Brachetto d’Acqui, a passion for aromatics
The only current Brachetto listing in Ontario’s LCBO is Viticoltori Acquesi Brachetto d’Acqui. A classic and ideal example to be sure but one listing? One choice? One wine from 1200 hectares of brachetto farmed for the sole purpose to make people happy, to encourage enjoyment of life, to fulfill wishes and dreams of seeking and redeeming simple pleasures? What an utter travesty. Time to fix this now.
Brachetto d’Acqui’s ancestry lies in Roman times with Vinum Aquense, as it was known dating back to the time of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony. “Aromatics have always been connected to nobility,” explains Consorzio Tutela Brachetto d’Acqui President Paolo Ricagno. It was thought to have astonishing aphrodisiac powers. Legend has it that first Julius Caesar and then Mark Antony sent many wineskins of the Vinum Acquense to Egypt and to the court of the famously beautiful Cleopatra in advance of their arrival. The queen is said to have employed the sweet brachetto to rekindle the passion of her legendary lovers. Imbibing with impunity, something in a 21st century renaissance today’s producers and consorzio would love to see. The first official definition was in 1922 when it was considered a “luxury wine” and history notes that is has been produced since 1850. Fast forward 100 years later Arturo Bersano decided to present it “in a particular way.” With more bubbles and smelling like roses.
Consorzio Tutela Brachetto d’Acqui
I have had the privilege to listen to Paolo Ricagno speak twice, first in Acqui Terme in 2018 and most recently in December 2019. Ricagno (not the actor and director of the same name) has been at the helm since inception in 1992 and is joined by two vice presidents: Alberto Lazzarino, director of Banfi and Bruno Fortunato, president of the Tre Secoli cooperative in Mombaruzzo and Ricaldone. DOCG status was granted in 1996. The more than 1000 hectares from 850 growers in Alessandria and Asti is farmed for the express purpose of raising the only red aromatic DOCG in Italy. It can be still, sparkling or made in a dessert-Passito style, but in the simplest description (bubbles and roses) it is in the sweet iterations that most often appear.
How did we get here from there?
The Piedmont tertiary basin is filled with fossils from what once was an ancient sea. The sea covered and pulled back twice, shallow, like a tide pool, warm, tropical and full of large sea animals. All of this you can imagine has left a wealth of minerals in the soils, including and especially calcium carbonate. The sandier soils in Acqui are apposite to the marl and limestone of Nizza Monferrato and the vineyards are strewn with marine fossils. There are dramatic climate effects by diurnal temperature swings, cold snowy winters and hot summers. All of this in the name of preserving aromatics.
Dense bunches, firm fleshed. That is brachetto. Aromatics are hidden in the skins, high in terpenes and sugars. Main aroma is geraniol, as in red roses. The chemical-aromatic continuum of brachetto runs through the three-pronged table occupied by terpene-geraniol-rose and the preservation of aromatics is established by cold fermentations. The push-pull, ying-yang posit tug is between varietal and fermentative aromas, from the liberty of free-run juice, careful avoidance of oxidation and the tried and true (Dr. Federico) Martinotti Charmat method employed in controlled pressure tanks. If you want to make a DOCG Rosé, you have to keep the maceration very short, to keep the anthocyanin factor down and obtain a wine similar in pale colour to the wines of Provençe. This to make a wine with less aromatic compounds and terpenes. When you ferment moscato dry, which is high in linalool, it can tend to leave a problem with bitterness, whereas brachetto is poor in that thiol and higher in geraniol so bitterness is not a problem. In fact when present can actually be pleasant.
Pretty in Pink, Isn’t she?
Pretty in Pink, Isn’t she?
At Enoteca Regionale Acqui “Terme e Vino” the Masterclass Brachetto Experience was led by Biologist and Sommelier Martina Doglio Cotto of Grape Stories. First a capriccioso, fantasioso or better yet, an estroso Consorzio presentation on place, grape and of course aromatics, followed by a Brachetto d’Acqui tasting with food pairings and inspired cocktail bar. If there is a more whimsical, capricious and fanciful wine than Brachetto d’Acqui it has not yet been found. These are eight examples tasted in Acqui Terme and Asti back in that first week of December.
Azienda Agricola Gallo Cascina Cabonaldo Brachetto D’acqui DOCG 2019, Piedmont, Italy
More of a firm grip in this brachetto though perfectly fruity and well above average aromatic display. Certainly more zest, pique and pops than other gentler examples. Drink 2019-2020. Tasted December 2019
Banfi Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG Rosa Regale 2018, Piedmont, Italy
As fruity and fruit forward as it gets and that’s saying a lot for Brachetto d’Acqui. A bowl of ripe strawberries and the juice squeezed out of a bouquet of roses. Simple, sweet and definitive for the appellation. Drink 2019-2020. Tasted December 2019
Bersano Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG Castelgaro, Piedmont, Italy
Dusty roses and sweetly herbal. Demure and earth-musty while tannic and notably dry on the palate. Simple and understated. Food brachetto this one. Drink 2019-2020. Tasted December 2019
Cantina Alice Bel Colle Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG Le Casette Di Alice, Piedmont, Italy
Literally “Alice’s Houses,” and the most whimsical, musical and poetic of them all. A brachetto from “a story with the voice of a choir of 100 members” who collectively produce 600 tonnes of the fickle grape for the light ruby red, 5.5% by volume sparkling wine. A floral one of course smelling regally of roses and fruity by raspberry and strawberry. Fresh and self-professed as “harmoniously sweet, slightly tannic.” Truth that. Drink 2019-2020. Tasted December 2019
Marenco Brachetto D’acqui DOCG Pineto 2019, Piedmont, Italy
Pineto is the Strevi cru in the area around Acqui and oh how it brings and slings all the red fruit in waves, from cherry, strawberry and raspberry, even a peppery kick and blood juicy plum. Just a hint of tisane by tannin from a few day maceration at eight degrees with plenty of pumpovers. Then suspended for settling, cleaning and a finish at five point five degrees alcohol within the tenets of appellative law. Quite pure and exactly the sort of refreshing wine with all parts in balance, just like in the fairy tale. A glass or two won’t have you strung between self preservation and transgressive social rule breaking. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted December 2019
Marenco Brachetto Passito DOCG Passri’ Pineto 2012, Piedmont, Italy
Passito di Brachetto is a one of the world’s most distinctive dessert wines, in Marenco’s Strevi world made from 100 per cent Brachetto grapes. The grapes are dried post harvest, gently pressed and selected skins are left to ferment with the must at controlled temperatures for up to eight months. The Passito is then aged in barrel for at least one year. The process brings a cherry concentrate and the oak an uncanny note of white chocolate with thanks to very old barriques. Linger over a sip and feel the seep of darker chocolate, liquorice, toffee, amaro and then a return to those cherries. Peppery in the Marenco brachetto way. Ultimo Passito. Meraviglioso. Drink 2019-2028. Tasted December 2019
Tre Secoli Brut Rosé Brachetto D’acqui DOCG, Piedmont, Italy
Rusty hue in a lovely little rustic and authentic rosato seemingly curious in that it almost acts dry because of such a dried fruit, flower and herb accumulation. Each part is complimentary to the next for a ripe and charming example of Brachetto d’Acqui potpourri. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted December 2019
Tre Secoli Brachetto D’acqui DOCG 2018, Piedmont, Italy
Impressively aromatic, classic rose petal and strawberries in and out of every inhalation. Proper presence, a good match to salty cured meats, especially a local kiss of filetta bacciata. Sweetness is really mitigated by high tonality, elevated acidity and overall balance. More pleasure in this case and isn’t that the point. Drink 2019-2021. Tasted December 2019
Good to go!