Soil: Wine’s X Factor

When we think about all the factors that shape our experience of wine – climate conditions, sun exposure, irrigation, yeast selection, vine treatments, natural and chemical additives – it is easy to conjure up an image of vineyards, barrels of wine fermenting in a cellar, a winemaker testing for quality and deciding when to bottle the latest vintage.

What is harder to imagine is another factor, literally millions of years in the making, determined long before wine – or even humans – existed on the earth: soil.

How much impact does soil really have on a wine, and how can we understand that impact?

Luiz Alberto, writer behind The Wine Hub blog and founder of the #winelover virtual community, explains it this way: “Arguably, the 2 most important factors of a soil, for the purpose of growing grapes and making wine, are its structure and texture. These two components will cause a vine to grow and produce grapes differently. In principle, the percentages of clay, sand, silt, loam, and rock present in the soil will determine the grape varieties that would be well suited to produce grapes of the best quality for that specific site.”

According to Alberto, the composition of the soil determines which wines are best suited to a specific sites, which is why certain regions and even certain plots of land come to be closely associated with a specific grape variety.

Soil may be one of the reasons why Le Marche is the ideal home of the Verdicchio grape – and one of the factors that makes Pievalta’s San Paolo Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva DOCG so exquisite.

The San Paolo vineyard is located on Monte Follonica in the town of Cupramontana, in the province of Ancona, indicated in light blue on this map:

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The soils there are rather loose, characterized by sandstone that dates back to the Pliocene era – 2.5-5.3 million years ago. In antiquity, the area was covered by the Adriatic sea, and the currents of sand that formed these soils came mostly from the Alpine range.

According to the “Strada del Gusto” website of the comune of Cupramontana, the grapes of this zone maintain a bright freshness and intriguing salinity. This helps explain the principal characteristics of Riserva San Paolo; these soils yield extremely complex wines, with a long finish and deep notes of ripe fruit and honey.

While there are some who dispute the importance of soil in shaping the profile of a wine, others, like Alberto, agree that the uniqueness of each plot of soil is that certain X factor that makes great wines truly one-of-a-kind:

“Even if some specialists will argue that the influence of the soil is not as dramatic in wine quality as those presented by the climatic conditions of a region … to a certain extent soil can influence wine quality with its own positive or negative characteristics and the viticultural practices used to optimize the positive ones, and reduce or even eliminate the negative traits,” Alberto writes.

In the case of Pievalta, nature and culture combine in a remarkable way: methodical biodynamic winemaking principles put into practice on a territory characterized by ancient, high quality soils perfectly suited to Le Marche’s native grapes.

 

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Italian Wine List 101

We’ve all been there – you sit down to enjoy a meal at a new restaurant with a group of friends, and the waiter hands you all menus and fills your water glass. He then sets down on the table a hefty wine list – a binder full of sheets in plastic sleeves, a booklet of absurdly fine print, an oversized laminated card of indecipherable names, places, and prices. Your dining companions nudge it in your direction. “Pick whatever you want!” they say with cheerfully feigned innocence, happy to pass off the work to you as the wine enthusiast of the group.

You crack open the booklet and start to scan the list, and realize the enormity of the task before you. Somehow, you’re expected to quickly digest pages of information, and make a choice that will satisfy a group of individuals with different tastes, who will be eating different meals, all without missing a beat in the conversation.

And for all its merits, Italian wine can often be the most complex of all to understand. Italy has at least 550 native grapes – and by some estimates, up to twice as many more that haven’t yet been documented – which is more than the number of grapes native to Spain, Greece, and France combined. Add to that 20 different regions, innumerable microclimates, and a dizzying number of denominations, and the result can be difficult for even a seasoned wine pro to digest.20-italian-wine-regions

Dr. Ian D’Agata, arguably the worldwide expert on Italian grape varietals, has spent years exploring all those layers of Italian wine complexity; his research is compiled in his book Native Wine Grapes of Italy (University of California Press, 2014). “I think when it comes to Italian wines, the best thing to know is the grape varieties and what kinds of wines they can make. Everyone is comfortable with Merlot and Chardonnay because they know, more or less, what the wine they are buying will be like. It’s a comfort thing,” says D’Agata. “So you need to know the general characteristics of some of Italy’s best and most common varieties, such as whites like Pinot Grigio, Verdicchio, and Arneis, and red grapes like Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, and Nero d’Avola.”

Familiarity with various grape varietals comes with experience, which can be enhanced by wine tasting classes. D’Agata teaches seminars on Italian native grapes as part of the Vinitaly International Academy, an educational initiative aimed at increasing understanding of Italian wine around the world.

But for a basic introduction, Wine Folly has created a handy guide to deciphering an Italian wine list, by breaking down the four pieces of information contained in a typical menu description of a wine: producer, wine type, region, and vintage.Pievalta 2 draw

Producer – Knowing who the producer is – or even just what type of producer it is – will help you understand if the wine is rare, easy to find, organically produced, etc. In this case, Pievalta is the first and only biodynamic producer of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, so you know you’ll be getting a wine made according to the strict Demeter standards.

Type of Wine – A producer can give his or her wine its own unique name, but Italian wines are often named for a region, or a sub-region, which is classified according to certain production rules. Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi must contain a minimum of 85% Verdicchio with Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes rounding out the rest.

Region – Italy has 20 regions, and each one specializes in certain grapes or wine types. Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi is a traditional, and highly prized, wine of the Le Marche region.

Vintage – Like all produce in Italy, the climate conditions of each year affects the wine; and for red wines, generally the tannins mellow with age.

Mastering the rich complexity of Italy’s many wine grapes, styles, and regions would take a lifetime; luckily there is an Italian wine for every occasion along the way!

@volta_boulder, the newest entry in one of America’s leading food & wine cities

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Above: as the owners of Volta write on their Facebook, “food is love made visual.”

In the minds of many U.S.-based food and wine professionals, Boulder, Colorado is one of the nation’s leading food meccas and one of its epicenters for gastronomy.

Outside of Las Vegas, this easy-going, green-leaning university town has more Master Sommeliers per capita than any other U.S. city. And the concentration of fine dining restaurants is arguably higher than anywhere else in the country.

Late last year, Boulder food scene veterans Jon and Eleni Deering launched Volta, a Mediterranean restaurant inspired in part by Eleni’s Greek origins.

As their press page reveals, the restaurant has been a huge hit, even in a town where restaurant-goers are spoiled by a wealth of great options.

Perusing Jon’s superb list, it’s clear that he has a penchant for thoughtful wines that have been raised free of chemicals.

We proud to share the news that the Pievalta sparkling Veridcchio, Perlugo, is included.

And we can’t recommend the restaurant highly enough.

Volta
2480 Canyon Blvd
Boulder, CO 80302
(303) 938-8800
Google map

Image via the Volta Facebook.

Barone Pizzini & Pievalta in Houston, Texas! @houstonsomms @CamerataHouston

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Above: on Wednesday, Barone Pizzini manager Silvano Brescianini addressed a group of Houston’s leading wine professionals at the Houston Sommelier Association (photo by top Houston wine blogger Amy Gross).

Barone Pizzini manager Silvano Brescianini took time out from his Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri tour of the U.S. to spend a day in Houston, Texas, this week.

The highlight of his visit was the seminar and tasting he led at the Houston Sommelier Association, a group that offers weekly seminars and tastings to its members as well as anyone else who would like to attend the gatherings (free of charge).

As he walked them through Franciacorta’s different subsoil types and unique climatic conditions, Silvano was impressed by the members’ and other attendees’ professionalism and keen interest in the appellation and the wines.

But its was their collegiality and their sense of shared mission that really struck him as unique.

After the tasting, each participant — and there were roughly 30 people in attendance — worked to reset the room at Camerata (the popular wine bar where the events are held) and clean the 60+ glasses used for the tasting. It took the group about 10 minutes to turn the room around.

Houston is quickly becoming one of the A-list destinations for wine in the U.S. today and it’s not hard to understand why: the wine community there has the passion, drive, wine knowledge, talent and camaraderie that any major city needs to become a leader in fine wine.

Thank you again, Houston, Camerata, and the Houston Sommelier Association for your interest in Franciacorta and Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi!

We’ll post some dining highlights early next week. Stay tuned!

@RN74Seattle + #Verdicchio + #PacificOysters = #betterthansex

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What a thrill to learn that Pievalta Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi is currently featured on the wine list “Sommelier Select” at RN74 Seattle (above), the northwest outpost of celebrity chef Michael Mina and celebrity sommelier Rajat Parr.

Considering that Seattle is one of the best places in the country world to eat raw oysters and that Verdicchio, with it salty and sometimes unctuous undertones, is arguably one of the wine world’s best pairings for raw oysters, you can only imagine what we’ll be ordering the next time we visit this fantastic restaurant.

Seattle is one of the leading “food” cities in the U.S. right now and the RN74 location there, located in the heart of downtown, is one of its hottest destinations.

Waiter, waiter! I’ll have what she’s having… 😉

pacific northwest oysters

Images via the RN74 Seattle Facebook.

@FatGayVegan @MessyCook “Barone Pizzini has crafted gold with its 2012 Pievalta Verdicchio Superiore”

best italian white wineWe were thrilled to read the following review of the Pievalta 2012 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi on Fat Gay Vegan, a highly popular London-centric blog that covers “vegan news, reviews & events” (image via Fat Gay Vegan).

Grown at its organic vineyard in central Italy’s Marche region near the Adriatic coast, Barone Pizzini has crafted gold with its 2012 Pievalta Verdicchio Superiore.

Eclipsed by more well known white wines like Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio, Verdicchio is the overshadowed champion of Italian whites. The style of this wine, clean and crisp, suits anyone with an inclination toward dry and citrusy Sauvignon blancs. It’s also a bottle I’d happily tote along to any party or social gathering, whether to gift to a host or to drink by myself in the corner (because I’d really rather not share). In other words, it’s a solid all rounder, or at least it is for me.

I drank the wine sans a meal, but I think it would pair suitably with sushi or a light pasta dish with smoked tofu. Be that as it may, my preference for a fresh wine like this Verdicchio is still to drink it on its own, and that is how I will likely continue to enjoy any future consumption too.

Click here to read the complete review…

Harvest in Castelli di Jesi has begun!

A note from Pievalta manager Silvia Loschi:

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On Friday, we sampled the grapes for a third time and decided that the moment had arrived to begin picking.

This morning at 6:00 a.m. (Tuesday, September 3, 2013), we assembled the whole team (Alessandro, Gianlcua, Mitico, and Roberto) and began picking in the “Veranda” vineyard.

These grapes will be vinified as the base wine for our sparkling wine.

It was planted in 2009 and it’s called “Veranda” because it lies just below the veranda we use as our tasting room.

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Here at Pievalta, the harvest is done exclusively by hand.

The grapes are picked by hand and then placed in small crates. The size of the crates allows only for a maximum weight of 18 kg.

There are 16 workers in the vineyards who do the picking. They prepare the crates, which are then loaded on to a cart that we bring to the press.

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Tomorrow we also plan to begin picking the grapes in our young vineyard in San Paolo di Iesi, also planted in 2009.

You can feel the excitement of harvest in the air!

—Silvia Loschi
manager
Pievalta