Ueeeh! Mah! Bop! Dai! These are just a few of the words you can use on your next trip to Italy if you want to communicate with Italians like a local. Add the corresponding facial expression, hand gesture or shoulder shrug and you’ll blend right in. Or drop the word “Soccia” every now and then and bam! you’ve just added Bolognese dialect into your Italian repertoire. For me, this is the beauty of Italy: the endless variations of expressions either through words, sounds or gestures but most especially through aromas and flavours.
My sister and I used to take Italian classes in high school. On Saturday mornings we’d drive from Mississauga to Brampton (GTA folk will understand our dedication) to learn the ways of Italy. We’d giggle from the beginning to the end of our classes as we learned all those cute Italian phrases and bizarre expressions. We’d watch Roberto Benigni movies and laugh at all that Italian silliness (even though we understood little, if not any, of the cultural references) and we both dreamed of going to Italy one day. Eventually we did end up going to Italy, albeit each at our own time. My sister continued her Italian studies along with architecture in university, while I started anew with Portuguese and Ibero-American Studies. Then somehow or another, throughout the years, my family grew from a tight-knit Chilean-Canadian clan from the suburbs of Toronto to an extensive international family of loving, passionate and welcoming Spanish and Italians dispersed throughout Europe. What can I say? I’m one lucky Chileandian. As you might remember, I celebrated Christmas and New Years in Spain where I was introduced to some great Alicante wines by my Spanish brother-in-law. For Easter, I made a slight detour from my self-instructed Portuguese wine immersion program to come to Bologna to visit my sister and my Italian brother-in-law, Luigi.
Bologna is nationally known as la grassa or “the fat one”, and I can say with great pride that my pants are a little bit too tight and my face a little bit too round at the end of this trip. (In my next post, I’ll recommend a few spots for you to visit while in Bologna). However, as much as I’d like to blame the fatty fat fatness of Bologna for this, la grassa actually refers to the abundance, richness and high quality of its cuisine. And what better way to enjoy this exquisite and rich cuisine than with W-I-N-E. While my sister and Luigi decided to cut the meat out of their diet during Lent, luckily for me they didn’t cut out the wine (after all, is it not the blood of Christ?) because Italy, like Portugal, has an incredible range of wines. With over 500 native grape varieties, plus the international ones, there is a lot to discover. So when I was invited by a friend and Sommelier, Lorenzo Marcheselli, to visit a small family-run winery in the area, naturally I said “Ueeeh!” and waved my hands around in obvious approval.
The winery is question: Il Monticino Vigne e Vini dei Colli Bolognesi. The region: i Colli Bolognesi (the Hills of Bologna) in Emilia-Romanga. The grapes varietals: native Italian varieties of Pignoletto (White) and Barbera (Red), as well as international varieties including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Malvasia Aromatica di Candia, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The production amount: 40,000 bottles per year.
Il Monticino is a family-run winery located about 20 minutes from the city of Bologna. Along the rolling hills that surround the city, the Morandi family recovered a few hectares of old vines, planted new vines and began making wine in 2000. With 12 hectares of vines planted along silty clay soil at approximately 200 to 250 metres above sea level, this Emilia-Romagna producer has made its mark both nationally and internationally with its regional speciality of Pignoletto sparkling wines and Barbera still wine. Il Monticino wines have received awards and distinctions from the Decanter World Wine Awards, Gambero Rosso, and Guida AIS. Giacomo Morandi explained how their focus was on producing quality wines in a region not typically known for wine. The Morandi family is dedicated to making great wine following both tradition and innovation, for both local and international consumption. They practice sustainable viticulture and Il Monticino wines are certified by Magis, an Italian sustainability program whereby minimal use of fertilizers and herbicides are used in order to reduce the environmental impact. The winery itself is small and part of the cellar is underground to take advantage of the cool conditions of the ground. Both sparkling and frizzante wines are made by the tank method (Charmat Method), which is when the second fermentation is done in a tank and then bottled under pressure (as in the production of Prosecco). And both American and French oak, both new and seasoned, are used for ageing.
The tour ended with a tasting of some of Il Monticino wines (please see below for tasting notes), which deserve to be discovered and tasted (I believe they will be at VinItaly if you should happen to find yourself in Verona next week). On a sunny Saturday morning, it was a true delight to visit this small producer, one where every family member was present in the winery: Giacomo Morandi who gave us the tour and tasting, his father, Ruggero Morandi, who filled Damigiana jugs for patrons (a local custom) and Giacomo’s four-year old son who played with his nonna.
Bolognino Spumante 2014
Varietals: 80% Chardonnay, 20% Grecchetto Gentile (locally known as Pignoletto)
Sparking white made in Charmat (tank) method. The story of the label comes from Emperor Henry VI who visited Bologna on his way to Roma in the 12th century. He was received so warmly by the Bolognesi people that he gave them a coin, the Bolognino, to thank them.
It is a straw yellow with medium-sized bubbles and some foam on the rim. The blend between the Chardonnay and Pignoletto offer much for the senses. On the nose, subtle notes of stone-fruit. On the palate, it has crisp minerality, medium body, fresh and lively acidity with a slight bitter and salty finish which is typical of the Pignoletto. Great value for money. Very Good.
Pignoletto del Monticino 2014
Varietal: 100% Pignoletto
Breaking from the norm, this single varietal is a still white that has spent 6 months on lees with battonage. The nose is inviting with a lovely mix of crushed stones and white flowers. Despite 2014 not being a very good year, this Pignoletto is well-balanced, medium bodied and acidity. Citrus fruit accompany the floral flavors on the palate. Good.
Bolognino Rosso Frizzante 2014
Varietal: 100% Barbera
Frizzante vs Spumante? It’s all about the bubbles (bar pressure). This one is a fizzy red that’s fun to drink. Some bubbles but mainly just foam on the rim. On the nose, it’s a delightful mix of red cherries and red berries. On the palate, same red fruit profile with bright acidity, well-balanced alcohol, body and soft tannins. Refreshing and fun. Good.
Barbera Reserva del Monticino 2012
Varietal: 100% Barbera
The star of the day, this lovely Barbera offers great value (13euro at the winery). It has an intense ruby-purple colour. The nose presents wonderful aromas of pepper, dark berries and even some mineral notes. On the palate, it is full-bodied, muscular tannins but balanced out with fresh acidity. Despite it being 15% abv, the alcohol is really well-integrated. Lovely and complex finish. This wine is very gastronomical, pairing well with strong cheeses, pastas and meats. Requires more ageing to reach optimal expression. Very Good.
Bolognino Rosso Riserva 2010
Varietal: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
This was my favourite of the tasting. Beautiful deep ruby with red hues on the rim. The nose was seductive in its expression of ripe red fruit and berries, black pepper and even hints of balsamic and some earthiness. On the palate, the tannins were smooth, almost velvety, full-bodied with well-integrated alcohol. Flavours covered entire mouth and kept delivering more and more. Long, persistent finish. Outstanding.
Malvasia Aromatica del Monticino 2014
Varietal: 100% Malvasia Aromatica di Candia
This is an exclusive wine (only 1000 bottles produced) from late harvest grapes (end of October to beginning of November). Color was a lemon-orange with thick legs. The nose was quite pronounced and aromatic, a boutique of flowers. Sweet and structured on the palate. Full-bodied with good acidity and floral notes lingering in the mouth. Great dessert wine or as an aperitif with cheeses. Good.