Oct 10

Italy Part 2 – Lombardy

This is the wine region that takes up most of the norther edge of Italy. It is just east of Piedmonte, and it is one of the largest and most populated ares in Italy, which is great for their economy, but not always so great for wine making.

Historically this area was behind the century’s post-WWII economic boom. It is this era that made Milan the lab of luxury that it is today. Incidentally Milan is in Lombardy. Due to it’s world-famous cities it is shocking that agriculture is an important industry in this region, however it actually produces more grapes annually then famous places such as Umbria, Fruili, and Marches. However a lot of the grapes are used for plunk wine, and most of the quality wine is consumed by the inhabitants and tourists of famous cities such as Milan.

From an international wine perspective Lombardy is not famous for any “key” region, or “key” grape due to its crippling size. In fact, it has no indigenous grapes of note. It does how ever make some great wines out of grapes such as: Schiva, Barbara, Trebiano, Cortese, and Marzemino, as well as international varietals such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero), Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.

One of the most famous DOCs is Franciaorta, which makes some of Italy’s finest sparklers, however we will not touch on that today, we will save that for a segment on Sparkling Wines of Italy. Another notable DOC’s are Oltrepo Pavese (which we are tasting today) in the south west corner of Lombardy. It is a versatile DOC offering styles ranging from “rustic”, to frothy, Burgundian-esque reds based in Pinot Nero, and Cabernet Sauvignon, to a rainbow of whites still and dry to sparkling based in riesling, Cortese, Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Pinot Nero, all vinified in “bianco”. They also make some lovely dessert wines based in Malvasia, and Moscato. All though most of Oltrepo’s wine is of great reputation, it is all so the closest DOC to Milan and the majority of its wine never travels further then this city.

Other DOC’s of Lombardy with even harder to find wine are, Cellatica, Capriano Del Colle, Rivera del Garda Bresciano, San Martino della Battaglia, Colli Morenici Mantovani del Garda, and the catch all DOC Garda.

Upon reserching this area and trying to find still wines to focus on for this show, I have determined that Lombardy is one of the Italian “white wales” of the Chicago market if not the USA. So here is my challenge to you WineSoakeders…. try and find some, and if you do share your experience in the comments section of this show!

This Week’s Wine

Vercesi del Castellazzo, “Gugiarolo”, Pinot Nero Binaco, Oltrepo Pavese 2009

From: Perman Wine Selections
802 W. Washington Blvd.
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 666-4417

Cost: Between $20-$25

Wine Maker’s History & Notes

Vercesi Del Castellazzo

History: The Vercesi del Castellazzo estate is located 30 miles south of Milan – in Lombardy- in the heart of Oltrepo’ Pavese on the hills overhanging the city of Stradella, south of the Po River.

The winery was founded in 1808 when the great-grand father of the present owner(Dr. Franco Vercesi) bought the “Castellazzo”; until Napoleon’s army took it, it was a monastary of Barnabite order built over the ruins of a Beccaria family castle.

The estate consists of about 60 acres of hilly land of which 50 are planted with vines, the others include forest and cultivated fields. The location is considered among the best in the area. The acres planted to vine are divided among the following grape varietals: Barbera, Bonarda (Croatina), Pinot Nero, Vespolina, Uva Rara and Cabernet Sauvignon, as laid down in the local regulations of the DOC Oltrepo’ Pavese. Experienced care goes side by side with the most advanced cultivation techniques at all stages in the production cycle, from harvesting to the wine-making itself which takes place in stainless steel vats at carefully controlled fermentation temperatures. The wines then go through different aging periods, the resultant wines are well structured and full bodied with refined quality characteristics in the best tradition of the wines of this region.


Pinot Nero Bianco “Gugiarolo”

Gugiarolo is a wine produced by the white vinification of the Pinot Nero grape belonging to the omonimous vineyards which have been owned by Vercesi del Castellazzo since the 16th century. The place name, of Longobard origin, was often noted in the archives of the Barnabite monks for “la buona esposizione a meridione e la naturale protezione dai venti del levante” the good south-facing position and natural protection from the wild east winds. Today, with the necessary agronomical care, the Vercesis have obtained grapes that give a full-bodied, important wine with an intense perfume that can be drunk at its best even after a few years. The vintage, made with the grape selection, starts only when the balance between acidity, PH and sugar is at its optimum: this is the result of careful analysis of samples taken well before the harvest. The grapes, transported in wooden boxes to the cellar, are gently pressed. The must, obtained after a light clarification, starts to ferment with autochthonous yeasts at a controlled temperature.

My Notes

  • Appearance: 
 Clear, Transparent, and Shiny
    • Core: Very Light Straw
    • Rim: Clear
  • Nose:
 Medium Aromatics of: Lemon, melon rind, cucumber, and under ripe green mango.
  • Palate:
    • Acid: Medium
    • Tannin: N/A
    • Body: Medium
    • Texture: Silky
    • Finish: Lingering acid
    • Flavors: Cucumber, Honeydue, Savory green veggies


This is a nice light complex white wine. It starts tricking you into thinking it is a super light lemony wine, and then follows up with a second much more full bodied wave of savory. I vote great food wine.

I am pairing it with: Italian sausage, green pepper, garlic & onion, butter-crust pizza.

Does it work? …. YES IT DOES!

Oct 10

Italy Part 1 – Piedmont

This wine region in in North West Italy, or as I like to call it, “The Thigh” of the boot.

Piedmont literally means, “at the foot of the Mountains”. The Mountains we are talking about here are the Alps. To put the region in perspective, in “non-wine” land marks, the principal city of this area is Turin.

This area has a very interesting history  that sets it apart from the rest of Italy. From the former Kingdom of Savoy it was one of the driving areas in the 19th century behind the Italian reunification, as well as the start of the Italian industrial revolution. On the flip side however due to its isolated geo-graphical location it was protected during the Habsburg, Bourbon, and papal control which dominated Italian life from the mid 1500’s to the mid 1800’s. One of the most influential areas to Piemonte from the 1500’s to present day is France. There ideas in government, philosophy and winemaking have permeated the life of the Piedmontees, which have many times over brought them fortune while most of the rest of the country was in financial distress.

There are many grapes grown in Piemonte, notably, Barbera, Moscato, Dolcetto, Cortese, Gavi, Arnies, and Favorite, as well as all of the major international varietals of Chard, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cab Sav. But hands down without question the main grape of this region is Nebbiolo!!! This is the grape that I focusing on in this segment. Nebbiolo is  grown in a few notable regions. Langhe is an Umbrella region for which the world famous DOCG’s of Barolo, and Barbaresco live. These two DOCG’s produce some of the worlds finest, if not most famous Nebbiolos’, however there are still great Neb’s at much more modest prices produced in the greater Langhe DOC. There are other great Nebbiolo DOC’s such as Gattinara. But for the purposes of what is easy to find in the USA, and what is easy to purchase on a modest income, which is always my focus,  you need to remember Langhe, Barolo, and Barbaresco.

In this segment we are going to be tasting:

Gavarini, Nebbiolo from Langhe 2008, by Elio Grasso.

I chose this wine because it illustrates two points I find important to understand about Piedmont.

  1. Elio Grasso has maintained the dimensions of a small producer, being equipped with state of the art technology in their winery. I feel that seamlessly blend two sides of an on going argument with Nebbiolo. That of the Traditionalists, who prefer earthy rustic Nebbiolos, and the modernists, who have gone the rooty-tooty-fresh & and fruity route. I feel this winery blends traditional tastes, with modern technology which makes for a cleaner product.
  2. This wine is from Langhe, and goes for around $25 oppose to it’s Borolo Brothers who can get up to $500’s

Here are the Winery’s Notes on this Wine:

  • Municipality of production: Monforte d’Alba
  • Grape: Nebbiolo
  • First vintage: 1987
  • Number of bottles produced each year: 6,500
  • Vineyard area under vine: 1.2 hectares
  • Aspect and height above sea level: south-facing, 350-380 metres
  • Soil type: moderately loose-packed, limestone-based
  • Vine training system and planting density: Guyot-trained at 4,500 vines per hectare.
  • Average age of productive vines: 15 years
  • Grape yield per hectare at harvest: 60 quintals
  • Harvest period and method: first 10 days of October, manual harvest. The vinification procedure for Langhe Nebbiolo involves fermentation for 7-8 days in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, with daily pumping over. After malolactic fermentation, the wine stays in stainless steel until bottling in April-May. We recommend you drink this wine in the first 3-4 years after the vintage.

Here are my notes:

  • Appearance: Clear, Transparent, and Shiny
    • Core: Ruby
    • Rim: Salmon
  • Nose: Healthy
  • Medium Aromatics of: Violets, cedar, raspberries, coco powder, and black peppercorns
  • Pallet:
    • Acid: Medium +
    • Tannin: Medium –
    • Body:  Medium –
    • Texture: Wet Swede
  • Finish: Medium
  • Flavors: Tart cherry, cedar, almonds, Bert’s Bees tomato face wash
  • Conclusion: This is a nice light complex wine…. that is still a lightly tight and tart. I feel like it is a freshman in high-school, and although it is fun to have over for dinner now, it will be much more enjoyable in college.

Meal I made to go with it:

  • Starter: Robiola Bosina, with fresh figs, & pears.
  • Main Course: Nebbiolo Beef Stew over a Cauliflower Mash
  • Dessert: Almond & Olive oil crumb cake with a fig/blueberry compote.