Sunday, 11 May 2014

Italian wine... hidden gems

I always love Italian wine so naturally will not want to miss any tasting opportunities. The most memorable recently was the Vino Veritas portfolio tasting at Colour Living.

The venue is a lifestyle store featuring stylish kitchen and bathroom pieces as home furnishings. I think it’s a pretty cool setting for wine tasting. People will remember it and hopefully remember the wine as well. A few guests certainly will—they were playing with an over-sized bathtub on display, and water suddenly came out...

VinoVeritas is an Italian wine importer founded by Michael Palij MW, who selects the wines personally and recently moved to Hong Kong. There were 17 wines for tasting and I was impressed by the selection—all good quality, very reasonably priced and not short of hidden gems.

I particularly like Vigneti Massa (Walter Massa) from Colli Tortonesi, a five-generation winery in Piedmont. Its ‘Costa del Vento’ white wine made from indigenous Timorasso is concentrated with lively acidity and a savoury palate that could probably age for a few years. According to Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes, Timorasso used to be the most praised white variety in Piedmont until it was taken over by the more productive Cortese (used in Gavi) when vineyards were replanted after phylloxera in the early 20th century. It is only in the last few decades that a handful of producers, notably Walter Massa, have started replanting and have doubled its vineyard area from 6ha in 2000. Timorasso, in Jancis’s words, is a "rare, high-quality Piedmontese earning renewed recognition".

Walter Massa also makes red wine. His ‘Bigolla’ Colli Tortonesi Barbera DOC 2003 is still young with generous black fruits and an opulent mouthfeel, very different from the typical Barbera on the market. Apparently, Walter met Michael some time ago at a restaurant and insisted Michael try some of his wine. Michael was impressed and the rest is history. We are lucky to have Walter's wines in Hong Kong.

Ten days later I moved east from Piedmont to Friuli where Roberto Cioaca from Heritage Wines treated us to an intimate lunch at the Piedmontese restaurant La Piola with the winemaker/owner from Masùt da Rive, another family winery with four generations of history, now run by the brothers Fabrizio and Marco Gallo. They inherit and preserve the values of their father, and only make wines that truly respect the environment and express the land. By the way, ‘Masùt’ is the family nickname and ‘da Rive’ means on the hill. They sensibly did not use the family name Gallo on the label to avoid stepping on the US Gallo family’s turf.

Back to the wines, the Ribolla Gialla, an indigenous grape from the region, is refreshing with a crisp acidity and creamy mouthfeel—a pleasant summer drink and a steal at less than $200. Friulano, another native grape which Fabrizio describes as a young cousin of Sauvignon Blanc, indeed has the shadow of Sauvignon Blanc but minus the pungent herbaceousness, which makes it more suitable for pairing with food such as crispy dishes or white meat and less tiring when drunk alone. By the way, it is also known as Sauvignon Vert or Sauvignonasse, a descendant of Sauvignon Blanc.

Masùt da Rive also has other wines, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Nero (aka Pinot Noir), both not particularly the cup of tea of Ali Nicol, publisher of Wine Times HK, who was also at the tasting. Nevertheless, at the end, Ali was happily drinking both. Guess that says something about the wine!

Walter Massa is available from VinoVeritas.
Masùt da Rive is available from Heritage Wines.

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