On Saturday, we attended the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter: Italy at the Lancaster London Hotel. Having enjoyed but been slightly overwhelmed by the Spain and Portugal Encounter in February, we were keen to taste what Italy has to offer. As there were 62 tables of wine to taste, we had to be unusually selective and organised.
We started at Table 1, tasting Bellavista Franciacorta and Curtefranca presented by Alberto Chioni. Franciacorta is a DOCG sparkling wine made by the traditional method from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Nero and Pinot Bianco. The first one we tasted was Alma Cuvée Brut NV, aged for 4 years, of which 3 years are on the lees. It was lovely and creamy and had a gentle acidity, which Signor Chioni explained is due to Lombardy being warmer than Champagne.
We moved on to the Brut 2008, which undergoes longer ageing and has a higher percentage of Pinot Nero. This gives it a more pronounced red fruit flavour and greater complexity, both of which we greatly enjoyed. Next was the Uccellanda Curtefranca DOC 2010, which is a still wine made from 100% Chardonnay. It’s aged in oak, 1/3 of which being new oak, giving it intense hazelnut and vanilla flavours and an extremely creamy texture. The jury was out on this; I loved the tasting sample, but wasn’t sure if I’d want to drink a whole glass, while my husband was very unsure.
Our next stop was Table 3, where we tasted 5 more Franciacortas from Ca’ del Bosco, presented by the charming Maurizio Zanella. The first was their “entry level” Cuvée Prestige NV, which is matured with no use of oak. It was pleasantly fruity, but I thought that it had a rather aggressive mousse. (That’s my new favourite phrase, since I appalled my dad by using it in front of him, confirming his worst fear that I have become a wine snob.) The second was their Vintage Collection Dosage Zéro 2009. As no liqueur d’expédition is added, the wine is very dry. It’s 24% Pinot Nero, so it’s another example of the lovely red fruit flavour that I enjoy. However, we were less keen on the Vintage Collection Brut 2009, even though it’s 30% Pinot Nero, because the fruit flavours didn’t seem to come through as well. We enjoyed the Vintage Collection Satèn 2009, which was very fruity, but the Cuvée Annamaria Clementi 2005 tasted like toast in a glass. My favourite sparkling wines have a good balance between fruit and toasty flavours, but I thought that this was unbalanced.
Next we visited the informative and passionate Federico Dal Bianco who was offering two Proseccos from Masottina. (NB I did check the plural of Prosecco, expecting it to be Prosecci, but apparently this would be “hypercorrect”. Query – is it better to be a little bit wrong or hypercorrect? The lawyer in me wants to say hypercorrect, but I’ve already used the phrase “aggressive mousse”, so I don’t want to alienate you any further. ) Both were made from 100% Glera, grown in the DOCG Conegliano Valdobbiadene. The first was the Contrada Granda, Rive di Ogliano Prosecco Superiore Brut 2013. Signor Dal Bianco described this as a “fruit explosion” and he was right! It smelled and tasted like an explosion in a pear drops factory. There were also more subtle flavours of tropical fruits and minerality, but it led with the pear drops. Apparently the vineyard is in a very windy spot, and the wind concentrates the grapes, resulting in these intense flavours. It was powerful and interesting, but not to my taste. I loved the second example: Rive di Ogliano Prosecco Superiore Extra Dry 2013. This has a higher level of sugar, but is still pleasantly dry and the fruit flavours are far more reserved and subtle.
Pinot Grigio has become a bit of a joke in the UK, due to supermarkets and pubs offering a lot of cheap, bland examples. I think it’s become the post-Bridget Jones Chardonnay substitute. We wanted to taste some of the examples on offer to see what the grape can do in the right hands. After a bit of a false start with some tasteless examples, we found what we were looking for on the Lis Neris table. The Isonzo 2012 is made with a blend of PG grapes from different vineyards and no oak contact. It was simple, but full of fruity flavours. The Gris, Isonzo 2011 is aged 10 months in oak, so, while there was still plenty of fruit, it had developed an added complexity and creamier texture. These were present to a greater extent in the 2010, which was outstanding. We also tasted Lis Neris’ Tal Lùc, Isonzo 2010, which is a sweet wine made from 95% Verduzzo Friulano and 5% Riesling, with the grapes being dried after harvesting. It had a heavenly apricot flavour and a lovely balance of sweetness and acidity. The Lis Neris website recommends pairing Tal Lùc with Amaretti biscuits. I make a couple of desserts with Amaretti biscuits (apple and Amaretti tart and raspberry and Amaretti cake) and I would love to try it with those. (I’ve checked the price. It’ll have to be for very special guests only.)
It was time to go to the Discovery Theatre for “the rise of natural and biodynamic wines” with the brilliantly warm and enthusiastic Jane Parkinson. This was a tutored tasting of 6 wines, each of which fitted one or more of the criteria: natural, organic and/or biodynamic. We booked this session hoping to learn more about biodynamics, a subject which fascinates me. However, 30 minutes was clearly not long enough to taste 6 wines and learn much about such a complicated topic. The good news was that it was a “flower day” in the biodynamic calendar, accordingly an auspicious day for wine tasting.
Of the six wines that we tasted, my favourite was the Costa delle Rose Roero Arneis 2013. This is a natural wine, meaning that no sulphur is used to protect the grapes or the resulting wine from oxidation. The wine is fermented in stainless steel and only natural yeast is used. I was recently shocked to learn about how some cheaper wines are in effect artificially flavoured with yeast engineered to bring out certain flavours, so I do seek out wine made with natural yeast, meaning that all the flavours come from the grapes. This was packed with vanilla and nutty flavours with a grapefruit bite. Jane recommended drinking it with seafood, which sounds like a winning combination. I don’t think that I’d tasted Arneis before, but I think that I’ll be doing so in future.
We returned to the grand tasting, ready to move on to the reds, but made a quick detour to taste Anas-Cëtta, Nascetta di Novello, Langhe 2012. This is made from 100% Nascetta, a grape that I’d never tasted (or, I confess, heard of) before. It was waxy (in a very good way) and spicy. I drew a picture of a smiley cat next to it, so I must have liked it.
We found some great reds on the Il Marroneto table. I was very keen to try a Brunello di Montalcino, which the WSET Level 3 textbook describes as “exquisitely fashionable”. The Marroneto Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2009 (100% Sangiovese Grosso di Brunello) was smooth, balanced and lovely. I drew a smiley face with antennae. The Iganaccio, Rosso di Montalcino (same grape) DOC 2011 was smooth, soft, sweet, meaty and savoury all at the same time.
We concluded with a few vin santos, but for me none of them matched the Tal Lùc that we’d tasted earlier.
I encountered some fine Italian wine at this event. Franciacorta was a revelation and I’d wanted to try Brunello di Montalcino for ages. The Roero and the Tal Lúc were great finds and Lis Neris certainly proved that Pinot Grigio does not have to be the butt of jokes. I still don’t know as much as I’d like about Italian wine, but the day certainly whetted my appetite for our forthcoming trip to Tuscany, where we’ll be sure to visit a few vineyards, taste some wine and report back.