Asti DOCG 2022 – Special Report

 

Asti’s ascent from authenticity to sustainability and unmistakable wines

as seen on WineAlign

The northwestern Italian territory of Asti DOCG covers the area of Langhe, Roero and Monferrato and together they form the first Italian wine landscape to be recognized as a UNESCO heritage site. The grape variety moscato bianco grows in vineyards in all three to cover the counties of Cuneo, Asti and Alessandria. The area is a cultural and modern gem in the heart of Piedmont (Piemonte, in Italian), about 55 kilometres east of Turin in the plain of the Tanaro River. A sense of spirit, community and great heart echoes and reverberates through wines voracious in their appetite to capture both traditions and also the new and forward thinking Asti stories. Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti are challenging wines to produce but these folkloric producers have to do it. It Is their heritage, imperative and pleasure.

Asti Spumante DOCG and Moscato d’Asti DOCG are considered as the two most authentically aromatic Italian white wines and rank among the great wines of Piedmont. Asti Spumante is undoubtedly the world’s best-known aromatic sparkling wine and Moscato d’Asti are among the few wines in which the sensory qualities of the grapes remain unaltered as a result of soft pressing and incomplete alcoholic fermentation. Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti are declinations of the same grape variety, made from 100 per cent moscato bianco grapes that grow on limestone soils in the UNESCO World Heritage hills between Asti, Alessandria and Cuneo. Asti Spumante can be tasted in different versions, from Extra Dry, Dry, Brut and the most popular Dolce, but also in the classic method or “Metodo Classico” version.

Asti DOCG Aromas

Asti Spumante DOCG

Asti Spumante DOCG is made entirely from moscato bianco grapes, gaining benefit from chalky soils and microclimates typical of hilly areas. It has a characteristic musky flavour, well-balanced sweetness, acidity and moderate alcohol content. In recent years Asti producers have set an important new course, paving the way to expanding the range of Asti styles, based on different residual sugar levels from Demi-Sec through Extra-Brut.

The concentration of the precious aromatic substances (called linalool) produced by the moscato bianco berries peaks in the last few weeks before the grapes are harvested in early September. Harvesting is still accomplished by hand to keep the bunches whole and preserve the characteristic aroma of the grapes – factors that contribute to making Asti Spumante the most widely consumed aromatic sparkling wine in the world.

Characterized by particularly fine and persistent beading, Asti offers a fresh mouthfeel that makes it suitable as a full-meal wine. On the nose, one can appreciate a delicate floral (acacia, lavender, sage) and fruity (apple, pear, banana) bouquet.

  • DOCG Status since: 1993
  • Grape variety: moscato bianco
  • Maximum grape yield: 10 tons/ha
  • Color: straw to pale gold
  • Foam: fine and persistent
  • Nose: fragrant, floral, with hints of linden and acacia
  • Taste: delicately sweet, aromatic, well-balanced
  • Clarity: brilliant
  • Minimum potential alcohol content: 11.5 per cent by volume; minimum actual alcohol seven per cent by volume for Asti Dolce and approximately 11 per cent for the other styles from Demi-Sec to Pas Dosé

Moscato d’Asti

Moscato d’Asti DOCG

Following the recognition of the Asti Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin (DOCG) status in 1993, Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti were identified as two different historical expressions of the same varietal. Moscato d’Asti DOCG is one of the most characteristic products of the Piedmontese wine tradition. The wine has a distinctively intense musky aroma of the grapes it is made from, a delicate flavour that is reminiscent of wisteria and linden, peach and apricot, with hints of sage, lemon and orange blossom. It has some residual sugar and a low alcohol content.

Moscato d’Asti DOCG is not technically or ostensibly a sparkling wine, as it only undergoes partial fermentation in pressure tanks. Fermentation is terminated when an alcohol content of about five per cent alcohol by volume is reached. The use of cold chain technology in the production process means the aromas and flavours of the grapes are preserved and the product can be stabilized, ready for storage and transportation.

  • DOCG Status since: 1993
  • Grape variety: moscato bianco
  • Maximum grape yield: 10 tons/ha
  • Colour: straw yellow
  • Foam: fine and persistent
  • Nose: fragrant, floral, with hints of sage
  • Taste: delicately sweet, aromatic, characteristic
  • Clarity: brilliant
  • Minimum potential alcohol content: 11 per cent by volume; minimum actual alcohol 4.5 per cent by volume

For Moscato d’Asti it begins, as it must, with weight and measurements. The math is straightforward: 100 kilograms of grapes is equal to 86 of must. The first press of moscato yields 15 per cent of that 86, or 13 kg. Often only a small percentage is used for the top cuvée. The rest of the must is kept at freezing temperature (approximately -2 degrees celsius) and there are producers that keep past vintages (generally up to four) for the production of their Moscato d’Asti wines. The DOCG rule says that a vintage dated wine must consist of 75 per cent must from that year’s production.

As for recent vintages, 2021 is certainly close to the top while 2020 is widely considered to be la crème de la crème. That said 2019 was not the most aromatic, like 2016, very hot and the moscato grape does not need too much sun. The grapes will dry out, burn, lose freshness and perfumes. From tasting the must you smell honey which proves the grapes are not perfectly mature. This is where the vision of using 25 per cent must from the three preceding vintages works to great advantage. Phenolic holes are filled, absent aromas are engaged and layers of intricacy are cast. Smell an example of 17 and note the exaggerated development, rich and full of glycerin, nearly cloying. The 2016s are certainly sweet and somewhat out of balance, but there is delicacy, floral notes and it’s never cloying. The ’18s are clearer, easier to comprehend, showing nary a trace of honey. The presence of white flowers and apricot in a wine lighter in hue and more delicate in mien speaks exactly to what producers are after. When fermentation happens those aromas increase by 80 per cent. There’s the rub and the magic. Special terroirs like Castiglione Tinella are the kind that breed some of the highest acidity for moscato. A pH that averages out at 3.4 when bottled will lower to 3.1, because this is when the acidity rises.

Consorzio dell’Asti

The Consorzio coordinates and promotes the area of origin of moscato bianco grapes, whose cultivation covers approximately 10,000 hectares across 51 municipalities of the provinces of Alessandria, Asti and Cuneo. There are 10,000 hectares of vineyards for these lightly sparkling, off-dry to sweet Asti white wines and the Consorzio is entrusted to promote and protect the wines in the appellation. They are widely imitated and so undertaking legal action and registering trademarks in every country is a necessary side-hustle of the job. In terms of producer requests, all changes and modifications applied for must be approved by the consortium. An integral aspect of the work involves field, vineyard as well as laboratory research. More than 1,400 ha have a gradient over 40 per cent, with 330 hectares of this area over 50 per cent. These are vineyards historically named sorì, where no mechanical equipment can be used and vines are tended exclusively by hand. The Asti DOCG hills were the first vineyard landscape to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Born in 1932, the Consortium for the Promotion of Asti has a clear mission: to perform all the necessary actions to protect, promote and enhance the value of Asti and Moscato d’Asti, in Italy and the world. The sustainable manifesto is clear and one day spent inside the offices of the Consortium will instruct and explain all you need to know about economic, social, environmental, export, security and what Italians refer to as disciplinare policies. Regulations regarding vineyard yields, levels of alcohol, sugar, extract and bars of pressure are so defined as to ensure current production and sales viability but also explicitly what the next generation will need to carry the work forward.

Moscato Bianco

The Consortium carries out technical assistance, draws up research proposals and economic assessments aimed at enhancing the value of the designation. It is there to protect and safeguard from improper use, unfair competition and counterfeiting, Asti’s officers carry out, on behalf of all those who are subject to the designation-related checks, the functions of protection, promotion and valourization, as well as informing consumers and generally looking after special interests. Policies are adopted regulating supply in order to contribute to improved coordination of the designation’s distribution on the market, through consultations with sector representatives. The consorzio plans for improving the quality of the products that must appear before judicial and administrative authorities, in Italy and abroad, in order to safeguard and protect the designation and defend the interests and rights of the producers. Surveillance actions are carried out, mainly in the distribution stage.

The Hills

The hills of the Langhe are elongated, with extended crests and steeper slopes, while those of the Monferrato are rounder and gentler to look upon. Two different landscapes, with infinite variations. Where life prospers among the orderly rows of grapevines, tended by hand as they have always been. Where the seasons bring new colors against the majestic crown of the Alps, where the horizon stretches out to infinity. Where every detail amazes and warms the heart, to be treasured forever. Un territorio Patrimonio dell’Umanità. Sedimentary soils that date back 10-15 million years predominate. One is the Pliocenic basin of Asti to the northeast. The to the west around Canelli there are Serravallian (Middle Miocene) soils, stratified layers of blue clay, sand and lime. Many believe this to be the best composition for Moscato d’Asti. To the east in the area of Strevi the ground is Tortonian (late Miocene), younger at five to 10 million years, with more clay and more lime in deeper layers and colour.

The crux of the varietal situation is twofold, at once for vineyards subsisting at the foot of the Alps and also drawing energy being proximate to the sea. Seventy-five per cent of the vineyards are directly protected by the mountains. As seemingly everywhere, climate is changing here too. In the last 15 years average temperatures have increased by one degree. In the past 58 years the average increase has been by two. More important are temperature abnormalities. The centrepiece moscato bianco is a very sensitive grape and easily subjected to diseases.

Guyot training is appropriate for poor quality soils and lower yields. Broken down by altitude, 44 per cent of the vineyards are at 250-300m and 30 per cent at 300-450m. In terms of slope, 2,770 of 9,700ha have a gradient higher than 30 per cent, 336 ha with a gradient of more than 50. “Heroic agriculture” is the moniker bestowed. “The Sorì vineyards.” No mechanization is employed and a certain crucial must is picking times, especially in terms of the preservation of moscato bianco’s aromatic compounds.  Yields per hectare are set at 9.5 tonnes for Asti and Moscato d’Asti.

Moscato Vineyard

The Consortium’s Laboratorio Analisi for the Tutela dell’Asti DOCG is one of the most advanced and technologically impressive anywhere, with the mechanization capable of carrying out a diverse set of analyses. Under the guise of Guido Bezzo, who incidentally also happens to be a virtuoso trumpeter, the lab exerts its expertise far beyond pedestrian testing of alcohol, sugar and varietal purity. It delves deeper than mere organoleptic conclusions. The lab’s research works to investigate the impact analysis results for one 750 mL bottle of Asti wine covering categories that includes a mind-boggling set of parameters: Climate change; Reduction of the ozone layer; Toxicity and carcinogenic effects on humans; Particulate/smog caused by emissions of inorganic substances; Ionizing radiation effects on human inorganic health; Photochemical ozone formation; Acidification; Terrestrial, aquatic and marine eutrophication; Ecotoxicity in freshwater aquatic environments; Soil transformation; Resource depletion in water, minerals and fossils. Heady stuff indeed.

The 60,000 tonnes kept at negative four degrees in summer costs dearly in equipment and energy. It is widely believed that juice can stay in tank for up to two years without losing aromatic concentration. Fermentation takes place at 20 degrees in pressure tanks developed by Italian sparkling wine pioneer Dr. Federico Martinotti, director of the Research Institute for the Wine of Asti, who patented the method in 1895. Martinotti is credited with creating the method of developing the bubbles inside of tanks. The juice can stand pressures of more than 10 bars. Yeasts must be stopped abruptly (in a matter of a few hours) to avoid off odours and flavours, i.e rotten egg and cooked cabbage. Centrifuge and filters are used. In the past pasteurization at 50 degrees was the norm but now micro filtration screens out the yeast (at 0.2 microns) and stabilizes the wines. Agronomist/viticuilturalist Daniele Eberle also explains how Fratelli Gancia used the same techniques that the French used here in Piemonte in the late 1800s. The city of Canelli, cultural home of Asti holds the highest concentration of companies that make all the equipment necessary for bottling Spumante wines.

The association soon yielded positive results. Production gradually increased from two million bottles in the 1940s to forty million in the 1970s. A figure more than doubled nowadays. The history of the Consortium is all Piedmontese and begins from the town that is considered the capital par excellence of spumante: Canelli. It was in its cellars that, day after day, with dedication and affection, techniques were refined that nowadays give us a fine, delicate and unmistakeable sparkling wine like Asti DOCG. The know-how handed down for generations, together with the latest scientific discoveries, have led to the optimization of the production process and the definition of important procedures indispensable to guarantee the high quality of Asti DOCG.

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Life affirming wines di Gianni Doglia

Gianni Doglia

During the post-war days of late 1940s and 1950s Europe there were simple, humble and hard-working folk who tempted fate by fighting against the oppression waged by dire destinies. Gianni Doglia’s maternal mezzadro grandfather Eugenio Rivella was such a man who in 1947 decided to buy a farmstead, raise his own grapes and do so in a very specific place. In the 1980s it was Bruno and Marisa who took the reigns of the estate. Today brother and sister Gianni and Paola take care of the tradition their nonno began and do so in a wholly unexpected and antithetical way.

Related – Rock steady Bersano

Azienda Vinicola di Gianni Doglia is situated on the Langhe side of Castagnole delle Lanza, opposite of Monferrato in the province of Asti, Piemonte. Gianni feels “like a Monferrato man, even if he’s literally on the edge of the Langhe.” He farms six hectares across his estate lands plus two more in Monferrato and one in Nizza. He notes the importance of the ascending rise to his hill up to a pinnacle that puts the vineyards at points higher than those in Monferrato. Two winds blow through,  a northern Foehn from the Alps and the strong westerner from the Ligurian Sea. The special acidities and intangible magic in the moscato and barbera farmed here comprise the solid centre of the estate. It was Gianni’s grandfather who’s intuition knew and acted upon all of this.

Related – Living wine in the moment at Scarpa Winery

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

Gianni Doglia’s wines are notable in their modernity and yet so pure, so honest and so steeped in his personal tradition. His wines are effortless to drink and while he clearly puts in the hard work, they seem so effortlessly made. They serve a pragmatic purpose, like literature or painting, with a mission to gift us the fulfillment that makes our essential life duties more palatable. Life affirming moscato, barbera, grignolino and ruché. Taste Gianni’s wines and you may feel the same. These are the seven he and Paola poured for me back in December.

Gianni Doglia Grigolino d’Asti DOCG 2018, Piedmont, Italy ($20.00 – Estimate)

The grignolino of lithe transparency from limestone and clay soils, ripe cherries and the wine of Gianni’s father and grandfather. Gianni tells that “grignolino is the poor man’s nebbiolo” and ‘aint that the truth. Also a nut oil, almond or hazelnut running through the crunchiness of the fruit. Grignolino vero. Speaks the truth. There are 6,000 bottles made. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted December 2019

Gianni Doglia Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG 2018, Piedmont, Italy ($20.00 – Estimate)

The absolute truth of ruché is spoken as one of the most recognizable profiles on the planet. The speciality is uncanny, semi-aromatic and with this sweet fruit component that’s like malvasia with no baggage. Or colorino the same way or so many others but only this varietal does cherries in this floral to almost tropical way. A scrape of orange zest in this one too. Neither muscular nor soft but somewhere uniquely crunchy and just ripe in between. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted December 2019

Gianni Doglia Barbera d’Asti DOCG Bosco Donne 2018, Piedmont, Italy ($20.00 – Estimate)

A selection from some of the “younger” barbera in the 40 year-old vineyard and not a stitch of oak intrusion. That Gianni Doglia makes an unoaked barbera is so smart, beneficial and a gift to us all. A naked one, full of the natural cherries of the grape and the air breathed in from the woods next door. A beautiful vintage of texture and fruit to the fruity end. Castagnole is such a place, of so much aromatic presence and kudos for making a wine that allows for the natural order, along with a sour candied edge of the terroir to speak. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted December 2019

Gianni Doglia Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG Genio 2017, Piedmont, Italy

A very young barbera d’asti named for Gianni’s grandfather Eugenio, only three months in bottle. Gianni loves this harvest, of body from hot temperatures but with tenderness and softness. A spiced barbera, still reeking of its time spent in wood but the mass of fruit is prevalent to predominant, albeit based on what Gianni’s grandfather insisted. “The wine has to stay in the bottle for the same length of time it sat in the barrel.” And then some I would add. This the barbera of heights climbed as in these hills and needing just as much time to come back down. Drink 2022-2029.  Tasted December 2019

Gianni Doglia Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG Viti Vecchie 2017, Piedmont, Italy

Old vines of 60 years-old bring acumen, generational knowhow and a depth of soul to this Nizza and while the Genio from ulterior terroir takes, feels and oozes more in wood this just seems unencumbered. Perhaps it’s a vintage thing but surely a sense of place above all else. A harvest that was surely fresher and a structure much more vertical. Balanced like a perfectly toned dancer. Don’t you just love it when nothing is too much. The fruit, acidity and tannin are all announced but not pronounced. Finishes with just a crumble of really good chocolate so you can imagine the forest foraged future. Drink 2022-2032.  Tasted December 2019

Gianni Doglia Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2019, Piedmont, Italy ($20.00 – Estimate)

The 25th anniversary bottling that combs all the moscato vineyards on the estate though truth be told they all produce quite different wines. “Gianni’s dream was to produce the best moscato ever,” tells sister Paola. The clarity and clean, clean living is evident and with thanks to upstart acidity to balance the sugars. A soil-driven expression of moscato for a fresh and crunchy result. Peaches meet white balsamic for some genuine complexity. Eight to ten bottlings are made each year from wine that sits suspended at one degree in juice format inside steel tanks. At this time of year there is no danger of fermentation. A wine of 5.0 per cent alcohol. Drink 2019-2020.  Tasted December 2019

Gianni Doglia Moscato d’Asti DOCG Casa di Bianca 2018, Piedmont, Italy ($20.00 – Estimate)

A single-vineyard moscato from 35 year-old vines and the plot Gianni’s grandfather just knew grew the best vines and so Gianni first decided to separate it from the pack in 2012. And so this particular moscato sees eight or nine months on the lees and finds a next level of complexity for the stylistic and the tradition. Gives a yeasty note on top of green apple, melon, orange blossom and fine herbs. The acidity is greater and so energy is exercised in perpetual motion. The alcohol result is just slightly higher at 5.5 per cent. A wine completely unique in this world that may just deliver some petrol and paraffin with a few years time. Drink 2019-2023.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Pull up a chair with Angelo Gaja in Barbaresco

Gaja and Godello

On the first of December the morning light hits the tiny hamlet of Barbaresco with such dazzling clarity you have to squint to look out at any distance. Coupled with a cloudless sky, a patient and necessary visual adjustment will take in the Tanaro River and the Roero beyond. The vast Langhe expanse comes into perfect view, subtly emerging in layers of topography and incremental hue. The river runs through, Tanarus as it was known in ancient times, Tane or Tani in Piedmontese language, dividing line snaking through Langhe lands, plural form of langa, “a long, low-lying hill.” The origin is likely Celtic, combining the words bascule and tunga or lunga, “a moveable bridge, balance or seesaw” and “a narrow spit of land jutting out into the water or sea.” These moments, thoughts and considerations prepare one in advance of walking through the portal into the world of Gaja.

Related – One on one with Gaia Gaja

Barbaresco and the Langhe

The new garden

Sonia Franco, personal assistant to Angelo Gaja takes me on a trip back in time. We stand on the small terrace extending out from a northwest facing window with a view of the mountains in the background. Shifting land plates over one another in the Langhe created soils of silt and clay left behind by the ancient salty lakes. This affected the Roero and the Langhe in two very different ways. Irrigation would be pointless and potentially devastating due to erosion in the former because of the poor sandy soils. In the Langhe the limestone acts as a natural sponge, storing snow melt and spring rain to transfer to vine roots for the hotter summer months. Climate change has altered plantings and the view is no longer one of the “family’s garden” because densities have increased to encourage roots to dig deeper into the strata. Even more dramatic is the lack of rain between June 1st and September 30th, unless of course it comes by way of hailstorm and thunderstorm.

Morning in Barbaresco

Gaja works with 100 hectares split between Barolo and Barbaresco. It was Angelo’s father Giovanni who was so smitten with and sold on the latter in particular, especially around Treiso and the eponymous village. He acquired the land in the 1960s, including the three crus; Sorì San Lorenzo, Sorì Tildìn and Costa Russi. The oldest part of the cellar is from the 17th century and the second from the 18th. A great year sees a total production of somewhere between 300,000 and 350,000 bottles.

The Pope of Piemonte

Angelo Gaja has been referred to as “The King of Barbaresco” and for good measure. A man of utmost sincerity and reason, promoter and traveller in tireless work ethic. Producer who has spent the better part of sixty years explaining to anyone who will listen of Barbaresco’s importance while rising to the pinnacle of the local wine producing pantheon. Mr. Gaja’s reputation for storytelling is well-known and his ability to fashion excellence from his homeland is one of the great success stories of the 20th century. No one in Italy has found such intense success at his level nor can there be any question in how he has been raising the bar and floating all surrounding boats. Simply unparalleled in the world of wine. To bestow a moniker that merely encompasses Barbaresco is parochial and short-sighted. Say what you will about titles and honours but truth be told and many of his contemporaries believe it and in fact utter the term aloud. Angelo Gaja is indeed the Pope of Piemonte.

“They are very concerned in Nuits-Saint-Georges to keep an identity of site,” begins Mr. Gaja. He’s in free-form, stream of consciousness mode, just as a one-on-one meeting with him should be imagined. He’s dead serious. “We need to recognize that it belongs to us. I believe that we have in mind a great variety like nebbiolo, but it’s only in the last 15 years that it has been recognized around the world.” While so many look to technology and clean winemaking practices, Gaja looks at climate change as a major factor in quality increases over the last 20 years. “Five of ten vintages in the 60s, 70s and 80s were poor. The two years of 1965 and 1966 were very poor. The climate we have now, the ripening process is much more condensed and so there are less possibilities of problems. Summer heat is raising sugar and alcohol. This is more problematic for Barolo. All of these things are beneficial for late ripening varieties because of more ripeness and maturity but less aggressive tannins.”

The identity of the Langhe

“There is now a perception of Barolo and Barbaresco that was unthinkable 20 years ago. Think about it. Nebbiolo is 7,000 hectares. Cabernet Sauvignon is 350,000. For this reason the scarcity gives it a much better position of identity. In old vineyards you can sense white truffle and hazelnut, connecting it to its area. Also, the protection of the Alps helps to assist in the cultivation of late ripening varieties. If we are able to protect this combination of history and experience we don’t need any tourism. We need an authentic experience.” As for the identity of Barbaresco Gaja insists that “we have to protect medium-bodied wines and keeping a kind of balance.” Still believing that the work done in the cellar is just as important as the identity created in the vineyard, Angelo wonders aloud what will happen for the next 15-20 years as a result of further climate change. When asked directly if he is concerned “of course I am,” is the response. “In the past there was thick fog, like milk. What has happened to the fog?” Also less rain and more tourists. Perhaps what has transpired in the first half of 2020 will see a return of the fog.

“The perception is less risk,” he explains with regards to producers thinking that times are better. “That’s a mistake. We are in a time of climate change. That’s a big word.” If what has happened in the last four months is any harbinger than the overall problems are bigger than ever. It was the vintages of 2002 and 2003 that opened Angelo Gaja’s eyes and forced him to open his mind. “We have to modify our habits,” is not something new for Gaja but something he has been doing for decades, often 15-20 years ahead of everyone else. In the mid to late 2000s he hired ten scientific consultants in the fields of entomology, chemistry, agronomy, meteorology, etc., etc. to conduct a two decade study on soil, climate, parasites and pests. They have found that where once these natural disturbances attacked the vines one month a season it can now be as much as six months at a time. Doubling down are dramatic weather events and now viral assaults on humans. Time to hire an epidemiologist as well.

Better wines?

“If we have made better wines from better grapes I cannot say but what we have learned can be very useful for the future. The final goal can be recuperation and resilience for the grapes. A natural defence.” Ultimately the goal is what Gaja refers to as Gramló, a fantasy name in a special language that brings together notions and in contribution from French, German, Italian and dialectical Piedmontese. It’s operatic and means “clarity” but with no real words as its source. Gramló is what we all want to achieve but we have to take risks, be ahead of the curve and never stop looking, listening and learning. Trust Angelo Gaja to lead the way and that his children Gaia, Rossana and Giovanni will take the torch and do the same.

We all have wine tasting experiences that result in a-ha moments, revelations and epiphanies. At the outset of that first week of December I had such a moment because of a conversation. A long chat with Mr. Angelo Gaja. Mr. Gaja’s foresight to look and plan 15-20 years ahead means that both problems and successes are faced even before they have come. If you want to talk about climate change, do so with Angelo Gaja. If you would like to taste autorevole nebbiolo, go straight to Sorī San Lorenzo and Sorì Tildìn. On that December 1st day in Barbaresco I tasted the following five wines with Sonia Franco and Mr. Gaja.

Gaja Alteni Di Brassica 2017, Langhe DOP, Piedmont, Italy ($199.00)

Snow melt from a proper winter meant promise but there’s no avoiding climate change. Thus warm winds from North Africa saw to the vines anticipating early bloom. But in the flash of an eye the weather crashed and sent the plants reeling. While the challenge was propagated, miraculously the hail was avoided, though not the frost. Then a 36-39 degree summer and 80 days without rain. Major stress. A tiny production that marries Serralunga d’Alba with Barbaresco. The flinty sauvignon blanc relevance here may look Bordelais but is in fact Langhe because of the specificity of the saltiness that lines the fruit. Alteni means “stone walls” and Brassica a fragrant yellow flower. Not salted but running through the veins of the wine. A resilient and philosophically mineral wine structured with concentrated fruit and grape tannin. Drink 2021-2027.  Tasted December 2019

Gaja Costa Russi 2017, Barbaresco DOP, Piedmont, Italy ($810.00)

Far ahead of harvest the reasons for 2017’s success were varied. Winter snow and its natural irrigation ignited early promise and climate change-influenced high density plantings sent roots down deeper. Warm North African winds, early bloom and a fast crash of the weather put the plants on edge. No hail though yes there was frost. Heat like no other summer and no rain for three and a half months. All added up to low yields and unprecedented stress. Costa Russi is a deeper and furthered wine which means a longer and more mature experience. Drawn from the “sharecropper’s side of the hill” in a lower to mid-slope position but with a different aspect and position (than the sorì) facing the sun. Oh how you feel the marl and the calcaire, surely exaggerated by the heat of the summer. Rich, luxe and intentionally fuller than many because you can’t go against a vintage grain. This Costa Russi follows the natural order of things. The Gaja Barbaresco that remember’s “the family’s garden.” Drink 2025-2040. Tasted December 2019

Gaja Sorì Tildìn 2016, Barbaresco DOP, Piedmont, Italy ($810.00)

Angelo Gaja sees 2016 as a perfect vintage in Barbaresco and the one from which climate change is viewed with great irony in the wink-wink guise of parenthetical thanks. That means the cosmic and astronomical alignment makes for wines that are both pleasant in their youth and also impossibly structured to age. Named for the sunny position of the slope and Mr. Gaja’s grandmother Clotilde. Now the clay and the calcaire have conspired, along with the purchased land of which Clotilde was custodian and in how she pushed her husband to make great wine. The vines are now on average 50 years-old and the composition meeting aspect bring a depth of complexity as poignant as it gets in this tiny part of nebbiolo production. All the flowers, rocks and elements are contained within the interior walls of this gently forceful Langhe red. It mimics the matriarch by the strongest power of suggestion and will not take no for an answer. Perhaps never will. Drink 2025-2045.  Tasted December 2019

Gaja Sorì San Lorenzo 2016, Barbaresco DOP, Piedmont, Italy ($810.00)

Was a perfect vintage and the one from which climate change is viewed with great thanks. That means wines are both pleasant younger and also structured to age. Sorì San Lorenzo like Tildin is the sunny spot facing south, the patron saint and protector of Alba’s Cathedral. Incidentally the church owned this vineyard and Gaja purchased the plot in the 1960s. The vineyard drops directly from the village and its vines average 55 years of age. You feel the wood at this young stage but of course you do. Sorì San Lorenzo carries a connection to the land that is deep into hubris and humus. No disrespect to Tildin but the connection here is formidable, the bond unbreakable. There is no exaggeration in saying that ’16 Sorì San Lorenzo offers up a moment of nebbiolo epiphany, that is takes control of the senses and instills a feeling of comfort, but at the same time an unexplained awe. That is due in fact to the place and no further explanation is required. Drink 2025-2045.  Tasted December 2019

Gaja Sperss 2015, Barolo DOP, Piedmont, Italy ($435.05)

The vintage of 2015 offered weather slightly warmer than 2016 and yet less blocks of structure. Not to mention moving further south by 25 kilometeres into Barolo where it really is just that much warmer. Twelve hectares purchased in 1988 are located in Serralunga d’Alba and Sperss refers to the name of the land. In Piedmontese the word is “nostalgia” and the connection is for Angelo’s father Giovanni and his childhood memories. Marenca-Rivette sub-region of Serralunga and the fruit comes out so red in nature, beautifully chalky and very influenced by the one year in smaller barrels, accentuated further by six months in grandi botti. That is why it is released a year later than the Barbaresci. The texture is silkier in a way while not as transparent but comparisons are fruitless in the end. This nebbiolo stands alone and worthy of its own regal position. Warm and complex, more than intriguing and so age worthy. Drink 2024-2035.  Tasted December 2019

Good to go!

Godello

Gaja and Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Sottimano a Sottimano

It was back in April when Bernard asked John and I to meet for a quick tasting because Elena Sottimano was in town. Several decades ago her father Rino Sottimano began his nebbiolo journey with just a few hectares but those precious blocks were in the Cottá Cru. It suffices to say that it was more than luck but also the Piemontese version of land meeting human intervention that have brought these wines to the pinnacle they are found to be at today.

Sottimano is the 18 hectare, Neive in Barbaresco project of Rino Sottimano, his wife Anna and children, Andrea and Elena. These are some of the most human, understood, necessary, gratifying and satisfying Piemontese wines you are ever going to taste. They make you think, smile, wink, cry and sigh. They speak of the vineyard and how properly they are treated. The nebbioli get under your skin, teach you what you need to know and tell you that everything is alright. They are good friends, therapists and if need be, they can be festaioli.

Elena led us through delightful dolcetto, ante-brooding barbera, worth twice the price Langhe and then six Barbaresco from four outstanding Cru; Pajoré, Fausoni, Cottà and Currá. Thanks to Le Sommelier, Sottimano’s Ontario agent and Taverna Mercatto, for hosting. Here are my notes on the nine wines.

John Szabo M.S., Godello and Elena Sottimano

Sottimano Dolcetto d’Alba DOC Bric Del Salto 2016, Piemonte, Italy (330738, $22.95, WineAlign)

From a vintage certified as classical for a modern and grounded dolcetto style in the vein of 2004 and 2010. This from the first vineyard planted by Elena’s father in 1975 and 41 years later turns out a purity of fruit for one of the most important modern vintages in Piemonte. Warm days, cold nights, easy and simple work in the winery, so overall just perfect conditions. Simply put this is found to be rich, salty, fresh and bright. Bric del Salto is a fantasy name, the “jump or peak of the hill,” made up for this combing of three vineyards. It’s curative, made ideal with hard crumbly cheese and a bowl of red sauce pasta plus a slice of pizza. And this bottle. Rendered only in stainless steel, fresh and perfect. Drink 2018-2020.  Tasted April 2018  az.agr.sottimano ElenaSottimano  @AzAgrSottimano  @LeSommelierWine  @AziendaAgricolaSottimano  Elena Sottimano  @LeSommelierWine</

Sottimano Barbera d’Alba DOC Superiore Pairolero 2015, Piemonte, Italy (Agent, $33.95, WineAlign)

Barbera’s is a similar vinification, 25 days like Barbareso, a long maceration, bringing the magical, natural cure and understated barbera skin affection. Sees a small (10) per cent of new French wood plus second, third and fourth passage barrels, eight to 10 months sur lie and natural malolactic. There is nothing so wound, tart, tang and gently sour like this, in fact it’s perfect for barbera. Red fruit perfect, no darkness and no brooding. Vines are in San Cristoforo and Basarin, on sandy clay soil, keeping it mineral, salty, long and ultimately classic. Drink 2018-2022.  Tasted April 2018

Sottimano Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2015, Piemonte, Italy (454017, $32.95, WineAlign)

Langhe Nebbiolo is from the Basarin Vineyard, not used for single-vineyard Barbaresco because the vines are only 15-20 years old, planted in 2000. It is aged for one year in oak, eight to 10 months sur lie. Elena Sottimano admits that perhaps their fruit will be committed to Basarin as they age, but for now they are separated or if you will, de-classified. There is a cool, mentholated streak running through, with a particular spice and though it used to be 25 per cent new barrel, starting in 2015, it’s a mere 10 per cent new. The lees is so apparent, in texture but also in the way the wine knows itself from birth and doesn’t need time to announce who and what it is. Chalky and tannic in a greater ionic way, prosodic of two short followed by two long syllables, architectural in the way nebbiolo must be. At this price and labeled Langhe this from Sottimano slings more pleasure and as much structure as at least half af all Barbaresco twice its cost. Drink 2019-2022.  Tasted April 2018

John Szabo M.S. and Elena Sottimano at Tavrena Mercatto

Sottimano Barbaresco Pajoré DOC 2015, Piemonte, Italy (Agent, $103.95, WineAlign)

Pajoré materializes off pure limestone soil at a hovering 380m of altitude. It’s really just a name this Cru, dialectical, as is its nebbiolo. Sees two years in 220L barrels made by François Frères, La Tonnellerie who receive a sample of your wines before deciding what barrels to send, if any. Time on lees is 20 months and there is no racking. This is pure nebbiolo in requiem of zero to next to no sulphur. It gets neither more natural nor more understated and exacting as this. The wine knows itself like a great human perfectly comfortable in its own skin and it might live to 2040 without experiencing one single moment of stress. It is truly a remarkable condition of the human meeting vine equating to wine spirit. Pajoré is a Cru worthy of a word to describe what you would get by combining ambiente with intervento umano. As in Climat, but Italian. Tannins are as formidable and elegant as there can dialectically be. Drink 2021-2035.  Tasted April 2018

Sottimano Barbaresco Fausoni DOC 2015, Piemonte, Italy (Agent, $103.95, WineAlign)

Fausoni is a small one point five hectare plot of sand and clay only six kilometres away from Pajoré. The vines range in age from 50 to 70 years old and there is certainly more depth and richness though contrastively speaking, more freshness and open aromatic perfume. There is also a verdant note and then this taut fixture of body and architecture in structure through the overall feeling. Deeper and more pressing, an antithetical nebbiolo, intense and perhaps not what you would expect. Likely a matter of sub-strata, of mystery and enigma. Pajoré just seems to intuit its character while Fausoni will need to feel, shift and oscillate its way through life. As with Pajoré the wood is retrofitted by La Tonnellerie François Frères, surfeiting Fausoni for a life more passionate and hard-lived if not quite as calm and relaxing as the one enjoyed by Pajoré. Top quality nebbiolo irregardless of style or fashion. Drink 2019-2032.  Tasted April 2018

Cottá Azienda Agricola Sottimano cru spoiled by Elena Sottimano and Le Sommelier, Wine Agency ~ going vertical with Barbaresco and John Szabo — at Taverna Mercatto.

Sottimano Barbaresco Cottà DOC 2015, Piemonte, Italy (Agent, $103.95, WineAlign)

From the two point eight hectare vineyard with 45 year-old vines, Cottà receives the same élévage as Pajoré and Fausoni, on skins for 25 days and in Tonnellerie François Frères for 24 months. Fifteen per cent are new and the remainder of the barrels have been used up to four times. It’s like a combination of the other Cru, their best of both worlds in symbiosis, deep and exacting, comfortable and with a structure that never quits or breaks down. It’s unrelenting, with aromatic exoticism, power, precision, more fragrance and balance. The tannic building blocks are exceptional, verging into unparalleled. Drink 2022-2045.  Tasted April 2018

Sottimano Barbaresco Cottà DOC 2013, Piemonte, Italy (Agent, $178.95, WineAlign)

A confounding vintage for thinking about drinking in 2018 because it is simply too young but there can be no discounting the acumen of restraint and the wisdom imparted. This from a Cru that knows full well what it will give. The 1970s planted vines add up to a shade under three hectares, southwest facing, in delivery of energetic red fruit, sweet herbs and that always present Sottimano cure. Cottà is the estate’s great constant, with the most layers needing to be husked for its kernels of wisdom and pearls of pulchritude to be revealed. Patience will be your virtue if you can just wait for the reward. Drink 2021-2033.  Tasted April 2018

Sottimano Barbaresco Cottà DOC 2010, Piemonte, Italy (Agent, $234.95, WineAlign)

While tasting through Pajoré, Fausoni, Currá and a mini-vertical of Cottá with Elena Sottimano it is here for the first time that some development appears in a wine. This glimpse into what might happen with their Barbaresco may only be a minor crack in the oasis but it begins to fall away from the curative, tannic intensity into something stretching its limbs towards the ethereal. I can ruminate with this nebbiolo swirling around in my mouth while I wonder how far along we are or have come. But it comes with knowing that no matter how much distance we walk there is still a marathon to run. There is this perfect wonderwall of wild cherry spinning like vinyl liqueur over the cheeks, tongue and gums, refreshing and working its magical fruit dance up to the edges of my nerves. “I said maybe, you’re gonna be the one that saves me. And after all,” you’re Sottimano. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted April 2018

Sottimano Barbaresco Currá DOC 2013, Piemonte, Italy (Agent, $178.95, WineAlign)

Only 200 bottles produced from this single hectare Cru of vines edging beyond 55 years-old. The vinification process mimics that of Pajoré, Fausoni and Cottà but Currá remains in bottle for an additional six months because it is special and asks for this. There is humour in that minor extension because opening this Cru from such a recent vintage any earlier than seven or eight years into its life will deprive you of its magic and potential charms. The smell of the sea is in Currá, fossil shells briny and salty, certainly mineral. It’s measurable, quantifiable and verifiable. It’s there in the taste. The reaction is more than one of epiphany, it’s a revelation. No, in fact it’s more than that. If for a moment it is explainable it then moves on and flees, remaining out of grasp. Damn you Currá. Drink 2021-2045.  Tasted April 2018

Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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Tasting Italy 500 wines at a time

Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall (photograph by Peter J. Thompson, National Post)

as seen on canada.com

A tasting of wines from Italy is a huge event and though its girth had shed some earlier weight, by Canadian standards it prevails as an epic tasting. On Monday November 4th, 2012 the Italian Trade Commission, under the auspices of the consulate general of Italy Toronto, presented the 17th Annual Wine Tasting at Roy Thomson Hall. The ITC is the government agency that promotes the internationalization of Italian companies. The tasting event is a boon for the Italian wine industry which collectively holds an 18 per cent market share and $219 million in sales, making them the leader of imported wines in Ontario.

Trade Italy is a rock ‘n roll outfit that traverses Canada on an eight-day whirlwind tour. Stops in Vancouver, Calgary, and Montreal fill out the schedule. The Toronto show included tables of good eats; Italianate charcuterie and cheeses to compliment the nearly 500 wines poured by more than 70 producers from as far North as the Alps to the tip of the boot in Sicily. Honourable mention goes out to Authentic’s Frank Rey, he of magical spider arms and cat reflexes to keep up with bartender speed so the masses might get their taste of the ethereal Ornellaia 2009 (95).

While it would have made for an Omerian tale to have tasted everything on offer, the sheer mass of it all (wines, wine agents and tasters) made for more of a Joycean, Ulysses, stream of consciousness affair. A certain level of linear focus was required and so my Odyssey was bent on revisiting classics and the discovery of unusual nooks and crannies from deep within the Italian landscape. Here are my top three highlights from the epic event.

Top three highlights from “A tasting of wines from Italy”

Castello Di Gabiano

Monferrato, Piemonte

Monferrato Rosso Gavius 2008 of 85% Barbera and 15% Pinot Nero and its organoleptic characteristics is subject to a variety of oak treatment, unlike the more entry-level La Braja. The Gavius goes gravelly and gangly and the Pinot adds a breadth of Brett in a very minor key. Greets you with gritty acidity. A great slice of Gabiano’s game.  88

Barbera D’Asti Superiore Adornes 2007 is Barbera and nothing but Barbera emerging from an 18-month slumber in wood. High altitude attitude, cool at its centre, warm, low and slow on the long trip down. Oh, baby Barbera.  91

Gabiano Riserva A Matilde Giustiniani 2006 adds a wee bit of indigenous Freisa into a Barbera already living the chill life. Fully resolved tannins here, less acidity and fully floral violet aromas. From the high slopes of a minuscule DOC, fully justified fruit is calm and collected in its golden years.  90

Monferrato Bianco Riserva Chardonnay 2010 blows my mind. Step aside Cervaro, this beauty walks an impossibly fine line between sharp citrus, orchard fruit, piercing minerality and a tropical, honey viscosity. At once fresh and searing, then again mellow and mellifluous. Terrific length. Italian Chardonnay gets no better than this.  92

Michele Satta

Toscana

Bolgheri Piastraia 2008 holds on tightly to its heartstrings and offers little at this time. A tale of beauty and beast; majestic colour but bearing dangerous teeth. A four by 25 mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Sangiovese, the Pia wants to sing like Toscano but her voice is suppressed by tannins fierce and biting. Revisit the songstress in five years when her voice and craft have refined beyond idol times.  90

Toscana Il Cavaliere 2006 “is a brand new funky president” possessed of Satta’s inimitable perfume, not unlike Pegau. Satta’s funk is more like a grunting cinghiale roaming the vineyard’s innards. The brown, earthy animale sure ain’t honey but it’s music to my ears, or perfume to my nose. Behind the musk is fantastic deep berry and plum fruit and a wall of invigoration.  93

Bolgheri I Castagni 2006 turns a corner of modernity, whispers cinghiale but is more of an elegant, black cherry driven coastal expression of Cabernet Sauvignon with hits of Syrah and Terdolego. Tobacco, tea and black pepper make for points of interest.  91

Tenuta Rocca

Monforte D’Alba, Piemonte

Barbera D’Alba Roca Neira Superiore 2006 is a 12,000 case, 100% Barbera knockout. Black cherry and Cassis liqueur cordial as if decadent Châteauneuf or Paulliac. Presented by the efficacious and hypnotizing Elene Ercole who explains that Rocca is a modern operation with one foot in tradition and the other stepping into the future of Piemontese wine. A tiny oxy note shows the Neira’s age and avant-garde nature.  91

Langhe Ornati 2006 blends 35% Nebbiolo and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon into Barbera for full Super-Piemontese effect. Though Elena scrunches her nose just a tweak at this moniker mention, the modern styling and remarkably approachable soft, silky smooth fruit speaks to an IGT mentality. Long Langhe, loveable and fluid.  90

Barolo 2007 of graceful elegance and velvety mouthfeel is a sight to behold. Diaphanous tendrils swirl in eddies in the glass. Tenuta Rocca suggest that to maximize enjoyment of their wine you need leave them in the “same horizontal position as when it arrives in its case until the moment of consumption.” I will do my best.  92

Barolo San Pietro 2007 from Monforte will move to Serralunga but for now the warm and balanced vintage gives the world an exemplary expression of modern Barolo. With no disrespect for the sumptuous and ancient rune that are the wines of Settimo, Rocca’s ability to reign in Nebbiolo fruit with such intensity has me hooked. The San Pietro’s complex character of gaseous plasma, spiralling helices of energy and outright ultra-violet radiance is exquisite. Cherry, leather, spice, vanilla and chocolate are all there.  Spongy Barolo.  94

Good to go!