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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Just back from Etna and the buzz & excitement of the ‘Contrade dell’Etna’ 2019 tasting, which took place in the Castello di Romeo in Randazzo, showcasing current and future releases from across Etna. The Contrade are small areas (within the larger Frazione) on Etna where vines are grown, and each is determined by a number of elements including altitude, soil, exposition, and microclimate.
There’s something truly magical about Etna. The views are dramatic, with vines perched on slopes from 450m up to 1200m asl, the snow-capped volcano above, the sooty black soils beneath, and the shimmering blue of the Mediterranean in the distance. Then you have the delicious food, the musical language, and the warm and spirited souls of the people. Unsurprising perhaps that the wines are also enchanting! The culture of wine making here is ancient, and many of the vineyards today date back to the early 1900s, pre-Phylloxera (apparently the mineral-rich soils helped to ward of the Phylloxera bugs!) It never ceases to amaze me how these old and gnarly plants can give birth to vivacious wines of such beautiful purity, finesse, and power. There must be something in the lava…….and its catching! The Etna DOC was only created in 1968, and 20yrs ago there were very few producers of quality wines on Etna (hardly more than 10 I was told). Today there are apparently about 150, and a high percentage of the growers are from the Etna region itself.
At the ‘Contrade dell’Etna’ it was fascinating to compare the Etna reds and whites from the North, South, East and West (thought interestingly, the Etna DOC does not cover wines made on the Western slopes). In truth, it was tricky to identify key traits belonging to each Contrada, this still being a relatively young and undeveloped concept, but easier instead to identify those belonging to the wider geographical areas, with many factors to consider. Firstly, the altitude, which is normally limited to maximum 850m asl for Etna Rosso DOC and Etna Bianco DOC (though it depends on slope), with many excellent wines being made at significantly higher altitude. Next, the Lava! Alberto Graci suggested that the main difference in the soil depends on the age of the lava, rather than its composition. Etna is the largest active volcano in Europe, and has destroyed working vineyards before, most recently during its latest eruption in 1981, when some San Lorenzo vineyards in Randazzo were engulfed by lava. Rori Pasaliti of SRC Vini said that more recent eruptions have left a sandier and more fertile top soil, however the differences can only really be noticed after a substantial amount of time (a thousand years or more….!) Stephanie Biondi from Ciro Biondi winery commented that the North side of Etna is on old lava flows, whereas the South side is on volcanic cones. Another grower at the event, Federico Curtaz, suggested that there is a philosophical element to the volcano’s power too; the possibility of an eruption at any moment making growers strive to do their best every day, with the towering peak of the mountain reminding them to aim ever higher!
Other key influences include the vineyard exposition, the air, and the microclimate. There is the influence of the sea in the South, and the cool mountain air in the North. Harvest tends to be earlier in the South, with more plentiful heat from the sun, though at the same time there is more rain to maintain freshness – especially key in hotter vintages. The Northern slopes are generally recognised as top sites for reds. Having tasted from various growers at the event, it could be said that the reds on the Northern side are more serious, benefiting from a cooler climate, and larger diurnal temperature range, which allows the vines respite in the evenings, preventing them from overheating, and preserving that archetypal freshness and acidity that is so loved about Etna wines. The South/South Eastern slopes are generally recognised as top sites for whites (the Contrada of Milo is home to the only Etna Bianco Superiore DOCG). Whites from these areas appeared to be a little saltier and more herbal than their notably floral Northern counterparts. Stephanie from Ciro Biondi suggested that the whites from the south are crunchier, flintier and more laser-like in acidity. The Southern slopes are still relatively undiscovered though, with 85/90% of Etna wines being made in the North.
It seems to me that Etna is a climate that nurtures a sort of super-vine! Not only do the vines give birth to extremely age worthy wines, but they are often disease resistant too! Rori Pasailiti explained how his vineyards in the Randazzo Contrada of Calderarra and the Castiglione di Sicilia Contrada of Crasà do not have any chemical treatments whatsoever. There is no smog, no pollution, just the pure mountain air, and the mineral rich soils, lending themselves perfectly to organic agriculture, and creating an environment so rich in biodiversity that the plants appear to be naturally disease resistant.
In terms of the distinct differences in terroir from one Contrada to another then, although they may strive to one day be compared to Langhe/Roero MGAs, there is still some way to go, but it’ll be an exciting journey to follow!
Below are some of my standout wines from the tasting (2018 vintage was balanced, easy, and relatively cool, with no great hot spells or wet spells, and 2017 was warm, with almost no rain at all and a very hot Summer):
SRC, 2018 Alberello Rosso: tasted April 2019 from tank – due to be released in 2020. Single vineyard Nerello Mascalese, from 100yo vines up at 650m asl in the Contrada of Crasà in Castigllione di Sicilia (North Etna). The perfume a little closed at first, but then slowly opening in the glass. So pure, bright, and high toned. Affinamento in cement only. Essential oil, roses, raspberry, wild herbs, alpine fresh, elegant and so fine. Stunning.
Buscemi, 2017 Tartaraci Rosso: tasted April 2019 from bottle, not to be released until Spring 2020, after more time in bottle. From 90 yo, free-standing alberello trained vines at 950m asl in the Contrada of Tartaraci (North West Etna). 70% Nerello Cappuccio & Mascalese, 30% Granaccia. Affinamento partly in tonneau, partly cement, then blended. Perfumed, with violets and floral notes, little red fruits, peppery. Alive, exciting, with great depth. Hint of liquorice, eucalyptus, tannins still very prominent. Great ageing potential.
Federico Curtaz, 2018 Etna Bianco DOC ‘Gamma’: tasted April 2019 tank sample. From the Contrada of Milo and Biancavilla (South East Etna). 100% carricante, stainless steel only. Crystalline, such freshness, austere but lovely. Citrus, lime blossom, exotic fruit, mountain herbs and flowers. Mineral, vibrant, racy. Volcanic!
Ciro Biondi, 2018 Etna Bianco DOC ‘Outis’: tasted April 2019 tank sample. Blend of grapes from older parts of the vineyards in Tre Castagne, from the Contrade of San Niccolò and Ronzini (South East Etna, on the volcanic coast). Stainless steel only. Mainly Carricante, some Minella and Cataratto. Very salty fresh with herbal and citrus notes, lemon verbena, wild thyme, so pure. On the palate saline, taught and cleansing, with a racy spine of mouth-watering acidity, and lovely texture.
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