Thanks to a tip from a winecrazy friend – his name his Steven and he runs this wonderful wine shop in Ghent, Belgium – I could participate in the Indigena Masterclasses, held in Brussels and hosted and presented by mister Ian D’Agata.
This event had as subtitle: “Foreign Mission Tour: Unique Italian Wine & Food Masterclasses”.
For obvious reasons – namely: the hope that Mr D’Agata will have a look at this article – I will write this one in English…
Ian D’Agata has been speaking and writing about wine for over twenty-five years. An award-winning writer, his Native Wine Grapes of Italy (Ed. University of California Press) was recently named 2015 Louis Roederer International Wine Awards Book of the Year, the first time an Italian wine writer has ever won the award. He is the Scientific Director of the Vinitaly International Academy and Scientific Advisor to Vinitaly International and lectures on wine culture and history in NYU’s Master’s Program in Food Sciences. Ian is the Senior Editor and Head of Development of Europe and Asia of Vinous (USA), the Creative director of Collisioni, Italy’s largest music, literature and enogastronomy festival, and is the italian correspondent for China’s Taste Spirit lifestyle and wine web magazine. He is actively involved in resurrecting forgotten old native wine grapes and having wine made from them again. An award winning wine writer, he has been named numerous times Italy’s best wine writer and was most recently (2016) nominated one of the world’s eight best international wine writers by Les Plumes d’Or, as voted upon by French wine estate owners and winemakers. (wine2wine.net)
It was an early start that Sunday morning.
Mr D’Agata started by explaining the importance of the conservation of the viticultural heritage of Italy. There are currently over 510 wine grapes known and described in Italy. Each year, about 10 species are identified and added to the list of indigenous grapes. Scientists believe there could be over 500 varietals that are still to be discovered.
In his book “Native Wine Grapes of Italy”, Ian D’Agata describes 461 grape varieties.
The fact that the majority of the wine grapes are less known or even totally unknown, poses a threat. The risk is that a winemaker replaces the unknown, and therefore commercially less interesting, vines with a better known grape varietal, like Sangiovese or Nebbiolo. It is important to respect and protect the biodiversity of the Italian wine landscape.
Ian D’Agata stresses the importance of wine writers and bloggers, that write about lesser-known wines and wine grapes. Barbera, Ruché, Freisa, and even Vespolina or Nascetta (ever heard of those?) have their place in the Italian wine scene. It would be a great loss if in some years they would no longer exist.
The Masterclass event I attended was dedicated to the wines of Asti and Monferrato, in cooperation with the Consorzio Barbera d’Asti e Vini del Monferrato.
Barbera is the main grape in the Asti region.
Barbera wines have deep colour, intense purple with only a slow evolution to garnet as the wine ages. With a high acidity, they are crisp, even citrusy, and very clean. The low or virtually no tannins makes them very good food wines.
Barbera is a grape that loves heat. In hot years like 2003, Barbera wines do better than average Barolos or Babaresco, because Nebbiolo rather likes a cooler climate.
Barbera is one of the most representative grape varieties in Piedmont and covers approximately 30% of the 43 000 hectares of vineyards in the region. Originally from the Monferrato district, the grape variety is cultivated mainly in the provinces of Asti and Alessandria, where it reaches its maximum expression in Barbera d’Asti and Barbera del Monferrato, two wines which were given the denomination of origin in 1970. Barbera d’Asti is a wine linked with old farming traditions, which has succeeded in responding to different needs and tastes. Today it undoubtedly represents, possibly more than any other wine, a constantly evolving product, which grows following new knowledge in the viticultural and oenological field and which, in terms of quality and quantity, can be presented to a public which is both curious, demanding and vast. It is fully deserving of consideration as one of the most important Italian reds and obtains increasing appreciation at international level. (viniastimonferrato.it)
From the 2000 harvest, within the context of the “Superiore” type of wine, three areas of particular prestige have been created within the production zone of Barbera d’Asti: Nizza, Tinella and Colli Astiani, defined by law as ”subzones”. With restricted territorial identities and even stricter production rules, Barbera d’Asti Superiore is enriched with new, high quality proposals which are recognisable by the wording on the label. (viniastimonferrato.it)
Barbera d’ Asti was denominated D.O.C.G. as from the vintage 2008.
The tasting started with 3 unoaked and straightforward Barbera d’ Asti DOCG.
La Torre di Castel Rocchero 2016 and Cascina Castlet 2016 were fruity, clean and everyday wines the latter with some more complexity than the first wine.
Cascina La Barbatella 2016 was a nice wine from older vines (1945), with riper red berry fruit and a fresh acidity.
Michele Chiarlo “Le Orme 16 Mesi” 2015 was oaked for 16 months, as the name of the wine suggests. A good depth and substance, hints of dried black fruit, some vanilla and tobacco, a nice acidity and balanced tannins which contribute to the structure, this wine is a first headlight.
The same goes for the Barbera d’Asti from Fasoglio Carlo “Braia” 2015, a Barbera d’Asti Superiore, which is aristocratic with intense red and black fruit, sage, liquorice. Expressive mouthfeel with a nice fruity acidity and a long aftertaste.
Cascina Castlet “Litina” 2015 is again unoaked, but proves that good Barbera does not need oak at all. Nice and complex, juicy, filled with ripe fruit, velvety tannins. Very nice wine!
La Montagnetta “Piovà” 2015 (Barbera d’Asti Superiore) is rather atypical in this line up, with floral notes and dried flowers, berries, and herbaceous and peppery on the palate.
The ripe Cascina Brava “Stradivario” 2010 had 18 months of barrique, and is only being produced in the best vintages. The colour is still young, herbs and dried fruit, with a little more tannins than the younger wines we tasted before. Still, I guess it was even better a few years ago.
The second Masterclass showed us some Barbera d’Asti Superiore and ended with two wines from Nizza, the new subzone DOCG in Piemonte.
Garrone 2015 is a bit unbalanced in the oak. Black fruit, leather, and with warming more and more wood and oak aromas appear. Oak dominates the aftertaste, which is a pity.
Boeri Alfonso “Pörlapà” 2015 had 16 months of barrique and originates from a 35 year old single vineyard. Rather complex nose of herbs, dried fruit, ripe cherries and berries. Creamy and juicy, a lot of extract, but also a lot of alcohol. The wine loses it focus due to the overextraction and the warm alcohol.
Boeri Alfonso “Boeri Limited Edition” 2015 is made in Amarone style, using dried grapes. Interesting to taste this style of wine, but this wine is a fruit bomb, and misses finesse and balance. Probably there are amateurs for these kinds of wines, I’m not among them…
Cantine Sociale Vinchio Vaglio “Vigne Vecchie” 2015 is more my kind of wine. Very fine and delicate nose of red berries, cherries, coffee, with a mineral backbone and some earthiness. Subtle but complex and fine, this is a great wine!
La Torre di Castel Rocchero 2013 Barbera d’ Asti Superiore has spend 18 months in 600 liter tonneaus, of which 50% new. Intriguing beautiful fruitiness in the nose, with some wild herbs. Juicy and fresh, with a lot of primary red fruits and herbs. Not overly complex, but easy drinking with a nice substance.
Cantine Sociale Vinchio Vaglio “Insynthesis” 2013 is , in contrast to the “Vigne Viecchie” which I liked, a disappointment to me. Alcoholic, with a lot of evolution, the wine is heavy, overripe and misses balance.
Cascina La Barbatella “La Vigna dell’Angelo” 2014 Nizza DOCG coming from a vineyard planted in 1950 and raised in barrique for 18 months (as the DOCG Nizza requires) is a beauty again. Herbs, berries, white pepper, vanilla, cinnamon, tobacco on the nose. Elegant and aristocratic mouthfeel with a lot of red fruit, delicaty herbacious and integrated oak. Very nice.
Even more beautiful is the Michele Chiarlo “Cipressi” 2015 Nizza DOCG with subdued aromas of cherries, raspberry, red berries and blackberry. Modest oak, well integrated. Sublte and soft on the palate, with salinity. A lot is going on here. Pure and delicate fruity aftertaste. Great wine!
The first Masterclass in the afternoon is all about Ruchè.
Ruchè is a medium aromatic grape, with a pungent florality and spicy aromas. It has low acidity but it can attain a phenolic richness to give the wine structure.
In Piemont, this grape variety is cultivated (not very widely) in the province of Asti, in the Castiglione Monferrato area and a few neighbouring municipalities. D.O.C. since 1987, thanks to its original quality, its success has grown over the last decade, consolidated by the prestigious recognition of Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG in 2010.
All six wines in this Masterclass are Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG.
Garrone 2016 is rather simple with a high acidity that is currently rather unbalanced.
Poggio Ridente San Marziano 2017 (!) has aromas of roses, carnation, blueberry, some green banana and rosehip. It shows more structure than the first wine, although the tannins are a bit dry.
Cantina Bava 2016 is intense aromatic, with flowers, violets, cinnamon and coriander, and a lot of primary red fruit. Although frisky and fresh in the start, the sweetness in the middle brings the wine out of balance.
Bersano “San Pietro Realto” 2016 is equally aromatic, with floral and some vegetal aromas, nutmeg and pepper. After a soft start, the wine becomes a bit rugged towards the end. The acidity is not (yet) integrated, and the tannins are a bit rough.
Two wines of Luca Ferraris, of which the winemaker is present, at presented the end of this Masterclass.
Luca Ferraris “Clàsic” 2016 has nice aromas of red berries, green herbs, vanilla, muscat, red flowers, and some alcohol. After a juicy start the structure becomes rugged again, with acidity and tannins that are not in balance with each other. This will probably work out in future, when the wine becomes riper.
Luca Ferraris “Vigna Del Parroco” 2016 on the other hand is wonderful. Highly aromatic with red and little black berries, cherries and strawberry, roses, violet, jasmine. A little wood is also present. Fruity and subtle start with great juiciness. Some oak contributes to the structure, which has a balanced acidity and soft tannins. Nice wine.
In the last Masterlass we go indigenous. Some rare varietals and appellations will get poured in the glasses, for most of the audience a complete surprise.
Poggio Ridente Albarossa “del Marusé” 2015 Piemonte DOC.
Albarossa is a crossing, originally thought to be of Nebbiolo and Barbera, but later studies showed that this was wrong. The actual crossing is between Barbera and a French grape called Chatus.
Concentrated opaque colour, purple. Dark berries and black cherries, almonds and tobacco. A big wine, with loads of black and dried fruit, smooth acidity and rather soft tannins. The overall impression is somewhat undefined. I wrote “what’s the point here?”.
Fasoglio Carlo “Eclisse” Albugnano DOC 2015.
Albugnano is actually the name that winegrowers in Asti give to the Nebbiolo grape, so this is like Nebbiolo d’Asti.
Expressive floral, pepper, herbs, earthy. The fruity sweetness combines with the firm acidity and the tanninic structure makes this wine hard, green and angular. Not really my cup of tea.
Two Freisa wines next. Freisa is an old Piedmont grape variety popular throughout the whole Monferrato Astigiano district, but the best conditions for cultivating this variety are in the northern part of the province of Asti. Freisa d’Asti doc can be made in a range of versions, with or without maturing in wooden barrels, and if the grapes are carefully selected and the wine is kept in the cellar for at least a year, it can bear the “Superiore” mark. (viniastimonferrato.it)
Cascina Gilli “Arvelé” 2015 Freisa DOC is made from grapes that are kept on the vine so that they are dried by the air (appassimento).
Dark colour. Serious and clenched, vinous, with ripe black fruit, dried fruit, herbal bouquet, butter. Subtle and juicy with some green hints and dried and candied fruits, dates and round tannins. Long, strong aftertaste with loads of dark fruits. Beautiful.
La Montagnella “Bugianen” 2014 Freisa Superiore DOC is produced with dried grapes in Amarone style. Complex in the nose, blackberry and blueberry, etherical herbs, clove, white pepper, blue cheese and oak. Dried black fruits and ripe cherries and plums. The tannins are round but very present at the end. Warm, ripe and firm mouthfeel. Nice wine, but I wonder how it will evolve over some years.
The last wine is quite a surprise. Cascina Gilli Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco DOC 2017 is made of red sparkling wine made from Malvasia di Schierano grapes.
Slightly sparkling raspberry colour. Intense flowers and fruits, red berries, roses, cinnamon, white cherries. Very fresh and pleasing. After a sweet and light start kicks in a nice acidity, and all this is covered with juicy red berries and cherries. Nice, juicy, pleasant wine. Only 5,5% Alc!
It was a pleasure and an honor that I could participate in this event.
Many thanks to organisers Alice Bown and Sophie Smagghe for the professional management of the day, co-host Janna Rijpma and of course to Ian D’Agata for sharing his outstanding knowledge and for his enthousiasm.