Villabella : moving Chiaretto di Bardolino to a premium level of rosé

With a new summer come new campaigns for rosé. The Anteprima del Chiaretto promotes the crisp and fresh rosés from the Garda Lake, in northern Italy. These wines are made of the same grapes as the red Bardolino, so mainly Corvina, often complemented with Rondinella.

Just as last year I received samples of the new vintage. My assessment last year of the 2020s was very positive. I remember writing that it would be hard to pick a bad Chiaretto. The balance of those rosés was the main reason for that, with attractive red fruit and that typical crisp acidity that gives that mouthwatering quality to Chiaretto. The 2021 vintage proved to be a more uneven vintage, with generally speaking a markedly higher acidity, so not everyone managed to achieve that balance of the 2020 Chiaretti. One winery that managed particularly well despite the challenges, is Vigneti Villabella. Not only were their four Chiaretti consistently good and nicely balanced, one of them also showed remarkable complexity and depth. Impressed by their wines, I spoke to Mr Franco Cristoforetti to find out more.

Vigneti Villabella was founded in 1971 on the shores of Lake Garda by Franco’s father, Giorgio Cristoforetti, and Walter Delibori. Despite the fact that Villabella produces wines from all the main DOP in the region, be it Bardolino, Valpolicella, Soave or Lugana, their focus has always been Chiaretto. As Mr Cristoforetti explains : “We know Corvina very well. We know how to work with it. For example, we have always selected vineyards of Corvina to make Chiaretto.” The latter is not always the case for rosé, as it can also be a by-product of red wine, when part of the juice is drained off to make rosé, often referred to as the saignée method. That was also the way that Chiaretto was produced, at least until 2014, when the Consorzio of Bardolino decided to start making a very fresh, crisp and sapid style of Chiaretto, using the direct press method. Mr Cristoforetti, who is also the president of the Consorzio, still speaks of that moment as a revolutionary decision. And for sure one they have reaped great benefits of. The production of Chiaretto went up from 4 million bottles in 2014 to 10 million bottles just a few years later.

Villabella’s standard Chiaretto di Bardolino is one of the standard bearers of the current style. “It has been a benchmark wine since 2014”, explains Mr Cristoforetti. “We chill the grapes, which allows us to extend the maceration. And longer maceration gives a stronger aromatic profile.” Already last year this wine was among my favorites of the 2020 vintage, and also the 2021 stands out because of the pleasantly fruity nose, with peaches and strawberries, refreshing acidity, and its delicate herbal aromas. “It’s the perfect wine for pizzerias or bars who serve rosé by the glass”. And the waiting staff will undoubtedly love the screwcap.

Another Chiaretto di Bardolino is Villabella’s Heaven Scent. It’s remarkably darker than the other one. “2021 was a more difficult year than 2020 for Chiaretto. In general there is the hallmark crispness and acidity, but the roundness of 2020 is lacking a bit here and there. We might have to wait a bit for the acidity to integrate and even out. But it was also a particularly challenging vintage to manage the color, which in turn reduced the maceration time. That also explains why 2021 can be less aromatic than 2020. Heaven Scent is a wine that we make for the Northern European market, including the UK. For them it is less important to have very pale rosé, so we let it get a bit more color.” It for sure is a typical example of the Chiaretto style, very juicy and fruity from the first sip, smooth and round, with attractive fruit and crispy freshness.

In 2002 the owners of Villabella buy Villa Cordevigo, a beautiful estate that they turn into the hospitality center of the winery. The surrounding vineyards are used for a separate line of wines that are sold under the Cordevigo label. “The grapes for the Villa Cordevigo Chiaretto 2021 are grown organically. It’s also the only Chiaretto that is made using ambient yeasts for the fermentation. This gives a completely different wine, and a different mouthfeel,” explains Mr Cristoforetti. The result is a rather expressive Chiaretto with strawberries and delicate smoky notes. The mouthfeel is remarkably smooth and creamy, quite the opposite of most Chiaretti in 2021, and is kept fresh by a well integrated acidity.

The Gaudenzia 2019 is the crown jewel of Villabella’s Chiaretti. The 2018 was the first appearance of this Chiaretto and it was immediately met with great enthusiasm. German language wine magazine Falstaff bestowed it with 94 points, putting it in Italy’s top three rosés in 2021. The Gaudenzia 2019 is no less a head-turner. Amongst the 50 samples I tasted, it stood out as a complex wine with a very different set of aromas than other Chiaretti. Ripe peach, melon and smoky notes in the background give this wine a very different profile. On the palate this wine is also much fuller and richer, adding extra depth. The color of the wine has obvious yellow tones that show that this is not last year’s rosé. “When we make this wine, we also extract some tannins, that is one of the reasons why we let it age 3 years before we put it on the market. We also apply micro-oxygenation for that reason.” Mr Cristoforetti further explains that this is not just a direct press rosé : “This is a mix of the two methods. Part of the grapes are pressed directly, the other part undergoes the saignée method. In fact, everything for this wine is different. Also the vineyard management, for example, is adapted for the Gaudenzia. We want more phenolic maturity of the grapes, and it is important to reach a higher level of sugar. The slightly higher level of alcohol and the extra glycerine are important to obtain that richness on the palate.”

When asked if there will be more such Chiaretti in the future, Mr Cristoforetti answers positively. “With the production of Chiaretto going up, there is more space for experiments, so yes, there will undoubtedly be more such wines in the future.” But he does not see this as a break-away from the main style. “The Gaudenzia is sold in Michelin-starred restaurants, so it is great to have it as an exceptional wine in your range. But 98% of Chiaretti will remain fresh and crisp rosé.”

With a great demand for this style of rosé in Italy and Germany and with Chiaretto retailing easily at 10€ and more, it would indeed be not very wise to switch this success formula. But wines such as the Gaudenzia are a great addition for people who are looking for more complexity and a rosé that you can drink in every season.

Belgian wine going international at ProWein

Climate change may have many losers, but also winners. Belgian wine definitely belongs to the latter category. In the 1990s the pioneers were declared crazy to plant vines in rainy and cold Belgium. Nowadays, their example is followed by dozens of others. The number of hectares under vine went up from 72 hectares in 2006 to 383 hectares in 2018, a year in which nearly 2 million litres of wine were made by 140 producers. Apart from the spectacular rise, these numbers also show that the average surface per producer is 2,7 ha, which indicates how much the boom in Belgian wine making is driven by small iniatives. While there are a few bigger wineries with 15-20 hectares, this is nothing compared to the UK, another winner of climate change, where top sparkling wine producer Nyetimber alone has 350 hectares. While available surface in the UK is obviously much bigger, it illustrates the difference in size of these undertakings.

Not very surprisingly the pioneers mostly made sparkling wines in the early years, as these are not so demanding in terms of ripeness of the grapes, or they made still wines with hybrid grape varieties that are more disease resistant. Nowadays, however, there are countless experiments with grape varieties and vinification techniques. Just to give an idea : one audacious wine maker even planted Tempranillo, not exactly the variety that springs to mind as a candidate for the Belgian climate.

Another sign of the dynamism in Belgian wine making is the fact that vineyards pop up literally everywhere. Despite the fact that there are protected designations of origin (PDO), there are many new vineyards outside of these zones. And even within the PDOs the rules are deliberately kept very flexible in terms of allowed grape varieties or vinification techniques. The regulatory bodies are well aware that wine making in Belgium is in full development and that sufficient leeway should be given to see what works and what doesn’t.

All of this makes for very exciting times for Belgian wine making. And the next logical step has been made : for the first time in history Belgium had a pavilion with nine wineries at ProWein (Düsseldorf), one of the world’s biggest wine trade fairs. Some of the Belgian wineries already export to neighboring countries, but for others this was a window to the rest of the world. But most importantly, perhaps, this was an occasion to show what is going on in Belgium, gain experience and, above all, get feedback from an international professional public.

An important nuance needs to be made, however, as only the Dutch speaking Flemish side was represented. The wineries from French speaking Wallonia decided the timing was not good to participate this year. Indeed, 2021 was a challenging vintage and the yield was very low, dramatically reducing the number of bottles to be sold. A concern, by the way, that also some of the Flemish participants voiced.

In general the diversity of the wines was big, but more importantly : the quality of the wines was good, and at times even impressive. ProWein showed that Belgium is making wine that should be taken seriously. The leading wineries have become professional organizations and their best wines can compete internationally.

Below are some of the highlights of the wines that were presented at ProWein. The prices between brackets are consumer prices.

Meerdael is one the pioneers of Belgian wine : the vineyards were planted in 1994 and the first bottles of sparkling wine appeared on the market in 1998. Situated 30km east of Brussels, they have 8 hectares with 60.000 vines of Chardonnay planted on chalk soil. Making sparkling wine was the plan of Paul and An Vleminckx-Lefever from the beginning, and that is what they are still doing today. Apart from a very limited production of rosé sparkling wine, Meerdael only makes one wine, the Chardonnay Meerdael (+/- 19€), a traditional method sparkling wine of 100% Chardonnay. The wine spends 2 years on the lees, resulting in a very pleasant and accessible sparkling wine with apple and pear aroma’s and fine bubbles.

Genoels-Elderen is the biggest winery in Belgium and another one of the pioneers. They are situated near the border with the Netherlands, just next to Maastricht. When they planted their vineyards in 1990 many declared them crazy to try and make wine in Belgium. Today they have 22 hectares and are not only known in Belgium, but also export to the UK, Hong Kong, Japan and even France, where their wines are on the list of the restaurants of famous chef Alain Ducasse. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the main grape varieties here, with which they make both still and sparkling wines. Cellar master Joyce van Rennes was trained in Burgundy, and that is clear in the wines she makes. The Chardonnay Goud 2018 (28,20€) has a very attractive nose with ripe apple and well-dosed oak. This is full-bodied, yet well-balanced Chardonnay that can perfectly rival its famous siblings from Burgundy. The sparkling wines are also particularly good : both the Zwarte Parel, or Black Pearl, (18,90€) as the Zilveren Parel, or Silver Pearl, (28,20€) are attractive sparkling wines. The Zwarte Parel is 100% Chardonnay (7g/l dosage, 3 years on the lees) and displays green apple and yeasty notes. This is very refreshing and refined with an elegant mousse and mild acidity. For the Zilveren Parel (8g/l dosage, 5 years on the lees), the Chardonnay is aged for one year in the oak barrels that have been used for the still wines. The result is a somewhat riper and fuller sparkling wine, with a delicate mousse.

40km further north lies Aldeneyck, a winery that sold its first wines in 2003 and is one the forces behind Europe’s first cross-border protected designation of orgin , the Maasvallei, uniting Belgian and Dutch wineries along the river Maas. Aldeneyck has 10 hectares and a relatively big range of wines, both still and sparkling. While a few of the grape varieties that are used here are also found in the Alsace, France, the style is anything but Alsatian. The Pinot Gris 2020 (14,90€), for example, is very mineral with beautiful flint aromas, and refreshing acidity. The Riesling 2019 (14,90€) is also a big success here. While some wineries in Belgium try their hand at making Riesling, it is rare to find one that has the typicity of Riesling. At Aldeneyck they succeeded not only in making a Riesling with good typicity, but also a very attractive one, with loads of exotic fruit and minerality, and gorgeous acidity. Finally, the Chardonnay 2020 (22,90€) is simply an impressive wine with aromas of apple, oak, and buttery notes. The balance of this wine is impeccable, with purity of fruit and a creamy mouthfeel.

At the other end of the country, on the border with France, lies Entre-Deux-Monts. From 3 hectares in 2005 the winery evolved to be one of the biggest today with 20 hectares and 11 different wines, both still and sparkling. The region is popular for weekend getaways, and Entre-Deux-Monts made a smart move to respond to this with organising guided walks and offering lunch boxes that you can have in the vineyards. The style of their wines in general is fruity and accessible. The Wiscoutre traditional method sparkling wine (17,50€), for example, is made of Kerner and Chardonnay and makes a pleasant apéritif (7-9g/l dosage, 15 months on the lees). The Bacquaert Brut (22,25€), named after the owner, is clearly a step up on the ladder, offering more complexity and power, green apple and refined brioche aromas. The still wines of this blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (5-7 g/l dosage, 30 months on the lees) were aged in wood barrels, although this is not immediately noticeable in the nose, but rather in the volume that is nicely supported by fine and creamy bubbles.

Less than 10km from Ghent, and practically on the banks of the river Schelde, lies Domein Waes. Created by brothers Lodewijk and Lieven Waes in 2005, the winery has 4 hectares and works exclusively with hybrid grapes, the likes of rondo, regent, solaris and others. Lodewijk Waes is also the president of the Flemish association of wine makers, representing more than 100 wineries. While hybrid grapes are still seen by some as second rank grapes, Domein Waes proves that it is possible to make attractive wines with international appeal from these grape varieties . The Waes Wit 2020 (20€) is a white wine made of Bianca and Solaris and has a very fresh citrusy nose, with delicate smoky aromas. On the palate this wine is particularly fresh and lively due to its vibrant acidity that lingers in the finish. The Waes Rood 2020 (20€) is made of Rondo, Regent and Leon-Millot and has a very appealing nose with ripe, luscious fruit and oak. On the palate this wine has a fresh, acidic vein running through the wine that gives elegance and balance.

Another winery that practically lies in the shadow of a big city is Oud Conynsbergh, situated at roughly 10km from Antwerp. With the first vines planted only in 2014, Oud Conynsbergh is a recent creation by a group of 8 friends. There are four different vineyards, together 10 hectares, where they planted Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gamay. Oud Conynsbergh is certified organic, no small feat in Belgium, and it is clear from their wines that they make few compromises. The Parel Chardonnay 2018 (27€ – 26 months on the lees) is a sparkling wine without dosage and very little sulfite (less than 35g). With its beautiful green apple and brioche aromas, it is particularly appealing . The mousse is very refined and the wine is elegant and pure. The fact that this is made from very young vines makes this effort even more impressive. The Pinot Auxerrois 2019 (18€) is an intriguing wine. It underwent spontaneous fermentation and was aged in a barrel of acacia wood. While it is a bit timid on the nose, it is very expressive on the palate with exotic fruit and well dosed wood. It is very round and creamy and you might even think that there is a bit of sweetness. That is why the wine did not do the malolactic fermentation, to preserve the freshness, and that worked out really well for this wine.

Domein Hoenshof is situated in the east of Belgium, in a village called Borgloon. What started in 2002 as a hobby is now a project of 6,5 hectares where no less than 30 grape varieties are planted. The will to experiment at Hoenshof is strong : there is a Chardonnay (12,90€), for example, that is dry hopped, a cheeky wink to Belgium’s beer culture. Or a Souvignier Gris with the name Goddelijk Monster (12,90€), or divine monster, aged in barrels that were used to make Belgium’s famous Gueuze beer. It’s the red wines, however, that are the showstoppers here. The Cabernet Barrique 2020 (19,90€) is a blend of Cabernet Cortis, Cabernet Cantor and Cabaret Noir. The nose offers forest fruit and a vegetal note, slightly reminiscent of a Loire Cabernet Franc. The juicy fruit is supported by good acidity, which makes for a nicely balanced, medium-bodied wine. The Stierenbloed 2019 (19,90€), or Bull’s Blood, is a reference to the Hungarian Egri Bikaver, and a blend of Cabernet Dorsa, Cabernet Cantor and Cabernet Cortis. It spent 24 months on barriques. This wine is slightly riper and more powerful than the Cabernet Barrique. This makes for a very complete and attractive wine with forest fruit, subtle oak, freshness and ripe tannins. The balance of this wine is just beautiful.

The most recently created winery at the Belgian pavilion was Gloire de Duras, a family project that is partly converting from fruit trees (apples and pears) to grapes. Despite the fact that growing grapes is much more labor intensive than growing pears and apples, it is considered to be a better investment for the future. Especially growing apples has become a real challenge, as cheaper fruit from Poland is making it sheer impossible to still compete, says owner Peter Nijskens. Even if Gloire de Duras is a very recent creation, the wines already show that there is talent and potential here. The Chardonnay Barrique 2020 (18€) is a very fresh, almost Chablisian Chardonnay, with nice smoky notes in the nose, and apples. Freshness and elegance are the key words for this Chardonnay, and in fact for most of their wines. Also the Pinot Gris Barrique 2020 (17€) is a great example of this style with fresh pear and again those delicate, smoky aromas from the well-dosed wood. This is not an Alsatian style of Pinot Gris, but a lively and balanced wine.

Finally, the last winery at the Belgian pavilion, was perhaps also the most controversial. Wijnkasteel Vandeurzen is the project of entrepreneur Urbain Vandeurzen, who in 2013 bought a castle with 11 hectares of ground in the region of Leuven, just east of Brussels, and turned it into a modern winery with restaurant. The choice of grapes here is an eclectic combination of Chardonnay, Grüner Veltliner, Albariño, Pinot Noir and Tempranillo. The latter may raise more than a few eyebrows, but ironically it is the wine that is most of interest here. The Tempranillo 2019 (25€) has ripe red fruit, and while the wine does not have the body of its Spanish siblings, there is a good balance here between the fruit and the freshness. With the tannins still being a bit angular, this wine will need some time to soften its rough edges.

Château Salettes : elegant Bandol and surprising IGP wines

The French Provence is the world’s hotspot for rosé, and yet, its most interesting proponent is not very well known beyond wine illuminati. Situated about 50km east of Marseilles, the AOC Bandol produces rosé that has little to do with the rest of the Provence rosé, and that may very well be the reason of its place in the shadow. The first difference you will notice is the darker, salmon colored hue of the wine, that stands in stark contrast to those very pale rosés that have become the standard for many people. But more importantly, Bandol rosé has body and intensity. “Résolument gastronomique” is the way the Bandolais describe their rosé. The use of Mourvèdre lies at the heart of this very different style. While the minimum of this variety for the production of rosé is officially only 20%, many wineries use higher percentages of Mourvèdre. Its small, thick-skinned berries are responsible for that beguiling color, but is also rich in antioxidants, which explains why Bandol rosé has great aging potential. This is even much more the case for the AOC’s reds, where Mourvèdre minimally constitutes 50% of the blend. Also here, however, the percentage is often much higher, sometimes even reaching 95%.

Situated in the hills of La Cadière d’Azur, Château Salettes is a good starting point to discover Bandol. The flagship wines are obviously the AOC Bandol wines in red, rosé and white, but the range is quite diverse with IGP Méditerranée wines under the name Verdarail, and even a few low intervention wines labeled Haut Salettes.

“The whole range is officially certified organic since 2018”, explains Cécile Assante, who welcomes visitors at the Château. As everywhere in Bandol, Rosé is also here the main product. 2021 is the latest vintage on offer, but in April there was stell some 2019 available as well. “People always want the latest vintage”, sighs Cécile. “They think that rosé needs to be drunk fast, but Bandol rosé can age beautifully!” To illlustrate her point, Cécile pours a 2014 rosé, boasting a wonderfully complex nose with dried fruit and mild herbs. The palate is quite surprising as the wine is bone dry and still nicely fresh. “You need to tell the story of this wine to the people, and prepare them that this is something entirely different.” Few people will indeed deliberately age a rosé for so long, but this 2014 is a great example of what is possible with Bandol.

The 2019 rosé is a perfect bridge between the 2014 and 2021. While the 2019 is nowhere near the dried fruit of the 2014, there is a ripeness of fruit, “sucrosité” as Cécile calls it, that signals the evolution. The 2021, finally, is obviously the freshest of the three, with attractive aromas of citrus and peach, lively acidity and a bit of salinity in the finish.

Whereas Mourvèdre constitutes 37% of the blend for the Bandol rosé, it goes up to 75% for the Bandol rouge. While that may suggest strong and tannic wines, Château Salettes makes it reds with a nice balance between volume, power and elegance. Th 2018 is even remarkably accessible already now with fine aromatics of forest fruit. Rather medium than full bodied, this is a wine that boasts attractive fruit and ripe tannins. No hurry to drink this, but certainly enjoyable already now. The 2017 has similar aromatics, but on the palate everything goes up a notch : the intensity, the volume, and the structure. While the tannins are ripe and well managed, it is clear that the 2017 will outlive the 2018 by far. And yet, it also has a refined character that sets the reds of Salettes apart from other Bandol estates that make more robust wines, such as Gros Noré or Gaussen. Even the Cayenne, the top wine of Salettes, which is made of 95% Mourvèdre, is not the beast you would expect. Quite the contrary even. It was not available to taste at the Château, but the 2013 miraculously found its way to the blind tasting table a few weeks later. And the guesses ranged from Burgundy to aged Bordeaux, again perfectly illustrating the elegant style of this winery.

A special mention needs to be made for some of the IGP wines of Château Salettes. The Verdarail rouge, for example, is a wine made of Carignan. While that grape variety only plays a supporting role, at best, in the AOC Bandol, it is the star of the Verdarail 2021. This is a very aromatic wine, with cherries, cherry pith, lively acidity, and lots of juicy, ripe fruit. This is an entry-level wine in the line-up of the estate, but let that be no reason to ignore is, as it is simply delightful when slightly chilled and the sun is out.

A final word for the equally very drinkable and yet very different Haut Salettes rouge 2020, which is very expressive, with fresh red fruit and a slightly wild touch. Although there is 60% of Mourvèdre in here, the 30% Counoise and the 10% Rolle (perhaps better known as Vermentino, a white grape variety!) make this a decidedly light, fruity and fresh charmer that is even reminiscent of some the natural Beaujolais that is made much further up north. So should you visit this Château, do not stop after the Bandols, as there is plenty to discover and enjoy here.

Palmento Costanzo : a future reference for Etna wines?

When I was offered to try the services of WineJump, a platform that allows you to buy wines in Europe straight from the winery, the first thing I noticed was that they have a very big offer of Italian wines. My litmus test for Italian wine shops is to see how many wines they have from Le Marche, a wine region that produces top white wines (Verdicchio) and underestimated reds (Lacrima di Morro d’Alba anyone?). Turns out they have 7 pages with wines from Le Marche… Pretty impressive choice!

But my curiosity about the wines of Palmento Costanzo got the better of me. It’s been quite a while since my post on Etna Rosso, and I was curious about this relatively new winery. They’re based on the northern slopes of the volcano, near Passopisciaro. where several famous wineries are based, such as Graci and Frank Cornelissen. Palmento Costanzo is one of many wineries to have arrived since 2000, many of which came with ample resources. Palmento Costanzo does not seem to be an exception, as the winery was bought in 2011 by Mimmo Costanzo, owner of a big construction company in Catania. The pictures leave no doubt about the investments that were done to build a very modern winery. The ambition level also speaks from the price setting of the wines. The most expensive wine in the range is a pre-phylloxera wine that hits the 100€ mark. So it’s with high expectations that I tasted 6 of their wines.

The whites

It is mainly the red wines of the Etna that receive all the attention, and I must admit that the few Etna Biancos that I tasted before did not do much to change that for me. I was ready, however, to be proven wrong.

Mofete 2019, Etna Bianco (70% Carricante – 30% Cataratto)

Pop and pour : the word that comes to mind after the first sniff is “crystalline”. The nose is very pure and cool. There’s a subtle scent of flowers and sage. This wine is particularly linear, and I mean that in a positive way. If you’re familiar with the wines of the Etna, then this does probably not come as a surprise, but still, it’s so counter-intuitive to come across such a cool and linear wine from an island in the Mediterranean. I had Chablis recently that was not as tight as this Etna Bianco! The 12°C alcohol is an apt illustration of the character of this wine.

Half a day later : more fruit has appeared, with apricots that make this wine more expressive and perhaps more approachable. The acidity is still prominent, however, without being excessive. This is an attractive, cool-climate wine. Yes, from Sicily.

Bianco di Sei 2018, Etna Bianco (90% Carricante – 10% Cataratto)

The price tag of the Bianco di Sei is 10€ higher than the Mofete, and some wineries then make the mistake of making an ambitiously wooded version of the entry wine. In this case there is no wood involved, but 10 months of lees aging, which normally gives added volume and roundness to a wine.

The nose is rather reserved, but again very fresh, just as the Mofete. There is a big difference in terms of volume, however, as this wine definitely has more body. There where the Mofete has an almous nervous tension, the Bianco di Sei has a friendlier way of introducing itself without, however, losing its coolness and vibrant acidity. There is a bit of fennel and an intriguing herbal fresh note that oddly reminds me of pine resin. This is a beautifully balanced wine with a very distinctive character.

The reds

Mofete 2017, Etna Rosso (80% Nerello Mascalese – 20% Nerello Cappucio)

Pop and pour : Beautiful flowery and ethereal aromas rise from the glass. These quickly make space, however, for ripe red fruit that balances between raspberries and cherries. There’s a certain generosity here that comes with the ripe fruit and that’s continued in the mouthfeel, which is rather round and and a bit fluffy. A slight bitterness in the end wraps it up for day 1.

Day two : no more raspberries, but black cherries now, with a bit of allspice. The generosity of day one has made place for more precision, and a more slender frame that also brings out the tannins, although they are still very civilized. Drinking this wine now will certainly provide a lot of immediate pleasure with the ripe fruit, but if you can give this wine an extra year or two you will be rewarded with more definition and elegance.

Nero di sei 2017, Etna Rosso (80% Nerello Mascalese – 20% Nerello Cappucio)

Pop and pour : a little bit shy in the beginning, but then beguiling aromas of redcurrant come out of the glass, very ethereal and refined. While the wine seems a bit fragile at first, it gains in volume with a bit of air, and there’s a very interesting savory element that adds to the red fruit, with curry powder and black pepper. Very intriguing. The balance is really nice with good acidity that keeps the wine very succulent.

Half a day later : the red fruit has turned into attractive cherries, with aromas that are reminiscent of a luscious Sangiovese. Quite different from what it was just after opening, but just as enjoyable. There’s definitely plenty of time left to drink this wine, but you can also just happily pop the cork and enjoy this wine.

Contrada Santo Spirito – Particella 466 – 2016, Etna Rosso (90% Nerello Mascalese – 10% Nerello Cappucio)

Palmento Costanzo have three “Contrada” wines. Santo Spirito is the name of the Contrada, but they have further divided the vineyard in three parcels – which received the numbers 464, 466 and 468 – as they felt each parcel gives a different expression of Etna Rosso.

There where the Mofete and the Nero di Sei opened with red fruit before evolving towards black fruit, this one immediately opens with cherries, appearing a bit riper, and also more structured, with tannins that are present, but pleasantly ripe and still very much playing a supportive role rather than taking the forefront. Again everying is nicely balanced, nothing is overdone. While this wine is attractive already as it is with lots of luscious fruit, I expect it to develop more nuances and layers with a few years more in the bottle.

Contrada Santo Spirito – Particella 468 – 2016, Etna Rosso (90% Nerello Mascalese – 10% Nerello Cappucio)

The nose is very subtle and complex, with enticing redcurrant. In general I agree that we should not over-compare, but this wine begs a comparison with great Chambolles. This is a nose that really takes me in and that does so from the very start, so no need to wait until it opens up. People looking for big and bold will not be impressed by this 468 as this is very much a light-footed wine, but if that is your game, than this wine really delivers. Everything is in the right place, with tender fruit, refreshing acidity, and subtle tannins. There’s also a hint of blood orange that adds to the complexity of the wine. With a price-tag of over 40€, this is definitely not cheap, but I daresay that Palmento Costanzo’s ambitions resulted in a top notch Etna Rosso here!

Conclusion :

The consistent quality of the wines of Palmento Costanzo is remarkable. Although this is a relatively young winery, they seem to have found a clear identity for their wines, with their hallmark balance and freshness. And that is true, by the way, both for their white and red Etna wines. The Particella 468 left a big impression, but the Nero di Sei also deserves a special mention with its intriguing savory notes.

Palmento Costanzo is perhaps not a household name yet in the Etna, like Benanti, Graci, Tenuta delle Terre Nere and others, but with the ambitions they have and the quality they offer, I see them offering stiff competition.

INAMA : showing the potential of Soave

It is with melancholy that I think of our holidays in Italy last year. In these times of confinement things that seemed to be for granted before, now appear to be the stuff of dreams. Being able to travel freely, visit wineries, walk in the vineyards, talk to wine producers, and of course taste local wines. Like Joni Mitchell said : “You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone”.

The feeling we had during our stay in Verona is for sure gone : sheer bliss, relaxation and indulgence. I very much like Italy in general, but I particularly like Verona and its surroundings. The gentle rolling slopes, the nearby Garda lake with its picturesque towns and airy breeze, and the utterly drinkable wines that are produced in the greater region, such as the light and fun Bardolinos, the fruity and fresh Valpolicellas, and the zippily refreshing Soaves in white. After a hot ice-cream-laden day, a light and fresh Soave is the perfect start of a relaxed dinner in one of the bustling restaurants of Verona.

As is often the case, though, when you are in such surroundings, everything seems to be perfect as long as you are in that intoxicated holidaymaker state of mind. Unfortunately, it is a little bit like that with many Soave wines : when you open a bottle of that spritzy and playful wine, it often doesn’t have the same appeal anymore when you open it an urban environment on a bleak and rainy day.

And yet, Garganega, the grape Soave is mostly made of, is often mentioned as one of the best grapes for white wine in Italy. Curious about the potential of this grape, I decided to try the Soave wines of top producer Inama. Their vineyards are situated in the Soave Classico area, which mainly consists of hillsides with volcanic rock (basalt) or limestone soils.

heuvels Soave

heuvels en vlakte Soave

basalt rock in soave

Basalt rock in Soave (Picture copyright Charley Fazio)

On the pictures you clearly see the difference between the hills of the Soave Classico area and the plains (in the background on the second picture), where the DOC Soave wines are made. Apart from the difference in terroir, most producers in the DOC Soave go for high yields to produce cheap, easy-drinking Soave.

So what does Inama have on offer? They have four different Soaves, all made of grapes coming from vineyards that are situated on basalt.

Vin Soave 2018

Very expressive, with candied lemon, exotic fruit, and in the background a hint of minerality and even green herbs and a touch of almond. This wine is really round and full-bodied. This has absolutely nothing to do with the light and crisp Soaves that you often come across. The acidity is well integrated and supports the body of the wine, making sure it stays nicely balanced. There is a slight lemon pith bitter in the end that nicely closes the loop with the almond in the nose. If this is an entry-level wine, then I’m curious what the rest will bring, because there is already great character and concentration here!

Vigneti di Carbonare 2016

This is a recent addition to the portfolio of Inama. The wine is made of grapes coming from the località (local area) Carbonare, and more specifically from an east-facing cooler vineyard. 2016 is the first vintage of this wine.

The nose is very fresh with loads of citrus, minerality and again a hint of almond. This wine is driven by its freshness, but not the kind of light and zippy freshness of a simple Soave. There is also concentration here and substance, giving the wine extra character. Even if this is the lightest of Inama’s four Soaves, calling it “light” is not giving this wine enough credit. It is the balance here and the freshness that make this wine really outstanding.

Vigneti di Foscarino 2016

This wine is made of grapes from the famous Monte Foscarino, a site that is considered to be one of the top spots for Soave. It is fermented in used barriques.

The nose offers minerality, citrus and apricot. The texture of the wine is very rich and again there is great substance. The fruit is ripe and abundant. If you are used to light Soave, then this wine will come as a big surprise, as it is luscious and almost literally a weighty wine.

Vigneto du Lot 2016

A single-vineyard wine and also the top Soave of Inama, made of grapes coming from Monte Foscarino. It is fermented in 30% new barriques and the rest used, followed by 6 months on the lees.

Great minerality in the nose, and a bit of smokiness. There is also vanilla and a hint of honey. Beautiful and enticing nose! The start is fresh with the acidity being perfectly proportioned and integrated. A touch of honey creates a very attractive ripe/fresh contrast. The vanilla resurfaces towards the end extending the finale considerably. This is a wine that makes a great impression. Not just a great Soave, but simply a great wine by any standard.


Inama has an extraordinary range of Soaves. They perfectly illustrate that Soave can be so much more than an easy summer drink. Each and every one of these Soaves has impressive character, and each has its very own identity. What really strikes me is how different Inama’s wines are in terms of substance and concentration.

In his book “Amarone, and the fine wines of Verona”, Michael Garner explains this feature as a result of the basalt terroir in the Soave Classico area : “The palate will typically appear richer and with a more luscious texture and the lingering aftertaste more reminiscent of ripe and mature fruits rather than floral tones.”

A description that fits the wines of Inama very well.



Domaine Brana : showing the way in Irouléguy #Winophiles

I’m joing the #Winophiles this month in their exploration of Irouléguy, a wine region in French Basque Country. I’m very excited about this, as it brings back memories of my hiking holidays in the French Basque Country in 2015. This region is very beautiful, at the foot of the Pyrenees but also on the Atlantic coast, where surf’s up. If you hesitate between the mountains or the sea for holidays, you have both there!

baskische kust

I was hiking in the region with a group, so there was no time to go visiting wineries. But when we were in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, we were given two hours to see the town. I have to admit : I didn’t see town. I took this opportunity to go the winery shop of Domaine Brana instead!

The Brana family was active in the region already since the 19th century, but it was only in the ’70s that Etienne Brana lay the foundations for the current Domaine by starting a distillery. In 1984 he launched himself in the wine business and contributed to putting the AOC Irouléguy on the map. Not that Irouléguy is now known all over the world, or even in France for that matter. There is simply too little wine being produced for that, and finding Irouléguy wine outside France is no simple matter.

It’s for that reason that I bought a mix of Brana’s wines to take home. The whites and rosé didn’t last long, they were simply too good. Nowadays it’s not so unusual anymore to find white Irouléguy, but Etienne Brana made a point of making also white wine of petit courbu, petit manseng and gros manseng (also known from Jurançon) as that was a tradition before in Irouléguy.

His Ilori Blanc 2014 was a very fresh wine with lots of flowers in the nose and a rather high acidity. The Albedo Blanc 2014 was almost completely the opposite, with loads of ripe fruit like pine apple and apricot, a touch of wood and even a bit of honey as it opened up. There was a lovely contrast of ripe and fresh in this wine, the fruit being opulent and the acidity rather in the style of a Chablis. An intriguing wine.

I have a special place in my memories, however, for the Harri Gorri rosé 2014, one of the best rosés I ever had in my life. This was a wine I could sniff on forever, with red currant, strawberries, green herbs and beautiful minerality. Again the profile of this wine was very fresh and precise. Finally a rosé that has its own identity and is more than a white wine with a pink taint! I absolutely loved it. I have spent endless hours looking on the net for a place where I could buy it, but alas…

For the reds Brana also set out to choose his own path, favoring Cabernet Franc over the more common Tannat. Brana argued that Cabernet Franc was a grape that actually originated in the Irouléguy region, and that Tannat is the grape of Madiran. That might have been a smart move. It’s only a few days ago that Peter Dean reported in The Buyer that the Gascogne-based cooperative Plaimont Producteurs is gradually switching to Manseng Noir, as Tannat is producing alcohol levels that are hard to keep under 16°C in recent years.



When I visited the winery shop in 2015 I tasted the Irouléguy Rouge 2010, but back then, it wasn’t fully coherent yet, and the wood was pretty dominant still. Nevertheless I bought two bottles, knowing this was a wine with great ageing potential. I was a little afraid that it would still be too early to open a bottle now, but a quick sniff after opening the bottle made it clear from the start : this is a beauty! Blackberries, blackcurrant, cigar box, graphite, laurel, all jumping out the glass in a beautiful bouquet. Complex like a maze, precise like a Swiss watch, and fresh like a first year student. My fear of sturdy tannins was ungrounded, the structure being velvety instead.

There’s an additional thing that’s interesting here as well. During my sommelier training we always had to discuss a wine systematically, including things such as color and viscosity. The latter is something I nowadays don’t do anymore as I don’t find it very relevant. But from the first sip of this Irouléguy, I immediately noticed that this wine was very concentrated, the viscosity reminding me of a Valpolicella Ripasso for example, but then without the sweetness. Very remarkable! This is a wine with character. Cool climate character by the way. And not unlike certain Bordeaux. That should not come as a surprise, the blend consisting of 60% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 30% Tannat.

It’s still early days to be thinking of lists, but I’m pretty sure this wine will be in my best of 2019 list somewhere. If I think of how it was when I tasted it in 2015, it’s clear this wine has come a long way. This goes to show that we often drink this kind of wines too early. And it’s nowhere near its end. Quite the contrary I’d say. My next, and sadly last, bottle will probably open in three or four years. If only I could find more of Brana’s wines. It’s clear that this is a visionary winery, a flag bearer for the appellation.

Here are the links to the other Winophiles’ posts :







  • Payal at Keep the Peas shares Basque-ing in Irouléguy Wines and More