When going to Veneto to explore the local wine culture, the Euganean Hills is probably not the first area you come to think of. We are more familiar with Ripasso and Amarone wines from Valpolicella, the white wines from Lugana and Soave (the Turbiana/Trebbiano di Soave and Garganega grapes), and the Chiaretto rosé wine from Bardolino. Right?
The Euganean Hills is an amazingly beautiful area and well worth visiting. The main things distinguishing this lovely area just 20 minutes from Padua are:
- Le Terme – the hot springs in Abano Terme and Montegrotto Terme.
- Leisure activities such as hiking, trekking, and biking.
- History and heritage. It is an area rich in history, monuments, and culture.
- Food and wine. Mainly wine made with French grapes in Bordeaux style but also native grapes. Then olive oil and DOP Prosciutto Veneto, to name a few products.
- Sustainability. There is a unique biodiversity in the area that is located with the regional park of Colli Euganei.
I was invited on a press tour of the Euganean hills, where we thanks to La Strada del Vino Colli Euganei (established 20 years ago to promote the local territory), the Consortium of Vini Colli Euganei, and Wine Meridian could enjoy the hot spring pools, a mud massage, and the spa at Abano Grand Hotel in combination with excursions to wineries in the area. We also visited an olive oil mill and a salumificio (cured meat factory).
Wineries in the Euganean Hills
I admit that my knowledge of the Euganean Hills was limited, I knew that viticulture date at least to the Roman era, that the soil is vulcanic, that the wineries there mainly produce Bordeaux blend wines, and that the DOCG of the area is the DOCG Colli Euganei Fior d’Arancio sweet wine made with the Moscato giallo grape. What I learned was a #shitton of new things such as that the producers, with passion and dedication, are working to steadily increase the quality of the wines and put the area on the world wine map.
We visited the wineries Vignalta, Il Filó delle Vigne, and Quota 101 and met with Diego Bonato from Reassi winery who is also the vice president of La Strada del Vino Colli Euganei organization. The president is Roberto Gardina, the owner of Quota101 winery, who acted as our cicero during the three days touring the Euganean Hills.
French grapes dominate in the Euganean Hills
It was the Conti Corinaldi di Monticelli who in 1870 decided to plant Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, and Merlot vines because they were dissatisfied with the yield and quality of the local grapes. Today, French grapes are considered to be a part of the identity of the local territory. The DOC Colli Euganei appellation was instituted in 1969.
Not only classical Bordeaux-style wines are being made, even if they are the main category, but wineries and vignerons are using steel, cement tanks, amphora, and larger oak barrels (the latter rarely as it seems) also. This makes me happy as you might have guessed. I am not a huge fan of small oak barrels – barrique – as very few are integrating the oak well. However, when it is well done I am the first to admit that and greatly enjoy the wine. The wines change also depending on the micro-area in which they are produced. In the northern parts on the higher altitudes the wines are fresher, mineral, slimmer, and elegant while they in the southern micro-areas are more powerful and round.
Millions of years ago, the Euganean Hills and the whole Po Valley were covered by the sea. The geological composition has developed in different phases throughout millions of years, to today be very varied. It ranges from sedimentary limestone of marine origin to clay, marl, and substrates of volcanic soil containing basalts and rocks. The rocks are formed of trachyte, rhyolite, and latite.
Native grapes in the Euganean Hills
I knew next to nothing about the native grapes in the area either, so it was fantastic to learn that many producers are working on re-evaluating almost lost old grape varieties such as Marzemina nera bastarda, Pataresca, Corbina, Turchetta, etc.
The Marzemina nera bastarda is not to be confused with the Marzemino in Trentino. It is a grape that had almost disappeared, luckily it has been recuperated and replanted in the early 2000s. There are mentions of Marzemina bastarda (large grape size) in the 17th century in the Treviso and Padua areas, later it seems to have been more cultivated in the Padua district. Even Goethe seems to have mentioned the existence of a Marzeminone wine from Padua, according to the ampelographer Girolamo Molon. (The source is a paper from the agricultural department of the Veneto region.) The grape is not officially registered in the Italian national registry.
Corbina, or Corbinone, is a grape not to be mixed up with Corvina as they are two different grapes. Corbina is a grape that in the 19th century was very commonly cultivated in all of Veneto though, especially in the Padua, Treviso, and Vicenza areas. It is a grape that thrives growing on hills, it is moderately productive, and matures late. It is officially registered in the national registry since 2007.
Turchetta is another forgotten grape that has been recuperated especially in the Padua area, i.e. the Euganean Hills mostly I would presume. There are mentions of the grape in the era of the Republic of Venice (La Serenissima) when the eastern areas of Veneto close to the sea were remediated. Probably the grape dates even further back. It is a grape that historically adapts to challenging climatic conditions such as heat and humidity. Just like the Corbina, the Turchetta was officially registered in 2007.
I have found very little written about Pataresca and, as Marzemino, it is not officially registered yet. According to Norberto Marzotto, in the early 20th century, it was a very commonly grown grape in the Padua province. Marzotto further mentions that it is a grape with an inconsistent growing pattern.
The historical facts of these grapes are a bit uncertain, but most of those mentioned above seem to have been in the catalog of grapes presented at the agricultural fair in Vicenza in 1868. Many of the grapes were abandoned also because they were considered to give wines of poor quality. Therefore, producers started focusing on growing grapes such as Cabernet, Merlot, Barbera, and Raboso instead to improve the overall quality of the wines produced.
DOCG Colli Euganei Fior d’Arancio
As mentioned earlier, the Fior d’Arancio passito is the only DOCG wine of the Euganean hills. It is made with the Yellow Muscat grape (Moscato giallo) which is an aromatic grape where the orange blossom is a particular aroma (zagara). Fior d’arancio is in reality a grape variety but rather a table grape with low yield, and it has often been confused with the Yellow Muscat. The Yellow Muscat has been considered to have Far East origin, however, according to Prof. Attilio Scienza it today seems more likely that it has European origin and is a direct descendant of the White Muscat grape. (See La Stirpe del Vino, pp. 44-45, Scienza, Attilio e Imazio, Serena.)
(Read more about other wine areas in Veneto: Do Micro-Climate and Terroir Matter for Chiaretto di Bardolino Rosé Wines?)
Wines Tasted from the Euganean Hills
We tasted many wines during the 3 days in the Euganean Hills area. Below, I have chosen to talk more in-depth about a couple of them.
Even if we did not visit Reassi winery of Diego Bonato, we met with him and tasted several of his organic wines. Diego used to work as an oenologist for example in Tuscany, but then he decided to return home and take over the family winery. I like the wines for their freshness, linearity, and elegance. In fact, the winery is located in Carbonara di Rovolon in the northwestern part of the Euganean Hills. He makes a Manzoni bianco wine – Terre d’Argilla Colli Euganei DOC 2021 – that is very enjoyable for its freshness, minerality, saltiness, and linearity. The soil is mainly clay and, in fact, you can feel also a bit of a chalky touch on the palate.
At the amazing dinner on the first evening at Incalmo restaurant, we tasted also his L’Antenato Vino Rosso IGT Veneto which is a blend of Marzemina nera bastarda, Turchetta, and Corbina. I found it lovely with its notes of red fruit, spices, a herby touch, and lovely freshness. It was very interesting to understand more about the native grapes.
Il Filó delle Vigne is located in the southeastern part of the Euganean Hills in Baone. We got to see their lower vineyards close to the winery where they cultivate the red grapes. It is a very warm area and the soil is limestone with layers of red clay. The oenologist told us that they irrigate during the summer to keep the vines in shape. He continued to stress that they irrigated almost non-stop this year – 2022 – and that the result is very elegant wines, more so than during a cooler year. Carmenére thrives in this area of the Euganean Hills where the spicy notes are accentuated.
They are excelling at producing red wines with French grapes aged in both older and new barriques. I liked the Cecilia di Ba-one Colli Euganei DOC Riserva 2019 which is aged for 2 years in cement tanks. It is a blend of 50% Cabernet Franc and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. It has a lovely freshness and finesse, a herby touch, fruit-forward with notes of cherry, plum, blackcurrant, and salty. The taste is complex, structured, and smooth.
On the last day, we visited the Quota 101 winery of Roberto Gardina and his family which is situated beautifully in the area of Luvigliano di Torreglia, in the northeastern part of the Euganean Hills. They have about 8 hectares of vineyard around the winery and another 8 hectares of younger vineyards in Baone in the southern part of the Euganean Hills. The winery is organic and has also recently built a Casa Clima-certified winery, the second of its kind in Veneto.
We tasted four of their wines, the one that I want to mention here is the dry Fior d’Arancio Colli Euganei DOCG 2020 because I have not had that many occasions to taste the dry version of this wine. It is a very pleasant aromatic white wine with orange blossomy, floral, and herby notes, and a hint of hay. It has a fresh and powerful taste, a bit salty, followed by a bitter aftertaste typical for the grape variety (they told us). The fermentation is done partly in tonneaux and partly in steel tanks.
All three above-mentioned wineries generally use natural yeast and apply wild fermentations.
We also visited Vignalta winery, located in Arquá Petrarca in the southern part of the Euganean Hills. Actually, it was the first winery we got to see, where we were lucky to meet with the owner Lucio Gomiero. I say this because he lives in California for a large part of the year. Gomiero is in reality an architect who in the beginning had winemaking as a hobby. He was crucial in pushing for the Fior d’Arancio sweet wine to be taken seriously and considered for becoming a DOC years ago. It then became a DOCG in 2011.
Alpinae DOCG Colli Euganei Fior d’Arancio 2018 from Vignalta is a lovely sweet and aromatic wine with notes of orange blossom, apricot, bergamot, and an aftertaste of grapefruit, that is not overbearing despite its sugar level. The acidity level and the minerality help to make it into a lovely dessert or meditation wine.
The Euganean Hills…
…is a region to explore better, it has a lot of hidden treasures ranging from the hot springs in Abano Terme to a long tradition of viticulture and winemaking, olive oil production, cured meat producers, and much more. The volcanic soil, nature with its unique biodiversity, the culture, the historical monuments, etc…makes it all into a unicorn of an area.
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