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May 2016

Life

VENETO TRAVEL DIARIES PART 4 – VALPOLICELLA TALES

Valpolicella Tales

Perhaps it was the proximity to Verona and its star-crossed lovers that made me sentimental. And perhaps, after a week travelling with two strong, talented women, I had become somewhat biased. Whatever the reasons, the themes of enduring love and of trailblazing females seemed to define my time in Valpolicella. As I find myself in a story telling mood, I will recount the history of three of the estates visited this week. Don’t worry, a review of the wines and an overview of the regions will follow shortly (in part 5).

CORTE SANT’ALDA  http://www.cortesantalda.com/en/

Our first stop was an unassuming old villa, atop a pretty hillside with panoramic views of vineyards strewn with wild poppies. From the moment I shook hands with the wry, spirited Marinella Camerani, I knew I would like her. In short order she had rattled off a tale of rebellion and passion. Tired of working as a lowly accountant in the family car battery business, she left her father and brothers, and even husband, behind and moved to the country. Without a lick of experience in winemaking, she began working in the cellars and slowly learnt her trade. Small Italian towns in the 1970s were not particularly receptive to divorcées living alone and taking on men’s work. The first years were hard, but she persevered, eventually getting the capital together to buy her first vineyards. Today, Corte Sant’Alda is a thriving 40-hectare biodynamic estate consisting of vineyards, olive trees, pastures and forest. Marinella’s eyes shone with pride speaking about her wines, but she became positively radiant when discussing the love of her life. Cesar came to her village as an illegal Peruvian immigrant. Their union was not a welcome one to her already disapproving family, but she eventually won them over. The winery is named for their now 16-year-old daughter Alda. Beautiful purity is the watchword for the whole line up, from the well crafted, cherry scented Valpolicella through to the rich, concentrated Amarone.

Québec: Private imports via La QV http://www.laqv.ca/

Ontario: Private imports via The Toronto Wine Club

VILLA MONTELEONE http://www.villamonteleone.com/principale/azienda_en.htm

After retiring from neurosurgery at North Western University, Anthony Raimondi and his Colombian-born wife Lucia Duran decided to follow their dream and retire in Italy. They happened across the stately old villa in their travels and fell in love. The estate came with a hectare of vines, so they decided to try their hand at winemaking. Initially they just wanted to supply their own cellar, but ambition got the better of them and the estate grew. Sadly, Anthony passed away not long after. Lucia found herself alone, in charge of a large property and a demanding enterprise.  She considered closing up shop but after some soul searching, decided to roll up her sleeves and carry on. She moved into a small cottage on the property and transformed her home into a tastefully furnished, welcoming bed & breakfast*. After a number of years growing her vineyard business alone, she recently found a business partner, Marco, to manage the vineyards and winemaking. Today, the estate makes 30 000 bottles, sold primarily in North America. We tasted the line up in Lucia’s lovely, heritage-classed gardens. The wines were a true reflection of the noble woman in front of us: elegant and refined.

Ontario: Private imports via Small Winemakers http://www.smallwinemakers.ca/

* For more information on the B&B: bedandbreakfast@villamonteleone.com

Follow Villa Monteleone on facebook for Marco’s authentic Italian recipes (in English)

TINAZZI http://www.tinazzi.it/

This last story is maybe a little less pertinent, since it is technically the story of a determined, strong-willed man. It was however, recounted over the course of a fabulous evening of Paverotti, antipastis and wine, by his equally tenacious daughter. Gianandrea Tinazzi was just 18 when his father, Eugenio, lost his job. The cantina where he worked went bankrupt. Tired of working for others, Eugenio decided he would set up his own operation and that his son would help. He started by buying small quantities of grapes, and vinifying them in a crude winery set-up in the garage. Gianandrea’s job was to drive around the holiday camping grounds surrounding Garda lake and sell the wine, returning with the empty bottles. Quickly realizing that they needed more than holidaymakers to grow, Gianandrea began selling in local restaurants, and then to national wholesalers. As the business continued to thrive, father and son began purchasing vineyards and looking for clients abroad. Without a word of German or a single business contact, Gianandrea drove all night and started the process of knocking on doors to present his little known wine. Fast forward to 2016, and a new generation of Tinazzi’s work at the family firm. Francesca studied economics in Milan and initially resisted the idea of joining her father and brother at the now flourishing 3-million bottle a year winery. But after 5 years away, the lure of the vineyards proved too great and she returned as financial director to oversee, if not quite, control Gianandrea’s ambition. The winery now consists of 100 hectares of vineyards in Bardolino, Valpolicella and Puglia, with additional grape contracts and brands out of Chianti, Abruzzo and Sicily. A heady, voluptous style defines Tinazzi’s line up of Veneto & Puglia wines.

Québec: Tinazzi’s excellent Puglian Primitivo “Feudo di Santa Croce” is available at the SAQ. The Veneto lineup can be private ordered via Vinicolor http://www.vinicolor.ca/produits.php#canada

 

 

 

 

 

Life

VENETO TRAVEL DIARIES PART 3 – A TASTE OF SPRING

My jaunt through the vineyards, cantinas, trattorias and castellos of Conegliano Valdobbiadene is sadly at an end. The festivities culminated in a lovely closing dinner with much merriment. The old, low beamed roof creaked under the weight of hundreds of old copper pots hanging from the rafters. The Prosecco DOCG was flowing freely and when we asked the charming Ernesto from Marsuret winery what the locals drank other than Prosecco, he cried “Grappa”…at which point liveried sommeliers arrived with snifters of the fiery golden liquid.

Over the past two days we have been visiting wineries. From mid sized family affairs to gigantic operations with massive, 200hL tanks gleaming out in the sun. Over the course of our conversations and tastings the difference between entry level Prosecco DOC and premium Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG became increasingly apparent. Much of what we are exposed to on international markets is the entry priced, aggressively frothy, candied peach and pear scented concoctions served at cheap banquets and sold on promotion in supermarkets. The finer examples of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG shine in comparison. When you see the steep hillsides, worked entirely by hand around Valdobbiadene, with only half the yield of the flat plains of Prosecco DOC, it is easy to understand why.

The best of the best have much finer mousse, only faintly frothy on the palate, with delicate floral, zesty apple and ripe pear aromas. On the palate, subtle spiced notes of aniseed or ginger are common. Some even offer attractive hazelnut or mineral undertones. From crisp, bone dry “Extra Brut” to overly fruity “Dry” styles, the best DOCG Proseccos offer balance. The sugar is offset by fresh acidity and vibrant bubbles, with none of the cloying sweetness on the finish. Prosecco DOCG “should taste like spring time” proclaimed Canavel’s Carlo Caramel (yes that is his real name). This neatly sums it up for me. Prosecco is meant to be drunk young, in the year following production. Though we did try a few intriguing 2014s with nutty, honeyed profiles, by and large the wine is not meant to age. Although made up to high quality standards, Prosecco DOCG does not take itself too seriously. It is bottled young and fresh, and should be drunk upon purchase…preferably on a terrace, with good tunes and great company.

A couple of parting words of advice: It is worth spending 10$ more and trying one of the best on offer in your local liquor store. After all, it is still far cheaper than many other bubblies. Look out for quality cues on the label like DOCG (the higher quality appellation level), and within this category: “Rive” (single vineyard – the word is always followed by the name of the hamlet), and the finest terroir “Cartizze”.

Some Great Producers to Look For

Adami, Biancavigna, Bisol, Canevel, Malibran, Marchiori, Marsuret, Merotto, Ruggeri, Villa Sandi

Visiting Conegliano Valdobbiadene Do’s & Don’ts

Never admit having mixed DOCG Prosecco with orange juice to a local. The long silence that follows can get a little uncomfortable.

Don’t suggest that the catchy little appellation name “Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG” could somehow be shortened to give it more international appeal. It is just fine as it is.

If you see just Valdobbiadene DOCG on the label, with no mention of Conegliano (or vice versa), don’t ask why. The feud is centuries old.

Drive the Prosecco wine route. You will not regret it. It is stunningly beautiful. Take some gravol first though!

Don’t eat risotto for at least a month or two before your trip. You will eat A LOT of it. Beautifully creamy, with wild herbs or asparagus; utterly delicious but omnipresent.

Life

VENETO TRAVEL DIARY PART 2 – “THE HEROS OF PROSECCO”

Cartizze

A grey, overcast sky greeting us this morning as we hopped on the minibus for the days’ adventure. First stop, the Enology school for a proper classroom session to learn the wonders of DOCG Prosecco.

The main difference always cited when people compare Champagne with Prosecco, is the vinification method. Champagne (along with Cava and many other bubblies) ferments to completion in tank or barrel like any dry white, and is then transferred to bottle, dosed with sugar and yeast and sealed to undergo a secondary fermentation process whereby carbon dioxide bubbles get trapped in the bottle making the fine mousse we know and love. For Prosecco, the Italian (or Martinotti) method is employed. The initial vinification is much the same. However, the carbonation process takes place in sealed, pressurized tanks. Whereas Champagne is deliberately left to mature on its lees (spent yeast cells) to develop weight and complexity, Prosecco is bottled rapidly after the second fermentation.  The resultant fizz is softer and frothier with exuberant fruity appeal.

Yesterday I explained the basic hierarchy of the Prosecco appellations (click here for the lowdown). Today, we delved a little further into the subdivisions within the Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore Prosecco DOCG. With over 7000 hectares, there is a wealth of diversity – from soil composition, to aspect, to microclimate – leading to important stylistic differences. To see for ourselves, we hopped back on the bus and made our way from the relatively flat plains of Conegliano to the steep slopes surrounding Valdobbiadene. The stunning Prosecco wine route weaves through sleepy hamlets, up and down increasingly steep hillsides, to reveal a hidden paradise of lush, green vines. Redder, more clay-rich soils surround Conegliano, giving structured, fruity wines. Nearer to Valdobbiadene, the vines are planted on more ancient morainic, sandstone and clay, yielding more elegant, floral aromatics.

The stunning Prosecco wine route weaves through sleepy hamlets, up and down increasingly steep hillsides, to reveal a hidden paradise of lush, green vines.

Like the 1er Crus of Burgundy, certain vineyard sites have been singled out as superior. They are called “Rive”, followed by the name of the vineyard or hamlet. If you are curious to try a more complex style of Prosecco, look out for this. At the highest point of the appellation, over 400m above sea level, we come across the single Grand Cru hillside: Cartizze. Just 107 hectares of vines are planted here. With more than 100 different growers, production volumes are tiny. Cartizze is blessed with a special microclimate. The southern exposure and steep angles offer maximum sunshine during the day. The high altitude guarantees cool nights, allowing a long, slow ripening period. The vast majority of Prosecco produced here is crafted in the “Dry” style (17 – 32g/L residual sugar), though the zesty acidity and rich, fruit laden flavours make the sweetness almost imperceptible.

In Cartizze and the surrounding steep hillsides, wine producers can use the special “Viticoltura Eroica” logo on their label. Literally translated as “heroic viticulture”, this lovely term refers to the impressive lengths to which growers have to go in order to work these precipitous vineyards. Everything is done by hand here, making pruning, harvest and other vineyard chores a backbreaking labour of love.

Our visit culminated in a culinary feast at the Trattoria alla Cima in Valdobbiadene. The wine was served in the traditional order, from Brut Prosecco with antipastis, to Extra Dry with the primi and secondi piatti and Cartizze for the dulce. After 5 courses, we were finally satiated, so headed back into Susegana for the evenings’ tastings at the spectacular Castello San Salvatore. More on this in the next edition.

 

Life

VENETO TRAVEL DIARY PART 1 – ITALY’S FAMOUS FIZZ

Conegliano

It is becoming increasingly rare (at least in my experience) to have a perfect journey. I mean one where all your flights leave on time, the security lines are short and painless, the immigration people are friendly and your bags make a speedy appearance upon arrival. I feel like this is a good omen for my trip.

I arrived in Venice this morning to ominous clouds, but mild spring weather and lush greenery. My colleagues and I were met by a smiling driver who whisked us away and shortly thereafter deposited us at the grandiose, if somewhat dated, Hotel Astoria just outside of Conegliano (pronounced Conelyano). Tonight, the Vino in Villa festival kicks off. The annual event aims to showcase the superior quality of the DOCG Prosecco from the region of Conegliano Valdobbiadene. A smattering of wine journalists from around the globe have been gathered to learn more about the region and its famed bubbly. The goal? To pass on the good word that Prosecco is more than a cheap and cheerful Champagne alternative.

Let’s start with the basics…  Prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine made throughout the Veneto and neighbouring Friuli Venezia Giulia regions in North Eastern Italy. The principle grape is called Glera. Not a particularly memorable variety for still wines due to a fairly neutral character, Glera is an excellent sparkling base. It boasts lively acidity, and peachy, floral notes. As with many European vineyards, there is a quality hierarchy. The lowest tier is Prosecco DOC, which includes grapes grown anywhere in the two above mentioned regions. This level of Prosecco can be made dry (brut), slightly off-dry (extra dry), or semi sweet (dry)…yes, the nomenclature is confusing! It can also be still, lightly sparkling (frizzante) or fully sparkling (spumante). The spumante style is most common. Above this tier, we get into the Superiore level, to which this week-end pays homage. The official name for this higher quality appellation is: Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG (I know, the name just rolls off your tongue, right?). It can only be made in the Treviso province of Veneto on the rolling hills between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. It is here that the Glera grape goes beyond simple, peachy fizz to take on real elegance and charm.

The next 3 days will consist of a total immersion in all things DOCG Prosecco…tutored tastings, vineyard and winery visits, food and wine pairings and so forth. I will endeavour to share my insights with you in a series of daily ramblings. I warn you in advance that I may dally into some raptures about the food. It is Just. So. Good. Here.  For example, today at lunch, we paired the brisk, refreshing, citrusy and faintly saline Le Manzane “Springo Blue” Conegliano DOCG Prosecco brut with herb sprinkled swordfish tartare & strawberry mayo. The main course was grilled sturgeon cooked to perfection with a pretty, floral extra dry Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco from Agostinetto “Vigna del Baffo”. The smooth, subtly creamy, poached pear finish underscored the rich, textured fish perfectly. All in all, a great start, topped off by a saunter around the lovely Conegliano castello and doumo. Birds are chirping outside my window, and the sun is lazily sinking down below the hill of vines outside my window, time to dress for the welcome dinner. More tomorrow…

Life

ITALY AWAITS…!

Distretto

I have been a little remiss in posting recently. This is simply because the big count down has begun…  I am T-26 days from the Masters of Wine exams. So, as you can imagine, I have had my head permanently in the books (and my nose in the glass) for the past couple of months.

The dread and anticipation is bringing me close to fever pitch. So the world’s greatest husband (mine), is sending me away for a week to cool my heels. I am making the potentially risky move off taking a week off. I have been tempted into accepting the gracious invitation of the Italian Chamber of Commerce to attend the annual Vino in Villa (http://vinoinvilla.it/en/) festival. This annual event honours the top quality Prosecco from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG.

Watch this space for a week long travel diary on my musings, tastings and so forth. I will also treat you to a cheeky little jaunt to Valpolicella before I head home. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it….!