This month we are featuring wines from two of our favorite Northern Italian producers. Existing at opposite ends of the collar of the boot, Cascina Val de Prete in Piedmont and Simon di Brazzan from Friuli exemplify the deep history and astounding variety that make Italian wine appreciation such a lifelong pursuit. Though each works with soils and grapes distinctive enough to belong to separate countries, they operate quite similarly: both wineries are dedicated family affairs, blending convention and experimentation as the craft is passed from one generation to the next. They also both farm organically and biodynamically which, as we observe Earth Day this month, seems critical to ensuring future generations are able to contribute to the tradition as well.
Cascina Val de Prete’s 2016 Nebbiolo d’ Alba is a classic vintage of one of Italy’s most celebrated red varietals. The Piedmont region, in the Northwest corner, boasts two of the wine world’s most prestigious appellations, Barolo and Barbaresco - both of which produce highly prized and age-worthy wine from the Nebbiolo grape. Right on the other side of the Tanaro River, Nebbiolo d’Alba yields a lighter, more affordable, but no less characteristic, take on Nebbiolo. In 1977, Bartolomeo Roagna and his wife Carolina bought the farm “Val del Prete” (Valley of the Priest), where they had worked as sharecroppers, and started replacing some grain and fruit with vines. They now have 27 acres under vine; their son Mario took over in 1995, and initiated the conversion to organic winemaking. His son, Giovanni recently joined him in the vineyards and the cellar.
Though less heralded than Piedmont, Friuli-Venezia Guila, the tiny province on Italy’s far Northeast fringe, possesses a wine culture just as specific. Bordering Austria to the north and Slovenia to the east, it is situated between the Julian Alps (hence the Gulia appended to the name) and the Gulf of Trieste, in the Adriatic Sea, to the south. It features 11 DOC and 3 DOCG appellations, most of them in the south; the region’s equidistance from the mountains and the sea creates a sunny and breezy microclimate that works together with the marlstone soil to yield grapes of astonishing fragrance and minerality. Simon di Brazzan is a beautiful 100+ year-old winery in the village of Cormons di Brazzano, seven miles west of the Slovenian border. Owner Enrico Veliscig celebrated his 102nd birthday in October 2020, and until a few years ago, he still worked in the vineyards, though his grandson Daniele Drius has been in charge for two decades. The 2019 ‘Blanc di Simon’ is made from 100% Friulano, a native white varietal.
The PlumpJack Wine Buying Team
Region / Country of Origin: Nebbiolo D’Alba, Piemonte, Italy
Winemaker: Mario Roagna
About the winery: The vineyard extends for about three acres on the left bank of the Tanaro river. It’s at 900 feet above sea level and enjoys an exposure to the south. The grapes are planted on south facing slopes in a splendid natural amphitheater. The vines are 30+ years old with a density of 2.300 plants per acre. The vineyard is bio-dynamically fertilized and the philosophy is to plant only autochthonous grape varieties, such as Arneis, Barbera and Nebbiolo, and to let the characteristics of the terroir speak through the wines. Fermentation in the cellars is spontaneous with indigenous yeasts.
About the winemaking: Grapes are hand harvested in mid-October and followed by a 25-35 day maceration in stainless steel tanks with 6-7 daily pump-overs. Fermentation in the cellars is spontaneous with indigenous yeasts.Racking into French oak barrels where malolactic conversion takes place, and the wine is aged for 24 months in oak and 6 months in the bottle.
Tasting Notes: Intense nose, with characteristic notes of tarry violet, dark cherry, and scents of pepper and eucalyptus. Palate exhibits classic Nebbiolo duality; soft, structured body encased in firm, earthy tannins.
Suggested Food Pairing:
Pasta with Sage and Butternut Squash
Region / Country of Origin: Iszono di Friuli, Italy
Winemaker: Daniele Drius & Natale Favretto
About the Winery: Simon di Brazzan (named for a villager named Simon who allegedly helped the widowed owner establish the estate in 1913) consists of about 13 hectares divided between the Collio and the Isonzo DOCs. Initially the estate was a typical farm with dairy cattle, pigs, other farm animals, plus vineyards. When Daniele Drius took over for his grandfather in 2006, he immediately banned the use of chemicals in the vineyards, introducing only natural practices. Eventually, he focused only on wine and expanded his vineyard holdings, and rather than sell the wine in bulk, started to bottle under the family label. For some years Daniele has been a fervid follower of biodynamic methods. Winemaker Natale Favretto joined Daniele 13 years ago adding his expertise of organic and biodynamic winemaking.
About the winemaking: Harvested manually from September to mid-October. Vinification is traditional, starting with careful destemming; followed by a heat exchanger to cool the destemmed grapes. Light maceration of the skins in the press. Then soft pressing. The must is cleaned using the cold settling method. Temperature-controlled fermentation. Wine left in contact with lees for a long period.
Tasting Notes: Floral on the nose, with hints of jasmine and tropical fruit. The palate is mineral driven, with waxy notes of, peach, nectarine and melon rind. The finish is surprisingly long and herbaceous.
Suggested Food Pairings:
Roasted green vegetables, including hard to pair items like green beans, brussel sprouts and artichokes.
Prosciutto or Salumi