The Best of the Veneto: The DOCG’s

At last count, The Veneto has 14 DOCG’s.  Read on to learn more about them! 

Drying grapes for AmaroneAmarone della Valpolicella:  Amarone della Valpolicella received its DOCG in 2009.  Amarone is a well-known version of Valpolicella made using the partially dried grape process known as apassimento.  The grapes used for Amarone must be dried until December 1st following the harvest.  The wine must also be aged for two years from the 1st of January following the vintage.  (Riserva versions must be aged 4 years from November 1st of the vintage year.)  The minimum alcohol percentage of Amarone della Valpolicella is 14%. While technically considered a dry wine, small amounts of residual sugar are allowed; the amount allowed is in proportion to the amount of alcohol with higher alcohol wines allowed slightly larger amounts of R.S. Interesting factoid:  Along with the 2009 DOCG decree, Molinara is no longer a required component of Amarone della Valpolicella, although it may be used in small amounts for blending.  

Recioto della Valpolicella:  Like Amarone, Recioto della Valpolicella received its DOCG in 2009.  Also like Amarone, Recioto is made from well-ripened grapes that are left to dry following the harvest.  The grapes for Recioto must be dried until January 1st following the harvest – one month longer than for Amarone.  Unlike Amarone, which is fermented dry (or near-dry), fermentation is arrested in a Recioto at about 12% alcohol, leaving a good deal of residual sugar.  Recioto della Valpolicella is a rich, highly extracted, sweet wine with a velvety texture.  Only a tiny amount of Recioto della Valpolicella is produced each year; about 2% of the total production of Valpolicella is made into Recioto. 

Veneto WinerySoave Superiore: The Soave Superiore DOCG was created in 2002 to differentiate some of the large, productive region’s highest quality wines.  As in a typical Soave, the Soave Superiore blend is based on 70% Garganega. Other white varieties, including Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, Verdicchio, Friulano, Cortese, Riesling Italico and Serprina (aka Glera) are allowed in varying degrees to fill up the remaining 30%.  Soave Superiore must have a minimum alcohol level of at least 11.5% as opposed to 10.5% for “regular” Soave DOC wines; yields are stricter as well.

The geographic area of the new Soave Superiore DOCG includes the vineyards that were previously the Soave Classico zone as well as some hillside vineyards beyond the original Classico zone.  The wines grown in this new part of the zone may be labeled as Soave Colli Scaligeri Superiore DOCG, a name referring to the Scaligieri family, Lords of Verona, who were once owners of the region.

Recioto di Soave:  Recioto di Soave received its DOCG in 1998.  This is a sweet white wine from the typical Soave blend based on Garganega, produced in the passito style.  

Recioto di Gambellara:  Gambellara is well known for its dry white wines made from Garganega, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Verdicchio.  Located about 8 miles east of Soave, comparisons are inevitable; Gambellara is often thought of the “poor cousin” to Soave. However, the passito-produced, sweet version known as Recioto di Gambellara is highly regarded and received DOCG status in 2008.  Alas, Recioto di Gambellara is produced in very small quantities and is rarely seen in America.  Interesting factoid:  The region also produces Vin Santo di Gambellara. It seems a trip in is order.  

MontelviniColli Asolani (aka Asolo Prosecco):  In 2009 and 2010, along with the change of the name of the Prosecco grape variety to Glera and an expansion of the boundaries of the Prosecco zone, DOCG’s were awarded to two sub-regions within the Prosecco DOC.  The Colli Asolani region extends for about five miles along a ridge of gently rolling hills between the towns of Cornuda and Asolo.  The finest vineyards in the Colli Asolani are planted on the southern slopes of the hills, which provide maximum sun exposure, a gentle sloping grade, loose soils, and excellent drainage. 

Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene:  If you are a Prosecco lover (and they are legion), you are undoubtedly already familiar with the communes of Conegliano and Valdobbiadance, long considered the finest areas within the Prosecco DOC.  In 2009, along with the expansion of the Prosecco DOC and several other changes, the authorities made it “official” by awarding the Communes (and 13 other towns and villages) a DOCG under the umbrella of “Conegliano Valdobbiadene.”  Similar to labeling pracitices before the DOCG was granted,  a wine can use either commune name (or both) on the label.  Wines that are produced from the vineyards within the San Pietro di Barbossa area (east of the commune of Valdobbiadene) can also add the term “Superiore di Cartizze” on the label. 

Colli di Conegliano: While Conegliano is best known for Prosecco, the region does produce still wines as well.  A small area west of the town itself, known as Colli di Conegliano DOC since 1993, has a tradition of producing still wines, including red, white, and passito versions.

As of 2011, some of the region’s best wines were elevated to the status of Colli di Conegliano DOCG.  Red DOCG wines can be made from the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Marzemino, Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, and Incrocio Manzoni grape varieties.  Reds must be aged in wood for at least six months, one year for the riserva version.  White wines with Colli di Conegliano DOCG status must be made from 33% Incrocio Manzoni and a balance of either Chardonnay or Pinot Bianco.  Sauvignon Blanc and Riesing are allowed, in a combined maximum of 10%. There is no aging requirement for the white wines, except that the earliest allowed release date is May 1st following the harvest.  

Montello Rosso: The Montello wine region,  towards the Northern portion of the Veneto, covers an 8-mile swath from Cornuda to Castelcucco, and includes at least 16 villages in between.  This area was inducted into the world of Italy’s DOC’s in 2011 and Montello Rosso was immediately elevated to DOCG status. Montello Rosso wines are made from a Bordeaux-inspired blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Carmenere.

BardolinoBardolino Superiore:  Bardolino Superiore was granted DOCG status in 2001, and unlike some of the new DOCG’s with rather complicated regulations, still refers to a typcial Bardolino, which must be made in the dry style, and with the added requirement of at least one year of aging.

Friularo di Bagnoli:  The Friularo di Bagnoli DOCG, another new addition to the DOCG world, is located in the southern half of the Padua province. The DOCG covers red wines made from the indigenous Friularo variety, also known as Raboso. The Raboso grape ripens late and thrives in the cold weather that creeps into the area around November.  The term “Friularo” might even have come from the latin term for cold, “Frigus” (in Venetian “Frigoearo”).  The Friularo di Bagnoli DOCG makes dry red wines, riserva wines, late harvest (vendemmia tardiva) wines harvested after Novmber 11, and wines in the passito style. 

Piave Malanotte (aka Malanotte del Piave):   The entire Piave zone, first granted DOC status in 1963,  is the largest viticultural region in the Veneto, covering more than 50 communes in the area between Treviso and Vincenza.

The Piave Malanotte DOCG was granted a separate DOC and immediately elevated to DOCG in 2011.  Piave Malanotte dares to produce red wines in this region dominated by white wines and bubbly. Piave Malanotte must be made from at least 95% Raboso, although this may be divided between Raboso Piave (considered the superior version) and Raboso Veronese, which may account for no more than 30% of the finished blend.  This DOCG has some very strict standards.  Any wine bearing the Piave Malanotte DOCG label must be aged for at least three years before release, and 15- 30% of the grapes must under go the appassimento drying process until at least December 8th following the vintage.  For these reasons, Piave Malanotte is among the most expensive wines of the Veneto.

Lison:  Lison is a new DOCG for white wines made from the Tai (formerly Tocai) grape variety.  Lison was, until recently, part of the Lison-Pramaggiore DOC.  The Lison-Pramaggiore DOC produces a variety of wines including varietals, rosso blends, bianco blends, and sparkling wines based on both indigenous grapes and international varieties.  In 2010 the region of Lison was split off from the Lison-Pramaggiore DOC,  and was elevated to DOCG status for white wines only.

The geographical boundaries of the Lison DOCG actually cross over from the eastern Veneto into the western portion of Fruili-Veneiza Guilia, making it the only DOCG in Italy to be shared by more than one political region.  

Colli Euganei Fior d’Arancio:  The Colli Euganei hills, located just south of the town of Padua, are named for the semi-mythical Euganei people who lived in the area before the arrival of the Veneti and the Roman Empire.  The hills themselves are of volcanic origin making the soil uniquely rich in minerals. The Colli Euganei DOC was established in 1969 and makes (at last count) at least 12 different wines, including red blends, white blends, varietals and sparkling wines. Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Cabernet Franc, and Tai are widely grown here, as is the Glera grape variety, which goes by the local name of Serprina.

But enough about the DOC.  In 2011, a sweet, sparkling wine made from the Fior d’Arancia grape was singled out for elevation to DOCG status. The Fior d’Arnacia grape variety, whose name can be translated to “orange blossom” is known elsewhere are Orange Muscat or Muscat Fleur d’Oranger.  A sweet, sparkling wine made from Muscat…who would have thought?  

Good Luck with your studies!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas missjane@prodigy.net 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc  – The Soundbyte:

Sauvignon Blanc is one of the world’s major white wine grape varieties, celebrated for its distinctive aromas and bracing acidity.  Its crisp acidic backbone makes it one of the most food-friendly of all table wines.  Sauvignon Blanc is a highly aromatic white wine, and it’s distinctive aromas can vary greatly depending on terroir and winemaking.  While generally thought of as a single-varietal or blended  dry white wine, Sauvignon Blanc is also used to craft luscious dessert wines. 

Typical Attributes of a Sauvignon Blanc-Based Wine:

  • Sauvignon Blanc can be made in a variety of styles, based primarily on fermentation techniques and whether or not the wine is blended or oak aged.
  • Botrytis-affected and Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc can be used to produce very sweet, complex dessert wines.
  • Lighter Style, Dry Sauvignon Blancs are generally stainless steel fermented and aged only briefly (if at all) in stainless steel.
    • The typical attributes  of this lighter style wine are:  Light Body, Crisp, Delicate, Highly Acidic, Steely, Precise, and Fruity.
  • The richer style, sometimes called Fumé Blanc in the New World, is often oak-fermented, sur lie aged, and sometimes oak barrel aged. 
    • The attributes of this richer style include:  Medium Body, Rich, Complex, Smoother, Oak-derived Complexity.
  • Sauvingon Blanc is often blended with Semillon in order to add complexity and tone down it’s usual razor-sharp acidity.  This style was pioneered in the White Wines of Bordeaux.

Typical Aromas of a Sauvignon Blanc-Based Wine:

Fruity:  Green Apple,  Apricot, Lime, Lemon, Green Plum, Melon, Pear, Grapefruit, Pineapple, Gooseberry, Kiwi, Papaya

Herbal/Vegetative: Cut Green  Grass, Green Bell Pepper, Asparagus, Fennel, Herbs, Lemon Grass, Hay,  Straw, Wildflowers

Mineral:  Wet Sand, Wet Stone, Riverbank, Ozone, Fresh Rain

Chemical:  Ammonia, Sometimes referred to as “PiPi du Chat”

Dessert Wine Styles of Sauvignon Blanc can disply aromas of honey, dried apricot, peaches, nutmeg and even curry…botrytis-affected wines will have that inimitable “earthy edge”!

Where The Best Sauvignon Blanc is Grown:

  • The Bordeaux Region of France, notably Graves and Entre-deux-Mers.
  • The Loire Valley Region of France, notably Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre.
  • California’s Napa and Sonoma Regions.
  • New Zealand, notably the Marlborough Region.
  • South Africa, particularly Stellenbosch.
  • The cooler regions of Chile and Argentina
  • Australia, notably The Adelaide  Hills Region.

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Raw Shellfish
  • Seafood of all kinds
  • Chicken
  • Acidic Sauces
  • Tomatoes
  • Salads, Vinaigrettes
  • Vegetarian Dishes
  • Avocado
  • Asparagus

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients/Flavor Bridges:

  • Citrus
  • Fennel, Bell Pepper, Eggplant, Zucchini
  • Herbs, Mushrooms, Garlic
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Capers, Green Olives
  • Prosciutto
  • Feta Cheese, Goat Cheese

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon – The Soundbyte:

Cabernet Sauvignon is probably the world’s most popular and well-known red grape variety.  It is the main grape in the world famous wines of Bordeaux, and the wine that made the Napa Valley famous.  The beauty of Cabernet is its thick skin, both literally and figuratively.  Literally the grape’s thick skin and small berries give a  wine deep color, complex flavors, and hearty tannins.  Figuratively, Cabernet Sauvignon is thick skinned by being resilient to a variety of climates and soils in the vineyard.  Just about every country that has a climate warm enough to consistently ripen red grapes successfully grows Cabernet Sauvignon.

Typical Attributes of a Cabernet Sauvignon-based Wine:

  • Dark Ruby Red to purple, opaque, and almost inky in appearance
  • Young Cabernet Sauvignon is ripe, powerful, and concentrated.
  • Highly tannic
  • Complex with layers of interesting flavors and textures
  • The high level of tannin in Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines makes them among the most age-worthy of all wines.
  • Aged Cabernet takes on grace, finesse, and an earthy, complex bottle bouquet.

Typical Aromas of a Cabernet Sauvignon-based Wine:

  • Fruity
    • Blackberry, Blueberry,  Ripe Cherry, Black Currant, Cassis, Plum, Prune, Raisin
  • Herbal/Vegetative
    • Vanilla, Mint, Eucalyptus, Bay Leaf, Green Bell Pepper, Green Olive, Rosemary, Dried Herb
  • Earthy
    • Cedar, Cigar Box, Cigar Smoke, Pencil Lead, Graphite, Tobacco, Wet Dog
  • Oak-Derived
    • Oak, Fresh Lumber, Cedar, Chocolate, Cocoa, Smoke

 Where The Best Cabernet Sauvignon is Grown:

  • The Bordeaux Region of France
  • California and Washington State, the far south of Oregon
  • Chile and Argentina
  • Australia
  • Italy, where it stars in some Super Tuscans, and is used in small amounts in many different wines
  • Cabernet grows  successfully in many regions throughout the wine making world…it adapts well to a  variety of conditions.

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef -Prime Rib, Grilled Steaks…it’s all good!
  • Lamb – Bubbly Prof prefers Merlot here, but Cab works!
  • Veal
  • Venison
  • Pork
  • Hard Cheeses

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients/Flavor Bridges:

  • Currants, Prunes, Raisins (go easy on the sweetness)
  • Walnuts, Pecans
  • Mushrooms, Eggplant, Tomatoes, Roasted Tomatoes
  • Mint, Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Basil, Black Pepper
  • Blue Cheese – but be careful with the bitterness!

The Urban Legend:  The Cabernet Sauvignon/Chocolate Food Pairing:

According to some…Chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon is a match made in Heaven.  For other people, it’s not so great and some people really dislike the pairing! In my Intro to Professional Wine Studies Class, I have my students try out the Cab/Chocolate combination without giving them any hints as to whether they “should” like it or not.  In my 16 years as a wine teacher, I’ve led more than 12,000 students through this exercise, and I estimate that the split is just about 50/50, with women more likely to enjoy the combination than men.

The idea behind the combination is a common flavor or aroma bridge…Cabernet often displays aromas of cocoa or chocolate.

The reason some people do not care for the combination is that sweet food tends to dry out and emphasize the acid/bitter/tannic tastes of a dry red wine.  I personally do not care for it…but all I can really do is suggest you try it for yourself!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

 

Textbooks, Jellybeans, and The Great Grape Show!

I am finishing up my classes for this semester today, and starting to plan for next semester.  This means lots of 12-hour work days and paperwork followed by a short one week break, and then it’s onto yet another incarnation of Miss Jane’s Professional Wine Studies Class.  This year marks my seventeenth year as a wine educator!

I always like to have everything “locked and loaded” on my class website well before the start of the semester, so I have been busy designing some new in-class exercises and assessments for next block. 

Somehow the calendar worked out so that there is an extra class day in my semester next block, and I have decided to fill  it with some in-depth study of  grape varieties.  I am even going to bring back the Jelly Belly Wine Bar, for those of you old enough to remember that bit of genius. On a more serious note, my text book has some excellent materials on the different grape varieties, and with 4,000 of them out there, it’s a lot to know. Oh yeah, it’s going to be The Great Grape Show.

One of the never-ending challenges of teaching college is trying to motivate your students to actually read the textbook before class.  Students get so much more out of class discussions, activities, and lectures if they are even just a little bit familiar with the subject before we begin. Reading the book before class enables a student to engage in active learning while in class, rather just staying in “listen and doodle” mode.

Over the years I’ve tried many things to try to motivate my students to read the text, and have heard every excuse in the book.  “It’s boring!” really failed to earn my sympathy, and “But I don’t need to read the book because you teach it so well” at least make me chuckle. Homework assignments straight from the book are effective, but these days I am trying to focus on bringing the learning process into the classroom instead of leaving it at home.

Recently, I  have had some real success with a pre-class requirement.  Not so much a homework assignment as a sort of “entry ticket” to class.  (Remember…class holds the promise of a Jelly Belly Wine Bar.)

To earn this “Get Into Class Free Card” students are asked to do some reading and  take a short on-line quiz before they are allowed in class.  It sounds cruel, but I try to make it kind…the whole deal should only take about 30 minutes. They even get a reminder email from me if they haven’t completed it by the day before class.  Students know to come to class with a print out of the quiz, and I keep the classroom door closed until one minute before class.  We position a “bouncer” (student worker) to collect the tickets at the door, and then it’s showtime!

So far, it has been working..and the Jelly Bellies are a big hit!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas.