Do you ever find that something just strikes you when you’re studying? Maybe a grape’s origin story, the history of a wine region, or maybe you just like the way a word sounds. It strikes you, and you are just able to memorize it for no other reason than you just fancy it. That’s me and Gavi di Gavi. Just seeing that phrase, hearing it, saying it out loud, it always brings a smile to my face.
Today I’m zero-ing in on the northwest portion of Italy, specifically the key regions for the key red wine grapes grown—Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto. Pop Quiz:Can you describe each of these grape varieties’ key characteristics? How would describe the market positioning for each?
For those of you following along on my WSET wine tour around the world, we recently did a brief stop in Northern Italy for a pop quiz about some of the wines produced. Indeed, that did cover a lot of ground, but not nearly the whole region. So I want to take time to look at Northern Italy in its entirety and explore the different regions and wine styles produced.
[Information based on WSET Level 3 material]
When we look at Northern Italy, we are looking at the area closest to the foothills of the Alps as well as the plains of the River Po. In general, Northern Italy has a moderate climate with dry, short summers. The Alps, which you may be able to tell from the map above, span the length of the Northern Italian border, thus shielding the area from rain. Like the River Po, other bodies of water that provide climatic moderation to the more inland areas include lakes such as Lake Garda. As you can see, there are also portions that are close to the sea—these areas can have higher levels of rainfall, so the major vineyard concern there will be fungal diseases.
Traditionally, vineyards were trained on the pergola system, as this provides air flow as well as keeps the grapevines off of the moist vineyard floor. Furthermore, with the vine canopy drooping over the fruit clusters, the training system also helps minimize excessive sun exposure. This system is still utilized today for grapes that require a high amount of acidity and low sugar (such as for sparkling wine) and for those wines that require grapes to be sun-dried (as in the passito method, which requires grapes to be fully developed and free of fungal disease so they can dry-out off the vine, post-harvest—we covered last time, but will touch on it again here). However, it’s noted that higher density plantings utilizing a VSP training system is now more widely used overall.
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…