It’s time to hit the Italian wine world. And if I thought France and Spain were huge, well, let’s just say I’ve hit a new hurdle. Luckily, I have a few short answer questions from my WSET tutoring session last month to help get me warmed up. Andiamo…
[Answer(s) based on WSET Level 3 material]
Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris is widely planted throughout the world and made in many different styles.
Under the following headings describe the two wines pictured above.
(Full disclosure: These are not the exact wines presented on the original question. But the wine types/styles are.)
Sweetness and body:
Wine A: Vendages Tardives (VT) literally translates to “late harvest,” which means that grape growers let the grapes hang on the vine for an extended period of time. In many cases in Alsace, these grapes will have undergone passerllage, meaning that, once the grapes have reached full ripeness, they’ll continue to age on the vine and begin to dehydrate, or raisin. This, of course, means that the acidity level will decrease, but the sugar content will become concentrated. In some cases, VT wines may have some influence of noble rot. Thus, the resulting wines can range from dry to sweet.
Wine B: This wine is a simple Pinot Grigio from the Veneto region of Italy. This is one of Italy’s largest wine-producing regions. And while it’s home to some of the best known wines, such as Soave and Valpolicella, the flat fertile plain that extends off of the foothills and toward the ocean, is a source of fruit for inexpensive, high volume brands. The label of Wine B indicates the Veneto IGT, so we know it’s not from one of the more prestigious DOCs. Thus, the Pinot Grigio in this bottle will be light bodied, simple, and fruity.
Aroma and flavor characteristics:
Wine A: Because the grapes most likely underwent some raisining, the aroma and flavor characteristics will be representative of the level of ripeness of those grapes. Late harvest Pinot Gris will most likely have ripe tropical fruit notes, along with over-ripe/dehydrated fruit characteristics. Furthermore, if noble rot was, indeed, a factor, that will influence the aroma and flavor characteristics as well, typically presenting as honey, nutty, and marmalade-like.
Wine B: Again, we can defer to the simple label of Veneto IGT to decipher this wine’s characteristics. The wine will contain simple, primary fruit characteristics, such as lemon, lime, and green apple. These wines do not typically see any oak aging. In fact, they’re typically stored in neutral vessels for a short period of time and ready to drink upon release, so there won’t be any influence of oak or oxygen detected in either the aroma or palate of this wine.
Wine A: One would certainly expect a high quality wine from Wine A, as the grape grower took the time—and risk—to leave the grapes on the vine and (maybe) even wait for noble rot to infect the grapes. Vineyard conditions for VT wines are very specific—autumns must be dry, the growing season long—and these conditions do not occur every year. Furthermore, these wines would see oak aging, meaning the winery would have invested in oak barrels. The resulting wines will be more time consuming and laborious to make, more complex in their flavor profile, more expensive in their pricing—so I would hope the quality would be high. WSET would label “outstanding.”
Wine B: As stated above, these wines are simple, fruity wines that do not see extended aging in the winery, nor are they intended to age in bottle. This Pinot Grigio is meant for immediate consumption. This indicates that the quality level would be lower than Wine A, but would still be an affordable and enjoyable option for the consumer (I think). WSET would label “acceptable or good.”
You are asked to produce staff-training notes for each of the Italian wines below. Give a brief explanation regarding a)the grape variety(ies) used for each wine and b) a brief description of the style of wine.
Barolo DOCG must be made from 100% Nebbiolo. I just want to get that out of the way because Italian wines can be confusing. Sometimes they call a wine by the wine-grape’s name and sometimes they call it by the region or nearest town it’s made in. So, when you hear Barolo, you must hear Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo is a red wine grape that has a high level of acid and tannin, but is very light in color. Nebbiolo is also a slow and late ripener. I was recently listening to a podcast featuring a winemaker from Barolo and he said that Nebbiolo is the first to flower but the last to fully ripen—so you can imagine that the vineyard conditions would need to be very accommodating. (In fact, he compared its fickle-ness to Pinot Noir.)
Barolo DOCG is located in the Piemonte region of Italy, which has a moderate, continental climate. The thing about Barolo DOCG is that it’s a very hilly region, with vineyard slopes reaching 300 to 500 meters high. While the altitude cools down the overall temperature, it also allows the grape to receive consistent sunlight throughout the day. These two factors help extend the grapes growing season, allowing to ripen as slowly as it would like.
So what happens when a Barolo is able to ripen appropriately? It develops perfumed aromas—many say of tar and roses, but the WSET describes sour cherries, herbs, and dried flowers. These wines are typically full-bodied, high in acidity, high in tannins (although noted for its very light color), and are certainly intended for aging. Barolo is required to age for 3 years prior to release, 18 of which must be in oak, so one will certainly smell and taste the influence of those oak barrels.
Soave is Garganega. Again, I just want to get this out of the way so we’re on the same page as to what kind of grape we’re talking about. Garganega is a white grape and everything about it is medium: medium body, medium acidity and medium-level of fruit maturity when it comes to flavors (i.e., pomme and stone fruits).
The key word in answering this question is Classico. In Italy, boundaries of certain appellations have expanded, so the term classico is used to differentiate wines produced from grapes sourced from the original wine region. Soave, located in the Veneto region, has two distinct sections to it: the foothills to the north and the flat plain to the south, near the river Po. It is the portion located on the foothills that are considered the Soave Classico. Here, the foothills have limestone and clay soils, along with some volcanic rock. These naturally cool soils, along with the altitude at which the vineyards are planted, ensure a moderate climatic condition that slows down ripening, allowing grapes to ripen fully while maintaining a high acidity. Sounds great for a white wine.
These wines don’t typically see any oak, but interestingly are said to be able to age, developing flavors of almonds and honey.
As this question does not indicated a vintage, I think it’s safe to assume that this is a classic Soave wine from Soave Classico DOC. Thus, the wines will be of medium body, medium acidity, displaying aromas and flavors of pears, red apple, and stone fruits.
(SIDE NOTE: Small amounts of other white grape varieties can be added to the blend.)
Recioto della Valpolicella
This is a lot of words that absolutely indicates something different, indeed. Let’s break it down.
Valpolicella, also located in the Veneto region, means Corvina—which is a red wine grape. (I’m emphasizing this because I always think it’s a white…). Valpolicella—the region—is similar to Soave in that it contains the foothills rich with limestone, clay, and volcanic soils, which slow down the ripening and ensure a naturally high level of acidity in the grapes at harvest. This area, too, has a flatter southern region filled with sandier soils and that has an overall warmer climate. Grapes grown here will be fruitier, but less acidic.
Valpolicella—the Corvina wine grape—is a thin-skinned variety with low to medium tannins and a high acidity. Again, there is a Valpolicella DOC and a Valpolicella DOCG, the DOCG indicating wines from the foothills. Wines labeled as Valpolicella are simple, fruity, with notes of red cherry.
Alright, now that we know what Valpolicella means in all its iterations, we have to talk about the rest of the phrase in the question. In Veneto, there is something called the passito method that is widely used to increase structure and flavor concentration, as well as color when used with red wines. The passito method: Grapes are picked early with a high level of acidity and dried indoors, which will concentrate the sugars and flavors. These grapes will not begin the fermentation process until winter. The Valpolicella grape is a great grape for this. Why? Because of everything indicated above: 1) it’s already high in acid 2) it naturally has thin skins, which means without the passito method, it will have very little flavor (remember: most of the flavor of the grape comes from the skins) and 3) we marked this wine as simple, and the point of the passito method is to create wines with complexity. Alright…let’s keep going.
Wines labelled Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG are typically aged in old oak casks, and the resulting wines are dry or off dry, full-bodied, high in alcohol, high in tannins, and intensely concentrated in red berry and spice flavors. Wines labelled Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG are made from grapes so sweet that the fermentation stops naturally. These wines will have intense red fruit flavors, are high in alcohol, full-bodied, with medium to high tannins.
That, above is the answer to that question, but while I’m here, I’m going to add another vocab word just for shatz and gaggles…
Valpolicella Ripasso DOC is made using the ripasso method. Word Nerd Alert: passare = to pass; ripassare = to pass again —that’s a clue. So, the ripasso method uses grape skins from a fermenting Amarone della Valpolicella (the guys that were picked early, with high acid levels, and then dried indoors prior to fermentation). Before that Amarone della Valpolicella finishes fermenting, the juice is drained off the skins. The unpressed skins (pommace) are then added to a vat of Valpolicella that has finished fermentation. But that Amarone della Valpolicella that hasn’t finished fermentation brought along with it…yeast! (Are you with me so far?) The yeast then begins to ferment the remaining sugars from the Amarone della Valpolicella grape skins, and those grape skins are simultaneously giving off color, flavor and tannins. The resulting wines are medium- to full-bodied, with medium- to high-tannins, and have flavors of stewed cherries and plums.
How’d I do? Any questions, comments, concerns, observations, or requests out there? I’ve got some Italian wines in the cellar that I’ll try to taste through this week and post a few reviews. (Unfortunately, I am fighting a cold at the moment…) Thanks again for stopping by!
BriscoeBites officially accepts samples as well as conducts on-site and online interviews. Want to have your wine, winery or tasting room featured? Please visit the Sample Policy page where you can contact me directly. Cheers!
**Please note: all reviews and opinions are my own and are not associated with any of my places of business. I will always state when a wine has been sent as a sample for review. Sending samples for review on my personal website in no way guarantees coverage in any other media outlet I may be currently associated with.**