Mixing it up in Italy

Robert Joseph discovers a trio of wines at Vinitaly Special Edition that make him rethink his position.

Three very different wines
Three very different wines

I don’t do wine reviews any more – after writing them daily for over 20 years, but this week, I have a reason for wanting to talk specifically about three wines.

Brasa Coèrta 2018 is the first wine of its kind that I’ve ever tasted. Produced in a 1.2ha vineyard from hand-picked grapes that are left in boxes for ten days before crushing, it’s fermented using its own yeasts and is neither fined nor filtered. It’s a natural Valpolicella, and rather lovely in its bright fruit and granular texture.

It comes with the kind of child-like label design that I now associate with many natural wines and is blessed with distinguished Italian godparents in the shape of Diego Rossi, owner-chef of Trippa restaurant in Milan and a natural wine enthusiast, and the viticultural consultant Lorenzo Corino.

Hey French Edition II is another novelty. A blend of four vintages – 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 – it’s also an assemblage of – principally – Garganega, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon from variously located vineyards in the eastern part of Soave. Each of the wines is made using selected yeasts and there is a limited amount of malolactic fermentation. All of the wines get six months in oak before going into stainless steel to await final blending. This is no natural wine, but it is a lovely, complex effort, that somehow evokes thoughts of Meursault and dry Loire Chenin. The oak is very much in the background, and there’s lots of richness balanced by fresh acidity. It’s a fascinating wine that, despite a lack of vintage and not reflecting any particular DOC or DOCG, won the prize for top Veneto white at MundusVini 2020.

Teasing the neighbours

The label here - by the French artist CB Hoyo - is punkily handwritten, and unashamedly confrontational: “HEY FRENCH. YOU COULD HAVE MADE THIS, BUT YOU DIDN’T”.

Only 30,000 bottles were produced, and I’d happily put some bottles away to see how they evolve, while having a few on hand to enjoy next year.

And finally, there’s a Primitivo aged in Cognac barrels, called Roosevelt Riding a Moose. Actually, there’s also a Cabernet Sauvignon that got the same treatment, but of the two I preferred the former, and to be frank would not choose to buy either. The Primitivo has some sweetness that makes it better suited to carry the brandy in a way that competes with the Bourbon Barrel Californians on which it is clearly modelled. It may not be to my taste, but I can see it doing well in the US.

What caught my attention about these three wines that I’d never seen or tasted before I was introduced to them by Cecilia Pasqua was that they were all produced by company that belongs to her family. They reflected the way that just as classical musicians can do jazz and comedians play Hamlet, there’s no reason why any wine producer has to be pigeon-holed into a particular style.

But that’s not often the way we look at the wine industry.

In this week’s newsletter, there’s a story [LINK] about Philip Cox who ‘almost got hate mail’ for daring to produce natural wine in his large commercial winery in Romania. I’ve also been guilty of this narrowness of vision when I’ve questioned whether Jacob’s Creek, a big brand notable for the relatively purist nature of its wines, should be making Bourbon- and Rum-Barrel wine. No one has to buy and drink every item in a producer’s portfolio, and wines I enjoy, others may hate and vice versa.

What matters is that each wine has its own character, makes sense in its own terms and gives pleasure to the people at whom it is targeted.

And if experimentation, including the novel use of Cognac casks, helps to achieves that objective, I for one, am delighted.

Robert Joseph



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