Well Worth A Try

January 1, 2009

Last month’s column dealt with the two major philosophies of making wine today in Italy. The traditional, classic style is one in which winemakers adhere to older principles of wine making that result in the production of wine that is fairly austere upon release, contains fairly high acid, and has great longevity.

The other style is called the modernistic style in which new vineyard practices as well as procedures in the cellar produce a wine that is more accessible at an earlier age due to the riper grapes and less time in oak barrels.

As you can well imagine, Italians passionately debate the merits of each style. The modernists insist that their style is what consumers around the world prefer. The traditionalists plead for them to stop making California-style wines in their Italian homeland.

I choose not to enter the debate. I prefer to learn about the various producers and to what style of winemaking they subscribe. What got me hooked on Italian wines, in the first place, was the unimaginable diversity available throughout its 20 regions growing a thousand different varieties of grapes in approximately one million vineyards! The difference between the two different winemaking styles adds yet another variable that I can study until the day that I can no longer breathe!

Having said all that, I want to tell you about a wine producer in the Piedmont region that seems to have bridged the gap between the modernistic and traditional styles. I have tasted a few of Giorgio Rivetti’s wines that he makes for his winery called La Spinetta. All of these wines seem to be riper and more accessible at a younger age (modernistic), yet still possess the characteristics of the regions in which they are made and posses a good longevity (traditional).

La Spinetta believes that 90% of their work is done in the vineyard, with the remaining 10% performed in the cellar. They use the least amount of chemicals possible in tending to their grapevines that average in age from 35-65 years old. They use the process of green harvesting (cutting green grapes from the vines during the growing season) that results in low-yielding vines that produce intensely flavored grapes.

When the old vines die out, they replace them with younger ones. As a result, the younger ones, although deemed not old enough to produce their most famous Barbarescos, are used to make an entry-level wine that you can taste to experience the La Spinetta style. Look for La Spinetta’s Langhe Nebbiolo, a vibrantly colored red wine with soft, supple tannins. This wine is made from young grapes sourced from the famous Starderi and Neive vineyards. You should be able to purchase this wine at your local wine shop for about $25.

Once you get hooked on the La Spinetta style, you might start looking for its Cru Barbaresco wines called Starderi, Gallina, and Valeirano. They’ll be easy to spot for two reasons: they all have the famous rhinoceros on their labels, and the price tag will be about 4 times more than the Langhe Nebbiolo. You tell me if it’s worth a try!!

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