The Haunted

A wine in a state of evolution. Great Langhe Nebbiolo is such a treasure when produced at this level of quality. That haunting aroma of Nebbiolo in its complex and mysterious form. A shape shifter in a glass. To taste it's fine grained and firm tannin with bright lashes of forest berry and strawberry compote, for me is pure delight. 

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SETÚBAL. / José Maria da Fonseca - A PORTUGUESE WINE DIARY

NOTES FROM A TRIP IN NOVEMBER 2016

It was soon time to leave the Alentejo and start the journey to the north of Portugal, though before going north there would be a visit to the house of José Maria da Fonseca. One of the longest standing wineries in all of Portugal and if it is not the first, it certainly is one of the very first wineries to export wines out of Portugal to International market.

Today the company has approximately 650 hectares under vine that can produce up to 6.9 million litres of wine. With 80% of their exports to Scandinavia, Canada, USA and Brazil and only 20% consumed domestically, da Fonseca is an example of a family run winery that has transformed itself into a well run company with deep roots in the Peninsula de Setúbal appellation. Under the wine guidance of Domingos Soares Franco, a graduate of the wine school at University of Davis in California, Domingos and da Fonseca are known as a leader in research, innovation and winery technology. On my first visit to Portugal in 2013 I had the opportunity to have lunch in the family garden with Domingos and his nephews. His nephews assist in the management of the company and it is their father António, whom I had lunch with on this recent visit, who is the CEO of the company. 

Back in 2013  I had the opportunity to taste single bottling of over 15 different Portuguese grape varieties to better understand their character and what they each bring to the blending of wines. Yes the blending of wines is an art in which the best winemakers succeed at. A mastery in the Art of Blending is the key to consistent quality for the wines of Portugal, combined with innovation and improvements in the vineyard the potential is exciting. It is certainly the case for house of da Fonseca

 2013 Tasting of Single Varietal Wines representing the Grapes of Portugal.

2013 Tasting of Single Varietal Wines representing the Grapes of Portugal.

We engaged in a rather quick fire tasting before sitting to lunch. Below are my notes on the wines tasted. 

2015 Perequita Branco. Sourced from the very first vineyard for the company, the Cova de Perequita. A blend of Verdelho, Viosinho, and Viognier. No oak, simply pure clean and fresh aroma of orchard fruit, pear with dried flowers. I would say that it was much less fruity and floral than I expected. This wine is direct, fresh and lean.

2015 Perequita Original. This wine is the original and first wine brand the first to be exported. Around 800,000 litres of this wine is made. Aged in 100 year old Mahogany barrels. Mahogany wood is preferred as it is neutral, and strong enough to be shaped into the barrel size the company prefers. The wine is a classic blend of Castelão, Trincadeira and Aragones blended producing an aroma of rather fresh ripe red berry, with gentle floral tones and on the palate moving to gentle tannin almost vegetal and earthy, leading into a soft mineral tone. The fruit on the palate is easy, fruit driven and tart. Good Value and Easy drinking. 

2014 Perequita Reserva. The Reserve is a wine that was created roughly 10 years ago, the blue print is Castelão with Touriga Nacional and Touriga France. Vines are roughly 30-40 years old. This wine was made with sheer drinking pleasure in mind, it shares the same structure profile as the 'Original' Perequita, though we go deeper and richer with black berry fruit, seemingly sweeter fruit over layers of vanilla from French oak, and certainly a fuller bodied wine. 

Tasting at José Maria da Fonseca 2017

2014 'Domini', Tinto Douro. It was only in 1990 that da Fonseca purchased vineyards in the Douro and started making the 'Domini'. A blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinto Barroca, Touriga Frances and Tinto Roriz. I found this wine as I have with the other Douro I would taste on this trip, to be quite subtle in aroma and persistence. I feel that the wines need a lot of time, like the wines of Bordeaux. The palate seemed to reveal the future of this wine in aroma and palate evolution with dry dark berry fruit, some spice, and earthy tannin and texture. Almost like waiting outside of the club in the line that stretches around the corner, you can feel the bass and sound emanating through the walls, you know what to expect once you get inside the doors, but you still have to wait and be patient. 

2014 José de Sousa Tinto Alentejano. The vineyards for this wine are in the heart of the Alentejo at a region called Requengos. The vineyards are cherished for their granitic soils, giving way to mineral and fresh wines despite the ripeness that vines can achieve in the heat of the growing season. So details on this wine, we stretch back to traditional methods with 10% of the wine raised in clay amphora with a grape blend of Grand Noir, Trincadeira and Aragonez. In the glass the wine displays ripe plum and berry aroma with violet floral perfume. Palate is rich and full ripe and baked dark fruit backed by firm tannin and crisp acidity. Despite all this the wine remains fresh and cool to the touch.

2010 'Alambre' Moscatel de Setúbal. Moscatel for me is by far the best value and one of the highest quality dessert wines out there. From a producer focused on quality and precision these wines never cease to please, even the most avid Sauterne or Tokaji connoisseur. Mind you that Moscatel is still very different. José Maria da Fonseca are specialist with Moscatel, the original Muscat of Alexandria. The Setubal displays an intense aroma of bergamot and orange, to rose petal and other floral tones, the palate remains light and elegant in its sweetness with balance. The wine is made from the free run juice from a first press and rests 5 yeas in very old oak barrel. Gentle yet sweet and one of the most balanced dessert wines I have come across. 

We then sat down to lunch with António Sr. and we had a very lively conversation that ranged from politics, to world travel and to the history and future José Maria da Fonseca as a family run company. 

 

 

 

VIETTI - TRADITION OF INNOVATION

PRIMA

It was not long ago that I knew absolutely nothing about Nebbiolo and the wines of Barolo e Barbaresco.  As a matter of fact, I still know very little as I learn that there is so much to learn.  I had read somewhere that Barolo was the King of wines and Barbaresco was the Queen. Wines with lasting depth like that of Aglianico in the south but with a more haunting finish than that of Brunello of Tuscany. 
My first trip to Barolo was for a wine -trade event called Nebbiolo Prima, the vernissage of the years upcoming release to market of all wines Nebbiolo including Roero, Barbaresco and Barolo! My invitation was as a Sommelier/Buyer versus that of Media/Journalist. Choose your program was the initial email - vineyard visits, regional tours and choice of restaurants for the evening wine dinners. By the time I researched every single producer and restaurant for their worth, all options I wanted were booked. I was stuck with an initial tour of Roero…WoW!….It was great, it was amazing, what best way to warm up to the great wines of Piemonte than by tasting and learning about the gentle and playful wines of Roero. 
I did manage to make but 3 rather crucial and important vineyard visits, really without knowing. The first was to Elvio Cogno in Novello. Walter (son-in-law and wine maker) and Nadia (daughter to Elvio) I had met a few years before and fell in love with their wines. The other 2 wineries were Bartelomeo Mascarello and Vietti. I really knew nothing about them, imagine! Well wasn't I a lucky bugger. 5 years later and 3 trips all in total - each time included a visit to Mascarello and Vietti. Recently I wrote a piece which included a few words about Mascarello (see www.goodfoodrevolution.com 'boy-oh-boy' Barolo) and I think now is an opportune time to share a few words about the house of Vietti and the current winemaker Luca Currado. 

First I will reference Jamie Goode once again regarding an article about wine journalism and the subject of favouritism when writing and reviewing wines/wineries. Favouritism certainly and undoubtedly exists but what happens when you get to know the character of the wine and it's maker, after subsequent visits, research and tasting. I do find myself consistently noting that the wines of Vietti, like many others, stand out for their character and impact. Listen, I'm not talking about being the best wine, I'm talking about continually being a reference for erroir, technique and balance. Il est clair ce qu'on trouve tous qu'il faut dans tous les vins de Vietti!

Vietti represents innovation and tradition. I was in a trade seminar focusing on the region of Franciacorta hosted by Ricardo Curbastro and I will never forget him saying that 'a Tradition is the lasting result of an innovation that worked!' 

 My tasting notes from a session not long ago.  

My tasting notes from a session not long ago.  

NO BERLUSCONI, NO CRU SINGLE VINEYARDS!

Real Talk! Circa 1961 - Luca's father Alfredo Currado, the patriarch for the current rendition of Vietti along with Beppi Colla, then of Prunotto, asked the question, 'wouldn't it be interesting and innovative to identify and bottle single vineyard expressions from the whole of Barolo'. Up until this point the rule of thumb was that Barolo was a cuvée or rather a blend of the best vineyards and the best of different areas into one wine. That was the true way to make a balanced wine. What one vineyard couldn't give another would provide, producing a uniform and coherent wine year in and year out. Every wine of Barolo would represent a portrait of the region painted by the hand of the wine maker. But what of vineyards that almost had it all. Alfredo wanted a closer look at the region, at the communes and why and how each hill produced a different wine. Alfredo wanted to find greater value, greater depth and character of Barolo, and this new way of thinking would prove to be a great way to differentiate his wines from the others. 
How would he achieve this and which vineyard to define this idea? The vineyard would be the heart of the Vietti family, the Le Rocche Vineyards in the commune of Castiglione Falletto. This was going to be the Barolo equivalent to the Burgundy 'Grand Cru'. La Rocche is the most challenging vineyard to manage, with aspect and slope so steep that everything must be done by horse and by hand. It is a vineyard that is the most challenging to interpret, making wines that need time. The results are enchanting, distinct and pure Nebbiolo. The second vineyard would be Brunate in the commune of La Morra  with wines that reveals its colours from the beginning with elegance, ripe fruit and 'softer' tannin. 
The third would would be Lazzarito of the commune of Serralunga d'Alba.  Lazzarito a bonafide 'grand cru' with wines tanninc, spiced and rich with depth of flavour like that of Southern Rhône. 

50 years on and these 'cru' are pillars of the Vietti Family of wines. They represent the first single vineyard expressions of and for Barolo. At the time it was an innovation that today has resulted in a widespread and now accepted and necessary 'tradition' of producers presenting an 'ultimate cru' expression of their vineyards. 

A FEW MORE WORDS ON VIETTI

This is not the end of it. If you have not already you must taste the single vineyard expression of their Barbera from both Asti and from Alba with some vines surpassing 85years of age. Now, If you choose to continue reading you will not find tasting notes, but background information on a few of the the Vietti wines. 

ARNEIS OF ROERO 

Luca Currado is the current character behind the the wines of Vietti, along with his wive Elena they make a formidable and jovial pair. He from a family of winemakers and she from a family of restaurateurs.

Another important wine in the family is the Arneis from their Santo Stafano vineyards in Roero. Arneis being a white variety. 

Roero is more than just the 'other' appellation for quality wines of the region of Alba. We seldom see the wines in the Ontario market due to the dominion of Barolo and Barbaresco. Though I will say, that on my first visit to Piemonte a few years back I toured the region and I was so pleased and enchanted by the approachability yet complex nature of the wines. The relatively sandy soils, various elevations make for more perfumed and softer wines. Don't drink 'under-age young vine' Nebbiolo from the B&B (Barolo&Barbaresco), drink Roero for a truer elegant and 'ready to drink' expressions of the grape.

But I digress I want to speak of Arnies, the grape once called Nebbiolo Bianco, As it was the blending partner to Nebbiolo in Barolo wines to create a softer and more complex profile to the wines of B&B in much the same way Viognier is used with Syrah in the Northern Rhône. This practice is no longer. Today Arneis stands on it's own and it was thanks to Luca's father Alfredo - the father of Arneis. At a time when the wine world of Italy was planting Chardonnay. Alfredo said No! We need a white wine that is not Chardonnay, and as an indigenous grape variety with character and moderate ageing potential Vietti in 1968 re-planted the Arneis in Roero, and rescued the grape from extinction. 

PERBACCO - LANGHE NEBBIOLO

Perbacco - the Langhe Nebbiolo of Vietti is in fact a regular Barolo. It is a blend of several of the Vietti Barolo vineyards that include for the most part wines from Castiglione Falletto vineyards and in particular with the 2012 vintage some components of Barbaresco sites in Rabaja and Pajé. The process is that from the year 2000 they now raise the wines in barrel for 2 years as per minimum 'Barolo' specifications, they then taste the wines blind. Certain barrels that do not make the cut for the 'cru' they originate from then get declassified and go into the Langhe. When Luca's grandmother tasted the first wines of this new method she exclaimed 'Perbacco!' which means goodness or by jove!.

BAROLO - CASTIGLIONE 

Castiglione is the Vietti signature house Barolo, comprised of several cru inside of the commune of Castiglione Falletto some of it occasionally be self-declassified Stock from any of the 15 cru estate vineyards around the appellation of Barolo. It is always a consistent wine and a benchmark for understanding their vision. 

A few of the CRU

  1. Lazzarito of Serralunga - was once the site of a famous hospice, or hospital of the region. A quote from the 1600's says that if the hill was good for the people, it should be good for wine'. This wine can take up to 28 days of fermentation. 
  2. Rocche di Castiglione - the first single vineyard 'cru' for Vietti. The emblem and heart of the Vietti family of wines.  
  3. Villero Riserva of Castiglione Falleto - a very special wine that has only been made 10 times in the last 40 years. It is seen only in years of exceptional vintages for the single vineyard Villero in Castiglione Falletto. An international artist is commissioned to make the label for that vintage and the wine is only released 6 years after harvest.
  4. Ravera of Novello - this vineyard is shared by only a few producers. For Vietti this wine presents a very 'polishedstyle that they would every produces. The rule is that 2/3 of the production is dedicated the the Castiglione blend and 1/3 to be released as 'Ravera' Cru. He initially released the wines to much high critical acclaim but personally Luca did not like the wines. They were too slick. As of 2010 he recommenced single vineyard releases of the wine with limited bottles approx 14,000. 
  5. Barbaresco 'Masseria' - is the Barbaresco made with the 'intelligence' of a Barolo wine maker, thus this wine has the same release as Barolo and has the same minimum specifications for barrel ageing, resulting in a deeper and richer style Barbaresco. 

Well. That's it. I hope you may find these in your market pick a few and enjoy!