JUNE 2019 ITALIAN WINE CLUB
SEVEN % SOLUTION : MORE ITALIAN GRAPES IN CALIFORNIA, PLEASE.
We at Bergamot Wine Co. have been producing a wine tasting event by the name of Seven % Solution for several years now. It’s ethos is based on the movement to ‘celebrate and perpetuate varietal diversity in California’ and by doing so, expand the California palate beyond the small amount of classic French grapes that dominate our vineyards and our consumer shelves. In recent years there has been a revival of access to vines from different native Italian grapes- ones not available in the US prior to this- and the fabulous crew of Seven % winemakers are jumping at the opportunity to work with these grapes. The floodgates are opening, albeit slowly, and it’s a very exciting direction for California wine and an exciting time for wine lovers in general. In the spirit of the Seven % Solution, I felt it was appropriate to share these four wines from grape varieties that are either now available or just about to be become available – grapes absolutely perfect to be grown here in California: Garganega, Ruché, Frapatto, and Nego Amaro.
These Italian wines will be different of course (different soils, climates, techniques) but that’s exactly the point. The Seven % producers are well versed and excited to taste and learn from wines like these to inspire and challenge them to create their very own expressions from these new to them grapes. Do you like what you are drinking? Hold out your glasses! California wine is about to get really interesting.
WINE NO. 1
Soave, Veneto 2015
“Today, 100 percent pure Garganega wines are among the best white wines Italy produces.” -Ian D’Agata.
High praise. These wines have long deserved this recognition if not for the unfortunate effects of exports under the Soave name had been flooded with low priced, low quality (and blended) product for many years. Thanks to producers like Graziano Prà, that reputation is quickly rising again. And as I personally get to reacquaint myself with stellar bottles like this I can’t help but wonder how this grape has escaped being worked with here in California. I predict the grower or producer who nails it first will quickly be a legend.
Graziano Prà comes from a long ling of grape growers, but only began his life as a producer in the eighties. He’s an icon for Soave wines and has more recently been making waves in the red wine world with his Valpolicella blends. His picture perfect and healthy 40+ year old Organic vineyards planted in Soave’s distinctive volcanic soils are clearly a big part of his success. The soils are key here, as volcanic soils are very rare in the north of Italy, and Graziano has always been a key voice in preserving the health of this local treasure and against the high impact commercial farming that is still very present. His personality seems to match his power + finesse wine expression perfectly as well as Garganega itself.
Oh baby this is just aromatically explosive out of the glass. Just dripping with honeysuckle and over-ripe peaches. The palate doesn’t disappoint either as it coats your mouth with white peach and sprite melons and a honeyed almond character. This is such a great example of how beautiful, complex and age worthy a Soave can be. It’s clear this wine will get better with age. The minerality and the acidity are more integrated and secondary as opposed to being prominent, but they’re strong enough to really keep a backbone on this wine singing when you consider all that delicious ripe weightiness.
Pour this in a big bowl glass, and maybe let it warm for just a touch before you dig in. The Staforte (old name for Monteforte) bottling is all Garganega hand selected from several Organic vineyard sites, as opposed to his more famous Monte Grande single vineyard wine which contains 30% Trebbiano di Soave (known now to be more closely related to Verdicchio).
Montalbera ‘La Tradizione’
Castagnole Monferrato, Piedmont 2017
Ruché is another one of those grapes that was on the path towards extinction, being used mostly for sweet wine production and muscled out by Barbera in the this region. It has almost no documentation as to how long it’s been in Piedmont or even how it got there, but most credit a local priest for selecting the best clone and helping unlock its potential. It has similar fabulous ability to retain acidity in maturation like Barbera can, but is a much more resilient grape with a more distinctive character. So where to plant this in California? In some slightly cooler sites this should make a real show-stopper of a wine (provided they also resist the urge to hit it with new oak.) A clean Ruché is a good Ruché.
The Morando family began to expand their property in the 1980’s: the Monferrato and the Langhe appellations, mostly planted to Ruché . Nowadays, they’re easily one of the most influential producers in the future of this under-appreciated grape variety. Many point to their slightly more modern bottling that sees some oak, of course, as their most important wine, but this is ‘La Tradizione’ and recognized several times with a Tre Bicchieri award from Gambero Rosso. Like with the small handful of other Ruché producers, the love for life is omnipresent and obvious, and why wouldn’t it be? This grape seems to have that effect on people.
Here we go again with another one of Kevin’s wildly perfumed red grapes. And oh how many wild and delicious directions this one grape goes. If our goal is to help all of our members become better at identifying flavor descriptors and feel more confident in stating them, well this wine should certainly inspire some gems. How about some wild strawberry and tart cherry jam spread on a anise seed toast and topped with bergamot orange peel, thai basil leaf and ground pink peppercorns. Ruché can be opulent, obviously, but the ability to retain acidity like this through all that ripe juicy fruit is what makes it incredibly special. The mouthwatering and spicy finish lingers with a tickle of tannin that completes this alluring anomaly.
In 2010 Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato became a DOCG. Part of a new wave of these historically classifications being granted in the last ten years. A well deserved honor for Montalbera and the small number of other Ruché producers to be sure. And, yes, it’s ok to dab a bit of this wine behind your ears.
Duca Carlo Guarini ‘Nativo’
Salento, Puglia 2017
NEGRO AMARO [NEH-groh Ah-MAR-roh]
The ‘other’ red grape from Puglia, and one with amazing propensity to do well here in California. Primitivo is the grape more widely favored in Puglia – the same grape as Zinfandel here in the US (though it has taken on a new identity in our soils.) But Negro Amaro retains acidity far better in the heat than Primitivo and it has far better ageability due to its naturally higher polyphenols. It seems odd to say that this is some rising star grape – it’s been entrenched in Puglian culture forever – but there’s a great potential lying beneath the surface that makes it one to watch. Santa Rita Hills, perhaps?
The Guarini family has a mind boggling history in Puglia dating back to 1065, as much intertwined with the local culture as it is with the development of the regional viticulture. Beyond wine, they are an important local farm resource: fresh produce for their neighbors, and a high- end line of canned goods: tomatoes, olives, artichokes… This is a special place near in the southern heel of the boot, 4 kilometers from the narrowest point of the Adriatic where you can see Albania on a clear day. They also make a Negro Amaro vinified as a white wine. Definitely a first for me.
This grape keeps surprising me. There is a very distinct style of lesser quality Negro Amaro wines: dried leather, over ripe and slightly bitter. But then you taste something like this. Fragrant black raspberries and red plums with just a touch of red licorice. Warm tobacco and savory black olive flavors – the more typical Spanish olives with the ‘fruity’ quality. Lastly, coriander seed. The acidity lingers and the fruit just camps out in your mouth, long after the wine is gone. This wine has such a precise and enjoyable balance to it, I hope to see more like it from this grape – either from Italy or California.
Biologico = Organic. And see how the grape name is Negroamaro? One word. Every bottle I’ve ever seen spells it this way. But Ian D’Agata tells me that is incorrect, so, Ian, I am doing my part! Side side note: Jancis Robinson once emailed us to let us know, and I quote, “varietal is an adjective, not a noun – it can apply to a wine made from a single grape variety but is not something that grows in the ground. Stop the verbal rot.” I just love those two. Stop the Verbal Rot! Negro. Amaro.
Valle dell’Acate ‘Il Frappato’
Vitoria, Sicily 2016
FRAPPATO [FRAHP- pā -tow]
The little Sicilian engine that could. It provides the lift and the brightness for Sicily’s only DOCG wine, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, in which it’s always blended with the more dark powerhouse grape, Nero d’Avola. As a single varietal wine, however, it has created a pretty strong little fan club because it is as distinctly recognizable as it is undeniably loveable. It is a rare example of a grape that is bright in color and ripping with acidity despite its Southern Mediterranean native home of Ragusa. In the right spot here in California (Mendocino, perhaps?) Frappato is bound to be an instant super star.
Gaetana Jacono has taken the Valle dell’Acate label to the next level of great recognition for quality in Sicily. She doing things very differently than perhaps Gaetano Jacono did when he founded the label six generations ago. Back then most of the fruit grown here was immediately shipped to France to be blended into wines of the Rhône. Her Cerasuolo di Vittoria has long been a flagship wine both for the Jacono family and for the appellation itself. She is considered one of most important champions of Frappato in Italy. The vineyards are a stunning mix of black soil with bright white stones, very distinctive for this area of Sicily.
I can always identify Frappato by its telltale fragrant red fruit in intense concentration. This one is brimming with ripe raspberries and tart pomegranates, laced with dried roses and rosehip tea. This is yet another singularly unique Italian wine, but it’s also reminding me of a really great Passetoutgrain from a warmer vintage (Passetoutgrain is an under-appreciated gem from Burgundy that is a blend of Pinot and Gamay. Seek it, love it.) This can be either chilled and casually enjoyed with your toes in the sand or it can be dressed up fancy beside a plate of moroccan spiced eggplant and prawns. Either way, what bliss.
This vintage seems to be a hair shyer than what I am accustomed too from this wine, but fear not; it only takes a kiss of time in the glass to awake this fragrant beauty. Certified Organic as of last year- but they’ve been farming that way for a real long time.