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Sunday, 21 November 2021

New York State of Wine

A NY State vs the World Riesling-Off, hosted by Jamie Goode

New York
Isn't New York
Without You, Love

- New York, St Vincent (2017)


If, like me, you have barely tried New York state wines before, your main take away from this should be that they are high-end and at least as good as anything else from more illustrious regions.

The rest, in a sense, is just details - and whilst there are stories of regions, terroir and varieties, simply tasting a few (more) New York wines is the obvious next step.

This tasting, hosted by Jamie Goode, pitted three New York Rieslings from the Finger Lakes area against the same variety from around the world at similar price points.

Once you get into mid-teens pricing and beyond, it's not unreasonable to expect a wine to be competently made from good fruit; Big Name regions will always have a few duds trading on the general reputation, but emerging regions have to start with pioneers who overdeliver for the price and who will make a Name for the region on the back of great wines at relatively moderate prices.

Details on New York State wines from the Finger Lakes areas:

Finger Lakes is one of six major wine growing regions in New York State.

Vines have grown here for many hundreds of years, with the first record of plantings by the Dutch settlers in the late 17th century. For some years, the area was dominated solely by Native American varieties and hybrids, and it was only in the late 1950s that the Ukrainian Dr. Konstantin Frank began experimenting with high quality European vinifera, particularly in the Finger Lakes.

The Finger Lakes are eleven deep and narrow lakes, stretching south to north, moderating the climate by either warming or cooling the surrounding atmosphere, rendering viticulture possible; the two largest Finger Lakes, Seneca and Cayuga, almost never freeze.

This was recognized by German, Swiss and French settlers in the late 19th century who spotted the freshwater orchard potential. The Finger Lakes AVA is one part of a triangle that represents North America’s premier fresh- water lake viticulture areas.


Riesling Battle Royal - tasted in ascending price order

Hosted by wine writer, Jamie Goode and sommelier Caroline Furstoss with producers:

- Kelby Russell, Red Newt Cellars
- Nova Cadamatre MW, Trestle 31
- Oskar Bynke, Hermann J. Wiemer

Robert Oatley Signature Series Riesling 2020 , Western Australia (£13.95, Cambridge Wines, Solent Wine Cellar)

lemon blossom, passion fruit, some diesel; grapefruit, zingy lemon, and lime, sherbet, yellow stone fruit with sweet spices and fresh green apple and pea shoots; steely, pebbly, slatey minerality. 

Good.

Schatzel, Riesling 2018 QBA, Rheinhessen (£19.99, Master of Malt, 9 Elms, Vida, Whisky Exchange)

diesel, struck match, stone fruits and blossom; pure, focused and linear-mineral with sherbet, citrus, white stone fruits and refreshing green apple.

Good.

Trestle 31, 2019 Riesling, Finger Lakes (£21, not currently available in UK)

white flowers, white pepper and struck match; white stone fruits with cool mint and creamy brazil nut.; textured, broad and leesy-savoury.

Good.

Red Newt Cellars, The Knoll 2016, Finger Lakes (£30.50, The Wine Treasury)

complex late-harvest, yellow fruits and aged diesel; ripe, buttery, roasted peaches and apricots, honey and mango with sweet spices; mouthfilling, long and complex.

Very Good Indeed.

Hermann J. Wiemer, HJW Bio Riesling 2019, Finger Lakes (£32.50, Wanderlust Wines)

stone fruits, citrus, blossom and minerality; fresh sweet-and-sour citrus, yellow fruits, sherbet and honeysuckle; saline with a refreshing slatey-mineral backbone, complex and very long. Mosel-esque.

Very Good.

M. Chapoutier, Schieferkopf Lieu-Dit Fels Riesling 2018 Selection Parecellaire, Alsace (£36.50, Uncorked)

complex wild herbs, cidery bruised fruit and menthol; full, supple and leesy-savoury with creamy brazil nut, oatmeal, citrus, stone and orchard fruits and mintiness; very long, broad and adept.

Very Good.

Results

The final results here are of less importance than the fact that three wines from NY state can hold their own against wines from classic Riesling regions.

That said, my favourite was the Red Newt Cellars, The Knoll for its aged complexity and late-harvest richness whilst remaining fully dry.

Technically, the best wine was the Chapoutier, but it is 1) the most expensive and 2) somewhat atypical for a Riesling.

Friday, 19 November 2021

Two Vasse Felix Wines

Two wines from Western Australia's Vasse Felix

Western Australia was, curiously, the region that first got me into Australia.

Back then, they were the most restrained, elegant and food-friendly wines I had tried from Australia, compared to the ubiquitous over-fruited pantechnicons of Bruce Juice.

Fast forward to today and there are plenty of cool-climate, elegant Aussie wines that you might think were European if you tasted blind.

But I still retain a special fondness for that corner of Australia wedged between two cooling oceans and a five-hour flight from anywhere.

Novice wine-drinking-me also avoided Chardonnay on the advice of no less a figure than Oz Clarke, who opined in the early New Millennium: Chardonnay's problem is that actually it's rather a neutral variety ... that's why Sauvignon Blanc is such a runaway success.

Given that I drank mainly Austrian wines at the time, avoiding Chardonnay was not exactly difficult, as I existed on a steady diet of Gruener, Riesling and Styrian Sauvignon.

So, imagine my surprise when, one evening at some soulless, identikit airport in Mittel Europa, having  managed to make my way into the Business Lounge, I poured myself a glass of Chardonnay and found that ... I rather liked it.

Decades later, I still have the distinct recollection of the delicious savoury, oaky buzz with ripe tropical fruit, all zipped up with a squeeze of lime. "Oz, you lied!" I wanted to shout.

Instead, I found myself a convenient corner with a view of the runway landing lights, opened the business pages and quietly poured myself another glass.

My relationship with Cab is somewhat different; I've rarely had it as a varietal wine, but if I had to pick a favourite red, it would be the Cab-dominated Left-Bank wines of Bordeaux.

The darker wines of Bordeaux and France's south west generally were pretty much the first reds I got into; on a driving holiday to France many years ago, we stopped at a supermarket and filled the boot with various, plentiful inexpensive reds, a pre-Brexit ritual we followed pretty much every year in the form of some holiday or other involving taking the car across the Channel.

Vasse Felix says of these wines:

Two wines from one of the most isolated wine regions in the world. Margaret River is a land that is pure, unique, remote, and distinct in every possible way with its pristine coastline, abundant forests, and ancient soils.

One of 34 global biodiversity hotspots, the region is home to flora and fauna not found anywhere else in the world. This is also home to the passionate winemakers of Vasse Felix who produce some of the world’s finest Chardonnays and Cabernets.

Supported by the region’s consistent ‘textbook’ climate and positioned on a cape, the Margaret River wine region experiences a Mediterranean warmth that is cooled by the ocean on three sides: ideal for growing top quality grapes. The region’s wines are respected for their unique quality of elegance and power.

Vasse Felix 2019 CHARDONNAY

Virginia Willcock has been winemaker at Vasse Felix since 2006 and believes the single most important influence is the breeze from the southern Indian Ocean that keeps the fruit cool, so the bunches ripen slower and with balanced flavour and retention of natural acidity and beautiful, vibrant intensity. But there’s something more than that.

The Gingin clone, which forms the backbone of this wine (with a little of the Bernard clone mixed in). Gingin is a unique, yet commonly planted vine, introduced to Western Australia in 1957 (yet it would be 20 years later before a Chardonnay was made from it).

Margaret River’s low yielding ‘heritage’ Chardonnay clone experiences millerandage (hen and chicken) berries that give intensity, wonderful acidity, and depth of flavour. Vasse Felix Chardonnay is produced from small parcels of this fruit, selected from carefully nurtured plots in Vasse Felix’s premier vineyards located in Wilyabrup and Wallcliffe areas of Margaret River.

Most of the grapes are hand-harvested and gently whole bunch pressed and transferred to French oak barriques as unclarified juice for wild fermentation. Each parcel is left on lees in the barrel, before allowing further time to rest and harmonise as the fruit flavours and solids intermingle. The result is a wine, made in a modern style, with elegance, power and restraint and a wild complexity which gives Vasse Felix Chardonnay a distinct house style.


Vasse Felix 2018 CABERNET SAUVIGNON

Cabernet Sauvignon is what Margaret River is best known for, and this wine is a leading champion of the region. Almost every wine producer makes one, but the premier Cabernet Sauvignon of Vasse Felix has a distinctive house style that shines through.

Vasse Felix made their first Cabernet Sauvignon in Margaret River in 1972, from the vines planted by regional pioneer Tom Cullity in 1967 when the winery was first founded, and this wine has been made every year since.

Cabernet and Malbec vines arrived in Western Australia in 1854. Known locally as Houghton clone, Tom’s mass selection from the Houghton Vineyard in Swan Valley (Australia’s second oldest wine region) have been propagated in subsequent plantings at Vasse Felix and by other Margaret River wineries.

The grapes are grown in Vasse Felix’s Home Vineyard in Wilyabrup; a patchwork of tiny, premier vineyard plots of exceptional land and microclimates. Harsh and ancient well-drained, gravel-loam soils over clay ensure low yielding vines.

Their aspect ensures optimum access to the cooling ocean breeze for the perfect balance of flavour, concentration, and tannin ripeness. Each vineyard plot is individually fermented using indigenous yeasts with extended maceration and traditional oxidative handling. It is basket pressed and matured in small batches.

A small amount of Malbec is always blended into the wine, to complement and enhance the Cabernet profile, ensuring it remains true to the house estate style. A little Petit Verdot is added to bring a floral tone to the nose and a beautiful tail to the tannin.

The percentage of each variety in the blend varies, sensitive to the vintage. The wine’s distinctive style possesses all the hallmarks of the finest Wilyabrup Cabernet, that of elegance, structure, and age-ability. 

Vasse Felix has a place in Margaret River history as the region’s founding wine estate, and with these two wines, a Chardonnay, and a Cabernet Sauvignon, comes not just the quality but a true and pure expression of the region

Vasse Felix Premier Chardonnay 2019 (£25, Harvey Nichols, Australian Wines Online, Fareham Wine Cellar, Specialist Cellars, Vinvm, Lattitude Wines, The Soho Wine Supply, Frazier’s Wine Merchants, Wine Direct (Sussex) Ltd, Fortnum & Mason, Appellation Nation, Voyageurs du Vin, Fareham Wine Cellar)

white peach, citrus and orchard fruits, with oaky spice, wild herbs and lime zest; melon, citrus, pineapple and lime fruit with almond, ginger, struck match and toasty oak with savoury, brazil nut leesiness; complex, harmonious and long.

Drinks nicely on first opening, improves with aeration and will repay some cellaring.

Very Good.

Match with complex, spiced dishes, such as chili-and-ginger tuna carpaccio or Tom Yum Talay.


Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 (£30 Direct Wine, Harvey Nichols, Australian Wines Online, Bonafide Wines, Vinvm. Ltd, Wine Direct, Connolly’s Wine Merchant, Averys, Laithwaites, The Secret Cellar)

tarry dark fruits, lifted blackcurrant, violets and complex, oaky vanilla spice with leathery, truffley sous bois; ripe, juicy cassis, bramble fruits, liquorice, tobacco leaf, balsamic and ripe, well-integrated tannins. Supple, adept and harmonious.

Very Good.

This is a wine that has much development to go through; match the blackcurranty fruit to rosemary-and-garlic lamb shoulder or barbecue foods on first opening.

Alternatively, decant for serval hours and match with beef dishes or savoury pates.

Cellar for several years for something to drink with darker game, truffles or mushrooms.

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

Two Leftfield Whites from The Co-op

Two delicious whites from the Co-op, from unusual grapes / locations

Name a classic, food-friendly white wine and Chablis, kiwi Sauvignon or Pinot Grigio may well be amongst the first  that spring to mind.

These two leftfield wines from the Co-op are classic grapes / wines that are a little bit less common and therefore  slightly leftfield.

This means that:

- they are slightly better value than well-known wines from Big Name Regions
- they are good enough to please anyone who just wants "a glass of something nice"
- they are unusual enough to be interesting, but also classic enough to command respect

Some dinner party facts:

- Viognier's spiritual home is the northern Rhône, where it make very expensive Condrieu
- it almost became extinct, but has seen a revival in fortunes and is now grown all around the world
- it like lots of sun and tastes of ripe peaches and apricots

- not all Rioja is red; white Rioja can be made from local indigenous varieties Viura (aka Macabeo), Malvasía and Garnacha blanca
- CVNE (COO-nay) is the Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España, a family winery founded in 1879 in Haro, La Rioja

Yalumba Y Series Viognier, 2020,  Australia (£9)

All Yalumba Viogniers are fermented using wild yeasts which add extra character and complexity to the wines.

white flowers, white pepper and stone fruit; waxy yet crisp with peach, apricot and pineapple fruit, some grapefruit and lemon pitch; honeysuckle and minerality with good, savoury underpinnings. 

Match with spicy and rich dishes such as a Sri Lankan vegetable or chicken curry.

Good

Cune White Rioja, 2019 Spain (£9.50)

A blend of Viura and Malvasia

golden sandy yellow. ripe, fresh citrus, orchard fruit and galia melon; fresh clean acidity; pure with long saline minerality. Elegant, substantial and deft.

Good.

A versatile food wine, match with roast white meat, pasta in creamy sauces or meaty white fish.

Both these wines are reduced by £1 from 10 November to 30 November 2021 inclusive.

Monday, 15 November 2021

Marimar Estate Tasting

Three new vintages from the Marimar Estate's Don Miguel Vineyard in California

Marimar Torres and her daughter Cristina are, respectively, the 4th and 5th generation of Spain's Torres family; Marimar moved from her native land and founded Marimar Estate Vineyards and Winery in California's Sonoma County in the 1980s at the behest of her father, Don Miguel Torres.

The Estate features a Catalan-style farmhouse from Marimar's homeland and she brings a European sensitivity to her wines; the vineyards are in some of California's coolest sites, vineyard management is based on European methods, adapted the the Californian climate, the oak used is French and the wines are made to be refreshing and food-friendly.

Marimar's destiny was set when, after much searching, she found an old apple orchard in California. Here, she planted the 56-acre Don Miguel Vineyard with high density planting in the Green Valley, the coolest and foggiest region of the Russian River Valley, only ten miles from the Pacific.

She made her first wine, a barrel-fermented Chardonnay, and took it back to Spain for the now elderly and bed-ridden Don Miguel to sample; with uncharacteristic enthusiasm, he declared it to be the best white wine he had tried and instructed Marimar to build a winery in California.

The second wine, an Albariño, was originally planted on the Sonoma Coast, but struggled to ripen, so was grafted onto vines in the slightly warmer Don Miguel Vineyard.

The final wine is named after Marimar's daughter Cristina and is a testament to the challenges of establishing a winery in a foreign country many thousands of miles from her homeland with a small child.


Timeline and climate

The vineyard was purchased in 1983 and planted in 1986 initially with Chardonnay (Cali Pinot and other reds had not yet become A Thing at that time); in those days, this was not wine country at all, it was all fruit orchards.

Named after Don Miguel Torres, father of Marima, the vineyard is in the Green Valley, just north of San Francisco, part of the Russian River Valley within Sonoma; morning fogs and cooling afternoon breezes support cool-climate varieties.

The fog blows in off the Pacific through the Petaluma Gap keeping the area much cooler than Napa, which is sheltered on the other side of the mountains and can grow warmer-climate varieties such as Cabernet and Zinfandel.

The soils are relatively young compared to Europe - 8 million years vs 60 - 100 million years. Historically underwater, the soils of this area are sandy with great drainage, with some clay in the subsoil of Don Miguel.

Background on the wines and tasting notes from Marimar Torres.

Marimar Estate, Albariño, 2019 (Vivino, £29.99)

Albariño has been known to produce outstanding wines in the cool, rainy climate of Galicia, in Northwest Spain. Marimar first planted the variety in her Sonoma Coast vineyard, but it proved too cold for ripening even a cool-climate variety like this. After four years, she gave up and grafted the budwood from those vines onto slightly warmer Russian River Valley estate and it is now thriving in the Don Miguel Vineyard.

white peach, tangerine and honeysuckle; luscious, ripe fruit with more fullness, lower acidity and slightly less salinity compared to a Galician Albariño from Rias Baixas; a crowd-pleaser and very popular at the cellar door

Match with raw or grilled seafood, smoked salmon, sushi or tapas.

Marimar Estate, La Masia Chardonnay, 2018 (VINMN, Vivino, Amazon, Fareham Wine Cellar, £34.99)

La Masía means The Farmhouse in Catalonia, Marimar’s home region, and her winery is designed to resemble a classic Catalan farmhouse. The vineyards 30 acres of Chardonnay are planted with three different clones with high density of over 2,000 vines/acre. The yields are low, and labour is intensive, but the vines live longer, and the grapes acquire better balance and greater concentration, as well as more elegance and finesse.

delicate and very focused, with aromas of jasmine and white peach, ripe-yet-taut apples, pineapple, well-integrated oak, acidity and minerality; rich and savoury yet crisp and mouthfilling, reminiscent of baked apple and lemon custard; long and perfectly balanced


Marimar Estate, Cristina Pinot Noir, 2017 (Vinimus, Farenham Wine Cellar, Amazon, Wine Direct, £49.99)

Named after Marimar’s daughter, Cristina, this wine is a barrel selection from a unique blend of different Pinot Noir clones that best represent the terroir and personality of the Don Miguel Vineyard and show the most potential for aging. The vineyard’s 30 acres of Pinot Noir are planted with several clones, which yield wines with complex layers of flavours.

black fruits, ripe cherries and a hint of pomegranate, with savoury notes of bay leaf and anise; red cherry and cranberry fruit, not too ripe, good acidity; great balance and silky tannins; the complexity and acidity, perfectly integrated oak and fruit augur a long life; still very youthful and primary, drinking nicely now but will gain complexity with age

Drinking nicely now, will age at least another 15-20 years.

Saturday, 13 November 2021

Three Wines From Abbotts & Delaunay

Three wines from France's Abbotts & Delaunay

The Septembre wines are the entry-level for the Edouard Delaunay range and both have been made by Head Winemaker, Christophe Briotet who won IWC red winemaker of the year in 2020 and IWC white wine maker of the year in 2021.

Christmas isn’t complete without some Burgundy and these two elegant, well-made wines offer typical Burgundy character at exceptionally good value for money prices.

The Languedoc red would also be perfect with a Christmas roast.

Edouard Delaunay Septembre Chardonnay 2020, Burgundy (Majestic £14.99 or £10.99 mix six)


Made by Laurent Delaunay in Burgundy at his family's winemaking estate; barrel-aged and stirred on texture-building lees, resulting in a gloriously indulgent wine that stands with some of the finest oaked whites.

Grapes from the Côte d’Or are complemented by a selection from the heights of the Mâconnais adding roundness and fruitiness to the blend. 65% are vinified in the style of great white Burgundies and barrel aged, the rest from the Mâconnais in steel tanks.

Citrus, lemon, orange blossom and floral honeysuckle; elegant lemon barley sugar, melted butter, frangipane and hazelnut; saline-mineral with leesy complexity and breadth. Very adept, pure and elegant.

Drinks nicely on first pouring, opens up with aeration and will become more savoury with some cellaring.

Very Good.

Match with seafood starters or roasted white meats such as pork belly or chicken.

Edouard Delaunay Septembre Pinot Noir 2019,  Burgundy (12.5% Majestic £16.99 or £12.99 mix six)


The Edouard Delaunay estate's history dates back to 1893; the wines were the choice of The Orient Express and the finest restaurants in France. A century later, it fell out of family hands, until Laurent Delaunay bought it back in 2017 and re-established his deep-rooted family connections with the best local grape-growers.

With the help of award-winning winemaker Christophe Briotet, he’s making a huge success story of what is now Burgundy’s fastest up-and-coming producer. This Pinot Noir is made mainly from grapes from Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits.

A contemporary, complex Pinot Noir. More than 80% of the mostly handpicked grapes come from the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits with half aged in oak barrels and half in stainless steel tanks. 

cherry and redcurrant fruit with raspberry leaf, blueberry tart and marzipan; fresh and vibrant with red and dark berry fruits, fresh green herbs, clove and cigar and some mushroomy sous bois; well-integrated oak and spices. 

Good.

Match with gamey dishes, such as venison or wild salmon, as well as mushroom-based foods.

Abbotts & Delaunay Cumulo Nimbus Minervois 2017, (The Oxford Wine Company £22.99)


Also part of Badet Clément’s Abbotts & Delaunay Collection made in the Languedoc, this stylish Minervois is a blend of handpicked Syrah and Grenache grapes, the Syrah from vineyards by the Canal du Midi, the Grenache from cooler higher altitude vineyards in the Causses.

60% of the blend is aged for 9 months in oak resulting in elegant tannins, complexity and a long, silky finish.

dark fruits, spice, liquorice, herbal eucalyptus and sous bois; forest fruits, pepper and plummy juicy black cherry and acassis; fresh and harmonious with supple, very fine, well-integrated tannins. Elegant and complex.

Drinks nicely on first pouring; will also repay some cellaring.

Very Good.

Match with roasted red meats such as beef, lamb or venison.

Friday, 12 November 2021

Light & Elegant Wines from North-West Spain with Tim Atkin

Three wines from North West Spain with Tim Atkin MW of Three Wine Men

Tim Atkin MW talks through three outstanding wines from Castilla y León, one of Spain’s most diverse wine-producing regions - and increasingly one of its most exciting.

Castilla y León is Spain's north west is the largest autonomous region in the country; north west of Madrid and formerly the northern part Old Castille, it is on the central Spanish plateau, known as the meseta, whose limestone soils suggest it was once a sea or lake.

The region has 9 DOs and 4 DOPs, is home to old vines and indigenous grape varieties and is defined by its geography and climate:

- altitude, some of the highest vineyards in Europe on a high plateau
- continental climate, cold winters and hot summers with large diurnal variation
- castles dominate the landscape, big skies and wide vistas, beautiful piercing light
- the Duero river runs through the region
- the main grape varieties are Tempranillo and Verdejo

Tim says: “After tasting through an appealingly diverse set of wines from Castilla y León, I’m delighted to have the chance to show three of my favourites from this extensive and extremely varied region.

Tim's picks are a new wave Ribera del Duero red, a Ruedo Verdejo from 100-year-old vines and a rare Albillo Real from Cebreros.

Tim introduced the wines along with the winemakers and provided tasting notes.



Cuatro Rayas Viñedos Centenarios 2020, Rueda

Rueda is a successful and growing region, specialising in Verdejo; it has changed dramatically since creation as an appellation in 1980, previously growing Palomino made a sherry-style wine

Verdejo has the aromatic acidity of kiwi-style Sauvignon, but the fruit is more peachy.

The winery was founded 1935 as a co-op with over 300 members; it has some of the oldest vines in the region, some over 100 years; 100% Verdejo, 15% in French oak, 85% in stainless steel, matured in stainless steel with battonage; 

white flowers with fennel aromas, crisp and elegant, fresh and silky

Arrayan Albillo Real Granito 2020 Cebreros

750m altitude, sandy and granitic soils, formerly a bulk wine area; the Albillo Real grape is local to the area, producing small berries with golden skin, low acidity, early maturing, hand harvested; thin skins but with low rainfall and early harvesting, there is no risk of rot 

Grown on sandy-pebbly soil, they tread the grapes by foot, 3 days' skin contact, spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel, aged in waxed tinajas for seven months with no malolatic fermentation in order to preserve acidity

fresh and mineral with honey flavours and the textural grip of an amber wine; flinty saline-minerality with sweet vanilla



Páramos de Legaris 2017, Ribera del Duero

The region is all red wines, all from Tempranillo, but with very varied soil types including clay, sandy and pebbly with altitudes from 50m to 1,000m. Historically, it was considered too cold for making wines, but early-ripening Tempranillo is suited to the climate.

The winery aims to show the freshness of the wine, aged in old oak for 11 months, unusually high 15% alcohol; late frosts in April reduced yields, giving very high concentration, followed by very hot summer with harvesting a month earlier than usual; they sought to harvest as late as possible for flavour, leading to the high alcohol levels.

red and black summer berries, with dried prunes and soft, well-integrated tannins.

This was the popular favourite of the tasting.

Thursday, 11 November 2021

Prosecco - A Deeper Dive into Conegliano Valdobbiadene


A deeper dive into the "rive" of Conegliano Valdobbiadene

The story of Prosecco is, to some extent, that of a country wine that suddenly found itself in the world's spotlight.

The rise and rise of Prosecco has been pretty much universally A Good Thing; consumers have taken to it and increasing demand has allowed the winemakers of the area to experiment, take risks and generally show what the wine can do.

After last year's introduction to Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG, this masterclass looked in more detail at the terroir and the rive, the slopes that make some of the top Prosecco wines in the area.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene is a mountainous area of "hogsbacks" in the pre-Alps / Dolomites; the hills run, unusually, east-west giving a north-south aspect. Distinctive, beautiful and ancient, they are a patchwork of bio-cultural heritage that has been recognised by UNESCO.

The UK buys mostly DOC Prosecco, with sales of DOCG making up under 10% by volume; however, that amount is also the top 10% by quality.

Rive wines are an even smaller proportion, meaning that this is a specialist and limited area. However, with export markets growing, and wines that were historically consumed locally finding new audiences abroad, the UK is a key market.

Located in the Veneto region of Italy, between Venice and the Dolomites, this is a rich land where the aristocrats of the Venetian republic lived, bringing the wealth and power of La Serenissima. It is a land rich in history and culture as well as natural wealth.

The rive are the slopes of the region, rising sharply from around 50m to 500m above sea level; there are 43 named rive which vary in size and have stricture regulations, including lower yields. They are cool, bright and breezy with steep terrain.

The constant breezes with cool nights and mornings moderate the temperature, resulting in higher acidity and lower alcohol and endless geological variation.

The wines of Conegliano are from clay soils, giving structure and fruity aromas.

Valdobbiadene's ancient mixed soils give finesse, fruit and florality.


With high rain comes high vigour, so natural growth and plantings are used to maintain the ciglione terraces which are grassed rather than stony, requiring hand-harvesting and needing around 10 times the amount of labour to maintain vs the lower-lying, flatter DOC vineyards where large estates are able to use mechanised processes.

The UNESCO protection of Conegliano Valdobbiadene's hogsback terraces helps to preserve the artisan, small-producer approach against the incursion of Big Money from outside; this will always be a high-cost areas, so the wines are moving away from cellar-door sales to tourists from Austria and northern Italy to competing on a larger stage on quality, rather than on price.

The wines must be minimum 85% Glera, with up to 15% of other varieties allowed; local varieties are increasing, with international varieties declining.

Glyphosate was banned in 2019 further adding to the region's sustainable and artisan credentials..

This being Italy, Dry is in fact the sweetest style. Next comes Extra Dry which is the most common style, with the drier styles of Brut and Extra Brut growing the fastest.

Unlike dosage for Champagne, sweetness levels for Prosecco are set prior to secondary fermentation; the drier styles undergo a longer Charmat-method fermentation and are more food friendly as a result.

Drier styles also require, and are therefore reserved for, top-quality fruit to give more concentration, extract, balance and complexity.

Within the "quality pyramid" of  Prosecco, Cartizze sits at the very top and is Grand Cru-level; the oldest sites date back to the 1600s and it forms a beautiful natural amphitheatre with stony soils, high acidity and higher ripeness.

The wines were presented in flights and the tasting notes are from Sarah Abbott MW.

Flight #1 - steely rive wines: all extra Brut

These wines had more precision; Glera is an aromatic variety and expresses its terroir when handled carefully with high levels of attention to the base wine, using site selection, natural yeasts and clarification methods and lees aging after initial fermentation for extra complexity. In some cases, this aging can be for up to a year after fermentation; this gives texture to the wine rather than the biscuity autolytic character.

BORGO COL Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Brut Rive di Follina 2020 (Looking for importer)

very small producer, just 9ha, gentle with delicate fruit

ADAMI Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Brut Rive di Farra di Soligo “Col Credas” 2019 (Astrum Wine Cellars)

bracing with striking acidity, family producer, tangy and uncompromising from a stony, breezy area with delicate stony freshness

BORTOLOTTI Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Brut Rive di Santo Stefano “Vigna Montagnole” 2019 (Ellis of Richmond)

aged on the fine lees for 4 months, then a very slow, 7-month secondary fermentation; from a steep, tiny vineyard of extreme, rugged slopes; racy and crisp with green apple, a gentle saltiness and pumice minerality

CANEVEL Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Brut “Terre Del Faè” 2020 (Berkmann Wine Cellars)

from Refrontolo, nicknamed "a postcard from God" for its outstanding beauty; a larger 26ha site where sheep graze in the vineyards for vegetation management and the wines can be served throughout the meal, not just as an aperitif; a long 2nd fermentation with lots of work on the base wine to create texture, reduced clarification to maintain proteins, use of natural yeasts, lower sulphites and higher natural anti-oxidants


All these wines were very elegant, but there was a feeling that their subtlety could prove to be the greatest market challenge, as it could prove too easy simply to overlook their delicacy.

All these Extra Brut wines will match with local foods such as risotto; they open up and gain complexity even as the fizz decreases, and prove popular in the local upmarket on-trade as a food-friendly, fine-dining wine.


Flight #2 - cuvees: all Brut

These wines are all non-rive assemblages with a soft broadness 

CARPENÉ MALVOLTI Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut Rive di San Pietro di Barbozza 2020

delicate, floral, herbal and fresh; subtle and sensitive with a gentle mousse and acidity

MALIBRAN Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut “Ruio” 2020 (Vinhuset Nofra)

from gentle, rolling hills, a single-vineyard wine, even if not from the rive; broader with an almost exotic fruit character, almost peachy roundedness, salty; a classic Conegliano style, plumper and more mouthfilling

SOMMARIVA Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut 2020 (Symposium Wines)

complex, from a lower altitude and drier area; spends just 30 days on the lees for second fermentation; again has Conegliano's characteristic rounder, plusher richness

IL COLLE Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut Millesimato 2020 (Looking for importer)

family company dating back to Venetian traders, organically-farmed and uses a cut-the-cordon method for on-the-vine passito character; peachy and aromatic, floral and tropical with pear fruit; 

LE COLTURE Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut “Fagher” 2020 (Corney & Barrow) 

from 45yo vines; archetypal Valdobbiadene; vibrant, floral, aromatic with fine mousse, pretty and juicy with alluring fruit; overall, more refined


Flight #3 - cuvees with higher RS levels

These wines are not from the rive, but are cuvees sourced from within Valdobbiadene; their higher residual sugar content gives them a floral, cherry-blossom / Gardenia character; perfumed and aromatic, they are classy fun

BORTOLIN FRATELLI Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry “Rù” Millesimato 2020

18g/l  of residual sugar with fruit from both Conegliano and Valdobbiadene

RICCARDO Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Dry Millesimato (Looking for importer)

21.5 g/l with fruit only from Valdobbiadene