From North to South, here are some brief reports from our amici produttori (& Me!):
Thomas Niedermayr, Alto Adige
From the stunning, light-filled Dolomitic terraces overlooking San Michele Appiano, Thomas reflects on a smaller than usual crop, the harvest of which started on 20 Aug with the PIWI grape Solaris & finished on 1st October with Souvignier Gris for making their macerated (arancione) wine ‘Abendrot’. He recalls a fresh spring with a notably wet May that meant that the vegetative growth was slow & gradual – a trait across much of Italia it seems. June was hot, so giving rise to humidity in July. Indeed oidium became a threat over the summer, forcing the family to actually treat their vines (with Brdx solution) up to three times! The other pest was the vespa/wasp, that attacked their delicious fruit as they got close to harvest! Sugars were on the low side, while acidity he says was good. He reckons the vintage favoured the Solaris & Cabernet Cantor & Cortis PIWI varieties.
Marco Sara, Colli Orientali del Friuli
From the ponca soils of the pre-Alpi Giulia hills north of Udine, Marco harvested Friulano from mid-Sept & Schioppettino from 1st October. He points to slightly lower yields due to the fresh & wet spring, & then to the particularly dry July, which affected Schioppettino in particular (as Friulano is more resistant); this had the effect of delaying the harvest slightly, which was good for promoting bright aromatics as they vinified during the cooler evenings. He credits the presence of the ponca marne soils & to the Orientali hills for the constant stress-alleviating presence of rain & refreshing winds. So compared to the more homogenous 2018, vintage 2019 was more challenging.
DBG (!), Piedmont
As I write, it’s c. 24 degrees & blue skies on 25 Oct, after a couple of days of soaking rain…perfect then for late harvesting of Nebbiolo! It would seem that the defining moments of the year were a) the cold & wet May/June that caused the flowering to be interrupted & hence growth delayed, whilst providing ample water for the season ahead, b) the July heat spike that seemed less problematic/high than other parts of Europe (Iberia & France in particular), with growers now leaving more vegetation or employing nets to protect their fruit, but which compounded the vegetative delay, remaining at 1wk/10 days behind the new norm c) the rain showers (alas with localised hail on 5th Sept) that ensured that the vine was never stressed & d) the perfect Sept/Oct season, with warm days & fresh/cold nights, notably so from week commencing 7th Oct. The benign forecast encouraged growers to wait, as there is no (reported) presence of peronospera nor of susukii flies (as there were in 2018) & skins are thicker; indeed the start of the Nebbiolo harvest in the Roero on 9th Oct was celebrated with fog! Memories of the season include the comment that growers, thanks to the cool spring, had plenty of time to get behind the vegetative growth; that the sugar levels were modest/less so than 2018; that harvest dates were generally a week/10 days later than in 2018 (Monforte, CF, & Serralunga wc 14 Oct); that skins thickened/ripened crucially during the notably crisp Oct nights; that there was more skin to pulp than in 2018; & it seems most pertinently that phenolic, acidic, & sugar ripening (lines) all came together at the same time! Hail hit on 5th Sept in Fontanazza, Boiolo, Rocchettevini, Rocche dell’Annunziata (top half), then lower Castiglione Falletto (Parussi & Montanello?), Fontanafredda, Gallaretto, Raviole, Castello & the lower slopes of Diano, Madonna di Como & brushed San Rocco Sen’d’Elvio. It seems that while 2018 was a year of (some) peronospera (with producers using lots of copper), 2019 was the year of (some) oidium, causing ‘chickens & hens’ (millerandage)…But talking to agronomist Edmondo Bonelli, he says that 2019 saw more water during the vegetative period (March to Sept) than in 2018, & that while top vineyards should have fared well, lesser sites much less so – so perhaps there’ll be more of a spread in qualita?
Cascina Feipu dei Massaretti, Liguria
On the Mediterranean coast, at Albenga in Liguria, Mirco Mastroianni reports that the Pigato yield was down c. 40% compared to 2018, due he thinks to nature’s way of balancing one abundant year (2018) with a meagre one. The Pigato harvest took place from 9th September, & he senses that the very clean fruit this year – assisted by the dry heat of the summer & the onshore breezes – will give perfume as well as structure. Indeed he recalls an August in which they in Albenga enjoyed a cool temperature difference between night & day, so promoting good aromatics. Compared to vintage 2018, he says that there’s more sugar in 2019 (13.5% for the Pigato), while acidities are slightly lower.
Monte dei Ragni, Veneto
‘Il Mago’ Zeno Zignoli, at his wife Antonella’s family estate in Fumane seems calm as ever despite having withstood 5 hailstorms this year! But then Zeno continues to believe in the ancient, pergola high method of trellising, so protecting the hanging fruit below from hail & sun; the resulting acidities are good too, the yield also (pre-appassimento!) He also mentions two rainstorms in July & August that provided the water required to prevent the plant from going into stress. He would have preferred that it hadn’t rained at harvest, as the thin skinned Corvina began to suffer, forcing them to up the pace & harvest all by 16th October. He notes that there was more sugar than in 2018.
Tenuta del Priore, Abruzzo
Owner & winemaker Fabrizio Mazzocchetti is molto contento (!), the fruit healthy despite yields at his Collecorvino estate being down 30% on 2018. This was caused by the cold May that interrupted fioratura/fleuraison, & also had a knock-on effect of delaying the eventual harvest; he talks of a ten day delay compared to 2018. Yet the cool spring also promoted looser, spargoli bunches (through coulure?) that are then better able to ripen more uniformly & cleanly. Indeed he talks of thicker skins in 2019, to the point that the Passerina & Trebbiano grapes became slightly coloured with full maturation, so imparting a pale hue to the must/wine! Summer was suitably warm, with intermittent rain showers to keep the vines from hydric stress. Invaiatura/veraison was perfect for his main grape Montepulciano, that was then harvested from 1st October onwards. The whites were harvested by 27th Sept (with Pecorino the first on 5th Sept). He stresses that the Montepulciano had perfectly lignified pips & ripe skins, so ottimo phenolics! The harvest was late by about ten days, with sugars a degree up on 2018; acidity is slightly lower than in 2018, but better than 2017. Among the Bianchi, he suggests that Passerina fared particularly well, while his ‘Kerrias’ Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is being macerated for 25 days before being transferred to new ceramic tanks for ageing!
Podere Il Macchione, Toscana
Simone Abram, owner & winemaker at Il Macchione was racing around making the brothers’ Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wine from their Prugnolo Gentile (Sangiovese) fruit grown in the heart of the Vino Nobile zone at Caggiole, on sedimentary, fossil-rich clay soils. He remarks on the October harvest being late in 2019, by approximately two weeks, due to the cold & wet spring. This effect was also compounded by the hot July, bringing plants temporarily to a stand-still, slowing the accumulation of sugars & the overall maturation. The warmth continued into September & even to October, promoting further ripening.
Enrico Esu, Sardegna
Another happy man is Enrico Esu, a Sardo produttore from Carbonia in the island’s sandy south-west corner. He’s the proud owner & winemaker of a tiny estate that includes ungrafted ‘Piede Franco’ Carignano, del Sulcis! Despite yields being down 35% in 2019, due to the cool windy May (during flowering), the rest of the season he says was ‘perfetto!’ The foundations were laid by the particularly cool & wet preceding winter. And the hot summer helped him combat any attentions of resident insects, as the heat effectively dried up any eggs! The 2019 harvest was later than in 2018, with the younger vine Carignano fruit harvested from the middle of Sept & the alberello ungrafted in early October; sugars & acidities he says are similar to 2018. But thanks to the later harvest date, the evenings were much cooler, allowing the fruit delicate aromatics to be preserved, naturally. Macerations (in plastic fermenting tubs) are circa 10 days for the (unoaked) ‘Nerominiera’ & 15 days for the (oaked) old vine ‘Seruci’, so named after the coal mine where his father worked his last shift.
I caught Luca Carbone, brother of Sara, ‘on the hop’ but very felice as he completed the last of the family’s Aglianico (del Vulture) harvest this very week/into next! He wasn’t quite so felice earlier in the year, when he was worried about the cold May. Primavera he said was unseasonally short, if present at all, with June notable for the rain. Summer though was wonderfully hot, but with accompanying cool nights thanks to the presence of the Vulture volcano looming above their Melfi vines. Sugars & acidities are both good, he says. They have recently bottled the 2015 vintage Aglianico del Vulture ‘400 Some’ & also the 2015 ‘Piani dell’Incoronata’ single vineyard Aglianco del Vulture ‘Stupor Mundi’ too.
SRC Vini, Sicilia
Last, but by no means least, comes the family estate of SRC (Sandra, Rosario & Cinzia), who are located on Mount Etna’s stupendous lava slopes in the commune of Castiglione di Sicilia. Rori (Rosario) reports a classic vendemia, with the harvest taking place around the 25th Sept; & with normal yields too thanks to a balanced season. Spring was cool though, followed by a hot Summer. Key he said was the presence, during the lead up to the harvest, of warm 22 degree days & fresh 10 degree nights (as it was for Nebbiolo in Piedmont!). He was particularly pleased with the fruit that came off their old Nerello vine Crasa vineyard, with pH at 3.20, & alcohols at 13%, so similar to 2018.
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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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