Contemporary wines from old grape varieties – Live from Vinitaly 2024

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One day after the one titled “Italian history and myth in a wineglass“, Italian Wine Podcast attended another Vinitaly International Academy Advanced Seminar during Vinitaly 2024, presented by Professor Attilio Scienza and Andrea Lonardi MW: “Contemporary wines from old grape varieties”.

Another sold-out masterclass packed full of Professore’s fans and an international crowd eager to hear from recently certified Italian Master of Wine, Andrea Lonardi, who opened the session by saying, “Scienza is my professor of wine, but also my professor of life. A special person, a critical thinker. We need more mentors and teachers like him, to focus on young people in viticulture.

The objective for the session was to take a look at recuperating old grape varieties to make new and contemporary wines. Lonardi pronounced, “We need to make Italy take account of its wine business.” There are clearly zones and varieties that will be very important for the future, given climate change and changing consumer trends. Scienza commented, “We have long undervalued our ancient vines and varieties.” He spoke about the changing world market, saying “The premium market has been dominated by France and some Californian, now it’s changing. We have the chance to value and promote our old vines, old varieties, and the history and culture behind them.” It was interesting to hear that 15 grape varieties make up 50% of the world’s wine and 6 varieties make up 30%, but we know the world has 13,000 varieties available for winemaking.

Lonardi defined new wine trends according to Millenials, where recent polls show that American and Italian Millenials look for native varieties, sustainable winemaking and organic wines, above all other purchasing factors. The two presenters discussed the concept that grape vines have memories, putting a spotlight on the synthesis between wine and history and the vocation of place and variety. They agreed that exploring these issues will be crucial in the fight to adapt vineyards to climate change. Scienza reminded the audience that 8 individual grapes were the family founders of virtually all the grapes now existing in Italy, of which over 550 are registered nationally.

The concept of vocation in viticulture refers to the place where the grape expresses itself best and that particular location becomes its ‘home.’ Scienza brought up the Lambrusco group, descendant from wild vines and climate change resistant due to their low pH and high acid content. Grapes that have these types of characteristics will also be key to the future of wine.

The “Contemporary wines from old grape varieties” masterclass included a tasting session. The first wine tasted was Lambrusco di Sorbara Doc Frizzante Secco “Radice” N.V. from Paltrinieri, which was fermented like a white wine, with the second fermentation in the bottle, disgorged and unfiltered, leaving a cloudy presentation. The wine was a medium rose-gold color with coppery hues and a lovely floral nose, with fruit notes of apricot, strawberry, sour apple and tangerine. A fresh acidity and slightly saline character made the wine tangy and very refreshing to drink.

Next up came Vino Bianco “Sterpi” 2015 from Walter Massa. Lonardi discussed the Timorasso grape, which he described as “a neutral grape similar to French Chenin Blanc. Other countries are jealous of Italy because climate change works in our favor in cool climates like Piemonte for white grapes like Timorasso. This style of Italian wine is changing the market, the way people view white wines and how we drink them and when.” Scienza pointed to the importance of the sandy, clay, gravel soils known as “flysch” in the Derthona area, which allow the roots to dive deeply into the ground, draining well but retaining enough water to nourish the vines. The wine was a luminous pale gold color, creamy and textural, phenolic and grippy on the palate, with wet stone notes, a chalky and briney aspect, and aromas and flavors of gold dried apple, beeswax and a slightly oxidated, lingering cognac-esque character on the finish.

From Marche, the third wine presented was Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Classico Riserva Docg “Il Cantico della Figura” 2020 from Andrea Felici. Lonardi remarked on the “Mediterranean nose” of the wine, as well as the grape’s relationship to Garganega, Trebbiano di Soave and Trebbiano di Lugana. Scienza furthered the discussion by citing the direct relation to the movement of humans who took their vines with them when they moved from place to place due to drought, plague and war. The vines then adapted to their new location and produced slight variations on the grapes. The wine was an attractive lemon green color, with high acidity and a slight phenolic grip on the palate. Lonardi’s “Mediterranean nose” was evident in the notes of aromatic fresh green herbs like sage and thyme, white and yellow flowers like camomille, a sea salt element of oyster shell and iodine and a lovely long, pleasantly bitter green almond finish. Lonardi commented that it is sophisticated but still similar to Assyrtiko from Greece and Albarino from Portugal and Spain, which are both high-acid, Mediterranean white wines that are gaining popularity around the world, especially with new, young drinkers.

Number four in the tasting was Grignolino d’Asti Docg “Garibaldi” 2021 from Mura Mura in Piemonte. The grape is difficult to grow, with a thick skin and hard tannins to ripen. Producers are now looking for vocation with this grape, working well with its modern production and experimenting with vinification techniques. Lonardi called this wine part of the “pinosophy” movement, aiming to make wines that imitate Pinot Noir. Italy can play an important game in the global market demand by promoting more native wines like this, with lighter body, well-integrated tannins and rotundone-based aromas of clove, pepper and smoke. Grignolino used to be vinified as a “baby Barolo,” with a lot of use of oak and ageing; however, producers are reacting to the “pinosophy” trend and moving towards a lighter, more sheer style of wine. In the glass, the wine was a pretty, rosey ruby color, very aromatic with floral scents of violets and purple wisteria. On the palate, the wine was spicy with notes of red peppercorn and clove, and full of crunchy sharp red berries, red currants, unripe wild strawberries, and lots of powdery soft tannins.

Sicily came next with Terre Siciliane Igp Nerello Mascalese “Contrada S” 2021 from Passopisciaro Vini Franchetti. Lonardi talked about the vineyard’s location on Mt. Etna, where vineyards grow from 300 to 1000 meters above sea level, with crucial differences in altitude, aspect and soil. He described the wine as one that “screams Italian, because there is no other territory in the world that has the bitter, Campari, Vermouth notes in its wines.” Made with Nerello Mascalese grapes, a varietal that is an offspring of Sangiovese, the wine was a medium ruby red color with a really beautiful red-fruited nose, created in a sheer style once again heading in the “pinosophy” direction. On the palate, the wine was full of red cherry, red plum, black tea and an ethereal smokey gunpowder note, laced with blood orange and bitters. Utterly delicious.

Sixth on the list was Alto Adige Doc Schiava “Gschleier” 2020 by Girlan.

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