Friday, October 27, 2006

...and So to Bisol - the Hunting trip part III

After half an hour (sic) of motorway travel it was a relief to be on the Strada del Prosecco between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. As we wound our way up into the stunning hillside countryside we made the most of our time by practicing our pronunciation of Valdobbiadene (AL won hands down with his interpretation). We arrived at Relais Duca di Dolle in the heart of Bisol’s vineyards and were awestruck at the beauty of this converted farmhouse with state of the art facilities and …swimming pool: the book was open. After having secured half a case of Jeio we settled down by the poolside to soak up the views of the rolling hills before meeting our engaging host Giovanni Oliva for supper at Gigetto’s. We took aperitif down in the Aladdin’s Cave of a wine cellar that occupies 3 main tunnels under the Restaurant: Tom Dick and Harry. The owner of this restaurant has spent the past 40 years cherry picking the finest wines, cognacs, champagnes etc from around the world. Amongst the 1500 bin cellar we spotted Grange, Petrus, Petaluma and Stonier to name but a few. But tonight was about Bisol and it was a pleasure to be joined for dinner by 28th generation Gianluca Bisol.

Before we arrived the Bisol family owned no fewer than 50 hectares of DOC vineyard. In an area where the average vineyard holding is around 1 hectare and the larger producers are forced to buy in most of their grapes, the Bisol family are able to protect the very high quality standards that have set them apart from every other Prosecco producer (as we were about to find out). On the day of our arrival Gianluca and his family completed on the purchase of an additional 30 hectares of DOC vineyards and we were delighted to be able to celebrate with Gianluca and Giovanni. Going forward the family are also looking at various interests outside of their traditional area so watch this juicy space.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

More Hunting in Italy - Make mine a Valpol

Nicolis – Valpolicella (Lit: Valley of many cellars!)

After getting to know the back roads of Valpolicella we arrived at the family owned Nicolis winery in the heart of the Classico appellation. The winery has always had a strong reputation for high quality wines and today that tradition is being carried on by the three sons of Angelo Nicolis. Each son specialises in one of the 3 key fields (viticulture, vinification and commercial) and true to Italian form their activities are supervised by Mamma Natalia.

We were welcomed by a sparklingly enthusiastic Alexandra who guided us through the winery and made us feel a lot more knowledgeable about the hierarchy of Valpolicella wines.
It was also very interesting to see the grapes that had been picked the day before, now resting in shallow crates and beginning their 3 month dry out period in well ventilated “chill-out” rooms – destination Amarone.

Over lunch we tasted our way through the hierarchy and at every level the Nicolis boys are doing very well indeed. In particular the Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2004 sang out. It showed concentration, depth, smoothness and above all balance. The camp was divided over which was top of pops: was it the brooding Amarone Classico, the luscious Recioto (made from same grapes but with a drop of noble rot settling in) or the unconventional yet gutsy Testal (using more than 80 % Corvina therefore de-classified). However we were all bowled over by the Amarone Classico Ambrosan; mouthwatering, dense, perfumed and utterly butterly. Alexandra then revealed that at a recent Amarone Classico competition (32 wines entered) only 3 wines received 5 stars. The first two were super-duper £150 plus wines and the third was our very own Nicolis Amarone Classico Ambrosan at a remarkable £80 on a wine list! At this stage you can forgive us for being in high spirits; even the sparklingly enthusiastic Alexandra couldn’t resist the infectious joviality of AR (Photo) but alas it was time to move on.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Hunting in Italy

(Not a story about taking potshots at North Italian fauna; rather the Bibendum "Hunting Team"'s exploits in the Alto Adige, Veneto and Valpolicella.)

Alto Adige - Day One
What a welcome sight it was to see our host for the day Urs Vetter (pictured), sitting on the wall ready to welcome us into the courtyard of the idyllic winery of Alois Lageder. Not sure if it was as welcome a sight for him to see a 14 strong group of Bibendumites eager to experience Lageder.

After refreshing our spirits with an aperitif of 2005 Gewurztraminer we settled down to lunch to enjoy the very local and very seasonal produce. Before a proper look at the entire line-up of the latest vintage we needed to understand more about the Trentino Alto Adige region. Urs led us into the vineyard, passionately explaining why he believes the unique soils, topography and micro-climate of the valley result in some of the finest white wines in Italy. The tasting that followed confirmed what he was talking about. Looking back at my notes there are certain words that are repeated: finesse… freshness…purity…elegance..., but certain wines stood out: Benefizium Porer Pinot Grigio puts to shame a great slew of Pinot Grigio wine available in the UK. (In the evening we were to be treated to the same wine from the 2001 vintage and it is unbelievable how vibrant and clean it still is).The seductive minerality and mouthfeel of Haberlehof Pinot Bianco 2005 (AKA The Hof) makes it easy to understand why in Italy, this variety is more valued than its poor cousin Pinot Grigio. The indigenous Lagrein Rosato 2005 re-affirmed its position as the mother’s milk of Bibendumites.
We had to see where these wines are made so Urs guided us down the gravity-led, bio-sustainable winery which was completed in 1996 as a response to the very real effects of climate change on viticulture. Space here doesn’t permit me the luxury of singing from the rooftops about this wine making facility. Alois Lageder has taken a visionary lead in creating a natural and healthy environment for both man and wine. Strangely, this is expressed in all of his wines.

Visit over, and the group settled into the hotel. Now, we all welcome a bit of team bonding but the matrimonial beds in the double rooms were a step too far and having requested a slight bed re-arrangement we headed off to meet Alois and Urs for dinner. Again, seasonality and freshness was the order of the day for the food. Locally hunted deer (aha! it is a piece about hunting - Ed) and line-caught fish from nearby Alpine streams were complimented by some of Alois’ library stock of wine. Conversation then led to what interests Alois outside of work. He loves contemporary art and aside from heading up the executive board at Bolzano’s Institute of Modern Art he has been involved in a lengthy stand off with Italian bureaucracy to convert a defunct dinosaur of a building into a playground for home grown contemporary artists. This passion extends back into the winery where selected artists have been part of a project to integrate objects and installations into the fabric of the wine making process…and yes the maturing barriques are treated to the sound of JS Bach’s Sixth Brandenburg Concerto that fills the cellars with a meditative atmosphere!

The evening was rounded off by a surprise game of “Guess Who?” (copyright The Horn) whereby Ms LT and HS produced secretly obtained photographs of the team in their infancy. Needless to say this led to a variety of responses from gasping disbelief to shuddering embarrassment…and plenty of guffawing.

One of the reasons why Lageder’s wines have such phenomenal success is down to the personality and passion of Urs and Alois and how they carry that on their travels: they get on planes and spread the word. We left the winery the next morning thinking that for a change, it had been a great privilege to return the compliment of the visit.