The Pres­tige or­a­cles

Faced with ris­ing tem­per­a­tures, some wine­mak­ers are re­sort­ing to un­ortho­dox prac­tices — with sur­pris­ing re­sults, writes

Prestige (Singapore) - - CONTENTS - Ned good­win mw

magic can oc­cur when man is forced to think out­side of the box in the face of na­ture’s capri­cious­ness. A grow­ing num­ber of pro­duc­ers in warmer grape-grow­ing re­gions are mit­i­gat­ing na­ture’s ten­dency to­wards higher tem­per­a­tures with a holis­tic ap­proach from vine­yard to win­ery that’s of­ten far from con­ven­tional. Such re­gions in­clude many in the deep Mediter­ranean: Parts of Si­cily and Pri­o­rat in Spain, to name but a cou­ple.

Changes un­der way sug­gest a dra­matic shift in the stylis­tic zeit­geist. While it’s still easy to find clumsy wines across Pri­o­rat’s cel­lars, there’s a clear move­ment to­wards wines ar­chi­tected by ten­sile tan­nins, a moun­tain­ous vi­brato and lip-smack­ing drink­a­bil­ity. This said, lead­ers of the move­ment, such as Do­minik Hu­ber of pro­ducer Ter­roir al Límit, don’t deny the pro­cliv­ity of the rugged vine­yards in this torrid en­vi­ron­ment to yield sturdy wines.

In­deed, de­spite cli­matic chal­lenges, Hu­ber nei­ther adds acid, tan­nins or en­zymes, nor is he overly zeal­ous with his han­dling of oak, pre­fer­ring larger neu­tral casks or con­crete for breadth and tex­tu­ral de­tail to new bar­riques that im­part oak flavours and tan­nins. The vine­yards are chem­i­cal free, farmed by mule to bio­dy­namic tenets, and low yield­ing, re­sult­ing in fully ripe grapes at lower al­co­hols. Con­trary to es­tab­lished norms, too, Hu­ber cham­pi­ons Carig­nan as the sole driver of three of his wines — L’ar­bossar, Dits del Terra and Les Tosses — and as an equal com­po­nent in the blend Tor­roja Vi de la Vila, also con­tain­ing the more ex­u­ber­ant and oft-used Gre­nache. While Carig­nan is of­ten de­meaned as a va­ri­ety of­fer­ing lit­tle but green flavours and stringy tex­tures, partly due to marked tan­nins and high acid­ity, these fac­tors be­come at­tributes when the grapes are gen­tly ex­tracted, the vines old and low-yield­ing.

Hu­ber’s sites boast vines in ex­cess of 70 years of age! Green notes are shed for red and darker fruit flavours, while Hu­ber’s un­ortho­dox prac­tise of re­mov­ing the skins from the fer­men­ta­tion vat af­ter around two weeks (less than half the time of other wine­mak­ers in the re­gion) with­out any punch­ing down or pump­ing over re­sults in mouth-whet­ting tan­nins and bright, juicy acid­ity. These be­come able tools to mit­i­gate any lack of fresh­ness caused by Pri­o­rat’s cli­mate.

Sim­i­larly holis­tic is the ap­proach of Filippo Rizzo at la Moresca, his es­tate in the far south­ern cor­ner of Cata­nia, close to Etna. Here the soils are of mea­gre sand­stone and clay, rather than the schist of Pri­o­rat, yet the ge­o­log­i­cal and cli­matic meld with lo­cal grape va­ri­eties, some prone to over-ripeness and rus­tic tan­nins in lesser hands, is no less chal­leng­ing. Pes­ti­cide and her­bi­cide-free vine­yards trans­pose a pu­rity of fruit across the three dif­fer­ent red wines, all han­dled with min­i­mal oak and nei­ther tem­per­a­ture con­trol nor ad­di­tions.

Rizzo’s ace, how­ever, is his gen­tle ex­trac­tion of tan­nin and colour from the grape skins, which come with es­pe­cially thick skins as a phys­i­o­log­i­cal cara­pace against the arid­ity and sun. This takes place in rel­a­tively small, open-topped plas­tic vats, for around 30 days, con­sid­er­ably longer than at Ter­roir al Límit where Carig­nan’s tan­nins pro­vide a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge. This idio­syn­cratic tech­nique im­parts a chalky, fine-grained edge to his wines that gives lift, bal­ance and a vis­ceral smasha­bil­ity.

Rizzo’s sen­si­tive touch in­fuses even the oft-baked flavours of Nero d’avola with a lighter shade, blend­ing it with Gre­nache and the sour cherry lilt of Frap­pato to cre­ate Lamoresca Rosso. Yet my favourite is the cu­vée known as Mas­cal­isi in which Nerello Mas­calese plays the bass to a higher oc­tave, lifted by Frap­pato’s so­prano. The re­sound­ing theme is a min­eral tow car­ry­ing red-fruit flavours in­flected with briar, olive and herbal notes to a long, tangy fin­ish, ac­cented by a tell­tale phe­no­lic pucker.

While Mount Etna and its vine­yards of Nerello Mas­calese have long drawn the at­ten­tion of the world’s top som­me­liers and crit­ics to Si­cily, just as the be­he­moths of the 1990s drew at­ten­tion to Pri­o­rat, the de­li­ciously un­ortho­dox ap­proach at Ter­roir al Límit and la Moresca sug­gests that many of the world’s most strik­ing wines hail from the great­est chal­lenges.

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