Sicilia, Etna – Rori Parasiliti at SRC Vini counts himself lucky to have escaped the recent hailstorm that hit parts of Randazzo. “Uva perfetta”, he says! Flowering occurred without incident; August saw lots of rain, but September has been hot. Still a month to go, with quantity up 30% on 2017.
Basilicata, Vulture – Luca Carbone in Melfi is also in good spirits, with both good quantity & quality! A classic stagione; summer was rainy, & they weren’t hit by peronospera (downy mildew). Dry & sunny September augurs well. Aglianico harvest due on 2nd October.
Puglia, Manduria – Lisa Morella says (in a broad Puglian/Aussie accent!) that they’ve seen everything this year! Warm spring, no extreme heat during the summer, but heat accumulation gave rise to an August CYCLONE! This apparently spiralled round the Southern Med, spitting hail stones at them twice! Whites & Primitivo have fared better than later ripening Malbek & Negroamaro, whose leaves were shattered. Lots of selection required, so 20/30% less crop. But good acidity, & the Negroamaro’s turned out a juicy Rosato, that I sense may be repeated!
Sardegna, Carbonia – Enrico Esu thanks the gods for his old vine Carignano! It’s been a complicated year, the free standing alberello on sand Carignano vines drenched by the same cyclone that hit Puglia, depositing 80mm of rain in August. Now as he kicks off the harvest (on 17th Sept), it’s the old vines that have stood firm & supported the younger crop with good sugar levels. The complete opposite of 2017, he says!
Toscana, Montalcino – Loredana at Scopetone, & Andrea at La Serena, also point to contrasting vintages: being organic, in 2018 they’ve constantly been in the vineyards, keeping ahead of the peronospera; while in 2017, they never went in! The vintage started well with a good flowering, but then it’s rained a lot from May to August. Selection is key, due to much fruit variability. It won’t be a 2015 or 2016, says Loredana, who intends to harvest her Sangiovese for Brunello starting 1st October.
Toscana, Gaiole-in-Chianti – Roberto Stucchi Prinetti at Badia a Coltibuono proudly declares they’ve used 2.5kg/hectare of copper this year, well below the 6kg allowed by ecocert/organic rules. This he says has been particularly important for the soil to breathe & perform in a challenging vintage such as 2018. The vines have been constantly damp, under attack from peronospera, August mild & so leading to a later than normal harvest. The skin is delicate this year.
Abruzzo, Collecorvino – across on the Adriatic east coast, Fabrizio Mazzocchetti at Tenuta del Priore knows it ain’t going to be another 2017, a vintage he looks back & describes as “perfetta!” While flowering was fine, May to July this year saw too much rain! August was “discreto” While September has been bello. So lots of temperature & weather variation. Quantity is up; Pecorino (fortunately!) & Passerina look good so far.
The Marche, Castelli di Jesi – just further north, Riccardo at La Staffa is a happy bunny! “Uva bellissima, sanita perfetta!”Although May & June were challenging due to the rain & heat, & with July fresher & damp, he’s proud to say that being organic has meant having to be on top of the situation: leaving lots of leaves to protect the fruit when the 35degree days hit during August. Working sensitively in the rows, & pressing whole bunch, has meant keeping the pH low & the acidity still up! New ‘Mai Sentito’ Rosso from Lacrima (di Morro) beckons!
Friulia-Venezia Giulia, Colli Orientali – Marco Sara is harvesting under the sun, albeit 10 days earlier than average! July & August saw just enough rain, September has been “splendido” with fresh nights favouring Friulano & Verduzzo in particular. No problem with peronospera in the hills (but he senses it’s harder on the plain). Reds/Schioppettino looks promising too!
Veneto, Fumane – Zeno Zignoli at Monte dei Ragni was hoping for another 2015 or 2016, but instead he reckons that 2018 is looking more like a 2012 or 2014 (which weren’t bad I remind him, if more classic!) July & August had been fine, hot & with enough rain, but it was the 175 mm of rain in 2 hrs early in September that necessitated much fruit thinning. Not that he’s had any problems with rot. Just that the ripeness is not quite as much as he’d hoped!
Veneto, Asolo – further north, Luca Ferraro at Prosecco Asolo’s Bele Casel is thankful for the autochthonous varieties of Bianchetta, Rabbiosa & Manzoni that have suffered less, been riper & given fresh edge to the bloated Glera. Budding started late, but harvest on 3rd Sept was anticipato. With the crop now in, the vintage recalls 2014: good quantity, good health, sugar on the low side, but acidity good. Overall a good complexity.
Piemonte, Langhe – Francesco Versio talks of a slightly unbalanced vintage, & of the need for fresh nights to enable Nebbiolo to ripen fully over the next month…without any more rain! After a cold snowy winter – the deepest since 2010/2011? – May was very wet, then July, August & the first half of September have been relatively hot & quite humid, bringing on bouts of peronospera. The Roero whites (& Tortonian Timorasso) have been picked under sunny skies, but the lighter red grapes (Dolcetto & Barbera) have found the going tough; Nebbiolo looks promising but now for the waiting game as we pray for fresher nights & cooler days…that kicked in on Monday 24 September with the arrival of La Bora (NE cool, fresh, drying) wind!! Growers should now be encouraged to wait & harvest Nebbiolo late!
Alto Adige, Sudtirol – from Italy’s most northern wine region, 520metres high up among the Dolomitic rocks of the Alto Adige region, Thomas Niedermayr & his family wrap up the 2018 harvest that started on 17 August, earlier than 2017 (end Aug.) due to a drier, healthy season. A long cold winter set the scene; spring was beautiful, then early summer was drizzly to June, then July & August were hot & dry. Disease pressure was low & the (mostly white) PIWI grape varieties required only a couple of sulphur treatments & no copper; Weissburgunder/Pinot Bianco saw eleven treatments (copper sulphate) by comparison. The PIWI grapes, & early ripening Solaris in particular, are targeted by wasps & birds, necessitating the use of nets during the final month pre-harvest.
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The 2015 vintage will probably be remembered for a two month heatwave – from end June/July/beginning Aug. – that has given many Nebbiolo wines a warm red colour & broad, welcoming, sunny strawberry fruit character & juicy immediacy!
There was plenty of spring rain, & two bouts of May hail notably in the communes of Monforte & south of Novello (Panerole, Manzoni & Castelletto). Roero Nebbiolo has plenty of juicy pulp & charm.
Acidities held up just as producers have learnt the lessons of the past & not leaf stripped early on, while yields have been above average, in part to offset the heat, to support acidities, extend the hang time & to avoid fruit concentration. The summer heatwave did however bring on a bout of oidium (powdery mildew) among some vineyards.
The vines were revived mid August by a drop in temperature & refreshed by a week’s rain. Thereafter, a gradual aroma, skin & phenolic maturation was facilitated as temperatures dropped below the 10 yr (2004 – 2014) average, between mid-August & early October; so completing the ‘stagione’.
The (Nebbiolo) harvest in early October, a week or so early than normal, to retain acidity. The vintage was one of the healthiest on record, with fewer treatments required. In response to the torrid summer, grapes tended to increase the seed tannins. Thicker skins have allowed extended macerations, but producers had to be careful to keep an eye on dry skins & volatile acidity. Promising. Medium/long term.
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On our last trip to Piedmont it was fascinating to taste so many different expressions of Nebbiolo, especially from the re-emerging and captivating region of Alto Piemonte, as well as from the Roero, and the Langhe itself.
First, we visited Chiussuma, in Carema. Ok technically it is not in the official ‘Alto Piemonte’ appellation, but it feels like it ought to be, at approx. 100m directly North of the village of Barolo, and only approx. 50m West (and a little South) of the famous Bramaterra appellation of Alto Piemonte. Also, it is certainly high altitude. The landscape here is dramatic, strikingly beautiful, and a bit prehistoric (see cover photo). The Chiussuma vines are perched up at 600m asl, pergola trained across old granite columns against a backdrop of ragged rock faces, the surrounding mountains cloaked in mist when we visited on a late May afternoon. The soil here is poorer and rockier than that of the Langhe, made up primarily of granite/mica, carried up the steep slopes from the valley bottom. It has low potassium and low Ph, so good acidity. The grapes undergo slower maturation due to less sun. The diurnal temperature range helps the fruit maintain freshness and aromatics, whilst allowing it to fully ripen during the heat of the day. The rocks retain heat creating a microclimate, and it never freezes here! The Carema 2017 from Chiussuma was the standout wine for me – a blend of Nebbiolo plus 10% ‘Neretti’ (local black grapes): So bright and lovely. Really juicy and sapid. Fragile and long, with lots of crunchy red fruit on the attack, raspberry and wild strawberry, as well as some brooding darker fruit in the background. Gorgeous! Gently spiced, the 3rd Use Tonneaux giving a subtle framing without interfering with the fruit.
Next, we crossed over East to the ‘real’ Alto Piemonte, to visit Mattia & Odilio Antoniotti’s Bramaterra vineyards, found North West of the Alto Piemonte region, on the West bank of the river Sesia, in a wilderness of thick forest and vegetation, dotted with vines. It used to be a thriving wine producing region in the early 1900s. Then many of the young people left during the industrial revolution, and the vineyards were neglected and became engulfed by the forest. Today it begins to return to its former glory! The soils in Alto Piemonte are generally younger, rockier, more acidic and richer in minerals but less fertile than the Langhe. The soil in Bramaterra is volcanic! Pink Porphry rock with veins of rose quartz and limestone, producing extremely pure and concentrated wines. Gattinara and Bramaterra are both volcanic and acidic but Gattinara is rich in iron. Bramaterra and Boca have less iron and more manganese. Gattinara reaches higher altitude than Bramaterra, though the highest point (600m asl) is not planted to vines. The 2016 Bramaterra from Antoniotti was just stunning: perfumed and high toned. Alpine-fresh, wild herbs, rosewater purity, opening out to dark cherry, kirsch and cedar. Vertical, with very fine silky tannins, poised and compelling. Will be fascinating to see how it develops with age.
Then onto Sizzano, and Cantina Comero. Sizzano lies South East of Bramaterra, below Ghemme, and on the East side of the river Sesia. Gattinara and Ghemme may be the only DOCG in Alto Piemonte, but Sizzano is the oldest DOC: (1969). Farà and Boca are both Colline Novaresi DOC. The latter 3 appellations have more alluvial, soft and morainic soils. You can get some seriously good value wines here, often cheaper than other Nebbioli of similar quality. Frustratingly for producers, Sizzano can’t yet be declassified as Colline Novaresi Nebbiolo, but this may change. This zone is still quite undiscovered. The wines of Paolo Cominoli are bright and alive, from young vines with plenty of generous fruit. The standout wine for me was the 16 Sizzano: Pretty and fragrant, notes of cranberry and rose, quite relaxed and at ease. Finely grained tannins, lots of juicy red fruit and a lovely velvety almost creamy texture, gently sculpted.
Driving South East, we reached the Roero, which begins just above Verduno, the Northernmost village of the Langhe region. As Geology expert Dr. Edmondo Bonelli says, “One factor links together the three zones of The Roero and the Langhe: they have emerged on a geological substrate of seabed origin constituted by marls, sands, and calcareous sandstones. But within each production area are different geological formations as well, which generate different soils, each of which bears the imprint of the originating formation.” In the Roero the soil is mostly younger and sandier vs the Langhe. The sandiest soils are between 2 and 4 million years old. The Nebbioli tend to be softer and lighter in body and structure, with more gentle tannins, and a pretty red fruit character. Our visit to Alberto Oggero in Santo Stefano Roero was eye-opening. These wines are such a fine expression of place, with real lightness of touch. The 2016 Roero le Coste was singing: Vibrant red and peachy fruit on the nose with crushed rose petal. Very fresh and precise, and yet soft, with real lightness of touch, lots of matter and an expansive quality at the end of the palate. 16 was quite a balanced vintage, revealing a little more complexity vs 2017. Steel then tonneaux for 14 months. Very ‘classico’, almost Burgundian in style.
And finally, to the Langhe (Barolo & Barbaresco). To summarise very briefly (!), the sea evaporated earlier here, so the soils are older and harder than in the Roero. The Langhe topsoils of sand that still cover the Roero have been eroded over the extra millennia in the Langhe to leave the bare bones of clay & Marne in Barolo, whist Barbaresco is more influenced by the river action and soils, and by the Astijiani sand from the North East, as well as the weather from the Pianura Padana. The sandiest soils in the Langhe are 10million years old (over twice the age of those in the Roero)! And the famous Sant’Agata Blue Marl is 8-11 million years old (from the Tortonian age).
In Barbaresco we visited Manuel Marinacci in San Rocco Seno d’Elvio; a village that separates Barbaresco from Neive. It lies on a Blue Marl bedrock and has some clay and limestone too. It is much rockier than Roero, with less sand as it has all eroded. The marl gives minerality and depth, and soaks up the water, keeping the roots hydrated throughout the year. I loved the 2015 Barbaresco: Bright ruby red, clear and glistening. Balsamic and pomegranate. Quince, rosemary, thyme, silky, cleansing. Pretty, elegant but full. 1-month maceration and 30 months in botte grandi.
In Barolo we visited Fratelli Serio & Battista Borgogno, based in the heart of Canubbi. A standout wine for me was the 2015 Barolo Novello from the high, single Bergera-Pozzole vineyard in the comune of Novello, overlooking the river Tanaro below & the Maritime Alps in the distance, on heavier calcareous clay soils, steeply sloped and South facing: Lovely strawberry fruit nose, pot pourrit, floral scented. Very sumptuous, elegant, finely woven together. Fluid and harmonious, with some crunch, lift, and that energy you find across Emanuella’s wines, and with a spine of prominent tannins lending just the right amount of structure. 20 days fermentation and maceration in big barrel. Then into one botte of 49 HL for 32 months before bottled Summer 2018.
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