Wine Review: Modern Italian Traditionalists

11 10 2017

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

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Reunited with Italy.

I don’t know why, but before yesterday I hadn’t had a bottle of Italian wine for a long, long time.  I’m not a hater or a New World purist; I have a bunch of Italy in my cellar and rank certain Italian bottles and regions among my favourites in the world.  I’ve just been through a phase where nothing has drawn me to that corner of my wine racks in a number of months…there has always been something more enticing to my senses that has kept the country in the press box.  Well, no more:  in order to restore equilibrium to my wine world and reacquaint myself with one of the two traditional cornerstone nations of viniculture, I cracked a pair of Italian bottles last night and reminded myself of why Italy is viewed so loftily by grape lovers everywhere.

On the surface, the two bottles seemed to have very little in common:  one was playful pink bubbles, while the other was a legacy Chianti crafted to centuries-old founder’s standards.  But both in their own way were asserting their place in the often-calcified lore of Italian wine history.  The pink bubbles hailed from the province of Treviso in northeastern Italy, just north of Venice, the world home of Prosecco; but it couldn’t be called Prosecco by virtue of its hue and its choice to forego the region’s Glera grape (which was previously also called “Prosecco” in an attempt to be as confusing as possible), which took the wine out of the threshold criteria of the Prosecco classification. Even though it was produced by a generations-old Prosecco house, it wasn’t Prosecco, and it was OK with that, ambling on its merry mission to bring joy to those who opened it.  The Chianti was a modern take on a wine made to the recipe of a 19th century legendary figure, the one who first set down what it legally meant for a wine to be a Chianti.  While the first bottle gleefully acknowledged its place on the parallel track from history, the second not only embraced its history but walked in its footsteps.  In their own way, I admire each for their paths taken.

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La Gioiosa et Amorosa Rosea Brut NV

La Gioiosa got its intriguing name from the old Italian saying “marca gioiosa et amorosa”:  “march with joy and love”.  It is primarily known for its Proseccos, high-value bubbles that are exploding in popularity at the moment, their price kept wallet-friendly by virtue of the fact that, unlike Champagne, the secondary fermentation creating their fizz does not occur within each individual bottle but in large pressurized tanks, dramatically increasing ease of production and economies of scale.  True Prosecco has to be at least 85% Glera and is always a white wine.  This is, well, not that.  At 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Blanc, it is more red than white, though each varietal is pressed separately before being mixed together pre-fermentation.  It certainly does not shy away from a little colour.

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The Rosea Brut is a daringly deep and vivid flamingo pink with feisty bubbles, excitable and showy right out of the bottle.  The nose is all fun, immediately bringing to mind strawberry marshmallow candy (with which I was far too acquainted in junior high), pink lemonade and darker fruits (grape? currant?) laced with talcum powder minerality. Full and fleshy on the tongue, with a measured hit of retained sweetness (14 g/L) scoured by swirling carbonation, this rose goes from serious violets, pear and quartz to downright silly tutti frutti and fuzzy peach and back again in the blink of an eye, making you check your Prosecco premises at the door.  Absolutely crushable and best enjoyed on its own, pre-dinner, without pretension.

86+ points

$20 to $25 CDN

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Cork Ratings:  7.5/10 & 4.5/10 (Wire cage on the bubbles adds to the super-classy packaging; Brolio never quite gets past boring.)

2013 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Brolio Bettino

The name is a bit of a mouthful, but it pays a very specific tribute to an ancestor who played a pivotal role not only in the development of the Ricasoli winery but in the development of Chianti in general.  Bettino Ricasoli was, among other things, a two-time Prime Minister of Italy, founder of a national newspaper and son of a baron.  He also had a highly excellent moustache, if artists’ renditions are to be believed.  But he may now be best known as the person who, in 1872, established and codified the permissible parameters for the production of Chianti wine, coming up with the traditional varietal formula (mostly Sangiovese, with Canaiolo and Malvasia) and upending the prevailing thought at the time to use primarily Canaiolo (good call).  The Chianti “recipe” has changed somewhat since the 19th century, but it has steadfastly remained rooted in Sangiovese, the grape that now is the basis for its legend.

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Ricasoli has produced the Brolio Bettino Chianti Classico with a view to reflecting Bettino’s vision for Sangiovese and the production methods and flavour elements en vogue in his time.  This has ironically resulted in a wine that feels remarkably modern in many ways, focused on pure fruit and made using old-made-new-again techniques like no filtration and large cask maturation that are again in style in 2017.  Bettino’s tribute is 90% Sangiovese and 10% Colorino, the latter of which is my all-time favourite self-describing varietal name, as it is used almost exclusively to add colour to red blends.  (Aside that may only be interesting to me:  the tech sheet calls the second varietal “Abrusco (Colorino)”, and various other sources use one or the other interchangeably, but they might not actually be different names for the same grape; they are likely instead similar but distinct varietals.  In other words, I’m not sure if this is 10% Colorino, but I’m going to run with it because I like the name so much.  Journalism!)

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Just ignore the costumes hanging from the stairs.  I have kids.

The first evident thing about this wine is its deep, shimmering, just-shy-of-opaque ruby hue, an utterly gorgeous colour to behold (Colorino!!!).  It comes across far more primary than most Chiantis, the standard sun-baked earth aromas of the region replaced with fresh cherries and Saskatoon berries, yet still tinged with savoury herbs and mint.  The Old World strikes back somewhat on the palate, bringing welcome restraint, control and character to what I initially worried might be an overly forward rendition of a classic wine.  Not so:  rhubarb, dusty earth, dark chocolate and black olive join Sangiovese’s famed sour cherry on a polished frame that never feels heavy, creating an epic balance of traditional yet sleek, like a vintage roadster.  Thanks for all the Sangio, Bettino.

90 points

$35 to $40 CDN

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Just stellar packaging for a $20 non-Prosecco.  Beautiful.

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