Taking the temperature of Italian wine: July 2017

Recently I was a guest of the Italian wine magazine, Civiltà del Bere (English website here), at VinoVIP 2017, held in spectacular Cortina d’Ampezzo, high in the Dolomites.   You can see my pictures of Cortina here.  I contributed to a session on Communicating Complexity (of Italian wine) from the perspective of my work with the WSET, provider of wine education around the world.  VinoVIP is made up of seminars, expert-led discussions on some of the big topics in the wine world, and great opportunities to taste the top tier of Italian wines.  What were the key take aways? 

Confidence in Italian wine 

VinoVIP, as its name indicates, is no ordinary gathering of Italian wine producers.  60 top companies – alphabetically from Allegrini to Zenato – sponsor and are present at the biennial conference.  As a result the tone is set by large, successful companies with strong export orientation and high standards in all that they do.  As such they rightly exude a certain confidence in Italian wine.  Of course they are all still caught up in the struggles which followed the economic crisis of a decade ago and the uncertainties of the world in which we live. But they are resourceful, highly professional and know that they have a winning product.  As I said in my presentation, the WSET cannot favour one country over others but is has to reflect the state of the world of wine. And today that includes the rising importance of Italian wine. This is the case at both ends of the market: the UK is seeing both increased interest in top Italian wines and is the world champion in Prosecco consumption. But the phenomenon is visible around the world.  

Highly professional and proud of it 

Riccardo Cottarela, president of the Italian Association of Winemakers, was the star turn of the conference. (He is on the right of the picture below withAlessandro Torcoli, the editor of Civiltà del Bere.)  He featured both in the session on sustainability and was then interviewed at length in a session entirely devoted to him and his career.  We also had the chance to taste the wines of 19 of the wineries with whom he consults.  

Cottarella represents – very ably indeed – the ‘highly professional and proud of it’ end of Italian winemaking. He would have much in common with his colleagues in Australia, New Zealand and around the (new) world.  He is very impatient about those who expatiate about natural yeasts without knowing what they are talking about and doesn’t have a lot of time for long skin contact for whites.  An extremely discrete and polite man, he spoke about this current challenges, whether that is working with wineries of 20 years standing or the ’emotional fantasy’ of viticulture in Japan with -20ºC in winter and violent rain storms in summer.  

I asked about him what he thought of using high tech means to reduce alcohol levels in  wines in a country with many warm regions and a warming temperature.  He replied that overly high sugar levels were not really a problem, presumably referring to the possibility of precise work in the vineyard to restrain sugar levels while allowing grapes to ripen fully. But if he had to choose he would rather go for the option of adding water than the high tech means (reverse osmosis, spinning cone). An interesting view, if not currently an option in Europe.  

‘By their works you shall know them’

In many ways the best moments of VinoVIP were the tastings. Two of these were held in spectacular settings in the restaurants of the Alpine ski stations at well over 2000m of altitude.  Being English I could discuss the weather at length but suffice it to say that we had one wet evening in the mountains and one dry afternoon – but after all we were mostly undercover.  

Anything not working?

Very little if these tastings were anything to go by.  My only concern was the temptation to grow Pinot Noir, the holy grail of wine grapes, in warm places. The few I tasted told me at least that this is a stretch to far.  

By contrast, my favourite wines were: 

‘Young dreamers’ tasting

  • fantastically rich but balanced Primitivo di Manduria from Antica Masseria Jorche. The Riserva of 2012 may tip the scales at 16% abv but it works, if in rich porty way
  • long aged Chianti Classico from Fattoria Tregole, Castellina in Chianti: Riserva of 2010, all tobacco, dried sour cherry and leather from five years in wood (splendid but I would like to taste it at three years) and their crisp, almost salty, sour cherry delight of Chianti Classico 2015.

Cottarella consulting wineries tasting

  • the white wine of the winery which made Cottarella’s name when it was given a massive thumbs-up by Robert Parker for its red Bordeaux-blend: Core Bianco, Montevetrano, Campania 2016 – 50% each of Fiano and Greco: ripe but beautifully balanced with bright acidity.  

Grand tasting

  • Noras, Canonau di Sardegna DOC, Santadi, 2014, 15% – Grenache/Garnacha in its Sardinian form, perfumed, intense red fruit, full bodied, warm but with good balance. Aged in older barriques
  • Sassicaia, Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC,Tenuta San Guido, 2014, 13%. I am not usually that susceptible to Italian Cabernet blends but you don’t get to taste Sassicaia everyday. And, more interestingly, this was from a cool and wet vintage: elegant, precise, wearing its 18 months in barriques well, if anything with a restrained, hidden depth of fruit. Not one for blind tasting!  
  • Sarmassa, Barolo DOCG, Marchesi di Barolo, 2012, 14%. Simply fabulous single vineyard wine with complexity, weight, inner tension, huge but refined tannic structure, enormous potential for ageing.  My wine of the weekend.  
  • Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG, Costa Arénte, Valpantena, 2013, 16.5% – 36 months of ageing in Slavonian oak large format oak, savoury, rich and beautiful palate with firm tannins and high acidity. Excellent.  






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