Vinitaly Tastings: Emilia Romagna – Monte delle Vigne

Thanks to some Italian contacts in New York, I was directed to the Emilia Romagna building at Vinitaly with a specific goal – to taste the wines of Monte delle Vigne, a winery located in Emilia Romagna near the city of Parma. Emilia has never been considered an optimum location for the production of still wines but has been largely well known for its Lambrusco of different denominations and coming from different indigenous clones.

This Vinitaly I was interested in visiting some of the lesser known regions or at least those that I have less of an occasion to taste in the US. I remember quite well my days in Emilia. I lived in the lovely city of Bologna for a year when I was in graduate school at SAIS.

Monte delle Vigne was started in 1973 by Andrea Ferrari who firmly believed that he had a found an authentic terroir in Emilia. In 2004, Ferrari took on a partner, Paolo Pizzarotti. Taken together, the two properties created a winery with 150 acres. A new winery was built in 2007 which uses only gravitational pressing for moving its wines between vessels. The winery is located on the right side of the Taro River is ranges from 600 to 900 feet in altitude, It is just 13 miles outside of Parma and is surrounded by the Taro Natural Park and the Boschi di Carega Park. The soil is a limestone-clay mix with alluvial deposits as well. Ferrari was quite passionate about his wines.

Parma is a beautiful city which I think of as being very feminine both in terms of its colors (pink and white) and its architecture. It also seems somewhat more French than Italian. It’s Duomo and Baptistery are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen in Italy. Parma is also quite well known for its opera house and of course, for its food. Ferrari was frustrated when speaking about how its wines have never gotten the critical acclaim that he feels they should. He has created a number of different lines of wine, using mostly indigenous grape varieties.

The two which are most widely known as the Nabucco and the Callas, named for the opera and the opera singer, obviously. The former is a red wine made from a blend of Barbera and Merlot. It ages for one year in French barriques. The Callas is a white wine made from Malvasia di Candia which ages for six months in tanks.

Monte delle Vigne also makes a delicious Lambrusco IGT using the Lambrusco Maestri grape. Ferrari said that it is a somewhat less aggressive Lambrusco grape than the other more well known clones. This Lambrusco has very small berries with concentrated flavors and aromas. They also make a delicious sparkling wine called Rosso Colli di Parma DOC, using 75% Barbera and 25% Bonarda. The Bonarda brings tannins to the party as well as structure and elegance. Bonarda ripens very late I discovered. This Bonarda was completely different than what I was used to drinking. Ferrari said that is because in other parts of the country, Bonarda is picked too early because they don’t want to run the risk that the harvest will be lost. This means that often the grapes are picked without them ever reaching phenolic ripeness.

Many of the grapes that are planted in the Parma area were brought by the French centuries earlier, Ferrari noted, such as Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Monte delle Vigne isn’t organically certified but they only use copper and sulfur against pests (rame and zolfo) and practice what Ferrari called the “lotta integrata” or integrated pest management systems which are accepted by the EU. They are moving towards becoming completely organic.

The Callas was perhaps the most interesting of the wines with its minerality, sapidity and long finish. It even had a balsamic note which is quite anomalous for a white wine. This minerality was a constant in the wines of Monte delle Vigne and I assume that it is a result of the terroir. Ferrari noted that Malvasia when it is vinified correctly does not have the typical bitter note that many associate with this grape. I had always assumed that Malvasia was somehow related to Moscato but Ferrari dispelled this belief saying that they while similar in that they are both aromatic grapes, they behave quite differently when vinified.

Ferrari also let me taste a 100% Barbera that hasn’t been released yet. It spent two years in oak and one year in the bottle. It was exquisite which rich full flavors and lively acidity.It is a 2006. Ferrari said that 2006 in Emilia was a great year as was 2003 and 2001. 2007 was also a good year but not at the same level, he noted.

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