Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine



Bugey

In France, the little known wine region of Bugey is well off the beaten track. I have passed through it frequently, usually on the way to more famous wine destinations, always making a mental note to stop and explore. When I finally did so this year I immediately wished I had done it sooner.

Once part of Eastern Burgundy, Bugey is in the l’Ain department of France and is usually only mentioned briefly as a footnote in wine books, either to neighboring Jura to the North or more usually to Savoie to the East. Indeed, this wine region only finally achieved its Appellation Contrôlée status in 2009. That was a long time coming.

Yet before the devastations by phylloxera and two World Wars, Bugey was an important wine producer, when it had 7,000 hectares of vines planted. Today, Bugey is a much slimmer 500 hectares, consisting of small vineyards scattered widely amongst 63 villages. Most wine growing here is undertaken by small family concerns that rely on cellar door sales. Production is tiny, at just four million bottles per year, and consumption remains mostly local. Little wonder that Bugey wines are, unfortunately, rarely seen outside the region.

Improving quality has been the goal in Bugey since the mid-1950s and today there are some superb wines available, at prices that put Bugey’s better known neighbors to shame. The appellation itself is an intricate one, covering a wide variety of grapes, sub-zones and wine styles. White, red, rosé and sparkling wines are all made in dry and sweeter styles. This is a welcome diversity, as there is a wine to suit every occasion, but it works against the creation of a cohesive Bugey identity.

Sitting at the confluence of Burgundy, Jura and Savoie, Bugey has a rich mix of cooler climate grape varieties to choose from. In white, Burgundy has contributed Chardonnay and  Aligoté, while Altesse (here called Rousette), Jaquére, Mondeuse Blanche and Molette are the mainstays inherited from Savoie. Look harder and you can find Viognier and Rousanne from the Rhône, plus a little Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. For the reds, Gamay was brought from Beaujolais to replant vineyards after World War I, Pinot Noir hints at an older Burgundian past and Mondeuse Noir hails from Savoie. Poulsard from the Jura also puts in an appearance. Sometimes these grapes are used to make single variety wines, at other times blends.

Bugey’s quiet charm lies in its quality, variety and small scale. The best wines convey a sense of terroir redolent of the beautifully unspoiled limestone hills, pretty villages and the clean mountain air. Naturally, they also make an ideal match for the regional cuisine.

Pellerin Bugey map

There are some ambitious winegrowers in Bugey and 68 hectares are now organically farmed. An outstanding example is Jean-Christophe Pellerin, the owner of Domaine Pellerin, which is in the south-eastern sub-region of Bugey known as Montagnieu, which follows the North bank of the Rhône as it loops away from the Alps. This is a sun-trap; the vines have a south and south-west aspect, the river acts as a moderating influence and the hills radiate summer heat. Pellerin is a fifth-generation vigneron, who now farms his five hectares of vines Biodynamically. Pellerin converted from organic to Demeter-certified status between 2009 and 2012 and remains, so far, the only commercial BD producer in Bugey.

The domaine may be considered small at 5 hectares, but that is the average size in this region. Pellerin follows the teachings of Rudolph Steiner and viticulturist Pierre Masson and, as usual, pays close attention to the vines while following the rhythms of the sun and moon. His vineyards resemble a garden rather than a farm and I was impressed that other local winegrowers consult him for advice. He is held in high regard by his peers, a rather different experience to BD pioneers in some other wine regions that were once viewed with disdain. Perhaps that is a measure of how seriously Biodynamics is now taken, or perhaps it represents the open-mindedness of the Bugiste vignerons.

The Pellerin vineyards swarm with life and vitality; bees, butterflies and birds. A great deal of diverse plant life happily coexists between the rows of densely planted vines. He told me that his vines had reacted very quickly to the biodynamic preparations used to stimulate the natural defences of the plant against insects and fungal diseases. Occasionally however, Wild Boar present him with a destructive problem on a different scale as they are rather partial to grapes!

Pellerin grows Aligoté, Chardonnay, Rousanne, Viognier and Altesse in white, with Pinot Noir, Gamay and Mondeuse in red. This allows him to make a dozen different wines and produce around 25,000 bottles per year.

A variety of dynamised BD preparations are used according to the lunar calendar. In addition to manure (500) and silica (501), Yarrow (502) and Horsetail (508) are effective against fungal diseases, while Valerian (507) is used after hailstorms. Blackthorn Bark, Comfrey and Meadowsweet are deployed to improve the availability of mineral trace elements in the soil.

Jean-Christophe also follows the practices of Eric Petiot in the use of homeopathic amounts of essential oils such as orange, chinese lemon, oregano and eucalyptus. This has also led to a significant reduction in the need for copper (sprayed as Bordeaux Mixture) which is traditionally used against outbreaks of fungal diseases.

A machine is used for harvesting rather than hand picking the grapes, which seems counter to the natural ethos. However, while Pellerin accepts that this can compress the soil it has the advantage in that it allows him to be able to harvest the grapes quickly on the appropriate lunar calendar day – picking during a fruit day is optimal for any biodynamic practitioner and would be difficult to achieve otherwise.

In the winery, Pellerin uses a mixture of large old oak casks, terracotta, cement and stainless steel tanks. New oak is absent – that would obliterate terroir and the fresh quality of these lighter style wines. Pellerin is also keen to keep the amount of sulphur in the wine making process to the minimum necessary to preserve the wines, usually at just 40 mg/litre for the whites and 20 mg/litre for the reds. Compare this with EU law that allows up to 210 mg/l for white and I60 mg/l for red! (As an aside, the Demeter limits are 90 mg/l and 70 mg/l respectively.) Even here the sulphur used comes from a naturally occurring source in Italy. The wines are bottled without filtering – so decanting the reds is wise as a sediment is likely.

If you’re in search of tremendous value wines of high quality then my advice is to spend some time in Bugey and discover them for yourself. Start at Domaine Pellerin. Don’t just pass through this region, enjoy all Bugey has to offer: unspoilt scenery, lakes and rivers, extensive woodlands and spectacular mountain views, quiet pretty villages, local cuisine – and a warm welcome. I can’t wait to go back and discover more.

Pellerin wines

Domaine Pellerin: a case for Tasting  – Cellar door prices from €4 – €12

Whites

Constellation 2013 11.5%

A bend of Aligoté, Altesse and Chardonnay grown on gravelly river soils. Dry white wine. High acidity conveys freshness, yet buttery and long. A good foil for a fondue made from the local Ramequin cheese.

Chardonnay 2013 12%

100% Chardonnay from limestone hillside soils. Dry style. Lemony freshness, mountain plant aromas and pronounced minerality. Incisive and a little riper. Local Trout from one of Bugey’s lakes would suit.

Chardonnay “Harmonie” 2009 13%

A BD conversion wine. Yellow colour, dry style white. Muscat-like floral nose, lots of lees ageing and battonage. Result is pure fruit flavours: apricot and peach with an attractive lingering herbal (fennel)? note. Much fuller but not fat, instead sleek. For me the best and most distinctive of his Chardonnay, an exciting wine. Perhaps this has a little Viognier or Rousanne in it?  This deserves a roasted Bresse Chicken, no less.

Chardonnay “Platine” 2009 11.5%

A totally different Chardonnay from gravel soils on flat land. Floral nose, with orange peel and biscuit notes. Rounded, hint of oxidation  – is that because of the low sulphur at this age? Reminded a little of Château Musar white (a compliment). A wine that would match Quenelle de Brochet sauce Nantua admirably.

Reds

Métisse 2011 12%

A blend of Gamay, Pinot Noir and Mondeuse. Smoky nose and small red fruits – redcurrant, strawberry flavours before a long finish featuring plenty of Mondeuse spiciness. Terrific blend, ideal charcuterie partner.

Pinot Noir 2011. 12%

Superb Pinot perfume, all violets and cherries. Very smooth texture, light character and slightly reductive, but just enough to add another dimension of complexity.

Gamay “Chatiere” 2009 11.5%

Hillside Gamay, so limestone soil, touch of reduction on the nose, very dry, plenty of unusual tannic backbone. Richly fruited, a Morgon-like gamay that has potential for further development. Out-performs many Cru Beaujolais, a terrific wine. Seems like Gamay can thrive when not grown on Granite. Food? Back to the Fondue.

Mondeuse 2011 11%

My favourite red in the Pellerin range. Dark, brooding, powerful and spicy.  Will improve and develop over another 3-5 years. Real power that belies the light alcohol, very complete.  Sold Out!

Pinot Noir “Seduction” 2009 11.5%

Secondary flavours beginning to show – earth, autumn leaves, hint of black truffle. Real Pinot silky mouthfeel and grace. Does what it says on the label. As Burgundian in style as a Premier Cru from the Côte d’Or.

Bubbles

Bugey Brut 2011 12%

Traditional Method fizz made from Chardonnay, Aligoté and Altesse. Fresh, vif, vibrant, bone dry. Nicely focused, No dosage, the natural 7g/l residual sugar balances high acids well. Sherbet Lemons and a bready note. Apéritif or seafood.

Grand Prestige Demi-Sec 2009 12%

Traditional Method made from Chardonnay and Aligoté. Rounder and fuller, an off-dry style rather than medium sweet. No dosage, 16 g/l residual sugar. Apples and grassy-tinged flavours, flashy acidity. Something sweet like the local Praline tarts would be good, or try a local cheese such as Tome de Belley, with its blue mould rind.

Classic Rosé Demi-Sec 2012 8%

Méthode Ancestrale, so the second fermentation bubbles are induced in bottle by cooling and rewarming. 100% Gamay, attractive pale red colour, with masses of bright red fruit, frothy pinkish mousse, perfect as an apéritif or with a light dessert (say Eton Mess).  Blue cheese a good alternative – Blue de Gex isn’t that far away. Second fermentation is undertaken for Pellerin further south in the Diois, where Clairette de Die is made. This Ancestrale style is like the Bugey Cerdon made to the north of the Bugey appellation, individual and delicious. Beaujolais producers should really take note, this is a style worth developing commercially and would soon reduce the Beaujolais lake— Jean-Paul Brun Domaine des Terres Dorées already is!

 

Domaine Pellerin

Jean-Christophe Pellerin

Perrozan-Le-Pont de Lagnieu

01150

Saint-Sorlin-en-Bugey

L’Ain

France

Tasting room open Saturdays, or by appointment

 


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Regular readers of Wine Alchemy will know that I am a particular follower of Caiarossa, a Super-Tuscan biodynamic red wine that was first made in 2003. I have followed every vintage release closely since then, as it seems to me that this is a wine that, while always excellent, has improved each year as the vines have become older (they are now ten years of age) and the influence of biodynamic vineyard practices deepens. In addition, while Caiarossa is always a blend, mostly of a number of bordeaux grape varieties with Tuscan sangiovese, the proportions of these grapes in the final blend have varied markedly with each release; reflecting the terroir and the specific vintage conditions encountered each year on the Tuscan coast.

Each new release of Caiarossa is therefore unique and has become something of a special occasion at BD Mansions. What seems an emerging theme is the rise in importance of cabernet franc to become the lead grape, now displacing merlot from that role, and the current 2009 follows this, being a blend of 25% cabernet franc, 21% merlot and 18% cabernet sauvignon. Sangiovese is increased in 2009 to 19%. Supporting balance is achieved with 8% petit verdot, 6% syrah and 3% grenache, these latter three grapes being used in much smaller quantities than previously.

Rather than simply write a review of Caiarossa 2009, I really wanted to drink it paired with food, as perhaps most wines should be, and as Italian red wines really demand. But what food to pair it with? It would be easy to call in the usual suspects but I had decided to set myself a few criteria.


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Querciabella Turpino 2010

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Anyone that has even a passing acquaintance with Wine Alchemy knows of my love of the wines of Tuscany and in particular those from Chianti and the new lands of Bolgheri and the Maremma. Furthermore, my passione for the wines of the Querciabella estate seems to only increase with each new vintage. Organic since 1988 and biodynamic since 2000, owner Sebastiano Cossia Castaglioni has pursued quality and innovation relentlessly while continuing to expand his vineyards and cuvées; first at his 74 hectare estate in the heart of Chianti Classico and then developing 32 hectares in the Maremma, down on the unspoiled Etruscan Coast.

Querciabella’s range, comprising (in order of price); Chianti Classico, Mongrana, Bátar, Camartina and Palafreno have all become iconic, each with its own lustre.

Querciabella’s range, comprising (in order of price); Chianti Classico, Mongrana, Bátar, Camartina and Palafreno have all become iconic, each with its own lustre.

This spring there was a new Super-Tuscan wine released into the Querciabella range: Turpino. Like Palafreno and Mongrana, the wine gets its name from an Italian epic poem. It neatly slots in next to Mongrana.

Turpino is a blend, of 40% Cabernet Franc with 40% Syrah and 20% Merlot. Not that unusual for a super-Tuscan these days perhaps. What I do find unusual is that it is a blend of regions. Fruit from the high altitude Chianti Classico vineyards brings cool elegance but this is combined in equal proportion with fruit from the warmer and plusher sea-level Maremma. While there is something almost heretical about this to the terroir-purist in me there is no doubting that adopting this approach has created an exciting and entrancing red wine, a heady blend of the traditional and the modern. This is fresh-thinking new-world Italian at its finest.

That combination of the traditional and the modern extends to how the wine is made, by winemaker Manfred Ing. Each grape variety is micro-vinified in oak fermenters using only natural yeasts and only the free-run juice is used. (What happens to the press wine is not known.) French barrels are used and only 20% of them are new so that the wine is not overtly marked by wood flavours or additional tannins. Cabernet Franc is given a tighter grained barrel given its more tannic characteristics. After sixteen months the blend is made, with another eight months integration in tank before bottling. 20,000 bottles have been made. As with all Querciabella wines, no animal products are used in production, so the wine is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. As an aside, biodynamic vineyard preparations usually involve cow-horns, but not here – a ceramic alternative has been developed.

Given this wine is at the early stages of a potential 20-25 year lifespan, it is youthful and not yet at peak – that must be 2-5 years away at least. So this is a wine to buy and keep for now. At this stage then, Turpino was given every encouragement to express itself; first it was decanted quite roughly and then left for a couple of hours and, following Sebastiano’s advice, ensuring it was warm in the glass at around 18°C. I then used a Riedel Pinot Noir glass so I could get a good swirl and release the aromatics. All that paid off handsomely!

This deep coloured red wine already has terrific aromatics and intensity. Red cherry and damson fruit scents are accompanied by an attractive pencil-shavings note (step forward Cab Franc). On the palate the fruit is at once seamless yet multilayered, with an attractive balsamic touch. There’s richness and elegance here rather than muscular power, a melange of fruit flavours balanced by fresh acidity and polished soft tannins. In that I was reminded of the wines made by Ridge in California (praise indeed), there is a new world feel but without excessive alcohol or lushness. That balsamic note lingers for some time on the finish if you let it. There are all the ingredients necessary for Turpino to improve further in bottle over time. I am always struck by the purity and sheer drinkability that Querciabella achieve, you almost have to force yourself to linger over each glass.

In short, Turpino is an excellent new addition to Querciabella’s fine range, bringing something new and different. Truly then a super super-Tuscan.

Given the sheer numbers of super-Tuscan wines created over the past few years is there really any more room for yet another? Yes, when it is as fine as this and from such a great estate. Where there are others clearly wearing the Emperor’s new clothes, Turpino is the real deal.


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Regular readers of these pages will know of my predilection for sherry. However, I have failed to discover a sherry made by certified organic methods from the Jerez DO region. If anybody is familiar with one I would be grateful to know and investigate.

Fortunately for those looking for organic credentials there are one or two producers elsewhere in Spain that make wines in styles that are very similar to those sherries of Jerez, including a “fino style” and an “amontillado style.”

One such estate is the family run Bodegas Gómez Nevado. They are based at a small inland town called Villaviciosa, northwest of Córdoba, in the rugged mountains of the Sierra Morena. That’s over 200 km from Jerez and at least 50 km from Montilla-Morilles. Hence these wines cannot benefit from either the title or reputation of “sherry” and are classified merely as humble “wines of the land” (Vino de la Tierra). Although largely unknown, they do have quality aspirations and are made in a similar way to their more illustrious counterparts.

There’s neither Jerez’ onshore damp breezes or white crusted chalk soils in the Sierra Morena. Instead, a harsher continental climate with blistering summers and cold snowy winters is the norm. With true sherry, it is the Palomino grape that takes precedence. This region grows some Palomino but also the hardy Airén and Pedro Ximenez are common – hence the wines tare a combination of all three grapes and to me substitute elegance with brawn.


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The wine featured here is their Pálido Seco, the dry “fino sherry” style white wine that derives its principal flavour from the biological action of yeast on the maturing wine. The wine is aged for between three and five years in old American oak casks forming a solera system. The yeast (Flor) feeds on the wine, so imparting those classic briny phenolic flavours.

Rather than worry overmuch about classifications, it’s best to see what the bottle has to offer, which thankfully is rather a lot. The wine is a deep and clear yellow colour, attractively so, but deeper than a true fino would be. Then the nose is powerful and is not confined to the glass. First off is the familiar salty seaside smell of the acetaldehyde imparted by the yeast. Underneath that appears caramel, dried apples and almonds. This really is all very appealing and draws you further in. The palate is explosive, very dry and big boned. In every way a big mouthful, the salt and almonds reprise with the apple really coming through in broad brushstrokes.

If you like fino sherry you really do owe it to yourself to try this. Of course it is perfect as a chilled aperitivo with anchovies and olives. Best of all, there are few dry white wines that have the body and flavour to stand their corner against the heat of Wasabi Peas! Perfect!

This an individualistic and traditional Spanish country wine with the added bonus of organic credentials made available at a value price. Being a strapping example I’d say you could open it, restopper it and it would keep in the fridge for a week. No need to worry about opening immediately after buying either, it’ll keep unopened for 2-3 years yet but won’t improve if you do so. No need to wait.

Meanwhile, I can also heartily recommend Gómez Nevado’s dry amontillado style wine, called Dorado Seco.


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Quantum of Solace

The area around Linguaglossa, on the northern slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily is a remarkable and spectacular wine terroir, where native grape varieties grown on volcanic soils meet high altitude and fine weather to create a series of subtly different microclimates. If the time ever comes to designate an Etna Classico zone, Linguaglossa is likely to be one of the focal points.

The Etna wine revolution continues apace, an intriguing blend of ancient and modern. One winery that I didn’t investigate on my last visit is Quantico. Above it, Etna spits, snarls and smokes, a constant belligerent threat.

Quantico is small and organically farmed – just 6 ha in total. Their Etna Bianco and Etna Rosso are grown at the 1.5 ha Contrada Lavinia vineyard, up at 600-750 metres altitude. While there is a long family tradition of viticulture here, AA Giulemi set up Quantico only in 2009.

What of the wines?

Etna Rosso: Nerello Mascalese 90% and Nerello Capuccio 10%, abv 13%. Handpicked, wild yeasts, aged for twelve months in large old wood casks. It is bright crimson with great elegance, freshness and above all, purity. Wafts of violets a cherries on the nose, the lifted palate shows pinot-ish red fruits with a balsamic undertow. No wood effects let the grapes speak for themselves. Well balanced and very food-friendly at only a moderate 13% alcohol. No rough edges, tannins all smoothed off and a good long finish. Just 1,500 bottles produced.

Etna Bianco: 70% Carricante, 20% Cataratto and 10% Grillo, abv 12%. Handpicked, wild yeasts, fermented on the grape skins in stainless steel. Brilliant yellow hue, wild flower scents: gorse, herbs, citrus, reprised on the palate. Plenty of fresh acidity and a delicious salty minerality. 3,500 bottles produced

I recently tried both these wines and was knocked out by their quality and purity, which I attributed to the complete absence of any sulphur as preservative, which is far from easy to achieve. Both wines are drinking perfectly now and while there is no hurry they are best enjoyed young while fruity and vibrant.

The Rosso was brilliant with a simple ragú and penne pasta dish, the bianco a perfect foil for grilled fish. At this point I decided to investigate Quantico more thoroughly.

The quote on the bottle says:

Questo vino parla al cuore. Originale, irrverente e sorprendente, perche dall’uva al vino è solo questione di sole, energia e amore per la propria terra. Tutto nel pieno rispetto dell’ambiente.

(Rough translation; This wine speaks to the heart. Original, irreverent and surprising, because from the grape to the wine is only a matter of sun, energy and love for our land. Everything fully respects the environment).

This is poetic but could apply to many a small-production organic wine. But what of Quantum physics?

It turns out that Quantico are experimenting with using “innovative methods” in the vineyard based on magnetic fields. Are these more hair-shirt practices of dubious scientific merit? Well, it seems that there is a body of very serious university-led research about employing magnetic fields to strengthen the natural health of the plant. As far as I can tell, marvelous results have been achieved with sunflowers it seems.

For what may be the first time, magnetic fields are being used with vines rather than usre the usual arsenal of harmful chemical fertilisers and sprays. Some sort of device called the Telos AgroQuantum is being employed. Expect to see more winegrowers experimenting with these techniques in the future.

Can I explain to you how it works? Not right now and anyway most of the literature is in Italian. Does it work? Science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke once said that a technology sufficiently advanced from our own would be indistinguishable from magic. Well, for me all the evidence I require for now is in the glass and I knew nothing of such practices before I tried the wines, and they were magical to me.

Etna is an exciting region where young wineries like Tenute della Terre Nere, Passopisciaro and Frank Cornelissen are all making waves, Quantico are clearly poised to join them in making waves of their own. Whatever it is they are doing, they’re doing it right, at the six-sigma confidence level. Their Rosso is by far the most exciting new wine I have tried this year, the Bianco is not too far behind.

Given the tiny production, these wines are found locally in the osteria and enoteca around the nearby resort of Taormina. If you go there on holiday, look out for them.

A final note to the FBI: these Quantico wines are certainly on my “most wanted” list.

Paul Howard
@WineAlchemy1
www.winealchemy.com


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Le Mortelle

The Antinori family has been in the wine business for over six hundred years and they can document this back to 1385 across 26 generations. It is an interesting question whether anyone has done more in raising the profile of Italian wines than the current head of the family, Marchese Piero Antinori. Back in the seventies he created the SuperTuscan category with Tignanello, which is arguably still the greatest example, and followed that up with another, the sensational Solaia.

The family business is still led by Piero, now with his three daughters; Albiera, Allegra and Alessia. Under his leadership the business has become a vinous superpower and there are many estates and joint ventures in the portfolio, not just in Italy but spread around the world.

As an aside, Piero’s relations are hardly slouches, being responsible for two of Italy’s most sought-after SuperTuscans; brother Lodovico created Ornellaia while cousin Niccolò owns Sassicaia, both estates being in the Bolgheri region down on the Tuscan coast.

Back to Marchese Piero Antinori; Le Mortelle is one of his most recent ventures, establishing a new organic wine estate from scratch in Tuscany’s southern Maremma. This is immediately south of the Bolgheri, on a virgin coastal site near the town of Grossetto. Here there is still plenty of room to create brand new wine ventures, using land that is cheaper than in more established and famous wine areas.

This Maremma remains Tuscany’s New World, still frontier land without a long tradition of winemaking. This coastal strip is still unspoiled, a once pestilential marsh and swamp until it was drained for pasture in the twentieth century. The farms here are on flat plains and rolling low hills, still mainly devoted to cattle, olives and fruit.

Le Mortelle is named after a shrub that is commonly found in these parts, the Wild Myrtle. It was a fruit farm until it was bought in 1999 from the Barabino family. The creation of a sizable wine estate takes years and considerable investment that will not pay back for decades, so such projects need patience and a faith in the future as well as deep pockets.


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Soave is a famous Italian white wine region named after the eponymous town near Verona. The town of Soave is dominated by a massive medieval castle and its impressively crenellated walls. From these high swallow-tailed vantage points you can see that Soave is surrounded by vines and is at the centre of the Classico zone. As with so many Italian DOC regions, Classico is the ancient and superior enclave, a landscape of rolling limestone hills with excellent exposure to the sun. In marked contrast, “normal Soave” remains an insipid industrialised wine produced by overcropped vines on the flat plains to the south. Because that accounts for 80% of all Soave production the image of Soave remains cheap and cheerless.

The regulations that govern Soave have not improved Soave’s reputation either. Since 1998 there has been a theoretically higher DOCG classification, a so-called “superiore,” designed to improve quality, but this has been boycotted by most of the leading producers. Instead, they have either stuck with the older DOC classification or just abandoned it completely. They show just how fine and satisfying the white wines from this area can be.

Soave exists in three main guises; as a sparkling wine, a dry wine and a gloriously rich and sweet recioto. The mainstay of all these is garganega, a grape variety capable of real quality. Other white grapes may be included in the blend, including chardonnay and pinot bianco. However, a regular partner is often the dreaded trebbiano. While this is indeed the dull trebbiano toscano in the cheap wines, a quality producer will employ the far superior trebbiano di soave, which is just the local name for verdicchio, an entirely different grape.

Coffele is found in the heart of the medieval town, on the main street, the via Roma. In 1971, Giuseppe and Giovanna Coffele retired as teachers to rejuvenate this estate. Today their work is being carried on by their children, Alberto and Chiara. They own some of the best vineyards in the Classico zone and today sit at the producer top table alongside their peers such as Pieropan (found just a few doors away), Anselmi and Inama.

The Coffele family vineyards are at Soave and to the north at Castelcerino. These terraced hillsides are planted mainly with garganega, though trebbiano di soave, sauvignon and chardonnay are also farmed. They also have red varieties: cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot. Under the management of Alberto Coffele, the estate is organic, cultivated traditionally without chemicals and with an abundance of olive, cherry and oak trees. They are rightly proud that their organic manure comes from their own stables – Coffele are horse breeders too.

Ca’Visco is made from their vineyards at Castelcerino and is a blend of 75% garganega and 25% trebbiano di soave. It is named after Giovanna’s family, the Visco’s being the original vineyard owners. The harvest is by hand, with several vineyard passes made during September and October to select the ripest bunches – the selection is performed in the vineyard. The grape varieties are fermented separately at the winery at low temperature in modern stainless steel tanks. The wines then sit on the lees to pick up complexity before racking, blending and bottling. No oak is used with Ca’Visco, so it is a true expression of Soave character.

Pale yellow with green hints, the aroma’s are fresh and welcoming – blossom, minerals and apple are to the fore. On the palate, there is great balance, a welcome moderate level of alcohol and soft acids bring mouth filling texture before a clean refreshing bite. You might find victoria plum, peach and grapefruit on the palate but the memory is that of almonds. The 2010 vintage is drinking well now but this is a wine capable of developing complexity over the next five years. On the evidence from the 2009 to 2006 vintages, additional acacia, herb and pepper notes can be expected.

As with most Italian wines, Ca’Visco is ideal with food. Seafood like scallops are an obvious match but pairing with asparagus risotto is a classic. Try spinach and ricotta tortellini, those delicious pasta parcels with a little truffle oil and parmesan seem tailor-made.

As for an aperitivo, nothing beats a cold glass of Coffele Ca’Visco on the terrace of the Enoteca del Drago in Soave, just a few yards up the via Roma from Coffele…but that’s another story. Memories are made of this.

In the U.S., recent vintages of Coffele Ca’Visco 2007-2010 are available from $16.99 to $22.99 in a range of stores.


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The southeastern part of Sicily is an enclave of natural winemaking excellence. Much of the impetus behind the improved quality and status of the wines from here is due to a company called C.O.S. This was founded in 1980 by three students, whose initials make up the company name. Starting in a garage, they went on to create some of the most exciting and individual wines in the world from their base near Vittoria. They introduced biodynamic methods and ferment some wines in terra cotta amphorae. They were also key in elevating the red DOC Cerasuolo di Vittoria to become Sicily’s only DOCG wine. One of the founders of C.O.S. is Giusto Occhipinti, now a revered name in winemaking circles.

As may be guessed by now, the Occhipinti influence has been passed on to a new generation. His niece, Arianna Occhipinti is still only in her twenties but now has her own domaine. A wine-school graduate, she has been mentored by her uncle and runs 10 ha of vines and 15 ha of olives virtually single-handed. Concentrating on indigenous grapes, (nero d’Avola and frappato), she employs natural winemaking methods, being biodynamic in the vines and taking a non-interventionist approach in the winery, (wild yeasts and no temperature control during fermentation, no fining, no filtering and minimal sulphur used as preservative). The result are exuberant and pure wines with a real sense of place.

And the place is what this wine is named after. SP68 is the local Strada Provinciale, the road that runs past the vineyards linking the small town of Vittoria to the local village of Pedalino.

Just like the local DOCG Cerasuolo, SP68 is a blend of nero d’Avola and frappato. The composition of the blend is dominated by frappato. Frappato brings lightness and acidity along with perfume and strawberry fruit, while the nero d’Avola contributes structure and a darker richness. Why it’s now sold as an IGT and no longer a Vittoria Rosso or indeed even a Cerasuolo is unknown to me. Maybe something about SP68 defies the rules, maybe Occhipinti isn’t interested in categories. In any event, the wine is best described as serious fun.

In the glass, SP68 is a light ruby colour and slightly turbid, as befits a wine with nothing taken out. It’s nervy too, a full cherry, strawberry and violet perfume leads to a bright, fresh palate where cherry, strawberry and cranberry are cut with a streak of minerality. There’s little tannin or complexity but great balance and texture thanks to fresh acidity and relatively light alcohol. This isn’t a wine for contemplation or for aging, rather it’s one that should be drunk young and where you’ll find the bottle quickly empties!

In that respect this is a light red that could be compared in style (if not in taste) to Beaujolais or a Loire red. Indeed, in summer it could be given a very light chill.

As for food pairing, I immediately thought to drink this with Aranchini con Ragú, the Sicilian fried rice balls covered in breadcrumbs and containing meat sauce. It would also be perfect with antipasti. Alternatively, break the rules and drink this red with fried or grilled fish such as whitebait and sardines.

This wine brought back memories of Sicilian heat and breathtaking countryside. It is also a good introduction to the other Arianna Occhipinti wines. These are based on frappato and nero d’Avola, but now include a white wine; SP68 bianco made from albarello and zibibbo.

Capturing the zeitgeist, Arianna Occhipinti is well on her way to winemaking superstar status. Surely a Gambero Rosso winemaking award is not far away?

Around $25.00


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