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Quality and significant aromatic profiles: the vintage (of yesteryear) of the top white wines of Italy

The opinions at WineNews: from Soave to Verdicchio, from Friuli to Sicily, from Sardinia to Umbria, from Bolgheri to Gavi, from Lugana to Alto Adige

A vintage from another time, difficult to compare with the most recent, at least for now, with the white grapes almost all harvested, and in many cases already in the highlight of the fermentation in the cellars of the main areas of vocation white-washed Belpaese. Collio and Soave, Gavi and Verdicchio, Lugana and Sardinia, Bolgheri and Umbria, South Tyrol and Sicily all share different elements. First of all, the seasonal trend, which in the vineyard has brought the hands of time back at least a couple of decades: the cold of May, in fact, has blocked the maturation of the grapes, delaying the time by a couple of weeks or more than in recent years, with the harvest that in some territories, such as Etna and Friuli, not yet completed. And then a summer that was not too hot, capable of guaranteeing significant temperature ranges, brought grapes to the cellar, perfect from a health point of view, with good acidity, in balance with the sugars. Quantities decrease, both in the vineyard and in the cellar: generally smaller bunches and particularly thick-skinned grapes offer lower than average yields, but this does not seem to be a problem, especially in the face of an even excessive 2018 vintage, which has had negative repercussions in terms of average prices. Here is the panorama of the 2019 vintage, reported to WineNews by some of the protagonists, i.e. by some of the symbolic producers of the main territories and of the most important Italian white-washed denominations: from Cantina di Soave to Gini in Soave, from Venica & Venica in Collio to Zorzettig in the Colli Orientali del Friuli, from Consorzio del Gavi to Zenato in Lugana, from Siddùra in Sardinia to Antinori, between Umbria and Bolgheri, from Planeta on Sicilia to Umani Ronchi and Villa Bucci in Verdicchio.
Ampelio Bucci, the historic producer of Verdicchio with Villa Bucci, has “just brought the last bunches of grapes into the cellar, and the first data tell us that there is a reduction in quantity, around 18-20%, in line with the rest of the country, but since the year before there was so much wine around, with prices collapsing, let’s say that this is better for the supply chain. A good harvest, the last part above all, with perfect days. We are in balance with the average of previous years in terms of quantity, and this is positive for Verdicchio and the price trend. It is difficult to talk about large areas: in July there was a disaster at the seaside, but we, who are 15 kilometers from the coast, apart from the rain, did not have any problems, on the contrary, it gave us the right humidity to keep the vineyard going. The quantities of water - explains Ampelio Bucci - are always the same, it is the distribution that changes, and if it were not for the 100 ml of water in July, in a single day, we would have had problems. There won’t be any great acidity, but it will be a very good year, I don't know, for us who age our wines (we will know at the end of fermentation, at least indicatively), what kind of longevity they will have. We are satisfied, from the first data the gradations should be around 13.5, which is a good gradation, good acidity, around 6.8-7.5, the Ph are excellent, between 3.10 and 3.15: nothing official but good. Among the recent vintages - concludes the winemaker from the Marche region - the 2019 vintage reminds me of 2010, 2012, 2014, which was a little more refined, and 2016, but also 2000: Verdicchio is now a truly great wine, almost in every vintage”. Not far away, Michele Bernetti, at the head of Umani Ronchi, tells of a similar harvest, with “the harvest having ended a few days ago, quantities down by 15-18%, slightly reduced compared to the average, but the quality seems here and there decidedly good. The grapes are beautiful, as well as the acidity, we were good at taking it home before reaching excessive levels of alcohol, which the market no longer appreciates. The first wines seem to me to be quite good, vaguely reminiscent of 2015 and 2013, which had a similar seasonal trend, without going too far back in time. Maybe 2010 and 2016 were better in our country, but this is destined to be a very good vintage”.
Remaining in Central Italy, in Bolgheri and in Umbria, lands generally and universally appreciated and known for the great reds, there is certainly no lack of white declinations capable of carving out a certain protagonism. An example of this is the Cervaro della Sala del Castello della Sala and the Vermentino di Guado al Tasso, both by Antinori, which “with 2019 suggest an excellent vintage - says the CEO of Marchesi Antinori, Renzo Cotarella - both in Bolgheri and Umbria, with a balanced production, which will probably give refined wines, in line with the best vintages, such as 2016. We expect fresh, fine wines with good aromatic notes. In Bolgheri, the Vermentini are even more full-bodied than in 2016, but it is also a great vintage for the Chardonnay in Umbria, which can really assert itself as a vintage level for the Castello della Sala, in the sign of balance, thanks to a production slightly lower than 2016 and with a very good acidity”.
Making a short crossing to the South, in Sicily, is Alessio Planeta to take stock of the harvest of whites in the island, “in the end everywhere except on Etna, of course, with a drop in the harvest of 20-25%, but that gives us a good quality. The summer was never particularly hot, helped by the rain of early September followed by a return of heat. The Grillo are super aromatic, very good: few grapes but very high aromatic quality. So did the Grecanico. The international varieties are also good, harvested late, but in an optimal way, because they are picked in August, in good weather: Chardonnay super and also Sauvignon Blanc, for what little we do. As a type of vintage, perhaps it resembles 2011, at least on the western side of the island, but it is difficult to make comparisons with the past”. On the other large island, land of Vermentino, Sardinia, Massimo Ruggero, general manager of Siddùra, tells of a "particular year, marked by a small decline in maturation in May, caused by a drop in temperatures, a common trait throughout Italy, which led to lower yields than usual, down by 15-20%. Flowering, on the other hand, went very well, and the fruit, in the end, proved to be healthy and of great quality, revealing however an unusual phenomenon, namely bunches and berries smaller than usual, thick bags, and a perfect balance between acidity and sugars, for a year that brings us back to the Vermentinos of 20 years ago and beyond, after years in which climate change made itself felt not a little, but also revealed the extraordinary adaptability of native vines, such as Vermentino and Cannonau ”.
Going up the peninsula ideally, here we are in the territory of Lugana, on which in times not suspected, ie from the sixties, the family Zenato, brands of Veneto wine, including Valpolicella, decided to focus strong. Here, on the shores of Lake Garda, “the harvest went well - says Nadia Zenato - despite the declining production, which is not a problem, while the quality is excellent, although we still have to finish harvesting the last bunches because the harvest for us is divided into three moments. The performance of the vintage was good, despite the May whirlwind that hit the lake, which contributed negatively to the quantities. The summer was hot, but not excessive, with the Caribbean thunderstorms arriving at the right time. The result is wines with good fruit and good acidity, tasting the first samples show good minerality, for a vintage that can be compared to 2015 or 2016, so good”.
Remaining in Veneto, one of the denominations on the launch pad is without a doubt the Soave, a wine that comes from the volcano, from which it “steals” that minerality that makes it recognizable and different from any other white wine of the Peninsula. “The 2019 harvest leaves us very serene and calm: after a 2017 marked by scarcity and a 2018 in the sign of abundance, we found ourselves faced with an average drop of 25%, on the levels of 2017, then a harvest lower than expected a few weeks ago - says Bruno Trentini, Director General of the Cantina di Soave - mainly due to a rainy and cold May, which resulted in a flowering like this, delay in the vegetative phase and smaller grapes. And we see this both on early varieties, such as Chardonnay, and on Garganega. The quality, on the other hand, has had a nice positive rebound in the last 20 days, after the slowdown due to the summer heat, the last month has been good, and the result is good alcohol content, balanced acidity, all prerequisites for a great vintage”. In the words of Sandro Gini, president of the Consorzio del Soave and at the helm of one of the historic labels of the territory, there is an image of a “harvest that in the plain is almost finished, but in the hills will come alive only next week. The bunches are a bit smaller than usual, as are the grapes, with a relationship between skin and must that presupposes excellent quality. We hope that time will stand, and that temperatures will drop, because harvesting and especially pressing the grapes at lower temperatures is essential to ensure higher quality and best value the production of Soave, even from a cru point of view. The yields are good, but at the moment it is difficult to make comparisons with other vintages, both because we do not yet have enough data, and because it looks like a vintage of another era, for timing and, above all, for the balance between acidity and sugar”.
In Collio, between the rows of Venica & Venica, “the harvest lasted exactly one month, from August 30 to September 30, giving us a perfect health of the grapes”, as Ornella Venica, at the head of the Friulian label, explains. “The quantity is down by 15-20%, but that's fine, because we really expect a great vintage from varieties like Pinot Bianco and Friulano. Fortunately we have never had problems with drought, with rain coming to the aid of our vineyards always at the right time, and the hills of Collio that have shown a great ability to retain water, and if the newest plants have had some difficulties, the “oldest” have been able to react at best. It is difficult, at least for now, to make comparisons with previous vintages, at least the most recent ones, especially because of a very particular trend, which has, in a sense, gone back a few decades”. A short distance away, on the Colli Orientali of Friuli, in the Zorzettig winery, “the white wines are all in the cellar, after a harvest that, in the Colli Orientali of Friuli, has rediscovered the rhythms of the past”, says Annalisa Zorzettig. “In the four production areas of our winery (Colle di Spessa, Ipplis, Casali Pasch and Colli Novacuzzo), the influence of the terroir and the climatic differences are felt, especially on the grapes of the Friulano, which overall present an excellent health status, thanks to the excellent work done in the vineyard. The yield is on average, at least in the vineyard, about 70 quintals per hectare, but it is in the cellar that it is lower than average: the grapes have thick skin and important seeds. On the whole, the autochthonous vines perform better, the alcohol content is good, as well as the aromatic component, guaranteed by perfect temperature ranges. We really expect great wines, along the lines of 2015, even if from 2014 the climatic variability is felt in an important way, and every year in a different way and with different consequences”.
Another land of great whites, able to age and win the acclaim and attention of the great international critics, is South Tyrol, where the harvest is at its last stages, after a summer much more difficult than in the rest of Italy, at least according to Hans Terzer, historic winemaker of the winery of San Michele Appiano, where he has worked since 1977. “The harvest - he says - went well, even very well. As often happens, the last days of September gave us a big help, especially because the prospects were not very good: it rained too much, we had some problems with rottenness, which could have led to an early harvest. Then, from September 20, the weather changed and by the end of the week, we will have all the grapes in the cellar. Among the different varieties, Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay will give us great satisfaction, but Riesling and Sauvignon are also in good shape, a few problems of Pinot Grigio, but the hill has given us good quality and healthy grapes, our members have worked well. In quantity, however, we lost 15-20%, with some more problems for Gewurztraminer, down by 25-30%, and for Chardonnay. It's a difficult vintage to compare with any of the previous ones”, concludes Hans Terzer, “but we're on the quality level of 2016 or 2017”. Cantina Terlan also saw a drop in quantities, as technical director Rudi Kofler points out. “The harvest is not over yet - says Kofler - we are at 70% of the whites, which we grow up to an altitude of 500 meters. It went well, the quantities are a little lower, -15% compared to 2018, but the quality is good, with the ripening that still requires patience for the grapes at a higher altitude. Hail has not given us great problems, there are the conditions for a good vintage, but to know if it will become excellent we have to wait a little longer”.
The tour of Italy among the vintages of the great Italian white territories ends in Piedmont, in Gavi, where “the harvest has yet to end - as Roberto Ghio, president of the Consorzio del Gavi, explains - but the vintage, although not generous in quantity, has excellent quality, especially from an aromatic point of view. The cold nights and the temperature range have guaranteed beautiful scents. The trend was the same as it used to be, it never was, except at the end of June and the beginning of July, too hot for a vintage of other times. It is difficult to say which vintage it might look like, precisely because it is different from the more recent ones. Ripening, with delayed harvests, risks having some problems, but in this case, the last weeks of sunshine were a godsend: delayed, with cool nights, will surprise for the scents. But it was also a technical harvest, which rewards those who have worked well in the vineyard, because the grapes must be treated and the vine must be vigorous to make photosynthesis and give sugar to the grapes”.

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