Audacious or daring – Vini Audaci – turns wine tasting into a concept. The idea was created by Andrea Ciancolini and Riccardo Chiarini back before the pandemic, which now seems like a surreal era that happened ages ago and instead, it was only two years ago that it started. The original idea was to organize a big event at the Visarno Racecourse in May last year, the reality with Covid kicked in and Andrea and Riccardo had to adapt to the circumstances. They set up three mini-events last summer followed by another mini-event at Fattoria di Maiano earlier this autumn in October. The event at Fattoria di Maiano was dedicated to Bianki Ganzi, that is cool white wines. In my opinion, these smaller events are much nicer and more sustainable for the wine lovers attending, rather than big chaotic events. However, I understand that larger events give better results for the organizers.
The idea behind Vini Audaci is to focus on organic, biodynamic, and natural wines where the main attention is on the environment. Furthermore, there is a focus on vintners and their “audacious” or courageous work in the vineyard and the wine cellar. Often, they have recuperated older farming techniques which together with more modern and innovative techniques become a fascinating mix where the new in reality is something old and vice versa.
What is an audacious wine?
Well, many of you probably think that it must be a “natural” wine that is trying to be different or disrupt traditional wine lovers’ perception of wine. And you might think I should have posed the question: what is a natural wine, right? (Here, I will try not to be too lenghty in my thoughts) Natural wine is a word that has become very trendy and used in overload, I, for instance, prefer to use the term low intervention. Raw Wine defines natural wine as follows on their website:
“Natural Wine is farmed organically (biodynamically, using permaculture or the like) and made (or rather transformed) without adding or removing anything in the cellar. No additives or processing aids are used, and ‘intervention’ in the naturally occurring fermentation process is kept to a minimum. As such neither fining nor (tight) filtration are used. The result is a living wine – wholesome and full of naturally occurring microbiology.”
Can we say though, that being organic is enough of a foundation to be considered natural? As it says above, the work in the vineyard is of the utmost importance but the process in the cellar is just as defining for if a wine can be considered low intervention. The definition of Vin Natur, I would say is a bit more concrete and pinpointing the essential aspects. A wine producer wanting to join Vin Natur does not need to be certified organic or biodynamic but it is strongly suggested. Furthermore, the producer should be:
- autonomous and not depend on any other larger winery;
- use no pesticides or other chemical products in the vineyard;
- do manual harvesting;
- add no sugar, selected yeasts, or other additives;
- adopt a wild fermentation;
- make no use of fining, microfiltration, added sulfites, or other.
(See more in my previous article, Vin Natur – A Natural Wine Making Association Looking Towards The Future)
As you can notice Vin Natur’s definition is more honest saying that you do not need to be certified organic or biodynamic, the key issue is to not use any chemical products in the vineyard. Furthermore, it is imperative to manage the work in the cellar with as little intervention as possible, according to a set of rules stabilized by the association. This means wild fermentation with natural yeast, no fining, or filtration. When I visited Angiolino Maule at La Biancara some years ago, it was very interesting to hear how the problem, in the beginning, was just how to manage the work in the cellar, especially the malolactic fermentation. The aim was, and is, to produce non-faulty wines that taste and smell good.
Last year, 2020, French authorities did recognize wines produced with the “vin méthode nature’ where the French Ministry for Agriculture and the French National Institute for Origins and Quality collaborated to set up a Natural Wines Union. The denomination is instituted on a three-year trial basis and certain rules have to be followed to be able to make use of “vin méthode nature’ on the label. These rules are that the grapes need to be hand-picked grapes, the vineyard needs to be certified organic, and the fermentation made with indigenous yeast. Furthermore, fining, reverse osmosis, and thermovinification is not allowed. (But what about the amount of copper and sulfur as an organic winery? Would that not be too much for a real naturalist?) The term “vin méthode nature’ is used because it is not allowed to write “natural wine”, according to applicable EU regulations. As you can see, “natural” is difficult as concept.
Can we say that an audacious wine is the same as natural wine then? I don’t think so. Of course, it ought not to contain any traces of synthetic products but I do not believe it needs to be a certified organic or biodynamic wine, even if it helps, just as Vin Natur states for their members. I think an audacious wine needs to be really good, have a “soul”, be organic in a general not necessarily certified sense, be sustainable, and be connected to its local territory. There needs to be a clear connecting thought. With this I am not saying that I do not like low intervention wines, I really do when it is indeed a good wine that speaks to me. What I like more are wines that are good and of good quality where you can see that the producer is really connected to his land and aware of what that means.
Anyway, I think Vini Audaci is an event that gives space for various expressions of daring wines in a nice, unpretentious, and balanced way.
Audacious wines tasted at Vini Audaci
The event was divided into two parts as usual, where the first consisted of a guided wine tasting where the wine producers could talk more in detail about a selected wine. The second part was a general tasting where you freely could mingle to taste and chat with the producers at their various tables. They had brought most of their wines and not only the white ones. I had been to Bergamo for a couple of days judging wines at the Emozioni dal Mondo wine competition and I only got back home that same evening. Therefore, I only managed to drop in late to make an appearance, that is sort of make my round and taste the wines. I have made a selection of four producers below.
Audacious…because classic but still non-conventional
Already being the first biodynamic and Demeter certified winery in Franciacorta, makes 1701 Franciacorta winery different and non-conventional. Now, I am not sure if there are other biodynamic wineries in Franciacorta, there probably are. Their oenologist is Adriano Zago, the biodynamic magician originally from Veneto but who lives in Tuscany. I think that 1701 Franciacorta is one of those wineries who in a calm and understated way makes really good Franciacorta wines that are biodynamic (I do not point out natural here, I prefer to talk about biodynamic) but they do not overwhelm you with it, they just tell you how the wines are made, and that’s that. (The only thing, just as with some other winery below, is that their websites are really obscure and would need a big redesign to make it easier for the audience to learn more about them.)
The wines speak for themselves. I think their Brut Nature that rests on the lees for 30 months is fantastic, I also like their 1701 Surnàt where they experiment with maturing only Chardonnay on the lees in terracotta amphorae for 9 months. It has a particular structure and gives a special expression to the local terroir and to the Chardonnay grapes. I still think though that you notice their true ability and greatness in the classical Franciacorta wines. The others are like the cherry on top.
Audacious…because lesser-known native grapes
Palazzo Tronconi is a small winery in Arce in the province of Frosinone in Lazio that is also focused on biodynamic farming. I met Marco Marrocco, the owner of this winery, at the Vini Audaci tasting. He is a guy that started out as an engineer and has a company in the elevator business in the background, then he stumbled upon buying a place in Arce and got stuck by the winemaking bug. I got curious straight away when I tasted Fregellae Frusinate IGT that is made with the lesser-known native grapes Pampanaro, Maturano, and Capolongo, and Zitore Frusinate IGT 2019 that is made with the grape Lecinaro. They are nice and interesting wines with a certain character.
These are grapes very much restricted to the local area where Palazzo Tronconi is situated and there is not very much written about them. They are all ancient grapes native to Lazio that were registered in the National Grapevine Registry only in 2010. According to Quattrocalici.it, Capolongo gives acidity and structure with mainly fruity and floral notes, Maturano gives more minerality and has notes more of tropical fruit and a herby touch, while Pampanaro is a grape that gives structure and gives more aromatic notes such as lychees, rose, and grapefruit.
Ian D’Agatha writes that D.H Lawrence had a favorite wine made with the Maturano grape that he always drank when he visited Italy. (See Native Wine Grapes of Italy, p. 523.) He continues to say, regarding the Pampanaro grape, that there seem to have been three different Pampanaro grapes identified in the late 19th century, namely Pampanaro di Atina, Pampanaro di Arce, and Pampanaro di Fondi. Perhaps we can assume that it here is the Pampanaro di Arce in the Palazzo Tronconi wines.
Here, I am using the word “non-territorial” more in the sense that I will talk about grapes that are not native, specifically, to Rufina in Tuscany where Borgo Macereto is located. Rather, they are allochthonous. Even if the Bianki Ganzi event of Vini Audaci was all about white daring wines, I will focus more on one of the red wines from Borgo Macereto in Rufina, namely their Incipit IGT Rosso Toscana 2016. It is a blend of Sangiovese and Gamay and the first vintage was 2016, I believe.
I was introduced to Nicola Foscarini, the owner of Borgo Macereto, by my friend Dario Parenti who is their oenologist. Then, I got to visit them early this year in Dicomano, a fascinating corner of Rufina. He told me how they found old Gamay vines when they had bought the estate some years ago, and decided to restore them and start using the Gamay grapes in one of their wines. Incipit 2016 is or was because I do not think many bottles are still in stock, a lovely wine with fruit-forward notes as well as notes of spices, leather, and a herby touch. It is a fresh and elegant wine with smooth tannins. It is a wine that captivates. Since then, they have also released the 2018 vintage that is just as fascinating, even though I liked 2016 better.
Borgo Macereto is a winery that has really taken big leaps forward in the last few years, it is great to follow their well-deserved success. They are an organic winery that fits the audacious wine concept perfectly by producing organic wines with character and soul.
Audacious…because young and courageous
At the Vini Audaci tasting, I met the siblings Eleonora and Luigi of La Smeralda winery in Briona in the Novara area in northern Piemonte (Alta Piemonte). They had me tasting their Erbaluce that I found smooth, round, and with a mix of floral and fruity notes, and a touch of herby. And it had this beautiful intense yellow color. I also tasted their Nebbiolo DOC wine which is a dynamic and fun wine just as the siblings but I think I was more charmed by the Erbaluce wine.
Eleonora and Luigi started La Smeralda together with their father I believe, to rediscover and reevaluate viticulture and winemaking in their local area. Their first vintage was 2020 so they are really just getting started. I find them audacious and courageous for starting such an adventure, especially in a period when we have been in the midst of a pandemic.
There are other wineries I would have liked to talk more about too, such as La Poggiolina, Sassopra, and Terre di Ger, but that will be for another article.
The Vini Audaci mini-event was
…as you may have understood, a wine tasting that was a perfect opportunity to delve deeper into a couple of small and “audacious” wineries in a relaxed and fun way. Vini Audaci is a good place to taste low intervention wines, where the focus is not on being natural in a trendy way but to make space for wines that give an expression to the local territory, with a certain character.