The team at Wineseeker in Wellington have been running an Exploration series where once a month they select a region in the world where they’ll deep dive into the wines from that area. The theme for this month was Northern Italy.
More specifically the provinces of Piedmont and Veneto in Northern Italy, best known by their capital cities Turin and Venice respectively. In a country with 350 authorized wine varieties and, another 500-plus in circulation without that authorized status, we weren’t able to taste all the wines from the highlighted regions, but the team at Wineseeker did pull together the heavy hitters.
Throughout the night I saw many people sneaking a look through the windows of Wineseeker, trying to grab a peek at what they were missing. I was quite happy to be sitting on the inside looking out.
Col di Salici Prosecco Valdobbiadene DOCG, 2011 (RRP $24.00)
The night started with a palate cleansing prosecco. Prosecco wines are made from glera grapes, a dull-ish variety unless it’s made into a sparkling. This one was dry, crisp and fresh. The Col di Salici sparkler is a wine designed to be enjoyed with salty antipasto as it’s a hearty, masculine example with plenty of intense bready and biscuity notes.
Handy hints for buying prosecco, if you’re looking for a dry wine go one with Brut on the label. A Brut prosecco is less than 12g/L of sugars. Confusingly Extra Dry means there’s 12-17g/L and Dry has more than 17g/L.
Riff ‘Terra Apina’ Pinot Grigio IGT, 2011 (RRP$22.00)
This wine was introduced by Michael with a bit of a story. An Italian chef and a Kiwi sommelier at an Italian restaurant in Auckland tried this wine. The Italian chef proclaimed it to be a rich Pinot Grigio. The Kiwi sommelier labelled it a rather subtle Pinot Gris. Both of them were right.
Grown on limestone soils, the Pinot Grigio was dry and rather flinty. Grapes in Italy are picked earlier than in New Zealand, resulting in wines with higher acidity and less prominent fruit. Riff Pinot Grigio was true to form, with a muted nose, medium body and medium to high acidity. When enjoyed with a selection of strong cheeses, the wine became richer in body.
Fasoli Gino ‘Borgoletto’ Soave DOC, 2012 (RRP$20.00)
Soave is a town in Italy and a style of wine made from Garganega grapes. This wine is seriously big on texture. Well, for an Italian wine and for an Italian wine tasted directly after a Pinot Grigio. It’s all relative. The wine had notes of honeysuckle, citrus and red apples, but the wine’s main selling point was the texture. Served with a lemon risotto with saffron and basil, the food really lifting the wine and highlighting the citrus in the wine.
Punset Barbera D’Alba DOC, 2011 (RRP$28.00)
Barbera was introduced as the workhorse of Piedmont. This particular example was unoaked and organic, meaning the richness in the wine comes entirely from the fruit. The Punset Barbera D’Alba is a spicy wine with notes of cloves, tree bark and wood chips, although ultimately it was quite bright and fruit-driven for a red. Dry with medium tannins, medium acidity and medium body. This is a wine that would be best enjoyed young to maximise the cheeriness of the fruit.
We were served two couplets of wines that were intended to be tasted and appreciated together. The first of these couplets was a Nebbiolo and a Barolo. Both of these wines are 100% Nebbiolo grapes, making Nebbiolo both a variety and a style. To be a Barolo means the wine is made in a predefined wine-producing zone. The name Nebbiolo without Barolo or Barbaresco attached to it, means the wine can be made anywhere in the world. Both the age difference and the regional specificity account for the difference in price. Let’s start with the more approachable wine of the couplet.
Anna Maria Abbona Nebbiolo Langhe DOC, 2009 (RRP$34.00)
The Nebbiolo is dry, with medium body, medium acidity and medium to high tannins. The wine has notes of violets, cherries and truffles, along with the mandatory bit of tar and roses that are so characteristic of the variety. When Michael said this wine could be tucked away for another decade, there was a loud guffawing, “yeah right!” as the New Zealand trend is to enjoy now rather than save for later. This guffaw may or may not have originated with a good friend of mine.
Casa Molisso ‘Fossati’ Barolo DOCG, 2001 (RRP$75.00)
Although the Nebbiolo is brighter and fruitier, the pricey Barolo is the more interesting of the two, lending itself to deeper contemplation. At more than twelve years old this Barolo can still be considered a baby and could go another 10 years in a cellar. Crazy high tannins, medium acidity, medium body and a powerful finish, this wine is intense. As can be expected from a Nebbiolo grape the wine smells of burning rubber and a touch of roses. In a good way. This wine business is a complex thing.
The second couplet was a Ripasso and an Amarone. As they were introduced to us, to understand the Ripasso, you need to understand the Amarone. Both the Ripasso and Amarone are blends of the Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grape varieties, three robustly skinned varieties. These grapes are harvested at peak ripeness then dried for three to four months. Once dried the grapes are crushed to make wine. This is where the two wine styles diverge. To make an Amarone the left over pips, skins and pulp, or pomace, are put aside. This low yielding approach to wine drives the price up. That pomace that was discarded for an Amarone is used to make Ripassos.
Speri Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso DOC, 2010 (RRP$35.00)
This is a baby Amarone, a more flavourful version of the couplet due to the pomace being added. The wine is quite upfront with notes of fruit, tobacco and sweet spice, cherry, green capsicum and mushroom. Fruit-driven, light bodied and delicate with low-medium tannins. To quote my friend Mary, this wine is a little too subtle for her New World palate.
Speri Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC, 2007 (RRP$88.00)
The full Amarone packs a punch, this is the richer, more refined wine of the couplet. The Valpolicella Classico has aromas and flavours of green capsicum, mushrooms, violets and dried fruit. With a light body, medium tannins and low acidity, the Amarone was able to stand up to the strong blue cheese food match. With the softer, creamier cheese, the wine becomes lighter and brighter. From the Ripasso, the Amarone becomes more masculine and intense.
Prunetto Moscato D’Asti DOCG, 2011 (RRP$32.00)
The Prunetto Moscato D’Asti is ridiculously drinkable. A lightly sparkling dessert wine that rounded the evening off nicely but could also be enjoyed as an aperitif. This low alcohol wine at 5% alc/vol is good and sweet with notes of nashi pears, peaches and rock melon fruit salad. In a word, this wine is beautiful