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.

Conclusion

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.

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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