Pretty in pink, isn’t she, Brachetto d’Acqui

Regine Rousseau (@shallwewine) walking into Piemonte like…

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.

Pink 75? Cocktails with Brachetto d’Acqui

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.  

Cindy Rynning (www.grape-experiences.com) and her Pink 75

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. 

Martina Doglio Cotto (www.grapestories.it)

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

Classic pairing with Brachetto d’Acqui

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!

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Regine Rousseau walking out of Piemonte like…

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Rock steady Bersano

You’ve got to visit the cantina of Bersano Vini in Nizza Monferrato, if for no other reason than to wander through the on-site, outdoor Museo Bersano delle Contadinerie which houses implements and machinery from peasant life and transportation in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. All the brainchild of Arturo Bersano and in his successor’s words the installation is “a memory of what made our wine great. The cellar, farming tools, wine presses and a collection of old wine prints. Bersano – winemaker, scholar, poet. His anxiety of research, patient and cautious, dictated by a deep passion for the land and for work, has been able to condense in the Collections and in the Museum of the Peasants, the most suffered and joyful testimonies of the wine-peasant civilization.” All of that and of course to taste a portfolio in Monferrato’s widest breadth, consistently exceptional of quality and for consumer value across the board. Rock steady Bersano.

Related – Living wine in the moment at Scarpa Winery

The humble beginnings were early, first decade times in the 20th century. They say 1907 to be exact but surely somewhere between 115 and 120 years later the estates cover 230 hectares, the largest single entity as such in the Monferrato hills. The original and most historic property is Cremosina, once the seat of a great Palazzo (dei Conti della Cremosina) and now home to Barbera d’Asti vineyards. Bersano farms nine estates and two single vineyards in these hills: Cremosina (Nizza Monferrato), Generala (Agliano Terme), Prata (Incisa Scapaccino), Badarina (Serralunga d’Alba), Castelgaro (Baretta – Acqui Terme), Pallavicini (Mombaruzzo), Buccelli (Nizza Monferrato), Serradivaglio Vineyard (Incisa Scapaccino), San Michele (Nizza Monferrato), Monteolivo Vineyard (Castelnuovo Belbo) and San Pietro Realto (Castagnole Monferrato). Today these estates are in production of 90 per cent of what constitutes the Bersano portfolio: Three whites from cortese and arneis, seven sparkling wines from cortese, moscato, brachetto and pinot noir, 13 reds from barbera, grignolino, ruché, nebbiolo and dolcetto.

Related – You say you want a Barbera d’Asti revolution

Pinta Piedmontese

Of great historical interest is the presence in Bersano’s cellar of what Arturo designed and called the “10VT.” The Pinta Piedmontese was a 12.5 litre transportable for the times vessel and four Pinta could be filled from one 50L barrel, half the size found in the cellars of Marchesi di Barolo. This last historical barrel called the 10VT is now housed in the upper floors of Bersano’s Nizza property to avoid flooding. At any given time there can be 80,000L aging ion Slavonian oak casks in this cellar, “of all grandi botti sizes,” 50-60 years of age and from 47 to 107 hL. In fact, no two are the same, perhaps in shape but not in terms of volume. Only 10 per cent of all wines see barrique, they being Nizza Barbera and Barolo Cru.

Related – Barbera d’Asti Del Monferrato E Nizza Monferrato

I have had the pleasure of tasting Bersano wines on many occasions in Toronto and over the past three years I’ve done so four times in Piemonte. The first was at Collisioni Festival in 2017 and then in 2018 on several occasions with winemaker Roberto Morosinotto, namely at the Cascina San Pietro where ruché, barbera and grignolino grow in the Monferrato hills. Then in 2019 on this visit at the Cantina in Nizza and in 2020, at Nebbiolo Prima and Grandi Langhe in Alba. These are the six wines tasted in Nizza with Bersano’s Carmen Pergola and the Consorzio Barbera d’Asti e Vini del Monferrato’s Valerio Bertolino.

Bersano Gavi Di Gavi DOCG 2018, Piedmont, Italy ($21.19)

A fresh and sweetly herbal cortese for a smooth and balanced Gavi of straightforward execution and finesse. Relevant acidity keeps everything set up for levels most simple wines just don’t have access to be there. A very fruity vintage with a crushed almond oil extract, perfectly correct and positioned. Drink 2020-2023.  Tasted December 2019 and February 2020

Bersano Barbera d’Asti DOCG Costalunga 2017, Piedmont, Italy (348680, $14.10)

Taken from four estates and without a doubt the most versatile, inexpensive and properly delineated barbera d’asti for the territory to express what needs to the world. Dark fruit, high acidity, classically trained in large Slavonian oak and just exactly what to expect. Never asks too much and delivers across the board amenability. The value is exceptional. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted December 2019

Bersano Barbera d’Asti Nizza DOCG Riserva Generala 2016, Piedmont, Italy (Approx. $52.00)

Drawn from fruit off of the Generala estate and though a recently awarded appellation there is great history in the grapes and the place. Nine months in large Slavonian cask plus nine months in 500L French tonneaux make for a very amenable barbera with a prominent personality. Big on cherries and wood spice, balsam and dried herbs. Dark and even a bit mysterious, cool, almost mentholated and structured for age. Glycerin texture and an oil extract not atypical for the get together of grape, place and elévage. Top vintage for this particular and relatively ambitious wine. Drink 2021-2026.  Tasted December 2019

Bersano Nirvasco Barolo DOCG 2014, Piedmont, Italy (713628, $34.95)

The grapes in Barolo come from three areas, Serralunga (Badarina) along with Monforte and La Morra. Aged in large Slavonian casks for three years, easily recognizable as nebbiolo, not just in hue but surely in aromatic rose to tar profile. Classic really and also dried fruits, but especially this wild strawberry note. Dry and then dried cherry, wild and free on the palate. It’s very classic, clean, crisp and easy to get with. Make great use early while other tannic nebbiolo work their way through adolescence. Winemaker Roberto Morosinotto has done all the work for you and serves it up at the right time to drink. Clean and uncomplicated. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted December 2019

Bersano Ruché Di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG San Pietro Realto 2018, Piedmont, Italy (Approx. $22.00)

Fruit is grown on the San Pietro estate to the east of Monferrato and the unmistakeable and specific cherry with cherry stone note is uncanny, not to be missed. A sandy soil with calcaire and small stones of steep slopes make for an aromatic note that stands alone. The herbal amaro play is on the sweet side and what this really wants and needs is a game bird, roasted and savoury of local herbs. You might think gamay meets frappato or somewhere in between but no, this is singular. This is the red wine for Szechuan food. Truly. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted December 2019

Bersano Grignolino d’Asti DOCG Valdelsalto 2018, Piedmont, Italy (Approx. $22.00)

Coming from the same estate as the ruché, meaning San Pietro in the eastern hills of Monferrato. Beautifully effusive and luminous, light in appearance and weight but do not be fooled into thinking it’s light. Castagnole is the origin and the grape is considered the wine of the family. Fresh, young and the summer wine. OK so light it is but salty, mineral, taut and complete. What else do you need? The kind of wine that never makes you tired and is utterly representative of the place. Drink 2019-2021.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

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Agnolotti del Plin, Caffe Roma – Enoteca con Cucina, Costigliole d’Asti:

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