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Ep 28: TNWG Wine Times: NE Italy and NW Italy



Italy is, as I'm sure we all know, a huge winemaking nation with history dating back to the 8th century BCE (Phoenician influence). However, it was only really a cash crop from the 13th century onwards. 

Fast forward to the 19th century and we start to see styles known today, like Chianti. In the 20th century some argue the greatest invention for improving wine was the use of stainless steel tanks and temperature control, especially in the 1960s in regions like Friuli as well as the success of red Bordeaux style 'Super Tuscans' from the 1970s.

👏 In 2019, 19% of hectares under vine in Italy were certified organic or in conversion.


🤔 Did You Know?

Italy has somewhere between 375 and 500 identified grape varietals - far more than any other winemaking country in the world!!

Another fact for you - Slavonian oak was used for many years for maturing red wines in large casks, before in the 80s and 90s a change saw winemakers increasingly using French oak barriques, which is now reverting as many use large oak or concrete vessels to mature wines.


💡 Couple of tips for you on Italian wines before we look at the regions:

 - If you see CLASSICO on a label, it means it has been made exclusively from grapes grown within the DOC or DOCG.

- If you see SUPERIORE on the label - it is wines with a higher minimum alcohol level, typically an additional 0.5%.

- If you see RISERVA on the label - wines which are submitted to at least 2 years of ageing for red wines and 1 year for white wines. Some individual DOC/DCOGs specify this ageing or part of it must be in wood.


To prove how BIG Italian wine production is, over the last 5 years to 2021, Italy has been the largest producer of wine in the world - pretty impressive, no? Average production size of 48 million hL no less!! Sizeable, with 44% exported.


North-East Italy


 🍷 TRENTINO - mostly a white wine region (over 75%) (think unoaked Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and some lesser known, Muller Thurgau), with reds in the form of Merlot, Marzemino and Teroldego. Trentino is a big diurnal range location, sheltered from the cold breezes in summer by the Alps and regulated Lake Garda, it is also cold in winter as the cold air from the mountains descends.

Max yields are around 100hl/ha, reds 90hl/ha. A vast array of grapes allowed in the region but predominantly known for Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. Local red varietals are Teroldego (black cherry), Marzemino (red cherry) and Lagrein (red cherry and black plum) which are all vigorous, mid to late ripening, deep coloured medium tannin wines.


 🍇Teroldego - most common black varietal. Pergola originally and now guyot trained, suffers from drying of the stems. 

🍇 Marzemino - black varietal prone to botrytis bunch rot and powdery mildew. 

🍇 Lagrein - requires plenty of warm sunshine to ripen fully. Can suffer from poor fruit set and low yields. Deep colour, the variety is also used for roses.

🍇 Moscato Rosa - makes rose scented sweet wines. Subject to poor fruit sets and botrytis bunch rot.

🍇 Nosiola - white variety in the Valley of the Lakes with a distinctive hazelnut character. Semi-dried versions are also made called Vino Santo. Susceptible to spring frosts, powdery mildew and sour rot!


Trentino allows wines to be in many different formats:


  • Bianco - min 80% Chardonnay or Pinot Bianco

  • Rosso - single varietal or blends of Cab Sav, Cab Franc, Carmenere and Merlot.

  • Single Varietal wines - min 85% of that said varietal.

  • Two Variety Blends - 50-75% of one of the two in the blend.

  • Rose wines



Typically in this region average holdings are pretty small and so co-operatives actually account for some 70% of total production!


🍷ALTO-ADIGE - predominantly making international varietals such as Pinot Grigio, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. 60% of production is white - remember Trentino is higher!

It is a mild Alpine continental climate, again protected by the cold winds. Vines are typically up between 300-700m of altitude. Rain is evenly distributed through the year but with 300 days of sunshine a year - it has a stunning backdrop of climate and a variety of soils too. Pergola or Guyot in training, leaf picking is encouraged in the vineyard to expose bunches and get further ripening - this aids sugars in the grapes to develop.


The TWO main growing zones in the region are:


  • Bassa Atesina (southern part of the province and slightly warmer)

  • Oltradige



🍇SCHIAVA - one grape that is used is Schiava. Grown on pergola, producing high yields. Pale ruby, with violet, strawberry aromas and a medium to light body with low tannins.

🙌 What is impressive is 98% of the region's wines are DOC level!!!

Again in this region, co-operatives are a major player with around 70% of production.

TIP: If you are looking for some wines from Alto Adige, look out for the branding on the bottle capsule - with the logo - Sudtirol.


🍷FRIULI-VENEZIA GIULIA - the most north-easterly region, on the border of Austria and Slovenia. 76% of the wine produced here is white. There are two distinct planting areas though, hillside (200-300m altitude) vs plains.

It is a warm maritime climate as it gets warm air from the Adriatic Sea but also offset by the Alps. High rainfall per year and so disease is a constant issue.


🍇51% of the grapes planted are Pinot Grigio and Glera, however there are a large number of other grape varietals - local (Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia Istriana, Verduzzo, Picolit, Refosco, Schiopettino, Pignolo, Tazzlaneghe), more Middle European (Riesling, Welschriesling, Gewurtztraminer, Muller-Thurgau, Blaufrankisch) and French (Merlot, Sauvignonasse, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Carmenere). 

🍇 Friulano - medium- floral and apple notes, medium to high alcohol and medium+ acidity. 

🍇Ribolla Gialla - white only grown in Collio and Colli Orientali, prone to shot berries. Citrus and pepper notes with high acidity.

🍇 Refosco - black grape, vigorous and late ripening. Red cherry and herbal flavours, high tannins.


🍊 Friuli and a small Oslavia region of Collio are known for their ORANGE wines. Long maceration periods, fermenting with ambient yeasts, no temperature control, no fining or filtration. Pronounced flavours of dried fruits, dried herbs, hay and nuts with medium tannins - all known outcomes of orange wines.

Max yields are different, with Friuli around 98hL/ha where as Collio is down at 77 hL/ha.


🍷 VENETO – Stretches from the southern end of Lake Garda in the west to Venice in the East. Veneto is the LARGEST wine producing region, home of not just Prosecco and Pinot Grigio but also Valpolicella and Soave.

Warm, moderate continental climate with moderate rainfall. Flat plain is affected by moist air and fog from the River Adige and the Po River Valley. Trunk disease, Esca is an increasing threat.

The large, flat fertile plain that is a mass expanse is the location for inexpensive, high volume wines across international varietals such as Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot (plus some local varieties too – Corvina, Garganega, Trebbiano).

 

🍷 SOAVE – based East of Verona, with again two distinct areas. Foothills to the north and flat plains to the south near the River Adige. The hillside locations are made up of limestone and clay and volcanic rock.

 

🍇 Garganega – white variety which is vigorous, large yields and late ripening. Trained on Pergola but nowadays a little more trellised. Susceptible to winter cold, mildew and botrytis. High acidity, medium body, medium intensity of lemon, apple/pear, white pepper and stone fruit. Best wines can be aged and produce almonds and honey notes. Wines made via the appassimento metho.

 

🍇 Soave DOC – grapes from the entire region of which a min must be 70% Garganega and upto 30% Trebbiano or Chardonnay. Max yield is a whopping 105Hl/ha. Sold from 1st Dec of year of harvest.

🍇 Soave DOC Classico – grapes from the hillside Classico region, max yield 98 Hl/ha. Sold 1st Feb the year after harvest.

🍇 Soave Superiore DOC – hilly zone of Recioto di Soave, max yield 70 hl/ha, sold 1st Sept year after harvest.

🍇 Recioto di Soave DOCG – delimited hilly zone, same blend as Soave but semi-dried grapes. Max yields much lower at 36 hl/ha, wines are rich, floral, honeyed, sweet wines with high acidity.


The area has fallen away in demand from the 60s and 70s predominantly due to the expanse of Pinot Grigio and so low quality Garganega is being uprooted and replaced by Pinot Grigio plantations. However, the elevated vines have seen a surge in demand and exports are still predominantly from the UK and Germany with in 2020 33 single named vineyards approved.

 

🍷 VALPOLICELLA – North of Verona. Foothills in the north have a slower process of ripening versus the southern flatter plains.

 

🍇 Corvina Veronese – Corvina – the most planted in Valpolicella. Vigorous and high yielding. Thick skins thus suitable for drying. Prone to downy mildew, botrytis and Esca. Mid to late ripening  variety. Suited to Pergola training, it doesn’t fruit on the first few buds of the cane and shade preents sunburn. Violet, red cherry and red plum with a herbal note. Low to medium tannins and high acidity.

🍇 Corvinone – ‘big Corvina’ arises from big clusters. Prone to downy mildew, non-uniform ripening is common. Adds tannin to blends as well as red cherry fruit and dries well.

🍇 Rondinella – Good disease resistance but prone to Esca. Gives simple, cherry fruit and does accumulate sugar very quickly (think of Recioto styles).

🍇 Molinara – high yielding variety, contributes acidity, red berried fruit and lightness.

 

🍷APPASSIMENTO – an important winemaking technique used in Soave and Valpolicella resulting in the wine being called….. PASSITO. (Well done to those who knew the answer).

Essentially, the grapes are picked and allowed to reach a semi-dried state before being crushed. The grapes are stored for 3-4 months in aerated loft spaces. Why? Well, it concentrates the flavour, raises alcohol levels and makes sweet wines.

Depending on the speed and length of time left for drying, the grapes lose around 1/3 of their weight. This loss of water leads then to higher sugar levels, potential alcohol, acidity, anthocyanins, tannins and flavour concentration too. Basically, you get more mouth feel because there is elevated glycerol levels.

The result is Corvina can produce either pale ruby, simple, fresh and fruity wines (Valpolicella) upto deep ruby, concentrated, complex, high alcohol wines with tannin and acid structures (Amarone and Recioto).

 

There is also of course rules behind the production of these styles:

 

-          Corvina and/or Corvinone must be 45-95% of a blend 

-          Rondinella -> 5-30%

-          Other authorised varieties like Molinara.

 

🍇Valpolicella DOC – Max yield 84 hl/ha, short maceration on skins wines with purple tints on the hue of the glass when young with red cherry, rose aromatics, low to medium tannins and medium to medium+ acidity.

🍇Valpolicella DOC Classico – from the hilly, defined Classico zone. Greater concentration.

🍇Valpolicella DOC Valpantena – from the Valpantena valley.

🍇Superiore – marginally higher alcohol level, often aged in large wood vessel for 1 year. Must be aged 1 year after 1st Jan of year after harvest.

🍇Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG – historic, sweet, semi dried grape, sourced from anywhere within the Valpolicella DOC. Grapes must be dried for 100-120 days, max yield 48 hl/ha. Intense red, fresh and dried fruit flavours, full bodied and medium+ to high tannins. Minimum 12% ABV and 50g/L residual sugar.


🍇Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG – modern dry or off dry semi-dried grape wine of Valpolicella. Grapes again can be sourced from anywhere within Valpolicella, max yield again is 48 hl/ha. Grapes are vinified after 100-120 days of drying, minimum 14% ABV but more typically 15% and above, often with 5-9g/l residual sugar. Aged for a minimum of 2 years in large casks (4 years for Riserva category). Intense cherry and dried fruit flavours with spice and wood, medium to high tannins, high acidity.


🍇Valpolicella Ripasso DOC – Ripasso method – unpressed grape skins with some residual sugar are taken after the fermentation phase of Amarone or Recioto. Newly made Valpolicella wine is then added to the grape skins for a second maceration. The grape skins give added colour, flavour and tannins. 10-15% of Amarone or Recioto must be added.

The resultant wine must have a minimum of 12.5% ABV (13% for Superiore level). Aged for 1 year after 1st Jan year after harvest. Medium to full bodied with medium+ tannins, fresh stewed red cherries and plums.

 

These wine styles are in high demand, Amarone having increased production 6-fold since the mid 1990s and Ripasso nearly 4-fold in the period 2006-2016. Production of Valpolicella though has dropped significantly (40%). 65% of Amarone is exported – predominantly to Germany, US, Switzerland and UK.


🍇Delle Venezia DOC - New DOC introduced in 2017. Replacing Pinoit Grigio delle Venezie IGP. These Pinot Grigio wines must be grown in the 3 regions of Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and Trentino-Alto Adige. It produces 85% of Italy’s Pinot Grigio and 40% of the world. Max yield is 152 hl/ha.  Light to medium- intensity, apple and lemon fruit, light to medium- body, medium alcohol, medium+ acidity.


🍇Bardolino DOC and Bardolino Superiore DOCG -  adjacent to Lake Garda. Mainly light bodied reds and roses. Wines are Corvina blends (35-80%) but with the possibility of upto 20% other authorised varietals. Merlot gets used a lot to boost red fruits and to get to a min alcohol of 10.5%, max yields 91 hl/ha. The rose is called Chiaretto – light, fresh, red fruit orientated with a medium salmon colour.


🍇Bianco di Custoza DOC – situated between Verona and Lake Garda. Mostly produces easy drinking, lightly aromatic, fresh white wines from blends of Trebbiano Toscano, Garganega, Friulano and Cortese.


🍇Lugana DOC – south of Lake Garda. Main grape varietal is Turbiana – same as Verdicchio. Medium aromatics with ripe apple, citrus, hazelnut, lively acidity and saline finish. Some can age for 5 years and longer.

 

NORTH-WEST ITALY

 

Piemonte region – known for Nebbiolo, some of the most prized Italian possessions!

However, it is also home to Barbera, Dolcetto and whites of Cortese and Arneis. Brachetto also makes rose wines.

Piemonte is a moderate continental climate, ie cold winters and warm summers. Protected again by the cold winds thanks to the Alps. Although it can be subject to thunderstorms, hail and fog! Late frosts can also be a tricky threat. Late rainfall in September and October can also be a hinderance.

 

🍇 Nebbiolo – Early budding, vigorous that ripens late. Pale ruby in colour, turning to pale garnet within 3-5 years, pronounced intensity aromas with violet, rose, red cherry and red plum, full bodied, high tannins, high acidity and sometimes high alcohol too. Works best on calcareous marls. Vines are pruned high as first buds do not produce grapes, single guyot the most common training system.

Clonal selection has been a mute point here, where given the popularity of the deeper wine styles, propagation of new vines has been the way forward but some like the producer Gaja, have moved more towards mass selection because they feel it has lost some of the local characteristics in the wine.


🍇 Barolo DOCG – Dry, tannic wine made from 100% Nebbiolo. Vines are planted south and south west facing, 200-400m altitude. DOCG max yield is 56 hl/ha. Plantings of Nebbiolo in Barolo have increased by 90%. Barolo has to be aged for 3 years and 2 months from 1st November of year of harvest, with 18 months min in wood. Riserva DOCG is aged for 5 years and 2 months and again min 18 months in oak!


Soils are varied but typically two main versions – blue/grey marl in the north and west of the denomination producing lighter more aromatic wines. In the south and east, less fertile and more yellow/grey compacted sand and clay, producing wines that are closed and tannic and should be cellared for 10-15 years.


🍇 Barbaresco DOCG – 100% Nebbiolo wines, around 1/3 of the size of Barolo. Slightly lower altitude and the climate is slightly warmer. Harvested typically a week earlier interestingly. Riper style means less ageing requirements – so min is 2 years and 2 months from 1st November of year of harvest and 4 years and 2 months for Riserva with both needing just 9 months in oak. Max yield is 56 hl/ha.


🍇 Nebbiolo is also grown in Roero DOCG – north of Piemonte and closer to Milan.


🍇Gattinara DOCG and Ghemme DOCG – continental climate with greater diurnal range than Barolo meaning wines of higher acidity. South facing sites, with 300m altitude, light bodied but pronounced intensity.


🍇Early drinking versions are from Langhe DOC Nebbiolo and Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC.

 

🍇 Barbera – most grown black variety in Piemonte, three times as much as Nebbiolo.  It is an early budding variety, prone to spring frosts. Vigorous and disease resistant, susceptible though to fan leaf virus. High acidity, low tannins. Easy drinking, medium to deep ruby colour, medium intensity red plum and red cherry, with black pepper aromas, high acidity, medium tannins, medium alcohol. 

🍇 Barbera d’Asti DOCG – max yield 63 hl/ha and aged for a minimum of 4 months (Superiore minimum of 14 months, with 6 months in wood). Yield of Nizza DOCG is limited to 49 hl/ha and aged for 18 months, 6 of which is in wood. As well as found in Piemonte DOC allowing up to 84 hl/ha.

 

🍇 Dolcetto – ripens early and can be grown on cooler sites. Susceptible to fungal diseases, it is fragile and has low vigour. Reductive in the winery, frequent pump overs or rack and returns needed. Stainless steel mostly used to preserve the primary fruit dynamics.

🍇 Dolcetto d’Alba DOC – max yield 63 hl/ha

🍇 Dolcetto di Ovada DOC and the Superiore DOCG – lower yields.

Dolcetto is deep ruby in colour, medium+ intensity red cherry with floral notes, medium- acidity, medium+ tannins.

 

🍇 Cortese – high yielding white variety, light intensity aromas of lemon, apple/pear, white flowers, high acidity and medium body. Thin skinned, susceptible to grey rot. Wines made as Gavi DOCG must be 100% Cortese – max yield 67 hl/ha. Riserva wines are limited to 45 hl/ha and must be aged for 1yr in vessel before release.

🍇 Arneis- most of it is grown in the Roero area. Light intensity but complex aromas of white flowers, chamomile, white peach and lemon. Medium- acidity. Roero Arneis DOCG must be min 95% Arneis, max yields 70 hl/ha.

 

High proportions of Barolo and Barbaresco is exported (80% and 60% respectively), with top markets as USA, UK, Scandinavia and Germany.

 

TIP: Whilst Barolo and Barbaresco have started to see price development heading into fine wine pricing in line with Burgundy, the area which offers some true value for money in the TNWG view is less expensive Nebbiolo wines at destinations like Langhe DOC Nebbiolo.



🗞️ LATEST DRINKS INDUSTRY ARTICLES 🗞️


WineGB has announced and launched its manifesto for growth, which identifies three main areas which require support from the new government that will be announced post General Election. It comes at the perfect time and should give pause for thought for those in UK government over our fastest growing agricultural industry.


OTHER ARTICLES THAT CAUGHT MY EYE THIS WEEK:



📈 MARKETS IN BRIEF 📉


On the week (as at 21st June 15:00 LDN) changes:

EQUITIES: ⬆️ FTSE 100 up 1%; ⬆️ DAX up 0.85%; ⬆️ S&P 500 up 0.8%; ⬇️ Nikkei 225 down 0.24%; ⬆️ Dow Jones up 1.8%;

COMMODITIES: ⬆️ Brent Oil up 3.5% ; ⬆️ Crude Oil up 3.4% ; ⬆️ Gold up 0.2%; ⬆️ Silver up 2%; ⬇️ Copper down 0.82%

BONDS (in yield terms): ⬆️ UK 2yrs higher 0.0105%; ⬆️ UK 10yrs higher 0.027%; ⬆️ German 10yrs higher 0.0375%, ⬆️ US 2yrs higher 0.031%; ⬆️ US 10yrs higher 0.043%;


It's been another rollercoaster week in markets. US S&P 500 equities, despite coming off towards the end of the week have been at or just below all time highs still showing real investment returns from standing long positioned. 


Politics have taken a lead role across US, France and the UK for the week with Question Time in the UK another opportunity to hear from party leaders. This coupled with a conflicting view amongst BOE members again led the BOE to keep rates on hold, not a surprise given the blackout into the election run and also with CPI still elevated, albeit back to levels not seen in the last 3 years.


Bonds almost unilaterally have gained in yield / lower in price, as rates have been maintained and interest rate savings accounts popped their head above 5% in the UK which is an investment opportunity here, especially as the expectation is still for the UK to cut rates before year end.

Main calls here:


  • Long US equities, especially tech / blue chip.

  • Long interest savings accounts at the max possible yield, remembering the FSCS cover upto £85,000 per firm and not beyond that amount.

  • Long short end gilts, especially 18 month low coupon gilts where you have the pull to par (move to a price of 100 at maturity) driving capital gains which are tax free.

  • UK Property - given there is a likely change to Labour, this will then see private school taxation causing many to be unable to fund children heading to private schools. The result is likely to be top state school catchment areas continuing to outperform, so a possible revenue driver there for investment or alternatively, if not needed and you are in an area, then hold waiting to sell optimally as you should see increased demand.

  • Fine wine - en primeur is effectively behind us, and although it was year on year substantially down on entry price, caution still needed as the industry has over the last 12 months repriced significantly. Only very top tiered names should be entertained like Mouton Rothschild, Lafite etc but it does also give rise to some opportunities for later vintage purchases given the reprice.



📢📢 ANNOUNCEMENTS 📢📢


A number of things coming up on the horizon in the land of The Northern Wine Guy to look out for and be aware of:



  • The latest podcast episode from the Series 'What Bottle Is On Your Table, Tonight?' as part of The Northern Wine Guy Podcast Show is out today, featuring the great Richard Bampfield . It was my absolute pleasure to talk to Richard who gave us insights into how he moved into the drinks industry, why the WSET and MW qualifications are a must for those wanting to learn more and the wonderful new project he is involved with for Wines of Ukraine !




  • For those in Sheffield, the latest Wine and Cheese Event in the new Cambridge St Collective can be found here. It will be a first Wine and Cheese tutoring - available for all in the area to join. Follow the link here to book your tickets for Thursday 18th July at 7pm:




  • This week The Northern Wine Guy was down in London for the wonderful showcasing of the Old Vines Conference headed by Sarah Abbott MW which was incredible and more to showcase from there in due course.




  • For those that have not seen on social media, my co-host for one of the podcasts and good friend, Oliver Shaw and I, are now taking control of a vineyard in Spain - so watch this space as we look to create our own wines.




  • Lastly, a true secret but letting out one or two headlines, a collaboration with Ian Proctor and Chris Hanson to create 'The Sheffield Table'. Stay tuned for more information, but suffice to say it is looking exceptional! Leah's Yard and elevated private dining is all I am saying for now, but if you are in #Sheffield or looking for special dining, this will be for you !



That's plenty from me this week, apologies for the deluge of information especially in Northern Italy.


Until next time,

Andy a.k.a. The Northern Wine Guy 

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