Archives for September, 2015

Amarone – Venetian fresh & dry

This might sound ridiculous but since the late 50s the good Valpolicella folk in one of Veneto’s wine capitals, have called these wines from dried grapes amarone.

And they are not a new idea, in fact it was a Roman trait to make their wines from shrivelled bunches (called appassimento) BC.

My lovely host Annachiara Zanoni pointed out these Valpolicella Classico Superiore vines face the modifying effects of the nearby Lake Garda, fed by three local rivers, the Negrar, Fumane and Marano.

I was lucky to visit at Masi in the middle of harvest of their three indigeneous red grapes; corvina, rondinella and molinara; where enthusiastic cutters were placing only the best bunches on small fresh white pine trays.

Afterwards they emerged into one of the 15 company drying towers which have hand-spread bunches on large bamboo trays to dry for 100-120 days (DOCG rule) in environments which emphasise a full red berry to concentrate to a withered, less-juicy, more flavoured little wine morsel.

This was fantastic to see happening as I slipped on the sugary floors watching a careful sorting bunch by bunch of glossy, sun-dusted, dizzy-ripened corvina placed on these flat and worn Masi-branded trays.

Masi-design bamboo-lined drying trays

Masi-design bamboo-lined drying trays

Afterwards I had completed the fresh and dry experiment on visiting tasters: you see we sipped standard strength molinara (very pale wine, simple but acidic), rondinella (wild, rustic and tea-tannin like), then the preferred king , corvina (spiced, deep, delicious texture); as these three make a slim lined Valpolicella Classico Superiore called Bonacosta 2011 (12%).

In the drying these grapes grow in dimension; wine colour which results goes deeper, the high sugars and partial noble rot attack on the thinner-skinned corvina (up to 40%) cause the yeast to make glycerine, a smoothing texture agent so the wine slips on your throat.


Original large oak storage

However these wines are created very carefully, spending 24 months in big barrels (600 litre or fusto veronese) which do not give additional oak notes to a chocolate-coated wine brimming with sweet spice and deep baked plum  tarts.

Corvina-the amarone god

Corvina-the amarone god

Now I wish I could drink all Masi’s amarones together, forget the fresh and dry, keep the deep and flavourful; three single vineyard ones; Vaio Aramon (cherry wood aged also), Campolongo and Mazzano; or the beautiful Costasera (straight up or its Riserva) which are more widely blended.

The company’s latin motto nectar angelorum hominibus meaning nectar of angels to men seems eternal!

The author visited Masi Historic Vineyard Estates in Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella and Gargagnago on 18 September 2015.

Italian Alpine bubbles: bellissimo

There is a sparkle in the chill fresh waters of Lago Iseo, and now there some most sustainable growth in Italy’s premier wine region alongside these ripples in Franciacorta.

While nowhere in quantity to France’s finest (304 million bottles), news this week by the Gambero Rosso organisation said 15 million bottles of the sparkling style Franciacorta (Lombardy province) from te cool, hilly southern lake sites are made.

The set is metodo classico, that age-surviving manual and individual method of preserving Franciacortian chardonnay and pinot nero base wines on their dead yeast. The earliest drunk wines generally age that way for 18 months though older makers can hold bottles longer.

There are three thousand hectares designated Franciacorta DOCG with 110 members in the local producing organisation (consorzio) though about 170 brands exist (renegade non believers). Ten years ago there were 50 makers .

A third of the region is in conversion to bio dynamique vine growing.

I found my way from the lakeside to the small village of Montecelli Brusati (a series of small rolling hills behind the living spaces typifys) to greeted by the folk from the Gussalli Beretta-owned Lo Sparviere, a very old stone property and set of 16th century buildings.

The original family have lived there for five generations, and which Beretta is preserving.

The external winemaker is a composed Francesco Pollastri, a 40 odd vintage grounded veteran keeping the ways in the cellar quite simple.


Vineyards are generally planted and harvested as separate varieties, mainly chardonnay, the bulk of the 20 hectare spaces. A little pinot nero from several sites breaks the rule and is blended to make a single rose bubbles . The current La Sparviere Rose, no vintage on the label but it is from 2010, keeps it more simple.


Lo Sparviere Pinot Nero Rose

The stellar wine is the single chardonnay wine with vintage age; I was first attracted to the brand by drinking the 2008 (AUD 75), current is Lo Sparviere Brut Millesimato 2009. It gleams, pale, expressive, intense chardonnay tangerine, bitter peach or nectarine fruit flavours, and coiled acidity. A cool place, and a warm year wine.

Lo Sparviere Brut Millesimato 2009

Lo Sparviere Brut Millesimato 2009

Then the next step: Lo Sparviere Dossagio Zero 2008, just named with three glasses (very prestigious) in Gambero Rosso’s 2016 listings of top wines; worth celebrating though small amounts are kept this long. No sugar, just measuring a gram which the yeast does not eat, this is very composed and a long time keeping “blanc de blancs” with lovely linear lime grass acidity. Other wines are dosed at 8 grams to compare the subtle sweetness.

WHERE TO STAY IN FRANCIACORTA: Try staying on Lake Iseo (beautiful views) at the romantic 4 star Rivalago in Sulzano; close by to all vineyards, grand hotel and excellent service.

EAT IN FRANCIACORTA:  try Ristorante Gaudenzi, very focussed on local foods, particularly lake-caught fish, plenty of Franciacorta bubbles; via Cantarana 1, Rodengo Saiano; +39 030 6810422

The author visited the Gussalli Beretta-owned Lo Sparviere sparkling wine property in Monticelli Brusati on September 16, 2015.

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