by John Dunham
Three Glasses Over Lombardy:
The 2016 tour of Italian winemakers, Tre Bicchieri, presented by Gambero Rosso, reached New York City this month, bringing nearly 200 producers and at least 1,000 wines to a walk around tasting. Tre Bicchiere, which means three glasses, is the highest rating awarded by Gambero Rosso in Vini d’Italia its guide of Italian wines. Wines that receive three glasses are seen by the reviewers as being “extraordinary wines”.
This is one of the largest, if not the largest, tastings of Italian wines, and features nearly every region in the country. As a buyer, the event is like the Superbowl, but as a reviewer, it can be intimidating. It is also difficult to talk to people and get a story. This is why we tend to focus on a single region when we attend the tasting, and try to bring a sense of what is being offered to our readers.
This year we chose the region of Lombardy, which is the area surrounding the City of Milan in the northcentral part of Italy. With 10 million people, and much of Italy’s industrial production Lombardy is the most populous and wealthiest region in the country and one of the richest regions in Europe. What Lombard is generally not known for; however, is its wine even though its production is larger than the more well know regions of Marche or even Umbria.
Lombardian wines run the gamut from white, to red to rose, and the region is particularly well known as a producer of sparkling wines made predominantly with Chardonnay, Pinot nero (Pinot Noir) and Pinot bianco (Pinot Blanc) varietals. The region is large with 20 DOC, 5 DOCG and 13 IGT designations. These regions are as varied as the terrain of Lombardy itself, which starts in the Alps at the north, and slopes downward through valleys to flatter agricultural areas along the Po River which forms the region’s southern border. Because of its hilly and cool climate, many wine producing areas are located areas are located along the shores of Lombardy’s major lakes which help to mitigate temperature extremes.
We sampled 6 of the approximately 20 different Lombardian wines featured at Tre Bicchieri. Starting with the sparkling wines for which the region is best known, we sampled Bellavista’s Franciacorta Extra Brut Vittorio Moretti Riserva (2008). Selling for about $135, the wine is 50 percent Chardonnay and 50 percent Pinot Nero and is one of the region’s highest rated wines across the board. The wine was a coppery gold in color with a light nose of citrus and some cherry. The wine has a moderate mousse, and was extremely well balanced with good acid. As the wine moved across the palate it moved from apples and citrus notes toward a vanilla finish. The wine was very complex and showed just what a Lombardian sparkling can be.
Another sparkling we sampled was Castelllo di Cigognola, Brut More (2011) priced at just $12 a bottle. This wine is 100 percent Pinot Nero, and is a very small production bottling. The wine was straw yellow in color with a dusty nose. The active mousse brought forth a citrusy, lemony palate with orange notes. The wine has a yeasty finish with solid acid across the palate.
We also sampled Ballabio Brut Farfalla (NV) priced at about $17 a bottle. This wine was a light straw color with a nose that brought out creamy and grapefruit notes. The light mousse featured a creamy mouth feel with some grapefruit notes as well.
All in all, the sparking wines from throughout Lombardy show well, particularly at the lower price points. They offer a reasonable alternative for a celebratory wine. And while the region is most known for sparklings, it produces a wide range of still wines as well, most importantly those based on the Nebbiolo varietal produced in the Valtellina region.
We sampled a rage of still wines at Tre Bicchieri. One that was well reviewed was the OP Pino Nero Giorgio Odero (2012) from Frecciarossa. Priced at about $35 a bottle, this was one of the better wines we tried at the tasting. Brownish red in color, the wine had a fruity nose with raspberry and blueberry and a hint of vanilla. The wine had solid tannins and could use some age. There was little fruit up from and some plum on the end, but the wine had solid structure and will hold up to age better than many Pinot Noir varietals that we have tried.
Two white wine offerings from Ca Maiol are very affordable. The Lugana Molin (2014) is priced as low as $10 a bottle. It was light straw yellow in color with very floral notes on the nose. The wine itself had tropical notes, and could be a great cheese wine. From the same producer we sampled Laguna Prestige (2014) at about $11 a bottle. The wine was similar to its sibling, light yellow in color with a nose showing light citrus. The tropical fruit notes on the palate were rounded together with some vanilla.
Both of these wines are produced from Trebbiano di Lugana. Trebbiano is one of the most widely planted varieties of grape in the world and is called by a number of names depending on the country and region. It has a high acidity making it a good pairing wine, but is known to not keep long, so should be drunk early.
Wines from Lombardy can vary widely. The sparkling wines showed well, particularly at their price point, and are interesting additions to a well-stocked cellar. We liked the Trebbianos and would hope to see more of these on world wine lists; however, we would likely look to other regions for the Pinot Noir varietals
For more information on Tre Biccieri and Gambero Rosso International visit hF
While we’re on the topic of Italian wine, most of what we try to feature on the site involves reviews of things we actually experience, see, smell, taste or do. I eagerly anticipated attending the annual Slow Wine tasting in New York City, and promptly got felled by a bad flu the day of the event. I didn’t want to give this to any of the unsuspecting people attending, let alone breathe on the wines and the approximately 75 producers who attended the New York event, but I do want to include a short note about Slow Wine itself.
Slow Wine is an offshoot of Slow Food which began in Italy in 1986. While the “movement” was initially a response to resist the opening of a McDonald’s near the Spanish Steps in Rome, its goals of preventing the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat and where it comes from have important linkages to wine, which is all about place.
The organization works through regional chapters around the world and promotes local artisans, local farmers, and local flavors through regional events such as the Slow Wine tastings.
Once place where the Slow Food experience is in full view is the Tuscan region of Montepulciano. While Montepulciano itself is well known for its distinctive Sangiovese based wines, it is just one part of the Valdichiana Senese region located in the southern part of Tuscany. The region comprises 9 separate towns (Cetona, Chianciano Terme, Chiusi, Montepulciano, San Casciano dei Bagni, Sarteano, Sinalunga , Torrita, Trequanda and Unione dei Comuni della Valdichiana Senese) and is known for its countryside, spas, wineries agritourism opportunities and historical sites.
For those who have experienced the Disneyesque crowds in the main Tuscan cities of Frienza and Sienna and Pisa, the municipalities of Valdichiana Senese offer a different – a slower – pace, along with all of the other wonderful aspects of the Italian countryside.
The area produces a range of agricultural products in addition to the famous wines, including extra virgin olive oil, honey, fruit and vegetables compote and saffron.
For more information on the Valdichiana Senese region contact Valdichiana Living at http://www.valdichianaliving.it/ Or Strada del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano e dei Sapori della Valdichiana Senese at http://www.stradavinonobile.it/booking/html/index.php
In 2010, Slow Food International began its independent Slow Wine project and produces a magazine and a wine guide which is available at: http://www.slowwinemagazine.com/en/guide/ For more information see www.vinitalyinternational.com and www.slowfood.com.