Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Journey to Piemonte, Italy: Mango, the home of the noble Moscato grape and it's famous derivative, Asti Spumante


Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

MANGO, ITALY—If you want to taste the great wines of the Moscato, such as Asti Spumante, this is the place.
The Moscato grape, is one of the most famous  and widely produced of the region. Moscato takes many different forms and contours. It can be sparkling, like champagne, lightly sparkling, something they call “frizzanti”, or it can be made into a still wine.

 The word “Spumante” literally means ‘sparkling.’ That is the most popular incarnation of the Moscato grape and the one which is having a tremendous resurgence, taking the wine-drinking public, particularly in the U.S., by storm.

 Here in the hallowed confines of a 13th Century Castle, that is the headquarters of Enoteca Regionale Di Mango, one of 12 regional wine public information centers  in the heart of the Piemonte, the president of the Enoteca Regionale di Mango, Valter Bera is holding court in the vaulted ceilinged main hall, introducing a panel of young, talented wine producers and  conducting a tasting of their unique and, in some cases, rare offerings.  Here are the highlights of this historic tasting, the first of its kind conducted  for the benefit of an assemblage of a half dozen of the world’s top wine writers on an exclusive Wine Education tour of Piemonte, organized by noted wine author and expert Paul Balke, whose excellent treatise, "Piemonte Wine and Travel Atlas (with Valle d'Aosta and Liguria available at Eataly, New York))  served as the resource and authoritative reference for this comprehensive journey.

Chiaror Sul Masso($26)-This wine has an immediate strongly mineral presence. It is a stunning example of a truly a unique white varietal. The vineyards are located in the lush hills Colli Tortonesi, situated in Alessandria province.  According to the winemaker,  it is the first sparkling Timorasso made. The winery is strategically located  between four regions, each of them lending a distinct and beneficial characteristic. The vines get the sea air from Liguria in the south of Piemonte. The hills with their rich mixture of soils, provide it's minerality, which is further amplified by rich thermal waters running underground. The winemaker cited as a unique feature, the fact that there is a  huge bay laurel tree on the property that serves as  a local landmark and symbol of the superior attributes of the soil, which is special to everything that grows in it.  Every detail is paid attention to and nurtured to fruition by the winemaker. He designed the labels for each of his wines  himself and named each of the wines with an eye toward poetry and ties to music.  This is a light sparkling wine with crisp notes of white peaches and apricots and a long, clean finish. This wine is great as an aperitif or an accompaniment to light salads and soft cheeses.
Rugiada del Mattino –“morning dew”2009 ($29) This is an unfiltered wine produced by the company "I Carpini." The wine is a blend of strictly local grapes; Favorita, Cortese (and Timorasso. The wine is a complete expression of these local grapes with a bright, fresh profile that reflects its name, “morning dew.”  The winemaker and owner, Paolo Ghislandi prepares this wine with the utmost care and is the creator of its dazzling flavor profile and design. The name of the wine, "morning dew," is also of his creation. It could not have been more aptly named. The taste is like that of ripe fruit with a distinct undertone expressing the fact that there are lots of minerals in there.  Each of the bottles are numbered, reflecting the care that goes into the winemaking process. The grapes are a combination of local vines that express the unique territory of the vine stock. Because the grapes are grown on a a hill, with varying exposures to sun and wind, winemaker had to carefully plan ahead of time  so that grapes could ripen at the same time to create the blend. He worked out a plan of action by observing how fast the grass grew on various parts of the hill so that he could plan the ripening process. "It was like being the conductor of an orchestra in the planning and planting of the grapes," Paolo shared. From the taste of the wine, with its floral notes of aromatic persistence and soft, savory tastes of lemons and wild sage, this is a warm, embracing wine that marks Paolo Ghislandi as a true Maestro!
Brezza d’Estate "summer breeze" 2007 ($32) This is a fresh, white wine that has the capability of being aged up to 15 years. A well-structured wine made from 100% timorasso grape, it is a masterpiece that belies the fact that winemaker Paolo Ghislandi started winemaking as a hobby. He explained that he just recently left his normal day job as an IT engineer and is now following his heart  and passion for winemaking. Paolo Ghislandi represents a ‘new breed’ of winemaker in the region. Unilke many, who are following in the footsteps of their forebears as the third or fourth generation of a winemaking dynasty, Paolo’s ‘ ‘day job’ was as a computer professional with a sideline passion for wine that has now consumed his entire attention.

Colli Tortonesi Timorasso Dertona 2009 ($26) Winemaker  Claudio Marriotto  was unfortunately obliged to be in his cellar due to a problem with bottling. His well-nurtured  wines are also from the rich Tortona hills of the Piemonte. His technique is meticulous, involving daily contact with the vines and exercising great care in every step of the winemaking process. His wines are considered among the best from the Tortona hills and are prized by connoisseurs. The names of the whites include Coccalino, made from the local Cortese grape ($32), Orange Blossom ($29), but it is his reds that best represent the rare flavor profile and structure to be derived from grapes grown on the 'red hill.' Only the best grapes are used in his outstanding Derthona. The wine is made from the Timorasso grape. The exceptional balance and firm structure make this a wine that can be enjoyed now, or it can be aged to reveal its true depth and character. Claudio Mariotto's wines were delicious. It is a pity he was not present to offer a full tasting of his red wines, which are touted by many, including his fellow winemakers, throughout the region.
Claudio Mariotto Pitasso 2004 ($39) This is a  nicely aged dry white wine with hazelnut notes. Underlying minerality gives it a firm structure. Perfect for aging, it has a high alcohol content of 14-14.5% . This is a great after dinner wine that strikes a delicate balance between sweetness and acidity. A great cigar wine or one to go with strong, pungent cheeses. If you like a surprise in your mouth, this is the one. It's nice and chewy!
The tasting at Enoteca Regionale di Mango reflected both the ancient tradition of winemaking in the Mango region, and the fresh outlook of a group of young, innovative and inspired winemakers.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Journey to Piemonte: land of myth, majesty and fabulous wines

Italian wines form the Upper Piedmont: Prestigious wines at the foot of the Monte Rose Massif

GHEMME, ITALY---Piemonte is one of the most varied regions of the wine world. The majestic backdrop of the Italian Alps is visible at almost every point.  In Monferrato to the south, the infinite range of vineyards and vines lends the region its singular charm.  The smell of Jasmine is everywhere. From the north to the south, vineyards dot the landscape like a string of pearls, each with a distinctive treasure to reveal.

 A light rain descended as our tour bus pulled into the Agriturismo “Il Cavenago” winery in the Upper Piedmont, one of Italy’s most lush and historic wine producing regions. In attendance were a dozen or so wine producers from the area presenting a broad spectrum of wines representing the native varietals of the region. Some of the grapes are familiar to wine lovers; Nebbiolo, Gattinara and Barbera. Others, such as Ghemme, Boca and Canavese date back to antiquity and are little known outside this closely-knit cluster of small wineries. With growing curiosity over Italian wines and inquisitive buying public, the word is quickly spreading over the beauty and complexity of the wines of his historic region.

Upper Piedmont is a diverse land area that includes mountains, hills and plains. The cold winds that descend from the Monte Rosa Massif bring with them extreme temperature shifts that have a dramatic impact on the grapes.

The diverse soil types and climatic variations produce wine of astounding complexity. Extreme temperature changes between night and day bring out a variety of aromatic components ranging from herbs to spices, which make the wines compatible with a broad range of foods. That is the singular most intriguing aspect of the wines of the Upper Piedmont.

A tasting tour of the wines provided an introduction to a virtual rainbow of flavor profiles ranging from earthy and herbaceous to sweet and aromatic.

-Ioppa Ghemme 2005 Santa Fe ($40). This wine from winemaker Polo Minuto is a stunning representation of the Nebbilo grape. A blend of 80% Nebbiolo and 20% Vespolina, this is a medium dry wine with a pronounced clear and bright color. Terrific for just drinking as a “meditation” wine, it distinguishes itself by also being compatible with game meats, cured meats and salumi and hard cheeses. A delightful aromatic goat’s milk cheese consumed at breakfast would have been a perfect accompaniment!

-Azienda agricola Antoniolo Gattinara DOCG Classico 2007 ($20). Winemaker Lorella Antoniolo is also the president of the local wine consortium and an outspoken champion of the wines of Gattinara. The quality of the wine is characterized by the factors of climate, soil and grape variety. Volcanic soil gives the wine its pronounced acidity as well as a distinct mineral quality.  For a red, the wine is extremely versatile. I had it with a local fish variety, similar to swordfish. The wine cut perfectly through the oil of the fleshy whitefish and created a delightful sensation in the mouth.

-Halle’ Sparkling Rose’ from Colline Novaresi($35) showed the versatility of the Nebbbiolo grape. Consisting of 100% Nebbiolo, the wine is made from the earliest maturing grapes, according to winemaker Enrico Crola of Azienda Vitivinicola Enrico Crola. The wine is distinctive because of its perfect balance; it has the right acidity without possessing an excessive alcohol level. This makes it an appealing aperitif with enough complexity to carry it into a meal of fish, lighter meats such a poultry, lamb or veal and a variety of salads and cheeses. The first in the territory to produce this type of wine, it is re-fermented entirely in the bottle according to the “Metodo Classico.”

These are just a few of the viticultural treasures experienced in this privileged land where passion and history converge to make wines of poetic proportion and noble expression.

Lush panaromas unfolded as we ascended to the Monferrato to the south. This is a region full of history and tradition. With its medieval castles and towering cathedrals, it is a land of myth and majesty.  This is the world where Barbera reigns supreme. It is also the birthplace of Moscato, the sweet, succulent grape that is now taking the U.S. wine drinking public by storm. Alto Monferatto is an undiscovered beauty whose wines are a revelation. They are meant to go with food and present many challenges to the untrained palate. However, if you dig beyond your prejudices and accept the wines at face value and consider the endless possibilities that matching varied cuisines with the wines can present, you will find a treasure trove of real beauties as I did during an extensive tasting at the estate of Mauro Gaudio.

Monferatto is positioned along the Po river. It is redolent of a time when kings and knights ruled the city states that dominated the scene. Many myths surround the origins of the name, the most logical being that it is named for the fertile Mons ferax hills. In the Middle Ages, many kings and conquerors have passed through Monferrato, the armies raging wars, sieges and bloody battles that shaped the boundaries of this vast region, but never disfigured its inherent glory. Despire the ravages of foreign invaders, the land survived and now produces some of the finest examples of Italian vinification that the wine-loving world enjoys.

Our day began with the tasting at Gaudio estate, where I tasted many spectacular examples of Barbera D’Asti and Barbera del Monferrato and ended with a fabulous dinner at the castle of Gabiano.