Our foray by Zoom into Italian wines concluded (for now) with three quite different wines:
- A white from a native grape grown in North West Italy
- Wine from a native red grape grown in Sicily
- A red wine from North East Italy, made by the ‘ripasso’ technique.
Each of us had a selection of the wines described below, bought from local branches of Majestic. The prices are those at the time bought, and may vary.
Gavi DOCG, Piedmont: Cortese grape
Gavi is made exclusively from the Cortese grape, in a tiny area of hills surrounding the old fortress town of Gavi, in the south east of Piedmont, North East Italy. The climate is mild, generally warm and temperate.
Gavi wine has high acidity with relatively low alcohol, refreshing for drinking young. It is likely to be a pale lemon-white colour, with delicately scented aromas which may be floral, herbal or grassy; the palate is crisp and dry, with a mineral flintiness.
A wine labelled “Gavi di Gavi” or “Gavi del comune di Gavi” means that the vineyards from which the grapes come are located within the borders of the town of Gavi. “Gavi” wines are made from grapes grown within the DOCG zone, but outside the town itself. It is about location, not a differentiation in terms of quality.
It can compare favourably with white Burgundies of the Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais, and most of us thought these examples did. However, some people, including one or two of our participants, do find Cortese overrated and uninteresting.
La Toledana Gavi di Gavi DOCG 2018/2019 £12.99
The Toledana vineyards face south, about 200 metres above sea level. The average age of the vines is 20 years. Oak is not used. There is selective manual harvesting of limited yield high quality fruit. The juice is fermented without skins for 15 days in stainless steel tanks and stays there for a further six months on the yeasts. Bottling takes place only a few months after the harvest, to preserve the freshness.
La Raia ‘Il Borgo’ Gavi 2019 £9.99
The family owners have returned the land to biodynamic farming (orchards of chestnuts, elderflower and acacia) since settling here two decades ago. This wine is made on biodynamic principles, without fertilisers or synthetic chemicals. The vineyards are about 400 metres above sea level, south, east and west facing. Harvesting is by hand and the best bunches are selected in the cellar for a soft pressing with light musts.
Controlled-temperature fermentation with indigenous yeasts is carried out in stainless steel tanks. Then the wine is left in contact with the skins for some days, and on the lees for two months before it is bottled.
Nero d’Avola, Sicily: Nero Oro Riserva DOC 2017 £11.99
Nero d’Avola is grown successfully in south east Sicily, where temperatures often exceed 40º, and not really anywhere else outside the island.
There was a time when it used to be sent to mainland Italy to add colour and body to lesser wines, or kept locally for blending. Now its fortunes have changed. The Wine and Spirit Educational Trust calls the grape a “viticultural superhero”, within the canon of great Italian reds. It is Sicily’s flagship red – its most important and widely planted red wine grape variety.
It has a naturally high yield, and ripens relatively early – mid-September – mid-October- avoiding inclement autumn weather.
It grows in a variety of soil types, so the styles and characteristics of the wines can be diverse. The grapes of the wine we were tasting were grown in the local red sandy soil known as “Ferretti” which produces grapes with concentration. Variety can also extend to a number of biotypes of the grape, from selections by viticulturalists over the years, with differing yields, bunch shapes and berry sizes.
It thrives in the hot, relatively dry Mediterranean climate, but without being a big, rich heavy wine. It typically has high tannins, but softer than the structure of Cabernet Sauvignon or Nebbiolo. Its characteristics may be compared to Syrah, which flourishes in the same climate conditions.
The colour is dark, cherry red or plum. The aroma is fruity, with underlying spices. The taste is of red fruits and plums or cherries, dry with spicy and savoury notes. Acidity enlivens the finish.
There must be a minimum percentage of 85% of the grape in a wine with the Nero d’Avola label. In this wine it was blended with 5% Frappato – another indigenous grape – and 5% Shiraz. Nero d’Avola and Shiraz were picked in mid-September, Frappato about two weeks later. De-stemming is followed by a soft pressing. Once malolactic fermentation is completed, the wines are blended together and aged in Slavonian oak barrels for about 12-18 months.
The Wine People is the company producing this wine, registered in Trento, North Italy. They cover a range of wines throughout Italy, and control the whole production process from grape management, winemaking by their own winemaker, to packaging and sales.
Valpolicella, Veneto, North East Italy: Corvina grape
Veneto is Italy’s largest wine producing region. There is a diversity of micro-climates and terroirs. Generally the region is a cool continental climate, so that acid levels are maintained and sugars build slowly.
The particular wines we were tasting come from the west of the area, east of Lake Garda and north of Verona.
The Corvina grape is late ripening, producing light wines with low tannin levels. Since 2010, DOC law allows 45%-95% Corvina in Valpolicella DOC. Other local grape varieties may be blended in.
Valpolicella wine is usually bright-red, ruby-red or cherry. The bouquet has a sweetish smell. There may be hints of cherry and rose, and bitter almond. The palate will be fresh, soft and dry, slightly tannic and bitter, with cherry, strawberry or raspberry notes.
Valpolicella Superiore has been aged in wood for at least a year to develop the flavours, and must be a minimum 12%.
We were tasting Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso. “Ripasso” is made by repassing the Valpolicella Superiore blend in a second fermentation, with the partially dried pressed grape skins and solids left over after being used for Amarone, or occasionally Recioto. Both these are full-bodied wines made from dried grapes, with alcohol levels of 15-16%.
Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG and Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG
Grapes for Amarone (again, principally Corvina with other local grapes) are the last grapes in Valpolicella to be harvested, to be as ripe as possible. Unlike other late harvest wines, the presence of botrytis cinerea is actively avoided. The grapes must be kept dry in the vineyard and harvested before rot can develop. They are then dried out for four-five months, concentrating the sugars and flavours. This produces a unique rich dry wine.
Recioto della Valpolicella is a dessert wine which preceded Amarone, using the same grapes and winemaking process. However, the winemaker stops the fermentation before all the sugar ferments, leaving residual sugar in the wine so that it is sweet.
Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore
The ripasso process strengthens the fresh fruitiness of Valpolicella, adding depth, richness, complexity, and a longer finish. The wine is cheaper than Amarone, and has lighter alcohol, normally 13% or 13.5%.
Two Ripasso wines had been suggested for this tasting.
Villa Borghetti Valpolicella Ripasso 2018 £10.99
Domini Veneti ‘La Casetta’ Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore 2017 £14.99
The leftover skins added for this wine are from Recioto, giving a further dimension of flavour and some sweetness.
We enjoyed three contrasting wines, from different native grapes and from different regions, illustrating the amazing variety of Italian viticulture.