Beaujolais Nouveau vs Vino Novello

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Some days ago I received a newsletter from the importer on how the 2017 Beaujolais vintage is faring. So I thought “Uh, it’s already that time of the year”.
As some of you may already know, Beaujolais Nouveau is still extremely popular in Japan (the second market after France). I drank some in the past and I am ok with it, but the logistics inevitably impact the price (it has to be transported by plane), so I always feel that I could buy something better for the same money.

Italian Vino Novello on the contrary is much more a niche market: some importers have it, some restaurants serve it and some people drink it, but it is seen more as a curiosity.

What is the difference between these two wines?

In terms of geography Beaujolais Nouveau AOC comes from the eponymous region, while Vino Novello is a category and enters a number of different Italian denominations: Bardolino Novello, Castel del Monte Novello, Monferrato Rosso Novello, Colli Tortonesi Novello, Marche Novello (this one an IGT) and the list goes on and on.
In this sense they are more akin to French Vins Primeurs, which includes not only Beaujolais, but also Languedoc Primeur, Anjou Gamay Nouveau or Ventoux Primeur just to name a few.

But there is another important difference: Beaujolais Nouveau is entirely made by carbonic maceration, the process where, in short, we take the grapes, we put them in a tank uncrushed and we fill the tank with CO2 to stimulate an intracellular fermentation. This gives us the characteristic aromatic compounds and mouthfeel of Beaujolais Nouveau. Semi-carbonic maceration is also practiced: here when we fill the tank the grapes on the bottom are crushed by the weight on those on the top, beginning to ferment normally. This fermentation produces also CO2 which, being heavier than the air, accumulates in the vessel. The grapes above, still uncrushed, end up in a CO2 rich environment, undergoing carbonic maceration.

With Vino Novello this process is used as well, but only 40% of the grape have to be made this way, the remaining 60% can undergo traditional vinification.
Here probably lies the biggest problem of this kind of wine: Vino Novello lacks a strong identity, it is difficult to market. There is no driving denomination, like Beaujolais Nouveau for Vins Nouveaux; most of Vino Novellos are quite obscure and even the famous denominations (Castel del Monte, Bardolino) are not generally associated with this kind of wine. The process lacks peculiarity: yes you can make some of it by carbonic maceration, but only a part of it is mandatory. At least the grapes have to come from the same vintage, no reserve wine allowed. In the end you rely on producers you trust, but why buying their Novello when you can have their other wines?

These are the reason why Vino Novello is living through a very difficult phase lately: in 2016 only 2 million bottles were produced, the lowest volume ever (only Beaujolais Nouveau makes more than 30 million bottles, even more in the 80s). Keeping anticipating the release date (now 30 October), to capitalize on the thirst for new wine, is not having any notable effect. Third thursday of November is sort of a tradition for Nouveau loving people. If the date keeps changing consumers will be confused and lose affection. As it stands it is more profitable to use the grapes for traditional wines.

This is a sad end for a wine boasting illustrious inventors: the firsts to make Vino Novello were none other than Angelo Gaja (Vinot) and Antinori (S. Giocondo), in the 1970s.

They have stopped a long time ago. Their “novello legacy” lives on, but until when?

Annunci

Louis Oudart, the French oenologist who invented Barolo. Or did he?

The “Oudart thesis”

There is a widespread belief that Barolo (by which term I mean the modern style, a red dry wine made from Nebbiolo grape in the surroundings of the town bearing the same name) has been invented by a French oenologist from Champagne, Louis Oudart. The story is reported by many reliable sites like Diwine Taste (here in English) or AIS Lombardia (the Lombard division of the Italian Sommelier Association) and even the recent “History of Wine in 100 Bottles” by Oz Clarke crowns Oudart as the inventor of this iconic wine (I still don’t understand how it is possible to write a book on wine history without any bibliography or references, but that’s another story).

This theory, taken as fact by many, was popularized by Manescalchi and Dalmasso’s “Storia della vite e del vino in Italia” (History of the vine and the wine in Italy), first published in 1937. I could not examine the original book or one of its later editions, but the story goes more or less like this.

Just before the half of the XIX century (around 1843) the famous Camillo Benso Count of Cavour, aiming to improve the quality of his wines, called Oudart to his estate in Grinzane. The count had a deep interest in agricolture and saw the technical improvement in this field as functional to support the kingdom’s finances. He was also Minister of Agriculture and Commerce for the Kingdom of Sardinia from 1850 to 1852.

Camillo Benso, count of Cavour

Camillo Benso, count of Cavour

Juliette Colbert of Maulévrier was one of his acquaintance: a noble woman born not far from Nantes, she was married to Carlo Ippolito Ernesto Tancredi Maria Falletti di Barolo (also known as Tancredi Falletti, marquis of Barolo). The two were a very good couple and though they never had any child they loved each other dearly. Juliette (Giulia Falletti di Barolo after marriage) also liked a good glass of wine, but the one produced in the Barolo area had too much residual sugar and was probably fizzy: Nebbiolo is a late ripening grape and the must fermentation probably stopped in winter to restart in spring, rarely coming to its end. Italy had still to achieve greatness in this field and its wines could not rival the french nectar that Juliette longed for.
She then consulted with his friend Camillo Benso asking for advice and the count introduced her to Louis Oudart, his french enologist. Louis Oudart examined the Falletti estates (in the area of Barolo) and corrected the wine making process by giving a number of advices, recommending to control the fermentation temperature in order to avoid residual sugar in the final wine. The Marquise was so satisfied by the result that she started promoting it passionately. Thanks to her the wine entered the court of Carlo Alberto of Savoy, king of Sardinia and prince of Piedmont, conquering the monarch and pushing him to acquire an estate in Verduno to start his own production.

When I first read this story I was very intrigued: as I wrote in the first post of this blog, many people wrongly perceive the history of italian wine as a long and uninterrupted line linking the Roman Empire with what we drink today. Too many Italians ignore the debit our wine has towards France. What would have been better to highlight this than crediting two French, Oudart and Juliette, for the invention of Barolo itself?
I started searching for sources and found a fantastic book from Anna Riccardi Candiani, “Louis Oudart e vini nobili del Piemonte” (Louis Oudart and the noble wines of Piedmont). My intention was too write a simple post re-telling the story and presenting some evidence, but the reality was a bit more complicated.

To tell the life of Louis Oudart the author has made deep researches, consulting archives and original documents from the civil registry of Reims, Bordeaux, Genova, the archives of the Royal Academy of Agricolture of Turin and others.
Louis Oudart was not just an enologist moved by academic interest, he was a wine merchant based in Genova leading the Maison Oudart et Bruché. In Burgundy we would call him a négociant, buying grapes or wine in the Ligurian and Piedmontese backcountry, bottling it and selling the final product. He had came to Italy with his cousin Jacques Philippe Bruché and had started his activity in Genova because of its healthy and flourishing french community. He was of course competent in his job and knew much about grape growing, but did not receive any special call by Cavour or Juliette Colbert.

At page 47 Candiani presents her shocking revelation (my translation):

Since many years the vox populi identifies Oudart as the inventor of Barolo wine. He would have been supposedly called by Giulia Colbert in Falletti, french like him, to work in the cellars of Barolo. Even though I made extensive research in archives and libraries, I did not find any document crediting a link between the enologist and Barolo. I am sorry to disappoint the supporters of this rumor and I must declare that the story has no basis.

The book is short (126 pages), but very informative and entertaining. If you can read italian I heartily recommend it.
Candiani tells us that Louis Oudart corresponded for some time with the Royal House and negotiated for the grapes produced in the estate of Pollenzo (personal resort of king Carlo Alberto). His 1844 Pollenzo featured in an international fair of London in 1862 with excellent results, but the parts could not reach an agreement over the price of grapes and the collaboration didn’t go further.
The enologist seems much more involved in the production of  Nebbiolo from Neive, today in the Barbaresco area, where he worked as an advisor for the count Camillo Bongiovanni di Castelborgo. The dry 1858 Nebbiolo from the maison Oudart and Bruché was particularly appreciated at the 1861 national exposition of Firenze and at the London International Exhibition of 1862: it had been made from grapes made into must and fermented until completion. An innovative technique, though it is difficult to establish if Louis Oudart has been the first to introduce it.

The “Staglieno thesis”

So if Oudart is not the inventor of Barolo, who is the father of this wine? One of the main suspects is Paolo Francesco Staglieno, a retired general who worked as enologist in the Pollenzo estate (the same with which Oudart had negotiated unsuccessfully the price of the grapes) and Grinzane, where he was called by Camillo Benso of Cavour in 1836 (and stayed until 1840). (1)

Supporters of the “Oudart thesis” often cite Staglieno by claiming that, although he was active in the same period in the area, his style of Barolo was “abboccato” (medium sweet), as opposed to the alleged dry Barolo of Oudart. This is much strange (and probably wrong) because Staglieno in his “Istruzione intorno al miglior modo di fare e conservare i vini in Piemonte” (Instructions on the best way to make and preserve wines in Piedmont, 1837) clearly states at page 68 that the best wine is made by fermenting the must to completion, without leaving any residual sugar. If he put, as it is very likely, his theories into practice and provided that he used 100% Nebbiolo, he could legitimately be called the inventor or at least one of the earliest vintners of modern Barolo. (2)
I could not find any documentation attesting the use of Nebbiolo in Grinzane, but writing about the estate of Pollenzo Staglieno confirms that the majority of the grapes grown there were in fact Nebbiolo and adds that wines made from this variety must age at least for four years before becoming enjoyable to the palate. (3) Pollenzo is in Bra, outside the area of modern Barolo production, but Staglieno shows appreciation for the grape and he may have employed it in Grinzane.

Conclusion

I started my research with the intention of making a simple post on Oudart, Juliette Colbert and Barolo, but in the end I could not find an answer to the question “Who invented Barolo?”.
Was it Staglieno? Maybe, though we cannot exclude the presence of someone else, unrecorded by history, making a dry red wine from Nebbiolo in the Langhe before him. Probably it is like trying to find the inventor of the méthode champenois: was he an english merchant, a monk from Limoux or what else? Impossible to say.
What we can say is that the XIX century was a very exciting period, one which really shaped the wine we drink today. Knowledge on how to make good wine was being passed all over Europe (and beyond), reaching the rolling hills of central Piedmont where people slowly started to improve their product by lengthening fermentations, giving more care to winery hygiene and choosing more suitable grape varieties. The disaster (oidium, phylloxera, peronospora) was behind the corner, but the seeds were being planted and the fruit is inside our glasses every day.

(1) Here a fantastic source on Staglieno. His presence in Grinzane is attested in a letter by the count of Cavour from September 22nd, 1836.

(2) Notice that today Grinzane is legally inside the Barolo wine area.

(3) The aforementioned resource on Staglieno at page 130 reports the extract, sourcing it from the Archivio di Stato di Torino (AST, Casa di S.M., M. 2591/1. Verduno 16 december 1839).

 

Leone De Castris, king of Salento markets shelves

I spent the last six days in the Salento peninsula, the heel of Italy’s boot, in Apulia region. I was on vacation, visiting relatives and the land of my ancestors. I more or less make a trip there once a year, but normally I content myself with the daily wines of my grandfather, rustic reds made of Negramaro and Malvasia Nera with a decent structure, but showing peculiar aromas of barnyard and countryside whom probably many modern tasters would not appreciate.
This time I decided to explore the big names, aiming at relatively expensive wines I would not normally consume in Japan. Nothing too fancy, bottles that you can find at your average supermarket, but above the basic stuff.
In Salento any grocery store will showcase its own selection of Leone De Castris wines. This company was founded in 1925, when Piero Francesco Leone married Anna Luisa Filippa De Castris and is located in Salice Salentino, north-west of Lecce. Today it produces a wealth of different wines, all in Apulia and especially in the Salento area. These wines are so ubiquitous in the shops of Lecce province, and so different in style, that I really don’t understand why I never saw them in Japan. I know that Nihon Liquor imports some, but my only encounter with Leone De Castris in Japan was when I ordered a terrible Locorotondo 2012, a very disappointing green, stalky, tart white wine and a complete waste of money. It seemed fair to give this company another chance and I was happy I did so: I could not taste every bottling, but the selection is very diverse and the price reasonable. Some of them could be valid alternatives to New World warm climate wines, others are more peculiar. I think that they should have more space on japanese market shelves

The official site is under construction, but I recommend this very informative producer profile on Diwine Taste.

Now on with the tasting notes.

2010 Leone de Castris Salice Salentino Riserva 89

Red, made from Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera.
Blackberry, black cherry, some spice and toast with earthy hints.
Good structure on the palate, medium plus body and tannin (which are quite ripe and do not stand in the way) and medium acidity.
The earthy character may not please everyone, but I find it interesting.

2010 Leone de Castris Donna Lisa Salento IGT 94

White, made from Malvasia Bianca.
Yummy and delicious. The medium gold colour announces intensity and ripeness and indeed the wine is plumpy: very ripe (almost jammy) apricot, peach, exotic fruits (mango) with hints of flowers, hazelnuts and honey after some time in the glass. Medium plus intensity both on the nose and on the palate, medium acidity and medium plus body. Good length and aftertaste of vanilla. It somehow reminded me of Huber Weissburgunder, but more fatty and tropical. Very nice in its genre, it could be a valid alternative also to warm climate Chardonnay.

2011 Leone de Castris il lemos Salento IGT  95

Red, Syrah 100%. 20 euros at the supermarket (in Apulia, where it is made), I think it could fetch the double in Japan.
This is a very soft and seducing style which somehow reminded me of Domaine Serene Rockblock Sono. Red cherry and red plum on the nose, with hints of cloves, toast and chocolate. Velvety in the mouth, full body with medium acid and medium plus ripe tannins. Long finish reminding again chocolate and vanilla.

This is undoubtly a New World style wine: technically perfect, it may be a little too “international”. Excellent nonetheless.

2014 Leone de Castris Messapia Salento IGT 87

White, made from Verdeca.
Aromas of jasmine, mint, green apple and pear and unripe pineapple. Medium plus acidity and medium body, some fresh herbal bitterness in the aftertaste.
Pleasant and fresh, not bland, it shows some personality and offers a set of enjoyable flavours.

2013 Leone de Castris Primitivo di Manduria Villa Santera 87

Red, from Primitivo.
Probably made from overripe grapes. It shows aromas of red plum jam, raisin and a bit of cinnamon and cacao.
In the mouth it has a perceivable sweetness, with medium plus body and medium acidity. Tannins are medium and very soft.
Sirupy wine, but it lacks some tannic structure. Very juicy.

A guide to XVI century italian wine: Sante Lancerio and Pope Paul III

Important, but almost unknown outside Italy, Sante Lancerio was pope Paul III bottigliere during his papacy (1534-1549). Basically his work was selecting the wines for His Holiness, arranging them during banquets and tasting them to verify their soundness, sort of “Renessaince sommelier”. This was a very delicate role, for the worst that could happen was not simply having to taste spoiled wine: poisoning was one of the favourite ways of killing enemies and Sante Lancerio’s duty was also to prevent this from happening to the pope, risking his life.

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Pope Paul III

 

Not much is known about him, but he left us an important legacy: his manuscript I vini d’Italia giudicati da papa Paolo III (Farnese) e dal suo bottigliere Sante Lancerio (“Wines of Italy, judged by pope Paul III and his bottigliere Sante Lancerio”). The work, composed around 1540, was first printed in 1876 (“La Rivista Europea”, volume 2)  in a version edited by Giuseppe Ferraro (here you find the first part of the original publication, while here is the entire book in a 1890 edition – italian language only).
The text is divided in two sections, the first recounting the diplomatic journeys of the pope around Europe and the wines encountered in the different countries and the second judging italian and foreign wines he had the chance to meet on his duty. Drinking then was very different from drinking today: there were no brands nor label, little was known about the single producers and while regions and areas are mentioned, the boundaries were far to be precise. Although such a guide would be useless to modern drinkers, the language Lancerio uses to describe flavors and aromas is incredibly modern and similar to our. Terms like “lapposo” (tannic), “potente” (powerful) or “mordente” (biting) are still used today by sommelier and enthusiasts. Also, the structure of his comments is very rational and not much different from modern reviews. The work also represents a good snapshot of the state of italian wines in XVI, what was deemed good and what not. Let’s see a little bit more in detail.

Wines to avoid

Lancerio does not spend many words on foreign wines, mainly because they were not easy to find and spoiled quickly, but he has harsh words for them. Those from Spain are said to be very powerful and deep red in color, though their hue is often obtained by adding chalk, not exactly a healthy way of vinifying. While said capable of aging a hundred of years when stored underground in big clay vats, for the author they are not “wines fit for Lords” and he’ll rather leave them to the Spaniards (“sicché sono vini da lasciarli bere a loro“). Those from France mainly comes from Avignon, Languedoc and Biona (Beaune?) and while sometimes delicate, they do suffer their trip to Italy. Those from Provence are earthy and smell of leather (corame) and boots, so that in Rome they are not wine for the Lords. No other countries are considered.
Other wines to avoid are Mangiaguerra from Naples, very powerful, good for drunkards and sycophants, to incite lust, and Vino Romano “wine from Rome”, considered not good for health, because enriched with spices, flowers and herbs. The author also rejects Vino Calabrese and Pasciotta from Calabria, Corso d’Elba from the Elba Island, Latino Bianco from Latium and Greco di Nola and Greco della Torre from Campania.
Notice that the word “Greco”, probably does not refer to a specific grape as it does today, but to a “greek style”, that is sweet wine with relatively high alcohol and solid body. Furthermore, while Lancerio pays great respect to Paul III judgements, he does not always completely agree with them: while the pope never drinks Vino Romano, the author judges some of them good and considers Latino Bianco a pleasant drink for winter.

Good wines

The majority of the wines reviewed by the author falls in this category: good and often enjoyed by the pope (and Lancerio we presume), they fail to be outstanding because better consumed in a particular season, not consistent in quality or uninteresting when taken out from the place where they are made. For the most part the names don’t tell us much and even though they come from regions we can find on a map, we don’t know how much they differed from today production.
He cites the Mazzacane from Vico e Sorrento, not far from Naples, often drank by Paul III during hot summers, a bit too delicate, but for this reason good to comfort the sick and for the women; the Vino di Salutio (today Saluzzo, Piedmont, not far from the Langhe), very good, but often spoiled in the trip to bring it to Rome (a problem shared with the wines from Cerveteri and Castel Gandolfo, near Rome); the Greco di Somma, from the Vesuvius area, remarkable for its strength and sturdiness: it does not suffer when transported and seems capable of aging (the pope prefers it when 6 or 8 years old), although it goes to the head very quickly.
On the other hand there are wines whom we easily recognize. One is the tuscan Trebbiano, praised for being very delicate, but also needing careful matching at table.

Non di colore acceso, ma dorato, di odore non troppo acuto, amabile, non dolce, non agrestino, anzi habbi del cotognino. 

Not too bright, but golden in color, not too sharp on the nose, off-dry, not sweet nor acidic, some hints of quince.

Then we find the Vino nominato Lagrima (Wine called Lagrima), a clear reference to today Lachryma Christi. Behind this name, the tear of Christ, there are many legends, but the author ascribes it to the sound the grape would have made when picked, a moan like they were crying. To be enjoyed it needs it has to be aromatic, rich (polputo), crispy (mordente) and not “completely white”. Some cunning merchants are said to mix red and white wines and sell the result as Lagrima so we can deduce that at the time it was probably more known as a rosé.
Moscatello and Malvagìa (Malvasia) are also mentioned in the text: the former comes from many places, but the best is the one from Genoa, the latter is brought from Candia, in the greek island of Crete. Lancerio advises against fat Malvasia, for the good ones are clear, sweet, round, gentle and not too alchoholic.(1)
Lancerio also laments the loss of two wines, that from Portercole and that from the Isola del Giglio. The first was so good that the pope considered it the best he had ever drank, off-dry, not too strong and reminding moscato. He especially praises the one from the vineyards of Agostino Chigi from Siena. Sadly the soldiers cut most of the vineyards, giving a fatal blow to its production. The second disappeared after the arabs devastated the island and the people deserted it, searching refuge on the continent. Today 1,400 people live there and their wine falls under the almost unknown “Ansonica Costa dell’Argentario” DOC.

95+ Lancerio Points

Now let’s look at the wines the pope and Lancerio enjoy above the others.
The Vino Aglianico from Somma, near Naples, is red and powerful, not less than the Greco produced in the same area, and the pope used to drink them often, calling it a warm wine good for old people.
Then there is the Vino di Montepulciano, somehow ancestor of the modern Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: it has good color, good aroma and good flavors and it is “most perfect” both in winter and summer. The red is considered better than the white, which is curious: a century later Francesco Redi would have sung the virtues of the white dessert wine of Montepulciano without even mentioning the reds of this region. Vino Nobile itself is much a modern wine, but it would be interesting to know what Lancerio was drinking at the time.
We already met the Vino Asprino in the first post, talking about Redding opinions of XIX century Italian wine. Three centuries before, the ancestor of the Asprinio di Aversa was already appreciated, at least at the papal siege: Aversa is explicitly mentioned in the paragraph and while the word “sparkling” does not appear in the text, this region wine is described as molto crudo (literally “very rough, coarse”) which let us think to a sharp, crispy drink (even though Lancerio prefers red Asprino over white one). (2)
San Gimignano, famous today for its Vernaccia, made at the time a very good vino Greco. Production volume was very low, but the quality was excellent: at its best the wine had good color, aromas and flavor, with a pleasant quince character and a good creamy body. Lancerio also reports of some buonissime vernacciuole, probably ancestor of the modern white wine of the area.
Other names, even though much praised by the author and the pope, don’t mean much to us: vino del CiragioCentula and vino Chiarello, reds from Calabria; Coda di Cavallo (horse tail) a sweet wine whose color we don’t know; vino della Tolfa and vino di Albano, produced near Rome. Lancerio also introduces us to wines made in lands owned by the pope or his family, the Farnese: the vino della Magliana and the vino di Caprarola are described as excellent although, being Lancerio a faithful servant of the pope, we don’t know how much sincerity there is in such judgements.

Finally, let’s look to what is rated as the best of all, the true 100 points cult wine: the vino di Monterano. Here is my translation.

It is brought from a castle of this name, one day of travel from Rome. This wine is so good that if I had to tell its goodness, it would take too much and I could not write and praise it as it deserves. It has all the property that there should be in a wine, there is color, scents, flavors, the fragrance of the violet at the beginning of the season, a delicate ruby hue and a taste which leaves the mouth as if you had eaten the best muscat. It’s slightly sweet, with a bite so pleasing that makes you cry from joy. It is good as aperitif, it is good as digestif, it’s nutritious and gentle, so that for me a Lord cannot drink a wine better than this. This wine is suited to all courses, it’s never harmful, on the contrary, even red it clears the stomach, so that you can drink it as a digestif. His Holiness often enjoyed it, since the new wine was ready. First at S. Martin (November 11th A/N), because before he would not try new wines, nor drink any, then he would have drunk the sweet ones all through May, and also, if still good, to July. The dry ones he would drink in the rest of the season. Many prelates would like to drink this wine, but the place is small and makes few of it, so they must have patience.

This should have been the Sassicaia of Renaissance, the Falernum of early modern age. But where is Monterano and what makes today? Maybe some Frascati or Castelli Romani DOC?
No. Sadly the town was destroyed in 1799 by the French and never recovered, today it is a ghost town in the commune of Canale Monterano. Bread-making and oil production thrives in the place, but no grape is grown anymore. The best wine at the papal siege is destined to remain a legend: Lancerio with his writing gave us at least a sparkle of his glory, but made us also wonder about what will be left of today wine 500 years in the future.

(1) Here the author uses two words which often recurs in the text, fumoso and matroso. I spent a lot of time wondering about their real meaning: fumoso in modern italian means “smoky”, but this does not seem to apply here (at least not in the “smoky, flinty aroma” sense), while for matroso I had no idea. For the former I found a possible explanation herefumoso would stand for “too much alcoholic”, as used also by the italian poet Carducci.
On the other hand matroso should come from the word madre, which in italian means “sediment, deposit” (in addition to the obvious “mother”). A vino matroso is therefore a wine cloudied by too much lees and sediments (see Vocabolario Etimologico della Lingua Italiana by Ottorino Pianigiani, vol. 2, page 790, here).

(2) The word crudo may also stand for uncooked: wine were often cooked because this process made them more durable, but this would not be the case for Asprino.