ITALIAN WINE CLUB

MAY 2020

LOMBARDIA: LOTS’O’ LOVE FOR THE LAND OF LAGOS

There is simply no use discussing wine at the moment without discussing the way things have changed in the past few months. As the world continues to try to figure out the best way to keep safe, as well as keeping businesses afloat, vines are still steadily growing along, and this year’s harvest is a mere three months away. With restaurants across the globe all but completely non-existent, the effect that this worldwide shutdown will have on so many small wineries cannot and will not be fathomed for a long time. All wineries, yes, but this month we are focusing on Italian wineries specifically. It is the human, and not the economic toll, that is the most important story here. Tragically it was the region of Lombardy that was, by far, hit the hardest. This stunning Northern region boasts some of the most beautiful lakes, snow capped mountains, and iconic tourist destinations, as well as the most fashionable and metropolitan cities in all Italy. 

They could use our love right about now. Recovery is not yet on the horizon, but a lot of love and a little bit of hope will go a long way. Our thoughts are with them, as well as with all of you. Much love to you and yours.

 

-Kevin Wardell

 

 

WINE #1: PASINI SAN GIOVANNI ‘IL CHIARETTO’ ROSE

Gropello + Marzemino + Barbera + Sangiovese
Valtènesi, Lombardia 2018
RE-ORDER $20

Gropello exists exclusively on the Lombardy side of Lake Garda. There are actually a group of five genetically differing Gropello named grapes, but at this point they’re all just referred to as one. There are a small handful of varietal Gropello wines made that are well worth trying, but in general it’s found in blends of one type or another. Marzemino has minutely more success on it’s own in some pockets ranging north into the sub Alps, but will also be more often found in blended wines. It’s notoriously finicky to grow but can add a level of brightness and elevated herbal/floral notes to some more firmly structured wines from the region. 

In the ‘90s Paolo and Luca Pasini took the reins of their family business, starting with building a winery that allowed for modern equipment and technique. Ten years later they took the next leap by committing to a more healthy, sustainable future and upgraded the new winery to be entirely run by solar power. Ten years later, they are Certified Organic with a major emphasis on biodiversity; keeping bees to pollinate and surrounding their property with a mix of native plants beneficial to the health of their farm. In the vineyards, the focus is also on the indigenous grapes of Garda; Gropello and Turbiana primarily. For their Chiaretto, the Pasinis pick and ferment all four grapes in the blend separately before finding the best combination the vintage has provided.

A pinch of fresh herbs, a shred of fragrant citron lemon, a dash of salt, a touch of paraffin wax, and a skosh of watermelon jolly rancher. Crisp strawberries and slightly minty with just the right amount of ripeness to satiate the soul. Rosé the way it should be. The influence of Lake Gardas mountain born microclimate helps make this wine layered with minerality and tertiary flavors beyond just the fruit. It’s not often that I can compare Italian pinks to the famous Rosé wines of Provence in France but Chiaretto certainly can make that argument easily. 

Chiaretto wines are made on both sides of Lake Garda, but on the Veneto side they are more often made with the same grapes as Valpolicella. Regardless, this cool lakeside style of rose, made here since the 1800’s has earned its delicious reputation.

WINE #2: LE MARCHESINE FRANCIACORTA

Chardonnay + Pinot Bianco + Pinot Nero
Brescia, Lombardia
RE-ORDER $28

The tradition of Franciacorta and Champagne grapes like Chard and Pinot Noir goes back a long way, but it was in fact Pinot Bianco wine that was the first grape recognized as a DOC, Pinot di Franciacorta, in the sixties. Chardonnay soon became the favored white grape as the region strived for greater recognition on the world stage, but I’ll admit that I appreciate the houses, like Le Marchesine, that still champion Pinot Bianco as an important element to their sparkling wines. Fun fact: Pinot Blanc is still one of the four grapes allowed in Champagne, though it is very seldom (sadly) ever a feature. Pinot Meunier is the other but to my knowledge, Meunier has never found itself such a nice vacation home in Italy as this one.

Le Marchesine is considered a smaller family operation when compared to the majority of Franciacorta, relatively speaking. The region itself is small when compared to the amount of wine it produces, so there is no surprise that it is mostly run by big business. So although the dawn of smaller producers making waves in this region has yet to be realized, the Biatta family remains an important part of the strong reputation it has today. They feel it is important to keep Champagne as their inspiration, but make certain that the unique soils and far warmer Brescia climate defines their wines first and foremost. 

This is a highly aromatic bubbly, unique especially in Franciacorta. The Pinot Bianco plays a big role in that result and I just love its assertiveness here. Asian pears, a fresh baked poppy seed scone with lemon glaze, sweetgrass and pickled ginger. Sharp acid provides an edge that melts away into a just kiss of sweetness. Pinot Blanc finds it’s best success in the mountainous region of Alsace in France, but also in Italy amidst the cool slopes of Trentino-Alto Adige just on the other side of Lake Garda. So although one really can’t drink Franciacorta without seeking some comparison in Champagne, this wine showcases a flavor profile that truly shows a sense of place. 

As a region, Franciacorta has recently been taking sustainable farming much more seriously. A very encouraging and influential step for such a high profile growing region to be working together towards greener practices.

WINE #3: BRUNO VERDI ‘BUTTAFUOCO’

Croatina + Barbera + Uva Rara
Oltrepò Pavese, Lombardia, Italy 2018

Croatina is a grape name that gets as confusing as it gets, even for Italian wines. It’s both a grape name and also the name of a wine, or it’s the grape in wine labelled as Bonarda, but not actually the same as the grape named Bonarda. Not the Bonarda that’s the same as Uva Rara (also in this blend), not the Bonarda that’s synonymous with Charbono either, a different one. And for one last trick, Croatina can also be referred to as ‘Nebbiolo di Gattinara’ or ‘Spanna di Ghemme’… even though true Nebbiolo grows in the Gattinara and Ghemme appellations prominently as well, and somehow under the name Spanna. A grape identity crisis of epic proportions but when (if) it ever sorts itself out, it sure makes a wine worth understanding.

Paolo Verdis family traces its viticultural origins in the Oltrepò Paves back seven generations. They were farmers of grapes as well as mulberries bushes, which, interestingly, were primarily used to feed silkworms, supporting the tradition of world renown silk made in nearby Milan. Paolo is one of the primary believers in this region and has invested his heart and soul into helping his friends and neighbors reach new heights in their wine production. His vineyards are peppered throughout the region in carefully chosen based on the wide range of soils represented. He even grows some Riesling on a limestone rich site with great results. We’re on board.

Visually this is distinctly dark in its complexion, not from heavy concentration though, just its natural color. As burly as it is at the beginning of the palate might feel, the wine lands on its feet rather delicately. Pithy pomegranate, baked blackberries and bitter aromatic herbs on both the nose and on the tongue. That herbal flavor is almost medicinal, suggestive of something like a complex Amaro. Croatina is a delicious grape for that very reason, it goes well beyond the fruit and lends a memorably healthy savory balance. The bright finish and electric acidity can likely be better attributed to the Barbera, making them excellent bedfellows.

Oltrepò Pavese is truly an anomaly in how effectively it has flown under the radar. It’s only 50 miles from Milan and even boasts a stellar tradition in Pinot Noir. Seems a pretty impossible secret to keep to me.

WINE #4: PIZZO COCA ROSSO DI VALTELLINA NEBBIOLO

Ponte, Lombardia, Italy 2018
RE-ORDER $32

Nebbiolo, sure, but locally known as Chiavennasca, which is much more fun to say. What is there to say about Nebbiolo? One of the oldest and most legendary grapes in Italy. Here in the tiny little alpine appellation of Valtellina, it adds yet another notch in it’s belt for greatness. Incredibly, about 80% of the wines produced here travel no further than 100 miles outside the valley. The most fascinating and unique Nebbiolo wine from this region is Sforzato. This is a dry wine made from the same raisinated process we all know from Amarone, but important to know it received it’s DOCG status before this far more famous example from Veneto. The world can remain unaware of how great these wines are as far as I am concerned, more for us!

It can’t get much more ‘micro production’ than this. In a stunning region that by appearances has been completely trapped in time, as if nothing there could possibly BE new, Lorenzo Mazzucconi is making a new name for himself. Yet this region has been somehow quietly making insanely good wines for generations and someone like Lorenzo has been drawn to it, from the city Bergamo, as if on a holy pilgrimage (the stunning Valtellina valley is my kind of church). Lorenzo has a bright future here with his wines and has the chops to help make Valtellina wines a must-have experience for anyone clever enough to expand their Nebbiolo knowledge beyond Barolo and Barbaresco. 

Damp forest floor mushrooms, fresh brambly blackberries, bitter cocoa and a touch of sweet pipe tobacco. I feel like if you were hiking in these mountains and were invited into a fire warmed alpine cabin by some Valtellina locals… this is what it would smell like. Long and layered like what can be expected from Nebbiolo but that alpine style provides more earth than grip, more savory than silk. A touch young, this wine benefits from a bit of air for sure, as any respectable Nebbiolo does after all. But quickly it will bloom in your glass like spring wildflowers in the alpine valley. The tannins are soft and smooth, giving it plenty of versatility to pair with a wide range of foods. Try it with the local favorite pasta Pizzoccheri.

Pizzo Coca is the name of the highest peak in the Bergamo Alps at 3,050 meters that stands at the edge of the Valtellina. It carries a great history in the alpine community for as long as there have been wine loving Italian mountain climbers.