Custoza, if you’ve not heard of it, is located Northern Italy in the Provence of Verona—comprised of nine townships, named after village of Custoza, a hamlet of Sommacamapgna. The hills originate from glacial deposts between Verona and Lake Garda – massive amount of deposits created an incredibly complex and variable soil situation. The main soils are calcareous clay, interspersed with gravelly rocks and sand. It is this soil structure that greatly differentiates Custoza from surrounding DOCs. It is the soil that creates a uniqueness to the white wines produced, providing a savoriness that will make any doubter of the reality of ‘minerality’ a true believer.
Other key characteristics to know: The DOCs microclimate is greatly influenced by its proximity to Lake Garda (blue blob on above map). The summers are hot, but not muggy; winters are cold, but tempered by Lake Garda which retains warmth well into the cooler season. The temperature variations during the growing season mean that grapes can consistently maintain a high level of acidity, generating freshness in wines produced and aiding in age-ability—yes, in white wines.
The uniqueness of the microclimate not only provides idyllic conditions for viticulture, but also allows for successful growth of other plant life such as olive and cypress trees—the latter of which is quite rare.
Custoza became a DOC in 1971 and its historical boundaries have never changed.
There are four principal varieties make up the backbone of Custoza: Garganega, Terbbiano Toscano, Trebbianello (local biotype of Friuliano), Bianca Fernanda (clone of the Cortese grape). The wines must be made from at least three of the aforementioned varieties for a minimum of 70%. None can exceed 45% of the blend. These more strict regulation were put into affect as of 2019 which many say has gives the region and wines a more specific identity.
Garganega contributes an elegant perfume and a more modest acidity level compared to other Italian grapes. Trebbiano is noted for its crisp acidity and lower sugar levels. Trebbianello adds flavorsome notes of citrus, almond, and a ‘lively fruit sensation.’ Bianca Fernanda, too, is noted for pronounced citrus aromas, a crisp, and altogether linear, acidity.
Others grapes that are allowed in the final blend include Riesling, Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc), Chardonnay, Malvasia and Incrocio Manzoni.
Custoza is always a white wine, but there are a few different ‘versions’ produced:
Custoza: the most common, most versatile, and considered the ‘backbone of the DOC.’
Custoza Superiore: deeper in color, these wines have a bit more structure and depth with very good aging potential. The wines are said to develop mineral-driven sensations over time and, even in their youth, work well with more elaborate, heartier dishes.
Custoza Riserva: must reach 12.5 percent alcohol and be aged for 12 months
Custoza Spumante: aka a fizzy/sparkling expression. The wine may be produced by either the classic/Champagne method (second fermentation in bottle) or the tank/Charmat method (pressurized tanks). The sweetness ranges from completely dry (zero dosage) to demi-sec.
Custoza Passito: made from grapes which dried post-harvest, either by cutting the vine shoot and leaving them to dry in the field or by harvesting the grape clusters and drying them on straw mats or as curtains in a temperature/humidity controlled room. They must have a potential alcohol level of 13 percent.
As the title of this post suggests, I participated in a tasting of Custoza wines during a webinar moderated by Kerin O’Keefe. Kerin is a wine critic, speaker and author (Brunello di Montalcino: One of Italy’s Greatest Wine; Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine). She is also the Italian editor for Wine Enthusiast as well as producer of her own wine website and blog, KerinOKeefe.com
During this time, we tasted through six wines—three Custoza, three Superiore. But as you’ll see, a few different wine production methods were utilized, including passito, making for a diverse tasting of complex white wines.
Massimo Ronca 2020 Custoza
About the Wine: Blend of Garganega, Trebbianello and Trebbiano Toscano
All grapes were kept separate throughout the vinification process. The wines were fermented and aged in 100% stainless steel and kept on the lees for about four months before the final blend was created, bottled, and released.
Appearance: pale lemon
Aroma: medium (+) intensity—lemon zest and pith, green apple, apple blossom, vanilla, just ripe white nectarine, hint Greek yogurt, wet grass, wet stone
Palate: dry, high acid, medium alcohol, medium body (soft, almost round texture with acidity piercing through center like a fine needle); medium (+) flavor intensity (as above)
Finish is medium
Conclusion: This is a very good wine with a great variety of aromas and flavors that range from citrus to pom fruits and incorporate more earthy aromats such as wet grass and that wet stone minerality. The high acid keeps the freshness of this wine alive from start to finish; the slight Greek yogurt note from time on the lees adds a bit of body and structure as well as lends to a delicate richness in the mouthfeel. However the finish does fall at a solid medium length, with that high acid ultimately taking over. But this wine is definitely of very good quality. Suggested food pairings from the winery include seafood risotto or grilled white meats.
More Info: cantinaronca.it/en/
About the Wine: A massive blend of 40% Garganega, 10% Trebbiano, 20% Trebbianello (Tai), 20% Bianca Fernanda (Cortese), and 10% combination Riesling, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, and Incontro Manzoni
All grapes were destemmed and underwent a short prefermentation maceration on the skins before gentle pressing. Fermentation took place in 100% stainless steel and spent some time on the fine lees post fermentation. Suggested food pairing from the winery include fish salads, grilled vegetables and mushroom dishes.
Appearance: pale lemon
Aroma: medium intensity—lemon, lime, grapefruit, jasmine blossom, hint vanilla and vanilla flower
Palate: dry, high acid, medium body, medium alcohol (almost a bit effervescent on the palate); medium flavor intensity (as above)
Finish is medium
Conclusion: This is a good wine that has joy in its simplicity of winemaking style. There’s a good dose of high acidity that keeps the fresh citrus fruits (lemon, lime, grapefruit) alive from start to finish. Medium level of alcohol helps create the overall medium body, thus there is some weight and structure. Intensity of flavors and aromas are all at a solid medium, as is the finish, thus there is nothing outstanding about the wine. But, again, it is the easy simplicity of the wine and wine style that I think is the goal and, assuming that’s the case, it is executed quite well.
More Info: albinopiona.it
Gorgo 2020 San Michelin
About the Wine: A blend of Garganega, Cortese Trebbiano, and Riesling
The grapes are said to have been harvested from 40 year old vines.
According to the winery, after a ‘late harvest,’ the grapes underwent a short pre-fermentation maceration for about 36 hours followed by 6 months of battonage. The wine aged for about 6 months—vessel unknown—and then aged for an additional 2 years in bottle before release.
Appearance: medium lemon
Aroma: medium(+) intensity—lemon, lime, yellow peach and nectarine, jasmine and orange blossom, hint flint and smoke, wet stone
Palate: dry, high acid, medium body (but somehow feels fuller than the other two—riper fruit profile?), medium (+) flavor intensity—as above, adding a hint of navel orange as well as a touch of leesy-ness
Finish is medium (+) [just shy of long]
Conclusion: This is a very good wine that, as noted, shows a bit more weight and lift than the previous two—though it is still a solid medium body, just a different quality of medium (if that makes sense). Again we have that wonderful high acidity that provides a continuous freshness of fruit flavors but that finty/smokey/wet stone minerality adds depth of flavor even in the primaries. Though not as obvious on the nose, the palate shows a nuanced level of lees-yness that adds an elegant richness in the backbone of the wine.
Here, the finish is just shy of long at a very lovely medium (+) with lingering notes of those orange and orange blossom notes.
More Info: cantinagorgo.com
Cavalchina 2019 Amedeo
About the Wine: Blend of Garganega, Bianca Fernanda (Cortese), Trebbianello, and Trebbiano Toscano
“The different ripening time and characteristics of the four grapes has suggested over the years various wine making techniques, leading us to the one that has allowed us to achieve an elegant and complex white.”
According to the winery, all grapes were harvested separately in small batches. The Bianca Fernanda grape, specifically, was refrigerated until frozen before pressing. The temperature is then brought back to an even 0°C for pressing—with stem inclusion. This technique is said to increase the varietal expression of the grapes by breaking the epithelium cells during the freezing process. Garganega, with its “elegant, but pronounced, personality” underwent some light reduction to help develop the mineral notes. Trebbiano and Trebbianello were vinified more “traditionally.” The wines were allowed to age on the fine lees; malolactic conversion was inhibited.
Appearance: medium lemon
Aroma: medium (+) flavor intensity—hay, beeswax, almond skins, lemon, green and red apple and their skins, green pear and pear skins, yogurt, toasted bread, vanilla, nutmeg, toast, flint/smoke
Palate: dry, medium (+) acid, medium alcohol, medium body, medium (+) flavor intensity—as above, adding a hint of apricot (and skins) as well as just a touch of dried apple and apricot and a hint of clove spice
Finish is medium (+), just shy of long.
Conclusion: This wine is of very good quality and, I must note, the first one to exude any kind of potential for development for me (notes of hay, almond, apricot skins and dried apple)—which is funny because this is the one in the screw cap…
Hello everybody. I am Francesco of Cavalchina. After some vintages of tests we decided to bottle our Custoza Superiore Amedeo also with screw cap because we consider it a better closure. Better for aging and to conserve the wine without influence from the cork.
Again, a bright intensity of acidity keeps the fresh fruit flavors alive from start to finish and there’s a strong incorporation of earthy tones in the toasty/flinty/smokey notes. While I do get some spice notes such as vanilla, nutmeg and clove, I get the sense that these are grape characteristics more so than any kind of secondary (read: oak) notes—but cannot confirm that as of this writing. I will circle back if/when I find out more.
The wine is well balanced structurally, with a solid medium alcohol level that does not overwhelm the nuances of the grape characteristics. And I found a good level (medium (+) ) level of intensity of aromas and flavors that carried through to the finish which was just shy of long at a medium (+) length.
Monte del Fra 2018 Ca del Magro
About the Wine: Blend of Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Cortese, and Incrocio Manzoni bianco
From the winery: “The hill is in the heart of Custoza, it is gravelly and rocky, facing southeast and ready to receive many hours of sunshine. The vineyard is composed of old vines, accustomed to challenge the elements of nature and to go deep in the soil to find their nourishment. This is a fascinating, unique place, ideal to witness how Custoza wine has inside all those features, necessary to have a great wine, such as minerality connected to a unique soil; longevity which stems from the resilience capacity of old vines with a low yield, but featuring character and style.”
Appearance: medium lemon
Aroma: medium (+) intensity—lemon juice, pith and zest, green apple and pear, clove, nutmeg, anise, ripe yellow peach, hay, dried apricot, marmalade and ginger
Palate: dry, medium (+) acid, medium body (touch phenolic grip/texture), medium alcohol, medium (+) flavor intensity—as above
Finish is long
Conclusion: This is an outstanding wine. I can’t fault it and its showing delicious development with those tertiary notes of hay, dried apricot, marmalade and ginger spice. But there are still well-incorporated vivacious primaries in those lemon, apple, pear, and peach notes. Medium (+) acid allows for continuous freshness; medium alcohol adds some weight and lends to the overall medium body. This is an exciting white wine and I’m so curious to see if and how it will develop with more time in bottle.
More Info: montedelfra.it
Custoza Superiore La Guglia 2018
About the Wine: A blend of Garganega, Bianca Fernanda, Trebbiano di Soave, Malvasia, and Incrocio Manzoni bianco
According to the winery, grapes were harvested ‘late’ from old (30 to 40 year) low-yielding vines. The grapes underwent the passito method, with grapes drying for about 50 days prior to the vinification process.
The grapes underwent a pre-fermentation maceration and then fermented in stainless steel, aging for a total of 8 months in stainless with about 6 months of resting on the lees. The wine then aged in bottle for 5 months prior to release.
Appassiamento in the vineyard—sometimes they’ll cut the shoot; others they’ll do like an Amarone style (straw mats); here they cut vine shoot and let it sit until October to give complexity and body
Appearance: medium lemon
Aroma: medium (+) intensity—toast/smoke, vanilla, toasted wood, struck match/flint, butter, lemon, lime, green apple, white nectarine, apricot and apricot skin, hay, hint almond
Palate: dry, medium (+) acid, medium body, medium (+) flavor intensity—as above, adding a hint of fresh orange zest and marmalade, nutmeg, and hazelnut
Finish is medium (+)
Conclusion: This is a very good wine that shows diversity and complexity in its primary characteristics, which are very earth-forward with those toasty/smokey/flinty notes in addition to the fresh fruits. And, as well, there are already a good dose of tertiary notes that furthers that depth of flavor. As with the rest of the wines, there’s a fresh vivacity brought on by the medium (+) acidity level and the medium level of alcohol is just enough to add some weight, body. This is another exciting one that I’m curious about in terms of further aging.
Finish was just shy of long, but I predict that with some age, the length will be full and rich in continuing character.
More Info: aziendaagricolatamburinosardo.it
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