by Susannah Gold
on Mar 5, 2014
Organic and biodynamic wines now come from all parts of Italy, as these practices are beginning to seriously take hold in the country. One of the Sicilian wineries that has adhered to these practices for the past 20 years is Manfredi Guccione from Palermo. The winery is located at 500 meters above sea level in the hills of Contrada Cerasa, near the city of Monreale; an area in Sicily where people from Albania migrated generations ago, and where a local language is still spoken that is akin to Albanese. The area’s grapes were usually sold for blending wines, because of their high sugar content.
In 2005, Guccione decided to change the way he grew his grapes and cut yields drastically. He used both ancient Sicilian winery and natural winemaking techniques to produce his wines. They use field blends for their wines, rather than planting clones or genetically modified plants.
Harvests are done by hand and fermentation takes place using ambient yeasts. They add nothing to the wines, nor do they filter them, preferring to leave them in the most natural state possible. Additionally, they have lowered the amount of sulfur they use. This natural approach continues through bottling and packaging, putting on the labels by hand and using beeswax to seal the bottles.
Their motto in Sicilian is “Stu Vinu fa respirare l’anima,“ loosely translated to ”this wine helps the soul to breathe."
The winery was certified organic in 1996, relatively early in the history of natural winemaking in Italy. They are moving towards becoming a biodynamic winery as well.
The winery only produces mono-varietal wines, focusing on indigenous varieties such as Trebbiano, Catarratto, Perricone, Nerello Mascalese and Nero d’Avola. They choose to make only mono-varietals because they feel they reflect the perfect terroir of the area and the precise microclimate that they are blessed with.
I was introduced to the winery during Vinitaly 2013. They participated in the event as part of the Vivit group of organic, biodynamic wines – a separate section in the fair. The 2014 edition of Vinitaly will have a much larger number of “natural wines” from all over the world.
The winery has clay soils, and a particular microclimate with large thermal excursions of temperature. They produce 21.000 bottles annually, divided among eight wines. The wines are sold in a number of European countries such as France, Spain, Germany, England, Norway and Sweden, as well as in Japan, the US and Australia.
The family was truly lovely and I enjoyed the wines immensely, a good reason to go back to Palermo and Monreale to visit the winery and the amazing Monreale Cathedral.
100% Trebbiano that spends four months in 3 hl tonneaux, and then in stainless steel tanks for five months before being released. This was a beautiful white wine with floral notes and minerality. Perfect for light summer fare.They also make another version of Trebbiano called Veruzza that is only aged in stainless steel.
This is made from 100% Nerello Mascalese. It matures in 4 hl tonneaux. It was a gorgeous red wine with fresh red fruit aromas and flavors, as well as rich, chewy tannins. This grape variety grows well at higher altitudes. Many will recognize it from the wines of Mt. Etna, where it is often blended with Nerello Cappuccio. Some say that it is genetically related to the Sangiovese grape from Tuscany.
Arturo di Lanzeria 2011
This wine is made from 100% Perricone. This wine is refined in 4 hl tonneaux as well. The wine was deep ruby red in color with lovely red fruits, some oak and lots of spice. It also had chewy tannins and a hint of minerality. It also has considerable minerality for a red wine grape. Perricone is another Sicilian grape that is often used in blends. It too is supposedly related to Sangiovese.
by Susannah Gold
on Feb 25, 2014
Il Conventino, one of a handful of wineries in Montepulciano that produce organically farmed grapes, was recently awarded the coveted Tre Bicchieri status from the Italian guide, Gambero Rosso. The winery is in a privileged location between the Val di Chiana and the Val d’Orcia, and its 5 hectares of vineyards are located at between 250 – 580 meters above sea level.
The Brini brothers – Pino, Duccio and Alessandro – bought the winery in 2003, and immediately made the decision to become organic. Today the winery is mostly run by Pino’s son Alberto and a cousin, Enzo, will soon join him. They also use a very famous enologist as a consultant, winemaker Attilio Pagli.
They were among the first in the area to farm organically, using strict pruning techniques, leaving only a few buds on the cane, exposing the vines to air and light in order to create a perfect microclimate within the canopy and choosing the right moment to harvest the grapes. They also plant grasses between the vines to stimulate competition with the grasses for nutrients and to keep the soil alive and active.
Alberto noted they use ambient yeast as well, and try to keep everything in balance on the farm. He said they used the grasses as a way to contrast humidity and to keep microorganisms, such as bacteria and insects, at bay. He said they believed in the technique of multi-crops to keep the land healthy.
The winery makes a series of wines including a Rosato, a Rosso di Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva, as well as a white wine, Grappa, Vino Santo, and also an olive oil.
The history of wine in Montepulciano extends all the way back to the Etruscans. Montepulciano is a hilly town with its vineyards located at 250 to 600 meters above sea level. Some 1,300 hectares of vineyards are registered in the books and are allowed to produce Vino Nobile di Montepulciano D.O.C.G. while another 389 hectares can produce Rosso di Montepulciano. There are about 7.6 million bottles of Vino Nobile produced annually and about 2.6 million bottles of Rosso di Montepulciano. An interesting fact is the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was the first red wine to receive the Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita (D.O.C.G.) designation on July 1, 1980.
The Consorzio represents 251 producers or about 90% of the vineyards in the area. There are also 74 bottlers who are part of the Consortium. About 32% of Vino Nobile is sold in Italy while the other 68% is sold internationally. Germany is a very large market for this wine as are the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland. About 17% of the production goes to the United States. I’m not at all surprised by these numbers, because every time I have visited the town there have been huge numbers of German tourists coming through. What I do find surprising though is that more of this wonderful wine made from a grape Americans love, Sangiovese, isn’t sold to the United States.
One of the reasons that I think Nobile isn’t as appreciated as it should be in the United States is that it tends to be tannic and astringent on the palate when it is young. Nobile is a wine that takes a long time to show its best face, something that those who like immediate gratification have a hard time with. Additionally, most Americans don’t have wine cellars where they can keep a wine for a number of years as it matures. Those that do won’t be disappointed; Vino Nobile shows its exceptional aromas and flavors with time.
Rosato del Conventino I.G.T.
This wine is made from the first pressing of the grapes and has lovely fruit and floral aromas and flavors.
Rosso di Montepulciano D.O.C.
Made from 80% Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile), 15% Colorino, Canaiolo, and Mammolo. The grapes are hand harvested. The wine spends 15/20 days on the skins macerating at controlled temperature and then three months in large Slavonian oak barrels and some time in the bottle before being released. This Rosso was quite full-bodied with cherry notes and a nice finish.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano D.O.C.G. 2009
This wine is made in much the same way as the Rosso, but macerates at a slightly warmer temperature and spends 24 months in Slavonian oak barrels and then some months in the bottle. This wine is 80% Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile) and 15% Colorino and Canaiolo. On the nose is a classic Vino Nobile with cherry, spice, tobacco and oak tones, with an earthy layer throughout and softer tannins than I expect from a Nobile. This is because the vintage was quite warm.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano D.O.C.G. 2010
The 2010 version spent less time on the skins macerating, only 10 days, and had slightly rougher tannins when I tasted it, although the wine was very elegant and refined. 2010 was said to be a more classic vintage.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano D.O.C.G. Riserva 2008
The Riserva is made in the same fashion as the Rosso and the Vino Nobile, but spends 30 months aging in Slavonian oak and six months in the bottle before it is released into the market. The Riserva was beautiful, with great structure and depth, harmonious and balanced at the same time. It also presented classic cherry, earth, spice and earthy aromas and flavors and some wood undertones.
by Susannah Gold
on Feb 18, 2014
The beauty of the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany has been celebrated since the Renaissance, earning the region its World Heritage Site status by UNESCO. I had the good fortune to sit down with one of the wine producers from this area that is blessed with such beauty, Marco Capitoni.
The Capitoni have been farmers in this area for generations. They farm both grains and vines at elevations of around 400 meters above sea level. “Our wines are all created on the vine,” Capitoni noted in an interview, “We have a limited production and we want to keep it that way. When the grapes get to our cellar, they are all healthy and rich in phenolics.”
Capitoni and I had a long discussion about the difficulties of growing a mono-crop and how it tends to exhaust the land. Captioni farms organically and works on managing the energy within the plant. He also works a lot on canopy management. “We work on managing the different phases of each plant. Not all of the leaves work at the same pace, nor do they work at the time. A three-month old leaf may not be working in terms of photosynthesis at the same level as a two-month old leaf. It depends on each plant.”
As one might expect, the wines in this region are based on the Sangiovese grape. Each year the area holds a wine festival in September called “Divin Orcia.” And every year Capitoni selects a phrase that signifies the wine and how the year went in the Val d’Orcia they print on the label. A recent one included La soddisfazione della fatica, le speranze ed i risultati… Orgoglio, which translates to “The satisfaction of hard work, hope and the results… Pride.”
Capitoni noted that each plant on his farm yields one kilogram of grapes or one bottle of wine. Captioni grows both Sangiovese and Merlot. In 1999, they added 10,000 Sangiovese plants and 6,000 Merlot plants. The Capitoni wines are aged in wood. He also used ambient yeast rather than selected yeasts. “The work is done in the vineyard, we don’t use any magic potions,” he added.
Orcia D.O.C. 2009
Made from a blend of Sangiovese (80%) and Merlot (20%). The wine ferments in stainless steel tanks for 18 days and then ages in barriques for 12 months followed by five months in the bottle. The wine was deep ruby red in color, with aromas and flavors of cherry and small red fruits on the nose and palate. It also had some tertiary aromas of tobacco and spice. It was a beautiful expression of Sangiovese, warmer than some of the Chiantis I have tasted but not jammy. It was harmonious and well balanced.
Orcia D.O.C. 2010
Also a blend of Sangiovese (80%) and Merlot (20%), I felt it had more tannins and was slightly more rustic than the 2009. It also had the cherry and the small red fruits aromas and flavors as well as the tobacco and cedar notes.
The vintage was a bit different. The winter was cold and damp while spring had considerable rain. July was sunny and dry but the vines were a bit later than in previous years in terms of their flowering. September was also dry but the tannins weren’t as ripe as in some other years so timing of the harvest was crucial.
This wine comes from just one hectare that the Captioni family farms. The vines are 40 years old and are a field blend of Sangiovese, Colorino and Canaiolo. The three grapes are all fermented together with ambient yeast. This wine undergoes 18 days of skin contact so the tannins are riper and bigger than in the two previous wines. The wine undergoes pumping over during the skin contact period. The aging of this wine is done in 33 hl barrels of French oak from Allier. The wine is deep ruby red in color with strong cherry, herb and mushroom notes but with surprising minerality, a result of the soil with is a mix of sand and limestone with marine fossils. The tannins were much grittier on this wine.
For more information, or to visit the winery, go to www.capitoni.eu.
by Susannah Gold
on Apr 1, 2013
Father and son.
Sea Fossils found in the vineyard soil.
Winemaker Pasquale Petrera strongly believes in the aging potential of his Primitivos. He’s carried out vertical tastings of 10 vintages of his own “Fatalone Riserva” showing off the quality of this varietal from the Gioia del Colle DOC in Apulia. Pasquale is the fifth generation of his family to run this small winery on a rocky hilltop 365 meters above sea level and located 45 kilometers from both the Adriatic Sea to the east and the Ionian Sea to the south.
The winery was a founding member of the Consorzio di Tutela del Vino Gioia Del Colle DOC, and they were the first winery, in 1987, to bottle Gioia del Colle DOC using Primitivo as a monovarietal. Their limited production wines are also made with another indigenous grape, Greco.
Organic practices have always been important to the family, according to Pasquale, who says the winery has been practicing sustainability and respect for nature for five generations. “Getting biologically certified was only a way to put a seal on our work.” The company received certification in 2000.
The practices in the vineyards have now moved to focus more on sustainability in the winery as well. Music therapy is used to help with the aging of their barrels. “We use the energy from sound waves to help push air, delicately and rhythmically, onto the surface of the barrels. In this way, the natural process of micro-oxygenation is even more effective,” says Pasquale.
“Our wines sell very well internationally, in the US, Europe, Asia and Australia. 85% of our wine is exported. Not everyone understands our wines and that is okay. What we want is for our wines to express our land, the grape varieties, our particular practices and our personality,” he said. ‘In one word, an expression of our roots.”
Apulia is known for its long, dry season and Pasquale says their main problem is not parasites or insects, but lack of water. In the vineyards they only use the Bordelaise mix of copper and sulfur. “Our production process is 100% sustainable: without the use of irrigation and with zero carbon emissions. The winery is powered only by solar energy.”
What isn’t a problem is that the grapes they use all grow right around the winery and there is no need to transport them anywhere, saving on emissions and time. They also put all of the compost from the winery such as cuttings, clippings, and the like back into the property.
In terms of climate change, Pasquale said that they are seeing more drought conditions, earlier harvests and a reduction in yields because some of the grapes are drying on the vine on account of the heat. This inevitably makes the wines fruitier.
Like many winemakers, Pasquale hopes that Italy will focus on preserving its land and the specialness of individual terroirs, protecting their 3000 indigenous varietals and traditions of the land that constitute an inestimable cultural, environmental and societal patrimony.
Priimitivo Riserva Fatalone ages for two years, one of which must be in oak, Slavonia usually. The soil is calcareous with a planting density of 3000-3500 vines per hectare. Full bodied and velvety with red fruits and oak notes on nose and palate, this wine can age for 10 years but is balanced when released.
Primitivo Fatalone is their base wine with many of the same characteristics as the riserva, full-bodied, red fruit and a velvety mouth-feel. They use open vat fermentation with manual stirring, frequent pumping over and without added yeast.
Greco Bianco Spinomarino is made from 100% Greco grapes and is a very floral wine with hints of white flowers and grapes.
Primitivo “Teres” Fatalone is also made using the Primitivo grape. This wine though is almost made like a white wine, meaning it spends little time on the skins.
by Susannah Gold
on Feb 25, 2013
While organic and biodynamic viniculture is more widespread in Italy than people realize, most producers who follow these practices still do not get certification. One winery bucking this trend is Gualdo del Re in Suvereto, a lovely town in Southern Tuscany, not too far from the Mediterranean coast. On a clear day, you can even see the island of Elba in the distance.
Teresa and Nico Rossi, the owners of Gualdo del Re, have always worked the land using organic methods, but felt that certification was a further seal of approval recognizable by consumers who want to be certain they are purchasing “natural” products. After completing the three year process for certification, they received approval in 2011 for two of their white wines: Eliseo Bianco 2011 and Valentina 2011. Their red wines will be certified by the start of 2014.
Gualdo produces a classic line-up of wines from Valentina, a Vermentino, an award winning Merlot, L’Rennero, made from 100% Merlot and aged for 36 months; 15 months in oak barriques and 21 months in the bottle. There is a delicious Cabernet Sauvignon called Federico I and an interesting 100% Aleatico from Elba DOC called Amansio. Valentina and Federico are the names of their children.
A forward-looking pair in all ways, Nico and Teresa hired a top female enologist at a time when women in the cellar were pretty rare. Barbara Tamburini, has been with Gualdo for about 13 years. She started her career working with noted Tuscan enologist Vittorio Fiore.
Val di Cornia, where Suvereto is located, only recently received its denominazione d’origine controllata e garantita (DOCG). Yet the Val di Cornia became a DOC in November of 1989. There are only six towns that may use this legislation for wine labeling and that includes Campiglia Marittima, Piombino, San Vincenzo, Suvereto, Sassetta and Monteverdi Marttimo. These towns are located in the provinces of Livorno and Pisa.
Nico and Teresa have been singing the praises of their area for years, well before the DOCG recognition. A wine industry expert said he felt the area was similar to Pomerol in terms of the terroir and growing potential of certain grapes. Gualdo del Re also cultivates olive trees and makes grappa. The soil is a mixture of limestone, sandy, and clay. This area of Tuscany has a mild climate due to the tempering influence of ocean breezes. The wines exhibit their terroir and are minerally with salinity from the sea breezes. The grapes are very healthy as well because of these constant breezes.
The woods where Gualdo del Re’s 25 hectares of vines are located were a King’s retreat in the Middle Ages. There are numerous medieval towns with ancient ruins in this Etruscan Coast area. Nico and Teresa have created a “piccolo paradiso” in this lovely spot complete with delicious wines, a fine restaurant and a bed and breakfast set amidst pine woods and olive grows. They also have an agriturismo nearby where they are very careful with their use of water. The entire area is one viticultural park.
During my visit, Teresa was furious because hunters had wandered onto her land. Wild pheasant and rabbits frolic in this area, usually untroubled by man. Part of the environmental vision that Nico and Teresa have also pertains to animals and how healthy the area is for them. Nico and Teresa also breed ducks in their pond and grow vegetables in an orchard.
While Nico and Teresa noted that they haven’t seen much excitement in Italy over organic wines, especially because of the difficult economic situation that most people are facing. However, the pair remain convinced that they are absolutely certain that this is the direction for them and for the future of their wines.
Susannah Gold is a wine writer, publicist and certified Italian sommelier.