Exploring The Red and White Wines of Northern Italy

Posted on: November 17th, 2014 by

 

bastianich vineyardsYou ever insisted on something being true even after, time and time again, all your suppositions prove misguided? This happened to me while I was treated to a wine-tastic meal by Wayne Young. He’s the Sales, Communication, and Marketing Manager for the wines of Bastianich and La Mozza.

We started out exploring the Adriatico series of white wines of the former winery, a trio of Sauvignon Blanc (2012), Friulano (2011), and Malvasia (2010 and actually Croatian). All these wines had a wonderful presence on the palate that kept me asking if each wine saw some time in oak. It’s not that they were buttery, cotton-candy type of oaky. There just seemed to be something beyond the work of the stainless steel tank happening.

Here’s pretty much how it went:

ME (timidly): “Is there some oak on this Sauv Blanc, maybe a little used, neutral oak?”

WAYNE: “Nope.”

ME (more assertively): “Surely, however, this Friulano is imbued with some of the richness-giving powers of judicious oak use.”

WAYNE: “Again, no.”

ME (going off the rails): “HA HA. THAT’S VERY INTERESTING. BUT IN ALL SERIOUSNESS I KNOW WITHOUT A SHADOW OF A DOUBT SUCH A LUSHLY TEXTURED MALVASIA HAS GOT TO HAVE BECOME VERY INTIMATE WITH SOME OAK AT SOME POINT IN ITS LIFE.”

WAYNE (slowly backing away): “I’ll e-mail you the tech sheet. Uh, I think I hear my car being towed.” (Exit stage left, post-haste.)

Ok, it didn’t go down quite like that. It was more like this:

Wayne regaled me with a tale how he came to make wine in Italy and how he returned to his current role. I also calmly asked, if it ain’t oak, what the heck is going on with these white wines? A red wine grape, Refosco, was discussed. A quick trip to Tuscany was undertaken. Finally, more geekiness was achieved by considering the Picolit grape. Here’s my interview with Wayne conducted via e-mail and after I had returned to the world of the sane.

JF: Along the wines of “Go west, young man”, Joe Bastianich told you to “Go make wine.” Except you went east, to Italy. How did this brief mandate transpire and tell me a little bit about your resulting winemaking experience.

WY: “Basically I was burning out on the restaurant and sommelier work in NYC. Nights and weekends were getting me down and I needed a change. I had a good rapport with Joe as my boss so I decided to tell him I was looking to leave. He basically asked me if I wanted to “Go make wine”. I had no idea what I was in for. It was the first vintage of the winery and we were making our wine in our Friend Valter Scarbolo’s small cellar. It was the wettest, physically-hardest and longest in terms of hours-per-day work I have ever done in my life. Nonetheless, there is something deeply satisfying about it. The fact that you survived, the idea that you had a direct hand in the creation of something great and enduring. And I learned so much about the mechanics of making wine, the effort required, the attention to detail.

“Then it was over and I decided to stay through the season and work more in the vineyards, which was less of an enlightening experience (and honestly I wasn’t very good at it.. I was too slow!) but the most important thing was the nervous excitement and anticipation of the NEXT harvest during the slower summer period! How could I be excited about getting my ass kicked 7 days a week for a month or so? But there it was, and I attacked the nested vintage ready for what it had to offer and it fought back with the single most difficult and physically demanding harvest I have ever done. 1998’s harvest lasted almost 40 days from first grape to last, due to cool weather and bouts of rain. 1999 was a hot year and almost everything ripened at the same time. First grape to last was about 3 weeks, half of the previous year, and there were nights where we worked non-stop, 2 of us staying until 5am and 2 of us leaving at midnight only to return at 6am. It was grueling, but again, I had survived and after that vintage, everything seemed easy.

“I went on to do 2000, 2001 and 2002 in the cellar. After 2002 I felt as if I had done and learned all there was to do in the cellar as a cellar-hand. I knew press and filter inside out, know the foibles of every tank and pump. Yet, I was not educated enough to look at lab analysis and understand what was going on. It was then that I either needed to start studying enology or think about moving on.

“Again, a conversation with Joe led to the idea of my working in promotion, PR and Marketing, which is where I find myself today.”

The lineup of “Adriatico” wines I tasted with you (Sauvignon Blanc, Friulano, and Malvasia) all had a richness and texture that I kept guessing had something to do with oak…but that’s not the case. How is it that this trio of wines have a viscosity to them without the benefit of barrel-aging?

“For the Friuli wines (Sauvignon and Friulano) it’s all about the soil! The ponca we have here is the key to the weight and longevity of wines from Friuli Colli Orientali (and Collio too). Calcareous marl, with calcium as it’s most important element gives the hillside wines here the body you felt in these wines. Clay and rock, good drainage, great exposition, ripe fruit.. all of this contributes to the weight you feel in these wines. There may also be a small portion of skin contact with Sauvignon and Friulano, and some vats may rest on the lees for a little longer, but really I think the soil is key.

“The Malvasia is slightly different since it is made in Istria. There is a type of soil there called ‘terra bianca’ which is a chalky soil that is ALSO calcium rich. This is the key element in the creation of great white wines.”

I found the Vespa Rosso to be very refreshing and was curious about the role that Refosco plays in the wine. What makes this grape unique and what does it bring to the table?

“Refosco is the perfect foil for the Merlot in Vespa Rosso. Merlot in Friuli is beautifully round, fruity and polished. But it lacks a little character, a little acidity and tannic structure. Refosco is an acidic variety with good tannins. It definitely gives the Merlot the “nerve” it lacks, along with a little wild berry and some leafiness that adds complexity… That’s the beauty of blends. Refosco also has incredibly stable colour. I have opened bottles of 10-year-old Refosco that have the fresh colour  like they were bottled yesterday.”

The Maremma area of Tuscany is best known for its “Super Tuscan” wines composed of Bordeaux grapes and sometimes Syrah. The La Mozza Aragone, though, has a good chunk of Alicante. Along the lines of my question about Refosco, why Alicante?

“It’s adaptability to the hot, dry climate of the Maremma is key. It needs a long hot season to grow well and ripen, and that’s what we normally have here. We also wanted to spiritually connect with Spain, Sardinia and Southern France, in keeping with the ‘Super Mediterranean’ blend concept of Aragone. We wanted to be different and not do another Bordeaux blend in Tuscany.”

Ok, one more grape nerd question. The Vespa Bianco is primarily Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, but there’s also a percentage of Picolit in the mix. You called this unfamiliar grape the wine’s “secret weapon”. Tell me why.

“Actually, Sauvignon is ‘Friuli’s Secret weapon’ according to Bobby Stuckey. Picolit is only known as a dessert wine, but vinified almost dry it is very interesting. Picolit is ripe, with very good acidity with this honeyed aroma that I think really comes out in Vespa Bianco. It adds richness without flabbiness, adds complexity without weighing the wine down, which is already pretty big and structured! We always remark on how Vespa Bianco is never complete without Picolit. I taste through with the enologist and consultant during all of the blending sessions and it’s only when we start getting near the end and we begin blending in the Picolit that the try character of that vintage’s Vespa Bianco begins to become apparent. The wine would not be even close to the same without it… Amazing what a difference 10% makes!”

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