as green harvesting and organic practices are common across the board. The main differences occur in the winery and cellar. Modernists aim to make more approachable wines using short maceration times; 5 days on the skins instead of the traditional 25-28 days on the skins. Other major differences between the two winemaking approaches are ageing vessels; small new French barrique versus large, old Slovanian botti. The traditionalists feel that the large neutral casks allow the wine to express itself more authentically. Modernists, employing shorter maceration times means there is less tannin from grapes but wood tannin from smaller oak barrel. This is perceived on the palate as a different texture of tannins; a bit more velvety and approachable earlier on. Traditionalists want their wines to express the soil and highlight the uniqueness of the region. 25 years ago, there was an obvious divide between these styles; today the styles are not so strictly defined and one can find Barolo at both ends of the spectrum and somewhere in between.
Other Piemontese Red Wines
In Italian Dolcetto means little sweet one, but don’t be fooled by the grape name. This wine is not sweet; it is dry, with medium tannins and dark fruit.
Like Wine Folly states, “Barolo is what everyone talks about from Piedmont, but Barbera is what everyone drinks!” Having spent some time in Piemonte, I confirm this statement.
La Bella Toscana!
Montevertine Le Pergole Torte – we only have a 6 bottle allocation; 4 remaining!!!
Montevertine estate was purchased in 1967 as a holiday home for Sergio Manetti, an iron and steel industrialist. He set up a small winemaking cellar with the idea of if producing a small amount of wine as a gift for friends and customers. The first vintage, 1971, was very good and Segio sent a few bottles to Vinitaly; the wine was well received and a few years later, Sergio changed careers and began making wine under the guidance of very prominent Italian viticulturalists and cellar masters. When Sergio Manetti died in 2000, his son Martino stepped in to continue in his father’s footsteps of crafting top quality traditional Tuscan wines.
Montevertine is an iconic estate in the heart of the Chianti hills, in the town of Radda at 425 meters above sea level. The vineyards are planted to Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino; traditional grapes and traditional winemaking governs their work. The grapes are hand-picked, fermented in glass lined concrete vats, without temperature control and with two pump-overs per day to keep the cap of skins moist for a gentler extraction of tannins from the skins. The wine is racked and malo-lactic fermentation and rests in wood barrels for about two years. Wine ageing is performed in 5,5 to 18-hectoliter Slavonian and Allier oak barrels and in 225-liter Allier barriques. The wines are never filtered and they are all bottled by gravity.
Vermouth may be an Italian creation, but it is regularly enjoyed throughout Europe and in South America during the “ora dell’ aperitivo”, just after work and before supper. Vermouth is an aromatized and fortified wine, bitter and sweet and balanced. Serve chilled and and don’t cheap out; you get what you pay for!
Branca Menta is based on the same herbal recipe as Fernet Branca with over 40 herbs and spices, and the added kick of cooling peppermint. Story goes that in the 1960s young drinkers would order Fernet Branca with a splash of mint syrup and that the Italian opera diva Maria Callas prefered her Fernet Branca with a sprig of mint. This is a wonderful digestive tonic that can be enjoyed on its own or in cocktails anytime of the year if you can get your hands on it before the hipsters do!