Northern and Central Italy
2016 OCTOBER 19
NOTES FOR NEWBERRY LUNCH
Italy’s 20 designated wine regions produce 4.5 Billion liters or 6 billion bottles of wine
annually from over a million vineyards, which include 332 DOCs and 73 DOCGs (not
counting all the lesser categories). EXPLAIN
IGT, which means indicazione geografica tipica, allows experimentation with non-
traditional varieties and techniques.
They say when you go over hill in Italy you find a different dialect and three different
grape types. There are an estimated 850 grape varieties planted, of which only 350 have
been officially identified and authorized. (more than any other country).
It is a country also where changes are taking place at a surprisingly rapid rate (for such
a tradtional society). If an enthusiast spent a lifetime traveling the country from the hip
to the toe tasting every varietal or blend from every vineyard, it would take at least 25
years of busy 8 hour days, and by the time you were done you’d have to start over
because everything would have changed!
So it is absurd to imagine we are going to learn much about Italian wine from a meager
tasting like this.
So even focusing on a region can only scratch the surface.
In choosing to take as broad a range as “northern Italy” we need to have some unifying
Instead of highlighting just the iconic varieties and most celebrated viticultural
denominations, I proposed a different tack, which may not please everyone. My
thought was that we have all had Chianti and Valpolicella and Prosecco, but what
about other wines from from other indgenous varieties or more recently introduced
French grapes in Tuscany, Lombardy, the Piedmont and the northeast?
You may know Sangiovese, pinot grigio, barbera
But how about Sagrantino, Erbaluce di Caluso, Grignolino, Gambellara, Refosco,
Bonarda, Rucchè, Ribolla, Verduzzo, cortese, nascetta
In choosing to explore the autochthonous or nearly varieties, we are ignoring not only
the greatest varieties responsible for the great Chiantis, Barolos, and Barbarescos, not to
mention the French varieties that have invaded and produce now some of the most
successful and sought-after Italian wines. Perhaps another time.
Fortunately, we have in our area importers who are adept at seeking out intriguing
bottlings from small meticulous producers. Today we will sample half a dozen, from 4
different regions and 6 different grapes.
Piedmont in the west, , Oltrepò Pavese in Lombardy, Friuli in the north east of Venice
next to Slovenia, and Umbria by a stretch, as it’s really central Italy.
First the little sparkling wine.
We could have chosen a Prosecco, which is made from an indigenous grape called
Glera, but that is so in vogue and famliar, that I tried to find something else, even if it
meant departing from the theme of featuring obscure native grapes.
This wine is from the Piedmont, a region of sharp hills and valleys something like the
Viginia Piedmont but more dramatic, since it’s the foothills of the Alps after all. Today
there are just two wines from this region, both from the same producer. This was a
reluctant choice because we could devote a whole tasting to Piedmont and encounter
an astounding range of different types. Not only is Piedmont the home of two of the
most prestigious denominazioni in Italy, Barolo and Barbaresco, but also less well known
whites and reds from a dozen or so other varieties, some not planted elsewhere, that
produce worthy and less costly wines.
Piedmont mostly known for the sweet sparkling Muscat made around the town of Asti.
I’m sure all of you are familiar with that. This is a dry wine from Chardonnay and Pinot
grigio grapes made by the same process.
The Fracchia family has been growing grapes on the hill alled “Madonna dei Monti” in
the center of Monferrato for 100 years and produces wines exclusively from it’s own
vineyards, which all have mostly southern exposure, hence the name of the company,
Sulin, which “sunny” in local dialect. There is a local proverb that goes “Bread from
Grazzano and wine from Madonna dei Monti are the best meal in the world.”
As in Champagne, bubbles are produced by a secondary fermentation under pressure
in sealed containers. But instead of in bottles, the second stage is accomplised in a
large sealed pressure chamber. After fermentation without the skins, the still is
transferred to an autoclaveThe finished wine is then bottled and shipped. No
disgorging necessary. This process is faster and cheaper and very effective, but most
agree it does not produce the fine persistent bubbles or “perlage” that you get with the
metodo classico or Champagne process.
The name means “to shipwreck” but it is for italians a clear allusion to the famous poem
of Giacomo Leopardi “L’infinito” or “The Infinite” which is a meditation on a peaceful
hilltop at night in which the speaker comtemplates the immensity and profound silence
of the universe and the storms of the temporal world and as his thought drowns and it
appears sweet to shipwreck in that sea. What it has to do with this harmless little
bubbly I’m not sure, but perhaps it’s an allusion to the grapes on the hilltop
contemplating the infinite and transfiguring themselves from mere mortal growing
vegetatable things into wine, of maybe that they’d like you to feel that this is a wine it
would be sweet to drown in. Whatever.
Cantina Scacciadiavoli (Umbria)
Grechetto dell’Umbria IGT 2014
This wine introduces a local grape variety that counts as indigenous and unique to the
region but may have been brought from Greece in the misty past. Montefalco in
Perugia province is a DOC for serious red wine made from the Sagrantino grape.
Grecchetto is usually found blended with Trebbiano and other white grapes, so this is a
rare opportunity to see what the grape tastes like on its own. This is not a DOC or
DOCG but an IGT.
Erbaluce di Caluso
The estate I was founded, interestingly by a couple who emigrated to the US and then
returned around 1900 and established an inn and a vineyard. Now the fourth
generation is farming and making the wine, specializing in this local white grape,
which is 90% of their production. They put out about 150,000 bottles a year.
This is another variety from Greece.