A light hearted insight into wine with no agenda other than to sniff out wine stories which capture the imagination… follow The Nose…

01/05/2020

The Real Deal – Fizz from Franciacorta

Frederico Fossati

I’m a sucker for sparking wine and particularly partial to Champagne. A while back I wrote about Prosecco which is made from the charmat method, but now let’s up the ante with a fizz to challenge Champagne.

You don’t have to travel far from the Prosecco’s Northern Italian homeland in the Veneto to find the small wine growing region of Brescia in Lombardy where they make Franciacorta . This has a higher price tag than Prosecco, but it’s a pucker bottle fermented sparking wine.

And boy, is a time consuming process.

After fermenting in stainless steel the wines put into bottle for the second fermentation. In fact the minimum maturation on lees for Franciacorta is 18 months for a non-vintage, 24 months for rosé and 30 months for Millesimato, ‘vintage’ wine and this cannot be released until 37 months after harvest. In other words the winery has also got to keep it for a while in bottle after its been disgorged. Actually all styles require some bottle age. ’Reserve’ classification requires a whopping 60 months of ageing.

Franciacorta is a DOCG area – ie a recognised top spot for wine production (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita or Controlled and Guaranteed Origin.)

It’s cool region is a few km south of Lake Iseo where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are happily ensconced in the calcareous soils. While is the classic fizzy duo, up to 50% of Pinot Blanc can join the party and even 10% of local Erbamat is welcome.  

The climate is mellowed by the small lake, and the wind which blows across it prevents the vines from freezing in the winter and provides a cooling and healthy breeze in the summer.

This basic Franciacorta and the rosé can be dry or sweet or anything in between. A blanc de blanc brut style called Satèn is currently very trendy. It has a softer – satin-like – fizz than most Franciacorta (4.5 x atmospheric pressure or 4.5 bar) while generally Franciacorta has around the Champagne level of 6 atm. Millesimato and Reserve are also drier styles with higher pressure fizz. 

At a recent tasting I met Federico Fossati who left behind his job as an accountant in the Veneto for Franciacorta in 2009. Here’s a man who bubbles with excitement for his wine. 

It was a chance meeting with an experienced winemaker Pierangelo Bonomi, that set Federico on his new and sparkling path. The ‘ever so enthusiastic’ accountant and the experienced oenologist established a new label Corteaura in Adro. 

Adro is the hot spot for quality vineyards. They have been making wine here since the C13th, but sparkling wine production is relatively new. Federico has some vines of his own, but also sources from local growers.

Corteaura Winery

The Champenois have spent some centuries establishing a reputation for a decent sparking wine, so it will take time for Franiacorta to gain a global following. However if Federico Fossati is anything to go by, the energy is there to fast forward the process. In the meantime the wines remain very reasonably priced for the quality, so it’s a good time to enjoy them.

Time for some wine

Corteaura Franciacorta Brut

This is 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir. This has biscuit flavours blended with nettle notes in a very appetising way. It has a refreshingly tart finish. There is no lack of finesse. Score 17

Corteaura Franciacorta Pas Dosé Brut

This 20% Chardonnay and 80% Pinot Noir blend has 50 month ageing. Plenty of rich, nutty autolytic characters.  Notes of marzipan. It is creamy and full, quite firmly structured, with a delicious dry finish. Score 18

Frederico also makes this delicious rosé. It’s not currently available in the UK

Corteaura Franciacorta Rosé

This rosé has a pretty colour and a hint of rose petal on the nose which belies its structured palate. After a vibrant jump onto the palate, it is rounded, silky, well structured with good intensity and some tension on the floral finish. This is the sort of fizz that would see you through from the aperitif to main course.  

Corteaura Franciacorta Insé

This is a vintage wine from 2012. I love the rich and creamy texture. It has generosity, ampleness and is wonderfully mellow. 

Stockists

My local wine merchant – Lea and Sandeman https://www.leaandsandeman.co.uk

Corteaura Franciacorta Brut £19.95 (Price per bottle as a case £17.95) 

Corteaura Franciacorta Pas Dosé Brut £23.95 (Price per bottle as a case £21.95)

08/04/2020

My ‘dessert’ island wine

Klein Constantia Estate

“I was in Spain recently where I drank Vin de Constance with a tapas of Iberico ham,” says Hans Astrom of Klein Constantia, the South African estate renowned for its sweet wine Vin de Constance. 

This would work.. the salty savoury flavours offset by the sweet. “However,” Hans continues, “we usually prefer to serve it with cheese at the estate, but the most important thing is to serve it cool. When it’s too warm the sugar dominates and the wine feels heavy in the mouth.”

Given the estate was established in 1685, they’ve had plenty of time to work out food and wine combos. Simon Van der Stel, first governor of the Cape chose the spot, 20 miles outside Cape Town for its beauty, its decomposed granite soils and cooling ocean breezes – the later being perfect conditions for growing vines. 

And it was not long before Vin de Constance hit the sweet spot for royalty, wine lovers and collectors across the globe.. Sadly however this was not to last. Phylloxera and a new fashion for Bordeaux saw the winery and its sweet nectar fall into obscurity.

Fast forward to modern times and Duggie Jooste bought the estate in 1980. When The Nose visited many years ago to sniff through a vertical of Vin de Constance, these sweeties had been joined by a range of dry wines. 

However the estate faltered and by 2011 the vineyard had shrunk to just 4 hectares. Czech-American investor Zdenek Bakala and Charles Harman came to the rescue. Together with Bruno Prats and Hubert de Bouard they saved this vinous damsel in destress… and an important part of wine history. 

Apparently they had a bit of party, opening bottles from the 1700s and 1800s to trace the stylistic changes over the ages in order to discover the true Vin de Constance. It was always a late harvest wine, in other words left to ripen on the vine, rather than passito where grapes are harvested and dried. Traditionally there was no botrytis. During the 80s the style changed as Duggie Jooste experimented with botrytis, but the new team feels strongly that the wine is more elegant, purer and true to the original without. 

The strong winds and heat of the Constantia Valley encourage the Muscat grape to develop a thick skin which makes it quite resistant to botrytis. However if the mould develops, it is cut out. The new team, if I understand correctly, they harvest by berry, not by bunch, and over a stonking period of 90 days, making the attention to detail quite extraordinary. 

As Jooste carried his experiments into the winery, Vin de Constance pre 2011 can vary immensely in style with much drier wines, illustrated by the 1996 (see below) to wines with a whopping 240g of residual sugar. 

Another thing to point out, Vin de Constance is not a fortified wine. Well… not recently and never by choice. In the very early days, when it was shipped in barrel to Europe, it would start to flag en route and was stabilised aboard with a dose of spirits. Yet by the early 1700s a Dutch shipper, rather ahead of his time, persuaded the estate to bottle at the winery. 

While the wine is not shy in alcohol – it’s about 14% Vol, these are naturally fermented sugars. This leaves around 150-160 grams or so of residual sugar in the wine. It takes about a year to ferment in 500l barrels with a further 2 years of oak ageing to follow. From the 2015 vintage, the new team  prefer to move it to large fudres for the second half of ageing.

Enough of history and winemaking, it’s time for some wine. Just a word of caution. You can drink Vin de Constance young, but it’s a shame to do so. 2016 is the latest release. It may be five years old, but best left for ten… to ease into middle life and the opportunity to develop complexity.

At the moment 2012 is also too young. 2008 and 2007 are at the beginning of an interesting evolution. My favourite at the moment is 2007, but 2016 is the best wine in this small flight. So buy some now, tuck it away and don’t be tempted to open it. It is practically indestructible. You could do worse than cellaring 2016 for the next generation.  

Klein Constantia, Vin de Constance 2016

This is the most recent release. Very light colour, something quite new for Vin de Constance which began life with a deeper colour in the past. It’s perfumed and expressive with notes of lemon balm on the nose. The palate is citrusy and juicy with plenty of energy and freshness. There is a savoury note of rosemary and spice. There’s plenty of residual sugar (164.8 g/l) but the texture is slim and the wine has precision and a slightly saline long finish. This is the most elegant of vintages in this small flight, but far too young for drinking now. Score 18.75.  From 2028 but I would wait much longer.    

Klein Constantia, Vin de Constance 2015

Rich, intense and beautifully balanced. Notes of lemon grass and oregano. Maybe not as pure as the 2016, but I tasted this later, separately and rather swiftly on the hoof so it’s difficult to compare. 

Klein Constantia, Vin de Constance 2012

2012 was the first wine of the second change of ownership. (The estate was on the market during the 2010 and 2011 vintages, so they may not be the best, but I have not tried them). 

This has developed a slight hint of coffee on the nose. Rich, maybe deeper in texture than the 2016, but nicely contained and with freshness to balance. It has luscious elegance. Slightly caramelised with some spice and a touch of tamarind. It has a long, purposeful and pure finish. Score 18.65. Drink from 2025 and for a long, long time. 

Klein Constantia, Vin de Constance 2008

This is a light amber colour. The new team didn’t make it, but they blended it. A honeyed aroma, maybe a touch oxidative. On the palate toffee, butterscotch. It’s very attractive, but lacks a bit of energy and length in comparison with 2012. Score 18. From now onwards. 

Klein Constantia, Vin de Constance 2007

The first wine of the new era. Once again, the new team didn’t make it, but they did blend it. At this point the estate changed direction. I prefer this to 2008. This wine is both sweeter and more acidic and really seems to punch. Good tension. Notes of caramel and cocoa… but it also has a cleanliness and purity. Slightly herbal and smoky graphite finish which is certainly persistent. Score 18.25   

Klein Constantia, Vin de Constance 1996

Much darker amber colour. A slightly medicinal aroma and butter-mint on the palate. It has a nicely bitter caramelised note which adds to the crispness and bite on the palate. It’s drier than the previous wines at 112 g/l residual sugar. While not as energetic and intense as the wines they are making now, it’s a lovely mature wine. Score 17.5 

Despite the new found security for Klein Constantia, it’s a sad, but irrefutable fact that sweet wine has fallen out of fashion. By the time most of us have reached dessert, sweet wine is a wine too far. Hans recommends serving Vin de Constance with panna cotta, but maybe, he suggests, the answer is to bypass the dessert and sip a glass of sweet wine instead. Wine as dessert. The Nose approves.  

Constantia Estate – to access their website.

Stockists

2016 –  Lay & Wheeler, Farr Vintners, Fine + Rare Wines (£39 IB so around £48.50 DPD)

2012 – Armit Wines (£50 DPD)

2008 – Fine & Rare (£60 IB), Lay & Wheeler (£73.30 IB)

2007 –  Fine & Rare (£50 IB)

Back vintage prices vary across different stockists, but the above is an example of what is available.

27/02/2020

Leopardo’s Verdichhio

Leo Felici

“We have a circle of bio-diversity in the vineyard,’ says Leopardo Felici, “the lake, the vines and the forest. The lake, in the middle of the vineyard, cools the vines when it is hot. The forest harbours insects and birds. These help maintain the health of the vineyard. We respect the land where we work.”

A move to organic farming was among the first changes Leopardo made when he took over the family estate Andrea Felici in the Marche. It was founded by his grandfather, but until 2003 the family grew the grapes to sell, only starting to bottle fifteen vintages ago.

Leopardo’s father wisely sent his son away to gain experience. He went to London to work for Gordon Ramsay, perhaps not surprisingly given that food and wine are inseparable in Italy. “My father said ‘to make wine, you must decide on a style you want to make.’ I didn’t believe in Chardonnay. I wanted to make Verdicchio, but not in the traditional way.”

Quick varietal inhale

Verdicchio – derived from verde or green – is the principal white grape variety of the rolling hills of the Marche, where it has been around for a good 600 years. DNA evidence shows it to be part of the Trebbiano family grown throughout Italy, although ampelographers believe it to be indigenous to the Marche. It’s also related to Greco, from which most Italian white grape varieties descend. In Veneto it goes by the name Trebianno de Soave. Long thought to be its closest cousin, DNA evidence has show it to be identical.

Trebbiano is not a variety famed for its quality. It’s a highly acidic grape with little aromatic intensity and easily over crops to make thin, acidic wines of meagre interest. In its Verdicchio guise it is quite able to churn out 100hl/ha. However… in the right hands, in the right place and given yields are controlled, in common with Chardonnay a rather classier neutral variety, it can be a perfect conduit for the terroir.

It is used to make a variety of styles in the Marche, from sparkling wine to sweet passito wine. High acidity is useful at both ends of the spectrum. At a quality conscious estate, it can reach its finest expression as a dry wine with notes of almonds and lemons, but the style can differ depending upon which, of the two DOC zones, the Verdicchio is grown, as each has somewhat different climates and soils.

The Marche nestles against Umbria and is influenced by the Apennine mountains. Verdichhio di Matelica is found on the Western side. It is a valley boarded by mountains to the East and West and its higher elevation makes it the cooler climate and the dense soils produce more mineral wines. While Verdicchio di Jesi lies on the other side of the hills, on flatter land open to the influence of the Adriatic sea 20km away. The coastal clay soils here are underlaid with limestone, a soil created from the seabed. It’s warmer, but benefits from breezes from the Adriatic. Typically the wines are more fruit-driven, but also have a certain salinity. They have not always had the best reputation. Despite the rather impressive sounding DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi – the wine can be anything but… turning out over-copped, lean wines with mean acidity. Verdicchio di Matelica has a better reputation for quality. However, stay with me.

Leopardo Felici - AFelici_estate_view_DSC_4116_sm

“We are in the highest part of Castelli di Jesi on a hill between Apiro and Cupramontana,” explains Leopardo, “where we have some of the influence of the mountains and the Adriatic.” The vines are planted from 200 to a lofty 500m on the foothill slopes of Mount San Vicino. “We have a strong diurnal here and so we have good acidity. The East coast of Italy is colder, than the West, and everything has good acidity here, including the olive oil. The temperature can drop from 25 centigrade in the day to just 5 degrees at night.” That’ll preserve the acidity.

In the vineyard Leopardo trains the Verdicchio on guyot and in his top vineyard, selects the bunches next to the trunk to make his top wine Cantino della Figura. In the colder seasons he breaks the stems of the bunches further from the trunk to concentrate the vine’s energy. The bunches further from the trunk are used for his ‘estate’ Verdicchio Classico Superiore dei Castelli di Jesu. As already remarked, to achieve some body in the wine and balance the high acidity, yields have to be restricted and this is clearly done here.

Leo Felici vineyard

Verdicchio It is typically aged in oak – traditionally large barrels, but also barriques, however Leopardo dislikes oak influence and chose concrete and steel to hone his style. He makes crisp, pure, well delineated mineral wines. He uses some skin contact “from the skin I get some aromatics.’ The wine is fermented in stainless steel and matured in concrete.

The law dictates that 85% Verdicchio is required for both Verdicchio di Matelica and di Jesi, but in practice this is usually 100%, as it is at Felici.

The first wine, an estate wine, is made and aged in stainless steel, while Il Cantino della Figura comes from older, lower vines planted in the 1950s by his grandfather. It is a single vineyard of 1.5 hectares. This wine has some skin contact and is aged for longer on the lees in concrete.

With an absence of new oak to flatter the fruit, there is no where to hide. And no hiding places is needed. These excellent, straight, fresh saline wines are a pure expression of the soil and the meso climate.

Leopardo Felici - AndreaFelici_1

And now for some wine. The first two are the current vintage

2018 Verdicchio Classico Superiore dei Castelli di Jesu

This is a fresh and breezy expression of the appellation and the grape, which here shows a delicious almond and lemon character. There is a hint of just ripe apricot in the aromatics. It has a good bitter note at the end – a light bite.

2017 Verdicchio ‘Vigna’ Il Cantino della Figura, Reserva dei Castelli di Jesi

Firmer structure and tight core showing richer apricot skin character. The finish is straight, persistent and mineral. I would give it some time in bottle to show its full potential. 2022-30

Older vintages

I tasted the following vintages a couple of years ago now, but have included them to illustrate that Verdicchio, in the right hands from the best terroir has the potential to age.

2015 Verdicchio ‘Vigna’ Il Cantino della Figura, Reserva dei Castelli di Jesi

2015 was a sunny and plentiful vintage. Rather floral. This is slightly rich and lightly rounded with notes of apricot and honeysuckle. It is fresh, but with a textural richness and on the finish minerality is silky.

2013 Verdicchio ‘Vigna’ Il Cantino della Figura, Reserva dei Castelli di Jesi

The 2013 bears some relation to the 2010 vintage. Lightly spicy aroma. Plenty of energy on the palate. Pure fruit, neat edges and fresh acidity. It is crisp and pure with focused mineral at the end.

2012 Verdicchio ‘Vigna’ Il Cantino della Figura, Reserva dei Castelli di Jesi

A mid September harvest like 2004. It was a hot season like 2011, but while 2011 had sufficient rain through the summer, 2012 had drought conditions in August and the vines blocked. Hence at harvest the acidity was still high.
Slightly herbal aroma. It is straight with nicely clipped edges, glassy and slightly grassy on the palate with fresh acidity. The finish is bright and lively with a sappy minerality and a touch of dill frond to the flavour.

2011 Verdicchio ‘Vigna’ Il Cantino della Figura, Reserva dei Castelli di Jesi

This is much riper than 2011 and 2010. Notes of greengage. Lightly generous in the mid palate with softer, but still fresh acidity. Beginning to show more evolved nutty characters. It is a touch warm on the finish maybe.

2010 Verdicchio ‘Vigna’ Il Cantino della Figura, Reserva dei Castelli di Jesi

Delicious evolution on the 2010 with toasted almonds, lemons and violets. There are savoury biscuity and parmesan notes. The balance and intensity is particularly good. The acidity is fresh and there is plenty of depth. It is pure and energetic. The finish is long and salty.

The Nose would happily tuck away some Il Cantino della Figura in her cellar. These are wines that are easily enjoyed young. They make no demand to be cellared… on the contrary. However with 8 or 10 years they take on a different personality, developing complex nuances you might not expect from the fresh minerality of the young wine. So I’d advise… go slow and take your time.

The wines of Andrea Felici illustrate the true potential of this terroir. If you have been deterred by a cheap, thin, tart and insipid Verdicchio Castelli di Jesi, try these wines and have your tastebuds tickled in a good way.

Stockists

Lea and Sandeman
2018 Verdicchio Classico Superiore dei Castelli di Jesu £17.95
2017 Il Cantino della Figura, Verdicchio Classico Superiore dei Castelli di Jesu. £32.95

 

 

Andrea-Felici-Il-Cantico-della-Figura-2011

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