Wine Muses of the Veneto: Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara, Croatina
Nicolis is located in Veneto in the historic Valpolicella area, whose four distinctive valleys extend to the northwest of Verona. The warm breezes from Lago di Garda blow through these valleys and meet with the cool air from the Lessini Mountains, creating wonderful microclimates for grapes, cherries, and olives. For generations, the Nicolis family has been involved with cultivating vines and winemaking in the area but began to make wine under its own label in 1953 The family owns 25 hectares in the Valpolicella Classico zone and another 15 hectares in the Bardolino Classico zone. Today, the winery is run by three Nicolis brothers, Giancarlo, who is the viticulturist, Giuseppe the enologist, and Massimo who handles marketing. Their Amarone Ambrosan has won Gambero Rosso’s highest Tre Bicchierri award several times. The family established the Corte de’Signori label in 2005 to feature wines from a particular vineyard, one of the highest in Valpolicella at an altitude of 300 to 400 meters. From this vineyard, they produce Amarone and Valpolicella Ripasso, the ultra premium wines of the Valpolicella zone. And they cultivate the vineyard with maximum respect for the environment, using beneficial insects to control pests and employing pheromone traps when necessary.
Ruggieri & C.
The Ruggeri winery was established in 1950 by Giustino Bisol, whose family boasts a deeply rooted, centuries-old tradition in viticulture in the Valdobbiadene area. Today the winery is run by Paolo Bisol, who is assisted by his children Giustino and Isabella. Ruggeri owns a small vineyard in Cartizze and 20 hectares in nearby Montello, but the family purchases most of its grapes for its premium Prosecco Superiore DOCG production from over a hundred vine-growers with tiny plots, cultivated on hillsides so steep that workers must tie themselves to the vines when they pick grapes, which they drop into chutes that slide the fruit to the bottom of the hill. Nearly all of these vineyards are located in the municipality of Valdobbiadene, the most prestigious area for Prosecco while a few are located in the tiny Cartizze area, the heart of the Valdobbiadene region that represents the highest expression for Prosecco. Italian wine guide Gambero Rosso says, “Vecchie Viti and Giustino B. are benchmark wines for the whole designation every year.” The Valdobbiadene Extra Dry Giustino B. was awarded Gambero Rosso’s highest Tre Bicchieri award in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013.
Mamete Prevostini is located in the Valtelina zone in the Alpine region of Lombardia. Although the wines are mostly made from Nebbiolo, the noble grape of Piemonte, their style has much in common with Venetian wines. For his most prestigious wines, Mamete Prevostini partially dehydrates the grapes through the winter and then ferments them at the end of January, the same process by which Veneto’s famed Amarone is made. Like the Veneto, viticulture has flourished here in the Valatelina for hundreds of years although the Prevostini family has been making wine for just 70. The inspiration for doing so was the family restaurant, Crotasc, located in the Sondrio province, where Mamete Prevostini began to make wine using local grapes so that he could serve it to his customers. The current winemaker, named Mamete after his grandfather, took the reins of the business in 1988 following a series of exhausting trials in both grape cultivation and wine making. A decade later, the wines of Mamete Prevostini became some of the finest in the Valtelina. Their Sforzato Albareda has received wine guide Gambero Rosso’s highest Tre Bicchierri award for numerous vintages.
Italian Wines of the Month
Nicolis 2010 Valpolicella Classico, Corte dei Signori
A delicious blend of 60% Corvina, 30% Rondinella, and 10% Molinara, this fruity and spicy wine is a beautiful example Valpolicella Classico with a similar blend of grapes as Valpolicella Superiore or even Amarone. While Amarone is made from partially dried grapes, and the Valpolicella Superiori wine undergoes a second fermentation on the Amarone lees, the Valpolicella Classico is fermented and aged briefly before it is bottled. The result is a fresh and fruity wine that pairs easily with a wide range of dishes. At just 12.5% alcohol, you can refill your glass several times. You’ll love this wine. Serve at cool room temperature.
La Maschera Prosecco Treviso
The Glara grapes for this sparkling Prosecco were harvested from vineyards in Treviso, beyond the most prestigious locations for Prosecco, such as Cartezze, Valdobbiadene, or Conegliano, but this is still a highly enjoyable and lively sparkling wine that was made by the Ruggieri firm, expressly for its long-time San Francisco distributor Villa Italia. Ruggieri’s contracts with local growers and rigid quality control assure top quality for this Prosecco. At just 11% alcohol, the wine is an excellent aperitif that complements a wide variety of appetizers, but it can also pair well with simply prepared fish and shell fish dishes or other light main courses. Serve chilled.
Nicolis 2010 Ripasso della Valpolicella “Seccal”
Made with grapes from the Seccal vineyard, the wine is a classical blend of 70% Corvina 20% Rondinella, 5% Molinara, and 5% Croatina. What makes this Classico Superiore a richer wine than the Classico is that the grapes are fermented according to the ripasso method. The wine undergoes a second fermentation with the lees or sediment of the Amarone, whose grapes are a similar blend but partially dried through the winter and fermented in the spring. While not as rich as Amarone, the color, alcohol, and body are increased from contact with the Amarone lees. The “Seccal” has an intense nose, and the taste is full-bodied and warm and reminiscent of dried fruit and spice, flavors that it obtains from the Amarone sediment. Grilled and roasted meats and game are traditional pairings, but surprisingly, I enjoyed the wine with pan fried sole, served over radicchio. Cheese courses are also recommended pairings. Serve at cool room temperature.
Nicolis 2008 Ripasso della Valpolicella Superiore, Corte dei Signori
A blend of 70% Corvina, 20% Rondinella, 5% Molinara, and 5% Croatina, this delicous wine is fermented a second time on the pomace of the dried grapes that were used to make Amarone. The wine was then aged for 16 months in large Slovenian oak barrels. The result is an intense wine with ripe fruit and spices on the nose, full-bodied flavor, and a long finish. Serve at cool room temperature.
Ruggeri Gold Label Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, Extra Dry
This delicious sparkling wine is called Prosecco di Valdobbiadene after the area in which the grapes are grown, but the name of the grape is Glara. The color of the wine is a light straw yellow, and its crystal clarity is laced with a persistent perlage of fine bubbles. The bouquet, although persistent and intensely fruity, is extremely delicate, which brings mature golden apples and acacia flowers readily to mind. It is fresh on the palate and pleasantly light in alcohol, extremely smooth and well-balanced with a long and fruity finish. With its great versatility, Giall’Oro or “Gold Label” can be enjoyed equally well as an aperitif or with light main courses, but it can also enhance the close of a meal paired especially with fresh fruit of the season. Serve chilled.
Mamete Prevostini 2009 Albareda Sforzato di Valtelina
Harvested from both the Sassella and Grumello zones in the Valtelina Superiore appellation, the fruit for this wine is 100 % Nebbiolo. The grapes are placed in wooden boxes and allowed to dehydrate in a dry and ventilated storage room until the end of January, at which time they are pressed and fermented in stainless steel tanks. The process is somewhat similar to that of Amarone from the Veneto, but there the grapes are dehydrated for a longer period and fermented in the spring. In both cases, the result is a richer, more concentrated wine. The Prevostini 2006 Albareda has a dark garnet color and a marked array of aromas with polished spicy edges and hints of dried fruit and flowers. The flavors are warm, full, and lusty but soft and rounded at the same time with lingering sensations of jam and raisins. This wine was honored with wine guide Gambero Rosso’s highest Tre Bicchierri (Three Glasses) award. Serve at cool room temperature.
Mamete Prevostini 2008 Corte di Cama Sforzato di Valtelina
The Nebbiolo fruit for the Prevostini Corte di Cama was harvested in the Valtelina Superiore appellation within the Sondrio, Berbenno, and Montagna zones. Like the Albareda above, the grapes for the Corte di Cama were placed in wooden boxes and allowed to dehydrate in a dry and ventilated storage room until the end of January, at which time they were pressed and fermented in stainless steel tanks. The dehydration process, not uncommon among Italian super premium dinner and dessert wines, produces richer and more concentrated flavors. Aged for 15 months in oak barrels and ten months in bottle before release from the winery, the Corte di Cama has dark, garnet-red color with wild fruit and jam scents of marvelous subtlety. Warm flavors and a balanced texture linger on the palate. Serve at cool room temperature.
Italian Regions of the Month
Venezia, a city built into the sea, is like no other, haunted by the princes and poets of its noble past and by centuries of tourists. The cities of Padova, Vicenza, and Verona, originally frontier posts on the Roman trade route between Venezia and Genova, grew into Renaissance splendor and are marvels in their own right. In the 16th Century, the region’s great architect Andrea Palladio worked throughout the area and his buildings are everywhere, in the cities and in the countryside. Nature exhibits its own marvels in the region, the spectacular Dolomite Mountains in the north, the rolling Euganean hills in the south, vast Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake, on the eastern border, and to the west, the Adriatic with its beaches and ports.
Today, Veneto is a thriving agricultural center, a lush land of vines, ranking third after Apulia and Sicily in wine volume but the first with classified DOC wines. There are three general areas of premium production: the western province of Verona in the hills between Lake Garda and the town of Soave, the central hills in the provinces of Vincenza, Padova, and Treviso, and the eastern plains of the Piave and Tagliamento river basins along the Adriatic coast northeast of Venezia.
Verona is the leader in classified DOC wines and the site of Vinitaly, the largest wine trade fair in the world. A major part of the DOC wines in the region are Soave, Bardolino, and Valpolicella, a blend of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara. When young, Valpolicella is a full, fruity red, but when the grapes are partly dried, they are made into Amarone, one of Italy’s most noble wines. Bardolino is made from the same grapes as Valpolicella but is a lighter version. Similar to Soave, Bianco di Custoza is another DOC white as is Lessini Durello, a steely dry wine, usually sparkling.
The central hills produce whites similar to Soave as well as Tocai, the Pinots, Merlot, and Cabernet. Prosecco, a dry to lightly sweet white, is produced in the area as is the renowned Venegazzu, both usually sparkling. The eastern plains have been dominated by Merlot and Cabernet Franc for decades, but the local red Raboso and white Verduzzo still have admirers. Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon, and Chardonnay are also gaining ground.
Lombardia stretches from the Alps on the border with Switzerland down to the great lakes of Maggiore, Lugano, Como, and Garda, destinations for large numbers of tourists, to the broad flat plain of the River Po, well suited to modern agriculture. At the center of the region is Milano, the industrial, financial center of Italy. The region was named after the Longobards, a barbarian tribe that invaded Italy in the 6th Century AD. Virgil, Monteverdi, Stradivarius, and Donizetti, among others contributed to the fame of the region which offers the pleasures of its glorious lakes as well as its beautiful, bustling cities with their exquisite palaces, churches, and art treasures.
The lake dwellers at Garda may have made the first wines of Lombardia, wines that the Romans later called Rhaetic, although some evidence exists that the Valtellina in the Rhaetian Alps could also have made them. The Ligurians were other early vintners who might have built the terraces in the Valtellina, while the Etruscans strung their vines over trees along the River Po.
The mountains, lakes, large population, prosperous industry, and industrial agriculture diminish available land for vineyards. Nevertheless, the region has some highly favorable vineyard sites, especially three major areas of production. Oltrepo Pavese in the southwest produces the reds Barbera and Bonarda, also known as Croatina. Higher vineyards are Italy’s leading source of Pinot Nero. The area also produces fruity Riesling and sparkling Moscato. Valtellina in the Alpine north produces Nebbiolo, most of which disappears into Switzerland. Brescia, Bergamo, and Montova in the east, including Franciacorta, produce the red Merlot, Cabernet, and Gropello, as well as Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, Trebbiano di Lugana, and Lambrusco. Franciacorta is famous for its spumante and makes some of Italy’s finest champenoise.