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September 16, 2019 | Rome, Italy

Brio in brix

By | 2018-03-21T18:23:19+02:00 November 1st, 2006|Food & Wine Archive|
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG Riserva 2001: First sips reveal a richly ripe black cherry fruitiness with a smooth lingering finish.
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link, clank, swish, wait, clink, clank, swish, wait. It’s the calm before the storm in this Montepulciano cantina. With “la Vendemmia” (the grape harvest) still days away, Corte alla Flora’s production manager Marco Sorzi and his team are busy readying the cellar for the coming frenzy. The group — small before the field hands arrive to help out — diligently follows Sorzi’s precise instructions.

Clink, clank, swish, wait, clink, clank, swish, wait.

Aside from the rhythmic hum of the vineyard’s bottling machine, the only sound on this clear and sunny day is Teo’s occasional barking. Teo is the vineyard’s adopted stray and he follows me eagerly down long rows of trellised vines while chasing the occasional sparrow that flits out from the leaf canopy.

To the untrained eye, some rows of grapes — Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile) and Merlot — seem ready for harvesting. They take on their telltale color and succulent size in late summer and early fall.

But the experts know better, and so the waiting continues.

Clink, clank, swish, wait, clink, clank, swish, wait.

I meet the Cragnotti family, father and son; they own the vineyard. I also chat with a group of enthusiastic commercial buyers newly arrived from the Veneto. We lunch on heavy plates of gnocchi di patate and talk more about food than wine production.

Before the vineyard begins “the crush” (wine-speak for relieving grapes of their juice), the grapes must be allowed to reach their correct “brix.” Brix is the scale used by winemakers to measure the concentration of sugars in grape juice.

If you taste a grape with 0 brix, you pucker. By late September or early October, the sugar content of the same grape rises to about 21 to 25, the range enologists look for to separate the fruity wine from the lifeless.

Most red wine producers aim for a brix of between 24-26 degrees before harvest and expect about a one-degree of increase each week depending on degree-days, or temperature over 85 degrees (34C).

As the vendemmia approaches, a professional vineyard takes a daily measure of the sugars, t.a. (tartaric acid), and pH (for ripeness and balance) of the grapes. Some Italian producers still rely on the time-honored taste test to determine the maturity of the fruit.

Growers put a premium on balance — a grape with the correct amount of sugar balanced against acids. This creates strong backbone, an essential ingredient for reds headed for the cellar life.

Patience is fundamental to all winemaking.

“The most challenging part of producing Italian wines is creating a good bottle that has a good ratio both to quality and price,” says Andrea Cragnotti, whose family makes Corte alla Flora’s classic Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and the pricier Super Tuscan. Competition in Tuscany is stiff.

Sampling four of the family’s wines, including Giuggiolo, a small-production white (there’s also a red), my sense is that this vineyard does an excellent job striking that delicate balance.

When I asked the Venetian buyers if they thought this year would be a good one in Tuscany, one winked.

We’ll see. Until the 2006 vintage is bottled, nothing’s certain. But if the coming wines are as good as the two listed below, there’s a lot to look forward to.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG Riserve 2001 — Corte alla Flora

Not much has been written about this surprising red. It’s a blend of Prugnolo Gentile, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon aged for 24 months in barriques — 200 liter wooden barrels — followed by an additional 12 months in the bottle. First sips reveal a richly ripe black cherry fruitiness with a smooth lingering finish.

There are hints of smoky, moist earth with a balanced tannic structure that gives the wine a nice but not overbearing “minerality” (the meaning of minerality is elusive: it’s the taste of lead-pencil, soil, chalk, and clay inherent to wine.) As with many of the bigger Tuscan reds, the choice of food is vital. I recommend red meats such as the famous locally-bred white cattle known as chianina, sliced salumi, or mature cheeses.

Giuggiolo-Bianco di Toscana IGT 2004

This inexpensive white surprised me and the Veneto wine buyers alike. It’s made from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and is freshly citric and playful. I wish the family vineyard produced more of it.

Drink it with such seafood dishes as spaghetti con vongole, gamberoni alla brace, or cozze con limone.

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Lynda Albertson's monthly wine column appeared between 2006 and 2010.

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