Friday, September 30, 2005

Course on Italian wines at Incanto: Wines from the North

The second session of the Italian wines course, organized by Incanto, was about the wines of Northern Italy, more specifically from the regions of Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and Alto Adige. For me, this class was very interesting and enjoyable as it gave me the opportunity to taste wines made from Garganega, Tocai Friuliano, Picolit , Refosco, and Lagrein, for the first time.

Veneto is an ancient wine growing region, which is now Italy's largest producer of wine. It is believed that grapes have been cultivated around Verona since the Bronze Age. North of the city, vineyards stretch from the town of Soave to the beautiful shores of Lake Garda. These gentle hills enjoy a mild climate thanks to the temperate influence of the lake. This is where Valpolicella is produced, a red blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. Air-dried Corvina grapes are also used to make the renowned Amarone della Valpolicella, a highly concentrated and powerful wine. Soave, made from the native varietal Garganega, is the local white wine and the most popular of all Italian dry whites. Although its most common version, usually produced by big firm or cooperatives, is rather bland, quality-focused estates are now crafting wines of distinct character thanks to a more discriminating selection of vines and vinification of single vineyards.

From the Veneto region, we tasted this delicious Suave Classico Superiore:

The 2003 Gini Soave Classico Superiore La Frosca showed a bright straw color. The nose was aromatic with notes of grapefruit and honey. On the palate, it was supple, slightly smoky and oaky, with a fat mouthfeel.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia is Italy's eastern most territory, bordering Austria, Slovenia, and the Adriatic Sea. Thanks to the exchange of air currents between the Alps and the Adriatic, the climate of this area is quite favorable to the culture of vines. With the introduction of improved vineyard techniques and modern winemaking processes, this dynamic region is now renowned for making a new style of white wines, as well as impressive reds. Lying in the hills along Italy's eastern border, Collio and Colli Orientali del Friuli are the two most prominent appellations of the region. The dominant native white grape is Tocai Friuliano, but other international varietals are also used, such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco and Grigio and Riesling. The red varietals are Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Nero and Refosco. Refosco is actually the Mondeuse grape, a varietal that originated in the Alpine region of Savoie.

From the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, we tasted:

2004 Volpe Pasini Tocai Friulano Zuc di Volpe: the nose displayed citrus aromas with a faint petroleum note. On the palate, it was fizzy, light-bodied with a fresh and mineral finish. This would be a great wine to serve with appetizers or during a light summer lunch.

2002 Venica & Venica Tre Vignis: this wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and the rare Picolit grape, a varietal used in Grappa and producing a local dessert wine. Showing a deep golden color, the wine had a nose of white flower, citrus and ripe peach. On the palate, it was full-bodied with a multi-layered complexity on the finish.

2002 Volpe Pasini Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso Zuc di Volpe: the wine had a deep red color and a mild berry nose. It was structured on the palate with a firm backbone. The finish was well-balanced and elegant, with flavors somewhat reminiscent of a Cabernet Franc.

Alto Adige, which is also known as Südtyrol, enjoys a privileged position, culturally and climatically. It is the southern tip of Austria's Tyrol and Italy's most northernly wine region. It became an Italian territory only in 1919, when Austria ceded Südtirol to Italy, and German is still the most spoken language. A majority of the vineyards, often steep and terraced, lie along the Adige river and the Isarco Valley. Winters are cold and snowy and spring frosts are always a risk for the vines, but the wide temperature fluctuations between day and night are favorable to the white varietals imported from Germany and Austria. Red grapes like the native Schiava and Lagrein, as well as the more international Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Nero, grow in the region's warmest sites.

From the Alto Adige region, we tasted:

2003 Cantina Produttori Valle Isarco Pinot Grigio Valle Isarco Alto Adige: the wine had a bright color, a mild nose with citrus, yellow peach, and honey aromas. On the palate, it was dry, mineral and very lively. A well crafted Pinot Grigio.

2003 Tiefenbrunner Castel Turmhof Lagrein: this red wine had a deep garnet color with a fruity and peppery nose. On the palate, it was smooth with some lively acidity, but spicy, like a lighter version of a Rhone Valley Syrah.

The next class will be about the wines of Tuscany.

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