Saturday 20 September 2014

Something new: No-spray vines.

We have been aware of the variety Solaris (first launched in Freiburg in 1975) for a while now: we even planted a few Solaris vines ourselves and have seen the first small sweet berries this year. It is a very obliging variety - basically you just have to prune it and it produces vigorous cane and leaf growth in the most unpromising sites. It is even grown in Denmark, Sweden and even Norway .The wine has the reputation of being rather sweet. It's forebears are complicated indeed. Some of them are hybrid (Seyve Villard, Zarya Severna) but plenty are not (Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat Ottonel) so it has crept into the Vinifera classifiction under the wire so to speak, despite a couple of skeletons in the cupboard and was legalized in Italy in 2011.

An English Solaris seen at the 2014 London Wine Fair

We are not on hand to tend our vines at all times so varieties that need spraying against typical diseases such as Powdery and Downy Mildew are a problem, especially in a place like England where if truth be told, a very great deal of chemical assistance is necessary for any but the most resistant varieties.

Solaris is only one of these. Others include Sirius, Helios, Orion, Phoenix and Johanniter for the whites and Regent and Rondo for the reds - and that is just in our little experimental vineyard.

So it was with some surprise this summer to discover several Italian wines from the Trentino made from Solaris in purezza. As if the Italians don't have enough grape varieties of their own! Well, the reason seems to be a new attempt to combine the purity of organic farming with producing a dependable crop. The hardworking organic/biological/bio-dynamic producers still have to spray (they use natural tisanes and suchlike) and are quite used to losing sizable portions of their production to diseases.

Here they seem to cottoned on to the idea that they can have it all with minimum effort and market the results positively as 'No-spray' wines.

At Enoteca Valsugana near Trento there were  two Solaris wines, one by the well known local producer Pojer e Sandri called Zero Infinito. Here is how Pojer e Sandri trailed this wine before launching their first vintage last year (could that scentence beginning "ZERO "DERIVA" be an attempt to allay possible fears about Solaris being a GM crop?);

Quindi ZERO fungicidi e ZERO insetticidi contro la tignola dell’uva. ZERO “DERIVA” in quanto il vigneto è inserito e protetto da un bosco di 50 ettari in montagna a 800 – 900 m s.l. mare, un “salvagente” che fa da barriera ad eventuali trattamenti fatti dai confinanti. La stessa vinificazione non prevede alcun intervento chimico esterno: ZERO solforosa, ZERO lieviti commerciali liofilizzati, ZERO chiarificanti, ZERO filtrazioni, ZERO antiossidanti (il lievito indigeno diventa l’antiossidante naturale del vino). Una tecnica ancestrale per arrivare ad un vino bianco frizzante, naturale, col fondo, a ZERO impatto chimico. 

The other was by Santa Colomba who advertise this as

Solaris SANTACOLOMBA "Più forte della Magia" Varietà resistente alle malattie della vite

This was starting to look like the Philosopher's Stone of wine, so when we came across yet another example, this time by Pravis (Slotovino's Vigneron of the year 2010/11) we bough the bottle. Strangely enough, Pravis's website doesn't mention this wine yet but a merchant who carries it continues with the general tenor of praise for the miracle Solaris grape;

Il solaris è una varietà nuova, ancora non molto diffusa in Italia, che si caratterizza per la naturale resistenza ad alcune delle più diffuse malattie della vite. Si tratta infatti di una pianta creata in laboratorio capace di resistere a peronospera e oidio, che permette così all’uomo di eliminare del tutto qualsiasi tipo di intervento chimico, in vigna. Quello che ne deriva è un vino bianco fresco e piacevole, di gran beva.

The proof of the pudding? It didn't appeal to the discriminating Mrs Slotovino, nor to friends who might have erred on the side of politeness. By chance at the same meal we had opened a bottle of rather mean Trentino Mueller Thurgau (which can be good by the way) and so by putting both disappointments together, produced something quite acceptable. Home blending doesn't often work but this time it did (try 50/50 if you ever find yourself in the same predicament).

The English Solaris was better than the Italian one for the obvious reason that it had more acidity but the question remained as to why the Italians have alighted on this particular disease-resistant variety to the exclusion of so many other more promising ones. We even heard from our friend Giuseppe Ferrua of Fabbrica San Martino in the Colli Lucchese that someone had suggested Solaris to him as a Demeter accredited producer. Perhaps when the Italian Government add some of the other new No-spray varieties to their list of permitted grapes the scene will change? There are so many more promising varieties than Solaris in our view.

This year Italy and the UK swapped summer weather with Italy with us basking in veritable Mediterranean sunshine while Italy has suffered such a miserable season that production is down 30% with places such as Puglia and Sicilia especially hard hit. Those who have planted Solaris will be thanking their lucky stars.

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Trento, Trient, Trent

Most people know that both German and Italian are spoken in the provinces of Trentino and Alto Adige but in Trentino alone there are at least 3 distinctive dialects as well. They are Ladin, Mocheno and Cimbrian. Nones is also spoken but is close to Ladin so is not generally regarded as a separate language. Don't confuse Ladin with Ladino by the way; Ladino Spanish as spoken by Sefardi Jews.

At the risk of repeating ourselves, where there is linguistic diversity one shouldn't be surprised to find all kinds of other diversity including diversity of grape varieties which makes the connection between the survival and continued use of different grapes as much cultural as agricultural.

A little preparatory research before our trip to the Trentino this summer revealed the following local grape varieties, mostly thanks - again - to D'Agata ('Native Wine Grapes of Italy');

Fruhroter Veltliner
Nero di Baisi

We had already come across Enantio, Nosiola, Peverella and Rossara but were very interested to track down the rest. Research also uncovered Wanderbara which we erroneously said doesn't get mentioned in D'Agata but in fact it does! It just doesn't make it into the index although it appears under Verdealbara together with something called Maor as a lesser cultivar.

Our mission was to find the rarissimo Wanderbara. We discovered it was a constituent of a white wine called 'Blanc de Sers' (evidently French is yet another language of the region!). This wine is a blend of Veltliner Rosato, Nosiola, Vernaza and Wanderbara. All we had to go on was that it came from Serso, near Pergine Valsugana not far from Trento. We ambled around Pergine past signs to Pomarol and Isere before realizing we were on the wrong side of the Autostrada. 

After many a false turn and having to return to HQ and start again the following day we finally found ourselves at the church vineyard in Serso. 

Could this be the mysterious Wanderbara? Our ampelogical knowledge is non-existent so we trudged up the hill where we found what looked like a paesano and his mum. They were taking a break in a shack so we took care not to startle them by harrumphing at several yards distance but surprised they were when we asked them which grapes might be Wanderbara. 

They had also not heard of Veltliner Rosato even though a sign in a vineyard just before Serso proudly proclaimed the growth of that variety. Vernaza rang a bell so probably that is what was growing here. We suppose Vernaza = Vernaccia by the way but will be happy to be corrected on this as on everything else in this blog.

We can't say how assiduously we tried to find the Wanderbara vineyards. We even asked at a local bar and the barista was kind enough to say he knew the person who made the wine and that this person was out of town. He could introduce us to his mother if we liked! With Slotovino reticence we declined to disturb the 'anziana'. Finally we understood the vineyards were a bit further on in the Valley of the Mocheni. 

All we knew is that the vineyards were "on a slope, is well ventilated and are exposed to sunlight all day long."

We found the actual wine Blanc de Sers from Casata Monfort of Lavis at the Enoteca Valsugana's branch in Pergine. The wine is very passable as they say but not particularly distinctive or impressive. Not everything that is rare is good and not everything good is rare...

The Enoteca Valsugana has a branch in Borgo Valsugana about 30 minutes from  Pergine where they had the most serious delivery system for Vino Sfuso we had ever seen;

Between the two branches of Enoteca Valsugana and other shops in the area we noticed in particular the following bottles;

Yes, another Enantio (see previous posts). If there are only 3/4 producers this means we have sampled half of them at least. Sadly this version still didn't convince us of this grape, pleasant enough though it was.

Having become rather keen on Schiava, we couldn't wait to try this. We were disappointed on two counts; it tasted strange in a negative way and on consulting D'Agata, we read; 'It hardly helps when a well-known, excellent producer such as Gino Pedrotti (his Trentino Vino Santo made with Nosiola is one of Italy's greatest wines) labels a wine "Schiava Nera" when it is in fact made with Schiava Grossa.' Oh dear.

Continuing with the Schiava theme, we discovered a Schiava (aka Trollinger) / Weisser Riesling crossing from Geisenheim (Dr. Heinrich Birk, 1928) called Rotberger (or Rotbergher as the label would have it) made as a Rose locally by Pojer e Sandri. There are only 16 - 18 ha. of Rotberger in Germany and 3 ha. in British Columbia. This is the only reported planting apart from those, so rare indeed. This Vin dei molini went down well with the troops.

Other more usual (red) Schiavas found at a variety of places included the following;

 In Trento itself, we found a really lovely Enoteca called Grado where the abiding spirit was very helpful and understanding (he is just visible behind the counter).
 We asked him for a really good Marzemino and this is what he suggested; Vignetti, Marzemino d'Isera.

So finally we have broached Marzemino which together with Teroldego is the signature grape of Trentino at least for reds. White wine from Trentino is synonymous with Nosiola. Here our experience had been disappointing but we needn't have worried. All the Nosiola we tasted was delicious including this modestly priced one from the distinguished producer Gaierhof as found at the supermarket.

As we have remarked Italian supermarkets tend to be rather eclectic, no doubt to cater for anyone who is out of their comfort zone. There was a surprising amount of Groppello to be found which is a good thing in our book. In fact Groppello is grown around Lake Garda and Trentino has a small border with the lake, right at the north.

As ever, we only scratched the surface. The Trentino is somewhere to return to without any doubt. We will head for the Mozart town of Rovereto, the villages of Faedo, Sorni, Lavis and others.

Until then, Ber sechen ens indeed!