Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Gambero Rosso Italian Wine Master Class

Virtual wine tasting events are no stranger to me, especially in the era of COVID-19.  Get the box, open the box, log on and taste from home.  No social distancing to strain the process, no mask needed.  I was invited to take part in a Zoom gathering recently along with two dozen other wine writers.  The event was called the Tre Bicchieri Web Show, which featured twelve different Italian wines from various producers.  My shipment was delayed several times - it came from Italy, after all - so I didn't get to take part in the moment, but the box finally arrived and I was finally able to taste the wines inside.

The Tre Bicchieri Web Show was presented by Gambero Rosso, a Rome-based Italian wine and food magazine that was founded in 1986.  It was their first-ever Master Class, which indicates that there are more planned.

The interactive event was hosted by Lorenzo Ruggeri, the wine guide's international editor, with comments along the two-hour journey from each winery's representative.  This is the first of several articles on Now And Zin Wine which will feature the wines that were tasted.  We're starting with four amazing white wines.

Panizzi Vernaccia di San Gimignano

Tuscany's Panizzi built their company on this wine, which has been in production for some three decades. They say it's a modern interpretation of a wine some 800 years old.  The winery says that Giovanni Panizzi pioneered San Gimignano's modern Vernaccia renaissance.  The estate is now owned by Simone Niccolai, who continues to expand the vineyards.

The 2019 Panizzi Vernaccia di San Gimignano is made mostly from Vernaccia grapes.  That grape is known in Sardinia as Vernaccia di Oristano and in Marche as Vernaccia di Serrapetrona.  This one, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, has been declared by wine scientists as distinct from the other ones, and likely not related to them.  It is also possibly the oldest grape variety, but some feel it originated in Eastern Europe or Greece.  At any rate, this wine features mainly Vernaccia di San Gimignano, with a splash of Manzoni and Trebbiano.  The fruit was grown in all the various Panizzi vineyards - Larniano, Montagnana, Santa Margherita and Lazzeretto.  The winery’s representative in the web show was hopeful that wine lovers in the U.S. would rediscover the Vernaccia grape.

The wine was fermented in steel and aged there, on the lees, for five months.  Alcohol hits only 13% abv and the retail price is $18.

This Italian white wine sports a nose full of minerals and hard citrus with a nice savory streak to back it up.  The straw-colored juice has a fantastic salinity on the palate, which is mostly minerals.  The mouthfeel is a bit fuller than expected, but acidity is bright and fresh.  Pair this wine with seafood, especially shellfish or a creamy chowder. 

Boccadigabbia Colli Maceratesi Ribona Le Grane

Elvio Alessandri is the owner of Boccadigabbia, located in the Marche region.  The estate was once owned by a descendant of Napoleon Bonaparte, who planted French grapes there.  Those international varieties are still there, in the vineyards nearer to the Adriatic Sea.  Further inland - on the La Floriana estate near Macerata - Alessandri put in the more traditional Sangiovese, Ribona, Montepulciano and Verdicchio grapes.  All winemaking is done at the cellar in Civitanova Marche.  

The 2018 Le Grane was made from 100% Ribona grapes, grown in the sandy-clay soil of Marche.  The fruit was gently pressed, then fermented for about 12 days in stainless steel tanks.  This is where things get interesting.  Whole grape berries, picked slightly over-ripe, were added to the wine.  This is traditionally known as fare le grane, which I am told is Italian for "adding the berries."  The resulting second fermentation lasts another ten days, allowing more extraction of compounds and aromatics from the grape skins.  Alcohol hits 14.5% abv and the wine retails for $18.

This white wine smells peculiar, and I mean that in the best possible way.  The nose gives off Meyer lemon with some nuttiness and a side of lanolin.  There is great salinity in the wine.  It is peculiar because I find it uncommon, not because it tastes bad.  Quite the opposite.  The mouthfeel is full, even though the acidity snaps.  Citrus and minerals cover the palate, and it is the citrus that lingers longest in the ample finish.  I want to have it with bacon and eggs.

Zorzettig FCO Pinot Bianco Myò

It is a five-generation family affair in Friuli Venezia Giulia, where Annalisa Zorzettig now runs Zorzettig FCO while her brother, Alessandro, tends the vineyards.  The winery was founded by their father, Giuseppe, in 1986.  The operation is located on one of the highest hills in the Spessa di Cividale area, the heart of the Friuli Colli Orientali.  The area is in the northeast corner of Italy, bordering both Austria and Slovenia.  The Zorzettigs say their location is protected from the cold currents from the Alps while enjoying breezes from the Adriatic Sea.

The 2018 Myò Pinot Bianco was made entirely from Pinot Bianco grapes grown in the Friuli Eastern Hills vineyard, destemmed and softly crushed.  The land sports chalky limestone soil, which is always good for acidity and the flinty character of such wines.  The wine was aged on its lees for a little more than half a year, imparting additional weight to the mouthfeel.  During the web show, Ruggeri called it "clean and precise."  The wine's alcohol level is a restrained 13% abv and it retails for $27.

This white wine from the hills of Friuli is very pale in color and quite distinctive in the nose.  There is a hint of smoke which gives way to apricot and sea spray aromas.  The salinity shows up on the palate as well, where minerals rule and that apricot note follows, staying on the long finish.  A sort of toasty quality is in there, too.  I had it with some potato chips and an eggplant dish, and it was great with both.

Casalfarneto Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Classico Crisio Riserva

Casalfarneto specializes in wines made from the Verdicchio grape.  The winery is in the Marche region, near the northern border of the appellation.  The grapes for the 2016 Crisio Riserva were harvested in three different batches to help control the alcohol level and make it more summertime-friendly..  The early Verdicchio grapes - half of the wine's makeup - were fermented in oak, while the mid- and late-harvest grapes were vinified in stainless steel tanks.  All three groups were made separately and blended together after they were completed.  The finished wine aged for a year in steel, then longer in the bottle.  Alcohol hits only 13% abv and retail is $30.

This wine shows its partial oak treatment with a yellow-gold color.  There is also a hint of oak on the nose, but it is secondary to the citrus and the sea spray salinity.  The complex palate brings a Meyer lemon flavor tinged with apricot.  Acidity is perfect and the wine pairs great with my Anson Mills grits, but it's even better with grilled prawns.

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