Wine of the Week – a fine & delicious Gavi

P1100236

The beautiful landscape of Gavi.

Many of you who read these pages regularly will know how much I like Italian wines. Some of you will also know that I bang on rather a lot about how much better wines are nowadays than in the past – especially the whites from places that are more well known for quality reds in the past, places like Spain, Portugal and Italy.

Italian white wines are generally of a very high standard in my experience and far more interesting and sophisticated than their reputation would have you believe. In recent months I have enjoyed some superb Soave, Colli Berici, Verdicchioand click here , Lugana, Gambellara, Fiano, Falanghina and Greco from Campania, as well as those wonderful crisp dry whites of Etna in Sicily.

Gavi is another interesting Italian white wine and is now quite widely available, certainly more than most of the wines mentioned above, and has almost broken free of the Italian ghetto to be known as a style in its own right. It is nowhere near as famous as Pinot Grigio or Sancerre of course, but you occasionally get it mentioned in novels or hear the name in television dramas. However, as with most wines, there is Gavi and there is Gavi. It will never let you down in my experience, but can, like so many wines, occasionally be a bit dull, dilute even. The answer to that is to drink a well made wine from a good producer. Sadly most of the time price is a pointer to quality, there are exceptions, but on the whole never drink the bargain basement version of a well known wine – or if you do, manage your expectations.

Piemonte Map with watermark

Wine map of Piemonte – click for a larger view. Non watermarked, high resolution versions are available for a fee.

Gavi itself is a town in Piemonte, north west Italy, but until 1815 its powerful fortress formed the northern defences of the Republic of Genoa. Luckily, thanks to the EU and European integration – a little bit of politics – war has left this place alone since 1945 and today Gavi is a rather lovely, sleepy little town of narrow streets, café lined squares and those amazing fortifications of old.

P1100226

Gavi fortress.

Nowadays of course it’s fame lies in the wine that bears its name. Gavi is the only important wine made from the Cortese grape. There is a tiny bit here and there, but just this tiny patch of Piemonte specialises in it. Cortese is also grown in the nearby Colli Tortonesi and Monferrato regions as well as in the provinces of Cuneo, Asti and the wider areas of Alessandria to make the slightly more humble wines labelled as Cortese del Piemonte DOC. Outside Piemonte Cortese can be found in Lombardy’s Oltrepò Pavese region and it is also cultivated around Lake Garda where it is used to produce Garda Cortese as well as being used in the blend of Bianco di Custoza.

I have also had one Cortese from Australia that was very enjoyable, but I am surprised, given what nice wines can be made from Cortese, how little the grape is grown and known around the world – although it is slowly becoming more widely known.

11 communes, plus Gavi itself, make the wine called Gavi and despite its popularity there is no such wine as Gavi di Gavi and that term should not appear on labels. If a wine comes from fruit grown in just one of the communes able to make Gavi then it can be labelled as Gavi del Commune di Gavi – or Rovereto, Bosio, or Carrosio, or Capriata d’Orba, or Francavilla Bisio, or Novi Ligure, or Parodi Ligure, or Pasturana, or San Cristoforo, or Serravalle Scrivia, or Tassarolo.

What’s more these form a single DOCg, they are indivisible and are considered to all be of the same quality – unlike Chianti and Chianti Classico for instance which are separate DOCgs.

The countryside around Gavi is quite beautiful and the slightly high land – around 300 metres all – and the surrounding mountains channel cooling breezes off the sea and the nearby alps to cool down the vines and create really good conditions for white wine. While the southern exposure ensures they catch the sun to get excellent ripeness. Add all that together with the white wine technology that came in during the 1970s-1980s and you can see why Gavi has made a name for itself in recent years. It cannot be a hinderance either that nearby Alba, Asti, Barolo and Barbaresco all enjoy reputations for high quality wine and so the infrastructure for export is close at hand.

Anyway, long story short, the other day I drank a stunning bottle of Gavi that spoke to my soul and so I have made it my Wine of the Week.

Rolona-nuovo2016 Rolona
DOCG Gavi del Comune di Gavi
Castellari Bergaglio
Gavi
Piemonte
Italy
I really like the wines of Castellari Bergaglio and have been meaning to write about them for a while. They produce exemplary Gavis and what’s more make a fascinating range too. Ardé, their traditional method sparkling Gavi is very good and their standard Gavi, called Salluvi, is exceptional at the price. However the wineries true stars are their special cuvées. Pilin is made from partially dried grapes, Fornaci is a Gavi del Commune di  Tassarolo and Rovereto is a Gavi del Commune di Rovereto. They even make a sweet passito wine called Gavium, so produce a lot of varity for a single grape variety grown on just 12 hectares.
Castellari Bergaglio was founded in 1890 and today is run by 4th generation Marco Bergaglio and although he clearly loves the place his wine comes from and is steeped in the area, he also likes to experiment and push the boundaries of what constitutes a Gavi. He tries to balance tradition and modernity to great effect in my opinion.
The fermentation is long and slow at moderate rather than cool temperatures – 18-20˚C, which allows for lovely flavours and delicate textures to develop on the palate. This textural component is helped by the lees ageing.
CASTELLARI BERGAGLIO - FABRIZIO PORCU3

Marco Bergaglio (right) in his vineyards – photo courtesy of the winery.

The Rolona is perhaps the most pure of his range and indeed the Rolona vineyard has chalky soil. The aromas are delicately floral, orchard fruit, straw, perhaps a touch of dry honey, earth and wet stone. The palate is crisp with an underlying richness, succulence and concentration that shows what a high wire act the wine is. It is detailed and beautifully crafted in miniature. The minerality really suits it, as does the lemon and tangerine edged citrus and the sheer vitality of the wine. All the books and all the wine courses make great play about how high the acid is in Gavi, that simply is not true. It isn’t low acid that’s for sure but, but it is usually tempered by the ripeness of the fruit and this wine is no exception. I enjoyed it so much that I simply cannot tell you how quickly the bottle emptied itself. It’s lovely on its own or with some shellfish or delicate fish like seabass – 92/100 points.
Available in the UK @ around £14 per bottle from The General Wine Company and It’s Wine Time. More stockist information is available from Grape Passions.

Gavi & Cortese – the place, the grape and a surprise

 

The beautiful landscape of Gavi.

The beautiful landscape of Gavi.

The Santuario di Nostra Signora della Guardia dominates the landscape around gave.

The Santuario di Nostra Signora della Guardia dominates the landscape around Gavi.

I have long had a soft spot for the wines of the Gavi DOCg and consider the best of them to be among the very finest white wines of Italy. My recent trip to the Province of Alessandria in Piemonte was a delight, I loved seeing it all, but one of the highlights was visiting the lovely old town of Gavi and tasting a wide array of the wines produced there.

The view from the Santuario di Nostra Signora della Guardia.

The view from the Santuario di Nostra Signora della Guardia.

Gavi town

Gavi town

Gavi is made from the Cortese grape which really only gets a starring role in south east Piemonte. It is also grown in the nearby Colli Tortonesi and Monferrato regions as well as in the provinces of Cuneo, Asti and the wider areas of Alessandria to make the slightly more humble wines labelled as Cortese del Piemonte DOC. Outside Piemonte Cortese can be found in Lombardy’s Oltrepò Pavese region and it is also cultivated around Lake Garda where it is used to produce Garda Cortese as well as being used in the blend of Bianco di Custoza.

I have also had one Cortese from Australia that was very enjoyable, but I am surprised, given what nice wines can be made from Cortese, how little the grape is grown and known around the world.

However it is in the rolling hills around the town of Gavi and the 10 outlying communes that Cortese produces its most famous wine – Gavi or Cortese di Gavi which was created as a DOC in 1974 and promoted to DOCg in 1998. Gavi is very much regarded as Piemonte’s pre-eminent white wine and as such the production zone is very small, it produces less than 2% of all Piemonte’s wine and covers just 11 communes or villages , of which Gavi itself is the most important and famous.

As for the place name it seems that in ancient times the local people were cave dwellers and Ga Va means land of holes in the local Ligurian dialect.

The rolling hills of Gavi.

The rolling hills and vineyards of Gavi.

The area is in Piemonte now, but historically was more associated with Liguria and Genoa, which being on the coast needed more white wine to partner their fish based cuisine. Records show that Cortese has been grown here since at least 1659, but the wine that we know of as Gavi did not appear until 1876 and Gavi’s reliance on Cortese did not fully start until replanting took place after Phyloxerra was beaten in the early years of the twentieth century. In reality Gavi’s reputation and its perception as a quality wine only dates from the 1960s with its fame growing through the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s as new producers created new estates and used modern knowhow to make increasingly better wine.

One thing I learned was that despite its popularity there is no such wine as Gavi di Gavi and that term should not appear on labels. If a wine comes from fruit grown in just one of the 11 communes able to make Gavi then it can be labelled as Gavi del Commune di Gavi – or Bosio, or Carrosio, or Capriata d’Orba, or Francavilla Bisio, or Novi Ligure, or Parodi Ligure, or Pasturana, or San Cristoforo, or Serravalle Scrivia, or Tassarolo.

What’s more these are a single DOCg, they are indivisible and are considered to all be of the same quality – unlike Chianti and Chianti Classico for instance which are separate DOCgs.

Map showing the wines of Piemonte, I will draw a more detailed map soon.

Map showing the wines of Piemonte, I will draw a more detailed map soon.

It is a lovely part of the world, hilly in a way that reminded me of Tuscany and surrounded by mountains. The Alps to the north and west, coastal mountains towards Genoa and the Apennines to the east and south. Standing on a hillside just outside Gavi I was struck by the beauty of the place, the excellent exposure to sunlight, which would help ripen the grapes on a well angled slope, but above all the lovely fresh, cooling breeze coming from the Ligurian Sea some 60 kilometres to the south. It is this cooling wind together with the chalky soils that helps keep the freshness, acidity and balance in the wine that makes Gavi’s reputation and ensures this is a fine white wine region.

As I say, I tasted a great many different Gavis and I can truthfully say that none of them were disagreeable in any way. Most of them were what I would term reliable and I would have happily drunk any of them at all at the right price and in the right setting. Sadly a few were a little lacking in character and excitement, but luckily the others more than made up for it.

It’s strange that Gavi is so often talked about as a high acid wine, well actually most of the examples I tasted had medium acidity at most, which made them softer than I had expected and hoped for, as it also made them somewhat anodyne. For me the heights were reached when the wines had a more thrilling and zesty level of acidity that lifted them to a different level and emphasised Gavi’s much vaunted, but not always seen, minerality. For me at least it is that minerality and vibrant acidity that gives the wine its real finesse, elegance and excitement.

The Wines
As I said, all the wines are agreeable, but some were superb, and these were my absolute favourites:

Azienda Agricola Morgassi Superiore
This wonderful, and innovative winery is very new as it was only founded in 1993. Marina and Cecilia Piacitelli farm 50 hectares of steep south and southwest facing hillsides and have achieved amazing success in that short time. I really liked all Morgassi’s wines and their labels are very beautiful too, as are their vineyards. They even produce a delicious example of the rare Timorgasso grape, which has to be labelled as Timorgasso Monferrato Bianco DOC rather than Gavi because it is not made from Cortese grapes.

I really liked all Morgassi's wines and their labels are very beautiful too.

Azienda Agricola Morgassi Superiore.

morgassi_tuffo2013 Morgassi Superiore Tuffo
Azienda Agricola Morgassi Superiore
Gavi del Commune di Gavi DOCg
Very pale, citrine and bright, silvery with a little touch of lime.
The palate is lovey and taut with great acidity, green fruit, more freshness and minerality and complexity, there is even a nice touch of weight to the palate too and lovely balance. The finish is pretty long and there is a touch of attractive peach stone bitterness. Really lovely stuff and nicely balanced – 90/100 points.

2010 Morgassi Superiore Volo
Azienda Agricola Morgassi Superiore
Gavi del Commune di Gavi DOCg
This Riserva level wine is a careful selection of the best fruit on the estate and spends 9 months ageing on the lees and is then aged for at least 18 months in bottle before release.
Bright citrine leemony, lime hue with more obvious vore viscosity.
More creamy, smoky aromas, that could be mistaken for oak even though there isn’t any.
Fatter more rounded palate with savoury leesy flavours and touch of cheese in the texture, savoury, bready, herbal and creamy. Very good weight, the acidity is masked a bit, but very good and zesty. Lovely texture, good length and the finish has some real fat to it. – 91/100 points.

Azienda Agricola La Ghibellina

The beautiful vineyards at

The beautiful vineyards at Azienda Agricola La Ghibellina.

Probably my favourite visit in Gavi, and not just because they served us a superb buffet. Again this is a very new venture, founded as recently as 2000 by Alberto and Marina Ghibellini. Again the estate is small, just 20 hectares of south facing slopes that form a sort of amphitheatre giving perfect aspect to capture the sun’s rays and the cooling sea breezes from the south. Gavi is the focus, but they also make some red wines and Chiaretto rosé that are labelled as Monferrato DOC as Gavi is solely for white wines made from Cortese.

Mainin2013 Laghibellina Mainìn
Azienda Agricola La Ghibellina
Gavi del Commune di Gavi DOCg
This is Gavi as I imagine it to be, with a crisp, mineral character and high acidity, reminiscent of good Chablis. The wine is aged 4 months on the lees to help develop complexity.
Very bright and shiny with a pale silvery lime colour.
Very fresh, lively lime aromas, together with a touch of pear and zingy peach.
Nice pure mineral and zesty limey style, crisp, good acidity and some rich rich citrus fruit on the palate.
There is real tension here and a stony crisp acidity. This is a very fine wine with lovely citrus fruit and a long finish, thrilling acidity and minerality – 91/100 points.

2011 Laghibellina Altius
Azienda Agricola La Ghibellina
Gavi del Commune di Gavi DOCg
This Riserva level wine is a selection of the best fruit on the estate and spends 8 months ageing on the lees.
Deeper colour with a touch more gold.
Concentrated rich peachy fruit aroma with  leesy notes, cream, cheese and caramel.
Broader palate with a rich texture, smoky flavours, peach fruit and peach skin too. The acidity is there on the finish, but the succulence and fleshy, fat texture dominate, with succulent peach and nectarine fruit. The finish has a little bitter nutty, peach stone character – 91/100 points.

Azienda Agricola Gian Piero Broglia
Sadly we did not visit this producer, but we enjoyed a stunning lunch with them in the wonderful Cantine del Gavi restaurant – if you are anywhere near the area do try and get there. Everything they served me was superb from the wild boar salami to the two pasta courses, and the scrumptious zabaglione to the home made amaretti biscuits with the coffee.

The beautiful dining room in the Cantine del Gavi.

The beautiful dining room in the Cantine del Gavi.

The first pasta course.

The first pasta course.

 

The second pasta course - Ravioli originates in the area and some people say there was a chef or family called ravioli whose name was given to the stuffed pasta.

The second pasta course – Ravioli originates in the area and some people say there was a chef or family called Raviolo whose name was given to the stuffed pasta.

The main course, Chema a typical genoese dish of sliced meatloaf stuffed with vegetables.

The main course, Chema a typical genoese dish of sliced meatloaf stuffed with vegetables and served with Genoese pesto – what’s more it was delicious.

The zabaglione, one of the best desserts I have ever tasted.

The zabaglione, one of the best desserts I have ever tasted – it was served hot and had frozen raspberries at the bottom.

Piero Broglia owner of Azienda Agricola Gian Piero Broglia and our host for lunch.

Piero Broglia, chairman of the Gavi Conzorzio, owner of Azienda Agricola Gian Piero Broglia and our host for lunch.

The La Meirana estate is very old indeed and records show that some of it had vineyards on it as long ago as 971. The Broglia family purchased it in 1972, having first renovated a beautiful villa in Gavi. Piero took the estate over from his father in 1974 and they have never looked back. In many ways La Mairana is considered the quintessential Gavi as it makes beautifully elegant, mineral wines of great finesse and vitality and farm some of the oldest vines in the region.

gavi_di_gavi_la_meirana_broglia_weisswein_trocken_075_l-16062012 Broglia La Meirana
Azienda Agricola Gian Piero Broglia
Gavi del Commune di Gavi DOCg
5 months ageing on the lees with no malolactic fermentation.
Enticing pale appley cream colour with slightly green hints.
The aroma gives nice delicately cream notes with pear and apple fruit. together with some gentle, leesy, smoky aromas.
The palate feels elegantly weighty, with pear, apple and melon fruit. There is a fresh, soft acidity, too which gives a rounded and creamy mouthfeel.
All in all it is very attractive with steely minerality on the finish. A beautiful wine that would go with all sorts of dishes, but was especially good with the Ligurian food they served – 90/100 points.

brubr12_anv8002012 Bruno Broglia
Azienda Agricola Gian Piero Broglia
Gavi del Commune di Gavi DOCg
A Riserva level wine made from a parcel of vines on the La Meirana estate called Fasciola. These vines were planted in 1953 and 1955 and produce a wine with great concentration and which is named in honour of Piero’s father. It is unasked, but spends 6 months on the lees.
A deeper colour, like creamy pear juice.
The nose was aromatic, gently cheesy and creamy, with herbs, flowers and pear, together with delicate peach notes and some gentle spice too.
Very rounded palate with lovely freshness of acidity with minerality and an earthy, ashy character, touch of almond bitterness to the finish too. Lovely soft, creamy texture, very rich finish, long with lovely balance. This is a fine, fine wine and quite delicious too – 92/100 points.

Over lunch and during the tasting that followed I was also hugely impressed by these Gavis:

gavi-di-gavi-minaia-nicola-bergaglio-2011_original2013 Minaia
Nicola Bergaglio
Gavi del Commune di Gavi DOCg
Very pale, pear juice colour with a dash of lemon.
Pear drop aromas, herbs and onion seed, all very delicate though.
Lovely palate, soft acidity, gentle mouthfeel, just fresh enough to be lively, but with pear juice succulence.
Very attractive wine – 89/100 points.

 

La Fornace2013 La Fornace
Azienda Agricola Bergaglio Cinzia
Gavi del Commune di Tassarolo DOCg
I loved this wine with its thrilling acidity and minerality and it came from a different commune too.
Bright, pale colour, a sort of silvery lemon and lime.
Leesy nose, with citrus and apple skin notes, floral blossom and acacia, all in all very fresh and attractive.
Nice intensity of peach and green apple fruit, and good acidity with some texture of fruit, nicely mineral too making it feel clean and zesty. Very good balance, concentrated and fine with lively acidity, great length and a twist of peach stone bitterness at the end – 92/100 points.

A sparkling surprise
I was very excited to be served some sparkling Gavi too. I knew they existed, but had never tasted one before and I was very impressed. Prosecco and Franciacorta get all the fame and plaudits for Italian sparkling wine, but from the examples I tried, sparkling Gavi – and by extension sparkling Cortese – can be really good and perhaps more exciting too. Some are made fizzy by the tank method, and can be very enjoyable as this one shows, but the best are made using the traditional method – metodo classico in Italian – and the extra finesse and complexity really show.

P8040352-low-640x480

The beautiful vineyards at Azienda Agricola Magda Pedrini – courtesy of Azienda Agricola Magda Pedrini.

image description2011 Magdalena Pedrini Metodo Classico Gavi Brut
Azienda Agricola Magda Pedrini, Tenuta Nuova Cà da Meo
Gavi del Commune di Gavi DOCg
Cà de Meo is a hamlet – or lieux-dit – within Gavi and it is very old indeed, with a history dating back at least as far as the fifteenth century. Magdalena Pedrini’s estate covers 10 hectares on 3 natural south facing amphitheatres that catch the sun and those vital sea breezes. Sadly I have not yet visited, but if all the wines are as good as this, then I really should.
Very fine wine with a lovely biscuity caramel nose. The palate has a fine mousse, rich apple and apple skin flavours some butterscotch and mealy character. Very good indeed with lovely acidity, balance and complexity. The freshness shows well and there is lovely richness too making it a brilliant fizz. We enjoyed it as an aperitif with some salami to nibble on, but it would partner anything you can eat while drinking Champagne  – 92/100 points.

I think you can see that there is a lot to enjoy in Gavi. There are a great many perfectly enjoyable wines and lots of flashes of brilliance – from producers like those mentioned above – which lift Gavi up into the ranks of world class wine regions and put it firmly with the best white wines and sparkling wines of Italy.

I leave you with a view of the dramatic fortress which dominates the skyline of the town of Gavi as it has done since it was first built in 973.

Gavi fortress.

Gavi fortress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Piemonte Part 1 – first taste of Monferrato

Vignale in Monferrato.

Vignale in Monferrato.

I experienced my first wine trip to Piemonte the other week and I really enjoyed it. The countryside is beautiful, the variety of landscapes in a small area is quite extraordinary – totally flat around the Po Valley, but with the towering Alps just to the north, while the rolling hills in the south morph into a coastal range of mountains towards Liguria and the sea. The towns and villages are delightful too, the food is memorable and the people are very welcoming. There is a great deal to enjoy in Piemonte and I recommend a visit, oh and the wines are wonderful too and come in an amazing array of different styles from a plethora of grape varieties, some well known, but some quite obscure.

As soon I told people that I was going to Piemonte they jumped to the conclusion that I would be visiting Barolo, but actually my destination was the much less well known Monferrato region. Monferrato covers the provinces of Alessandria and Asti, I was visiting the bit in Alessandria. For most of the time was I based in the lovely provincial town of Acqui Terme, which was originally a Roman Spa town and the bollente, or hot spring, still bubbles up in the town centre.

Il bollente, the water comes out at 75˚C.

Il bollente, the water comes out at 75˚C.

Monferrato
The Monferrato D.O.C. is pretty hard to pin down. It covers great swathes of territory that look and feel very different. The D.O.C. itself can use all sorts of different grapes and incorporates the territories of other wines within its boundaries, Gavi D.O.C.G. being the most famous. It also includes much of the Asti territory, so allowing many producers to make Asti, Mosacto d’Asti as well as Barbera d’Asti. The overall effect is a quite beguiling hotch potch of wine names that straddle and overlap each other.

Map showing the wines of Piemonte, I will draw a more detailed map soon.

Map showing the wines of Piemonte, I will draw a more detailed map soon.

The region is divided in to two by the Tanaro River. In the north the Basso Monferrato – or Monferrato Casalese – is an open land of rolling hills that give way to the plains of the Po Valley. To the south there is the Alto Monferrato, which is a hilly and mountainous land that forms part of the Apennines. Culturally the whole region is diverse with Piemontese, Genoese and Ligurian influences in the food. Asti and neighbouring Alba are also centres of truffle production and they are also important in the cuisine.

The most widely grown grape, the signature grape for the region is the generally under appreciated Barbera. Many others are used though, including Gavi’s Cortese, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Freisa  and Grignolino and I will write more about those another day.

Looking towards the Alps from Marenco's vineyards in Strevi.

Looking towards the Alps from Marenco’s vineyards in Strevi.

Marenco
There were many highlights on this trip and I will write about some of them soon, but one of my favourite winery visits was to the Casa Vinicola Marenco. This family winery is run by three sisters, Michela, Patrizia and Doretta, who are the third generation of the Marenco family to run the family business, interestingly the next generation is entirely male.

The Marenco winery.

The Marenco winery.

Michela Marenco picking cherries for us to eat.

Michela Marenco picking cherries for us to eat.

Our little group enjoying the cherries - photo courtesy of Paul Balke.

Our little group enjoying the cherries, that’s me front left looking serious – photo courtesy of Paul Balke.

Marenco are based in the lovely quiet town of Strevi midway between Gavi and Asti – which is an important area for Moscato (Muscat) production and Moscato Passito di Strevi is the tiny local speciality D.O.C. for a dessert wine made from dried Moscato grpes. All their wines were excellent, but the ones that thrilled me the most were:

2scrapona2013 Marenco Scarpona Moscato d’Asti 
Casa Vinicola Marenco
Strevi
D.O.C.G. Moscato d’Asti

Moscato d’Asti is less fizzy than Asti itself, but tastes very similar and is similarly light light in alcohol – 5.5% in this instance. This single vineyard wine from the Scarpona slope is an exceptionally fine example with a purity, elegance and finesse to it, so much so that it tastes drier than it is, even though it has 130 grams of sugar per litre.

The wine is very pale and delicately frothy rather than fizzy and the CO2 settles on the surface like lace. It is wonderfully aromatic with floral and delicately peachy notes and candied lemon peel making it smell like a freshly opened panettone. The palate is light and fresh with that frothy feel, a slight creamy intensity, and although it is sweet it also tastes very clean, fresh and lively. Candied citrus, light peach and zesty orange flavours dominate. A joyous hedonistic delight of a wine, try it with some fruit, a panettone or a simple sponge cake – 90/100 points.

Click here for UK stockist information for Contero Moscato d’Asti as Scarpone is not available in the UK.
Click here for US stockist information.

Marenco's Scarpona vineyard.

Marenco’s Scarpona vineyard.

pineto2013 Pineto Marenco Brachetto d’Acqui
Casa Vinicola Marenco
Strevi
D.O.C.G. Brachetto d’Acqui

The rarer red equivalent to Moscato d’Asti, this is made from the Brachetto grape, which is a local speciality. The grape is thin skinned, so makes pale wine, but is tannic, like Nebbiolo and is made sweet to balance the tannins in the wines, as many Nebbiolos were until the late nineteenth century. Marenco farm their Brachetto grapes in the Pineto Valley, hence the wine’s name.

In many ways this is like a red partner to the Moscato, with a similar character, lightly sparkling and low alcohol of 5.5%. It has 125 grams of sugar per litre, but tastes drier.

The colour is red cherry or cherry-ade even with that lacy, frothy top. It smells of tangy red fruit, cherry and strawberry, with a touch of cherrystone bitterness too. Frankly the palate tastes like a really good Black Forest Gateau and it would be the perfect partner to it too. This is so, so delicious that I could not stop drinking it – 91/100 points.

I cannot, for the life of me imagine why these two wine styles are not more popular in the UK, they just deliver pure pleasure to your senses – go on, please, I beg you, give them a try. Sadly you won’t find these two particular wines in the UK as Marenco’s distributer, Liberty Wines, sell the Moscato d”Asti and Brachetto d’Acqui from the Contero estate. Luckily Contero is also owned by Marenco and the wines are equally fine.

Click here for UK stockist information for Contero Brachetto d’Acqui.
Click here for US stockist information.

I was also delighted with this red wine produced in a more normal dry style:

MA4012010 Marenco Red Sunrise Albarossa
Casa Vinicola Marenco
Strevi
D.O.C. Piemonte

Albarossa is an unusual grape that is just beginning to catch on in this part of Piemonte and I tasted quite a few, but this was definitely my favourite example. In case you have never heard of it, and I hadn’t, it is a cross of Chatus (Chat-ooo) with Barbera. The position is confused somewhat by the widespread belief that Chatus is a form of Nebbiolo, so some people tell you that Albarossa is a cross of Nebbiolo and Barbera, both native to Piemonte, but that is not the case. This confusion probably arose because Chatus is known as Nebbiolo di Dronero in the Alba region of Piemonte.

The wine is cold fermented in stainless steel tanks and 50% was aged for a year in large oak casks.

As you might expect from this area the wine is red, quite a vivid crimson in fact.
The nose offers a mix of floral and earthy notes, stones, black fruit and red too, especially plums and stewed cherries, with a dash of tobacco.
The palate is soft and marked by rich smoky fruit, red and black, the texture is supple, deep and velvety, with slightly gamey, savoury flavours. All the while there is excellent balance between the lovely acidity, concentrated fruit and soft gamey, ripe tannins. I enjoyed this wine very much and was very excited to try something so completely unexpected. There is a Nebbiolo like feel to it at times, it is overwhelmingly savoury, but the fruit is richer and the tannins softer. I think this is a very fine wine and my favourite Albarossa so far – 90/100 points.

Click here & here for UK stockist information. Also contact Liberty Wines.
Click here for US stockist information.

I think you can probably tell that I was completely bowled over by Marenco and loved visiting them. The vineyards were very beautiful, their wines were superb, the people were lovely and they have real passion for their land and their wines, and it shows. Do try them if you can, you won’t regret it. I will be writing much more about my trip to Piemonte, but Marenco was a real highlight.

 

Deliciously different & exciting white wines

There is so much wine available from so many different places that it must be hard for most casual wine drinkers to decide what to drink. Which is presumably why so many people I know stick to a very narrow range of favourites.

There is no need to get stuck in a rut though, even with tried and tested wine producing countries or companies. Here are details of four delicious and exciting, for different reasons, white wines that have come my way of late. At first glance on the shelf they might not seem all that different, the first two are from the famous and always excellent Villa Maria in New Zealand while the second pair are from Chile, one made by Álvaro Espinoza in the Casablanca Valley and the other by Errazuriz.

What sets these wines apart and makes them a little different and exciting is that they are made from slightly more unusual grape varieties, or in the Chilean case blends. I love championing less famous grapes as there is a great deal of pleasure to be found in many of them and so I think it is a great shame that so many drinkers limit themselves to such a tiny palate of grapes. There are hundreds of grape varieties out there and many of them can make very good wine indeed.

All it needs is to be slightly adventurous and try something new. I always tell my students that at least once a month they should buy a bottle of wine that they have never heard of or thought of drinking before, that way they experience lots of new things. In addition I tell them to buy at least some of their wine from a proper independent wine merchant, which can give advice and usually stock the more interesting things too.

It is so good that wine producers are still trying to offer consumers wines that are a little bit unusual and more interesting than the normal run of the mill wines that fill the shelves. Especially so as both New Zealand and Chile have long focussed on a narrow range of commercially successful grapes, so it is good to see such exciting experimentation. In recent months I have also seen Grüner Veltliner from New Zealand too, all we need is an Albariñoa Godello, a Fiano and a Falanghina and I will be a very happy bunny indeed!

Remember to click on all the links – and leave a comment too.

New Zealand

Sir George Fistonich founded Villa Maria Estate in Auckland in 1961 and runs it to this day. Photo courtesy of Set Michelle Wines.

Sir George Fistonich at harvest time. George founded Villa Maria 1961 and runs it to this day. Photo courtesy of Ste Michelle Wines.

image-12013 Villa Maria Private Bin Arneis
East Coast G.I., New Zealand
If you have never heard of the Arneis grape variety before, well you can be forgiven as it is only a speciality of Piemonte in north west Italy. It makes the wines of the Roero Arneis D.O.C.g, and D.O.C. wines in Langhe too. In its native country it seems to make wines that are quite floral and aromatic, but is usually too low in acidity for me, so I am generally more keen on Nascetta or Gavi’s Cortese grape. Somehow it seems that the New Zealanders are able to compensate for this lack of acidity and produce fresher, more lively versions than the the original – just as they do with Viognier. Historically Arneis was considered very hard to grow as it is so delicate, hence the name which means ‘little rascal’ in Piemontese and so the grape almost died out in the 1970s with only two producers left by 1980. Luckily – as with so many white grapes – modern know-how has swept to the rescue and limited plantings are now found in Liguria and Sardinia, as well as California, Oregon, cooler parts of Australia and New Zealand’s North Island.
This wine has the East Coast Geographical Indicator, because the vineyards are in more than one region. In fact the grapes are grown at 3 vineyards sites between Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne.
Villa Maria’s Private Bin wines are their fruit forward more easy drinking range.
This offers a gently aromatic and slightly floral nose with touches of pear and very delicate peach.
The palate is juicy, delicately succulent and textured with soft acidity and lots of fresh and lively orchard fruit – pear –  and is nicely flowery too. There is also a fresh seam of acidity keeping the whole thing together and lively, without dominating.
All in all a really good approachable take on this grape making it a sassy and enjoyable easy drinking wine that goes well with almost anything, what’s more it only has 12.5% alcohol making it an ideal quaffer too – 87/100 points.

Map of New Zealand's wine regions – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Map of New Zealand’s wine regions – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

image-1-22013 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon Gris
Marlborough G.I., New Zealand
Sauvignon Gris is a grape close to my heart. I became very fond of it in Chile over ten years ago and am very pleased that it is now being grown in New Zealand too. Sauvignon Gris is thought to be either an ancestor of or a mutant clone of Sauvignon Blanc – for some reason it is not clear which came first, which reminds me of a joke – and makes fatter and less aromatic wines than its more famous relation. In France they are historically blended together to give more texture and richness than Sauvignon Blanc would have on its own. Personally I think Sauvignon Gris is potentially a very interesting grape and others clearly agree as there appears to be renewed interest with this ancient grape in Graves and parts of the Loire. Sauvignon Gris can sometimes be found blended into the finer examples of Sauvignon de Touraine and is something of a speciality grape of the tiny Touraine-Mesland sub-region. The grape has a long history in Touraine and it is often referred to there by its ancient local names of Fié or Fié Gris or even Sauvignon Rose.
Villa Maria’s Cellar Selection wines are more concentrated, complex and so perfect with food. This particular wine is actually from a single vineyard in Marlborough’s Wairau Valley – Fletcher’s Vineyard.
The wine has a pale pear juice colour that hints at succulence, while the nose offers pear and delicately smoky peach.
The palate is by turns stony and peachy with a rippled texture of occasional fleshy succulence, nectarine lingers on the finish together with blackcurrant leaf and some tropical passionfruit too.
It is dry with a freshness of acidity and little cut of citrus too, but acidity is much less dominat than in Sauvignon Blanc, indeed in many ways it is like a bigger, fatter Sauvignon Blanc. A lovely wine with real finesse and elegance that will go with almost any fish or lighter dish perfectly – 89/100 points.

UK stockist information for Villa Maria wines is available from the distributer – Hatch Mansfield.
US stockist information for Villa Maria wines is available from the distributer – Ste Michelle Wine Estates.

Chile

Emiliana's beautiful organic vineyards. Photo courtesy of Ste Michelle Wines.

Emiliana’s beautiful organic vineyards. Photo courtesy of Banfi Wines.

CCC06-02012 Signos de Origen Chardonnay-Roussanne-Marsanne-Viognier
Emiliano Organic Vineyards
D.O. Valle de Casablanca, Chile
Casablanca is a beautiful place, one of the best bits of Chile to visit the wineries. this is because it is near both the main cities of santiago and Valparaiso and so is home to some excellent winery restaurants as well as some very good wine producers too. For a long time Casablanca was the undisputed premium white wine region of Chile, this is because the lack of mountains between it and the ocean ensure it is cooler than the wine regions to the south – like the Maipo and Colchagua Valleys. Nowadays Casablanca has competition from the equally cool San Antonio and Leyda Valleys as well as Acocagua Costa and Limari to the north, but is still a great region.
I love interesting blends and this is a wonderful combination of classic Rhône Valley white grapes – Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier – with the more lush style of Chardonnay and it works perfectly. The grapes are organically grown and the grapes were partly fermented in stainless steel tanks at low temperatures before being moved to French oak barrels to complete the fermentation – this technique gives subtle richness and texture to the wine. 90% of the wine then aged in those barrels for 6 months, while 10% was aged in egg shaped concrete tanks, which are very trendy right now and do good things – you can read about them here.
This is a serious white wine with complexity, structure, texture and finesse.
The fruit drives it with rich apricot and peach characters giving succulence and texture as well as the fresh herb characters of the Rhône grapes. Ripeness and oak give honey and nut tones too and an overarching richness, even a touch of oatmeal at times. There is freshness and stony minerality too though giving some tension and balance.
A glorious wine, dense, concentrated and fine, perfect with cheese, rich poultry or pork – 91/100 points.

UK stockist information is available from the distributer – Boutinot.
US stockist information is available from the distributer – Banfi Wines.

Chile Map watermarked

Map of Chile’s wine regions – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

If you want to try Rousanne, Marsanne and Viognier without Chardonnay, try another great Chilean blend:

image-1-32011 Errazuriz The Blend Marsanne-Roussanne-Viognier
Viña Errazuriz
D.O. Valle de Aconcagua, Chile
Another thrilling blend from grapes that originate in France’s southern Rhône. This comes from a little further north than Casablanca in the Aconcagua proper – Casablanca is politically a sub-division of the Aconcagua Valley – about halfway between the cool Aconcaua Costa and the warmer eastern end of the valley where Errazuriz traditional produce their red wines.
25% was fermented in third use French oak to give delicate richness while the rest was fermented in stainless shell to give freshness. 25% was also aged for 6 months in French oak.
This wonderful wine has a rich, earthy nose with wild herbs, honey, rosemary, spicy toasty oak and nuts too, it is savoury but with rich underlying fruit.
The palate is succulent with rich juicy fruit and a touch of minerality and acidity keeping it fresh not cloying. Herbs, apricots, peach, stones, a touch of oily texture and even cream together with a bite of tannins and nuts on the finish. Another glorious and exciting wine that is perfect with roast pork or rich poultry dishes – 91/100 points.

UK stockist information is available from the distributer – Hatch Mansfield.
US stockist information is available from the distributer – Vintus.

So you see, there is plenty of excitement and lots of different, but still delicious, wine out there if you are prepared to be a little adventurous. There really is no need to get stuck in a rut or keep drinking the usual suspects.

In the interests of full disclosure I should tell you that I do some work for both Villa Maria and Viña Errazuriz from time to time. However, the views that I have expressed about their wines are completely honest and unsolicited.