The wild world of “Rifermentati” wines from the heart of Italy – Live from Vinitaly 2024

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Following an impressive and thought-provoking tasting of Bordeaux and Soave white wines guided by Andrea Lonardi, this session provided a big gear change. Jeff Porter, writer at large for Wine Enthusiast, Sommelier, Educator, Travel Guide & Host of @siptripitaly, explained that the purpose of the session was to take a look at the “Frizzante revolution,” and discover the world of sparkling wines beyond Champagnes and Proseccos. He introduced Max Brondolo as “Part of a revolution. Rifermentati wines and specifically the wines of Modena, I didn’t know these wines existed. These producers have an idea. It’s not ancestrale, it’s not pet nat. It’s another process. The new evolution of wine.

Rifermentati wines are based on low pressure (+/2 bar in the bottle) and an identity that reaches as far back as the 1500’s. People in the Modena area have always bought ‘vino sfuso,’ akin to local bulk wine, and then used them to make Rifermentati wines at home. Porter said that all 20 regions in Italy make these types of wines but “Modena and Valdobbiadene are historically the centers for this style. It is not col fondo, it’s completely different.” 

Brondolo, owner and winemaker at Podere Sottoilnoce, was born in Milan but moved to Modena for love. His grandfather had made a pet nat style wine from Barbera grapes in Piemonte, but Brondolo discovered the wines of Modena were something else. Wines made with Lambrusco grapes in the late 1990s had a bad global reputation as commercial, industrial and extremely sweet. In 1968 there were 95 varietals of Lambrusco grapes being used to make wine. With time, technology and better wine-making, the number has whittled down to 4. Brondolo got interested in the local wines, saying, “My decision wasn’t to make wine, it was my decision to make wine specifically because I was in Modena.

The style of Rifermentati wines he is making undergo their first fermentation in steel tanks. The base wines are bottled and unfermented must is added to the bottle, which is then capped and closed. “Rifermentati” refers to the process of a second fermentation taking place in the bottle, but the key is there is no disgorgement here. This is an intentional choice for winemakers who prefer to leave the lees in the bottle, meaning, as Brondolo explains, “The wine will live forever, at least until you open the bottle!” The autolytic character continues to evolve and the wines become “Living beings inside the bottle.

The wines can be a little cloudy as the lees are not removed, but Brondolo asserted that it won’t change the taste. The big question in the trendy unfiltered fizzy wine market is whether or not to shake the bottle. Brondolo and Porter agreed that, without shaking, the first few pours would be less autolytic and the final pours much more so. Porter joked, “If you want to be fair and share the texture and taste, then shake the bottle before you pour.

The tasting was seriously a rainbow. The six wines were completely different colours, ranging from a pale lemony colour to a coopery rosé all the way to a deep opaque purple. The first wine, from Franchina e Giarone was Vino Bianco Frizzante “Zuzù” 2022, made with Trebbiano Modenese and Trebbiano di Spagna. Pale lemon in colour, the wine had a nose full of unripe citrus with green herbal notes. On the palate, the citrus evolved into a tangy bitter cedro flavour, with a fresh combination of light acidity, a hint of a phenolic grip and a slightly saline note of capers. Vibrant, young and fresh, this would pair really well with Asian food, especially sushi and fish-based dishes.

The next wine was Vino Rosato Frizzante “Karma Camelia” 2022 from Tenuta Stufanello. Made with Lambrusco Grasparossa and Trebbiano Modenese grapes, the wine was cloudy with a deep coppery papaya colour. The nose is similar to a cherry beer from Belgium, and the palate follows through with flavours of pomegranate, dried sour cherry and a touch of bitters. Mildly tannic, this wine called out for fatty, creamy or fried food. Brondolo called it “One of those wines we drink together, to eat together, to stay together.

Porter prefaced the third of the Riffermentati wines by discussing the fact that this style of wine is meant to be regarded as “Craft wine, not fine art.” Terrevive Bergianti’s Dell’Emilia Igt Lambrusco Rosato Frizzante Vino Biologico “Per Franco” 2021 was made with Lambrusco Salamino grapes and showed a pretty, pale poached salmon colour with a good balance of fruit, acidity, salinity and phenolics. Bio-dynamically grown, the wine had a restrained nose which evolved on the palate into flavours of peach and succulent orange peel, just sprinkled with a dusting of pink Himalayan sea salt.

The next wine was from Plessi, Vino Rosso Frizzante Metodo Ancestrale Biologico “Lambruscaun” 2019, made with 100% Lambrusco Pellegrino. The winery has 3 hectares of vines, growing 25 varieties of grapes. The wine was a delightful rosy ruby colour, with a gorgeous perfumed nose of aromatic candied raspberries and pink rose petals. On the palate, it was darker in character, tannic and complex, with notes of clove and old-fashioned cinnamon chewing gum. The finish was savoury and medicinal with an aura of woodsy balsamic herbs.

Number 5 was Brondolo’s own wine from Podere Sottoilnoce – the name referring to the location of the vineyard under an ancient walnut tree. Vino Rosso Frizzante “Confine” 2022 is a field blend of 12 varietals all native to Modena and some of the vines are over 70 years old. The wine was a cloudy ruby colour with a more traditionally Lambrusco-esque nose full of dried herbs, ripe cherries and raspberry. The palate was an interesting combination of candied red fruits and powdery dry tannins. Brondolo remembered, “My grandfather wasn’t allowed to do anything in the kitchen. His job was to bring the bread and the wine to the table. Then the meal could begin. I think of him when I taste this wine and his role as the host at all our meals.

The last wine was Dell’Emilia IGP Lambrusco Frizzante “Il Cenerino” 2016 from Podere Cervarola. Deep purple in colour, made from Lambrusco Grasparossa, the wine had a distinctly savoury nose with notes of brown colas and chinotto. On the palate, it was deeply umami in character with flavours of dried salt beef and warm black currant jam, highly tannic and begging for food. 

Summing up the concept of Rifermentati wines and the wines of Modena being made in this style, Brondolo said, “The first work we do is an agricultural act. If you want to bring truth into the glass, not intellectually but from the gut, it has to start in the vineyard. These wines are personal. For me, the only political act I am comfortable doing is protecting my land. Every year I plant 20 new trees as a way to protect the biodiversity and keep truth in my vineyard.

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