Al­bana is on the up-and-up af­ter win­ning Lon­don Wine of the Show prize

The China Post - - ARTS -

In 1998 about 2,000 bot­tles of the cham­pagne Monopole Hied­sieck 1907 Dia­mant cu­vee were re­cov­ered from a shipwreck in the Gulf of Fin­land, to the de­light of the in­ter­na­tional wine com­mu­nity.

They were auc­tioned, as a nov­elty, and what a rev­e­la­tion this wine was when tasted in Hong Kong. It was golden in color, but with not a bub­ble in sight. Yet how de­li­cious it tasted. The acid­ity still of­fered def­i­ni­tion, and the fla­vors were rich and round. The sea had pre­served this lovely wine!

For­ward to July 2010 to another shipwreck find — this time of 168 bot­tles of cham­pagne be­neath the Baltic Sea. A study was com­mis­sioned, seek­ing clues about his­toric wine­mak­ing prac­tices, the re­sults of which were an­nounced ear­lier this year. Led by Pro­fes­sor Philippe Je­an­det of the Univer­sity of Reims, the study found, as re­ported by the BBC, very high sugar lev­els com­pared with to­day’s lev­els, and even a trace of ar­senic. But the story re­gard­ing preser­va­tion was very sim­i­lar to the Monopole: pro­fes­sor Je­an­det said the wine was “fab­u­lous” with fla­vors of to­bacco and leather; a taste which re­mained in the mouth for two to three hours.

Now, Ital­ian win­ery Tenuta del Paguro, si­t­u­ated in the city of Ravenna in Emilia Ro­magna, is in­ten­tion­ally age­ing its wine on the sea bed. A diver places a bas­ket of be­tween 30 to 100 bot­tles at a depth of 25-30 me­ters, where they are aged for 12 months in the wreck of the Paguro oil drilling plat­form, which it­self sank in the Adri­atic Sea in 1965.

The bot­tles emerge cov­ered in not the cob­webs of the con­ven­tional cel­lar, but in al­gae. Co-founder is ph­ysi­sist Gian­luca Grilli, who was fas­ci­nated by the po­ten­tial of the dual re­sults of wine ag­ing in the to­tal ab­sence of light; a con­stant tem­per­a­ture (9-12 de­grees Cel­sius); dif­fer­ent pres­sure; and wave ac­tion to con­sis­tently move, or mas­sage, mol­e­cules.

The wine-mak­ing process is en­tirely con­ven­tional, though even the reds see no oak. Each part of the process is car­ried out in stain­less steel. The win­ery is work­ing with Caber­net Sauvi­gnon and Mer­lot, as well as San­giovese and the re­gion’s lo­cal white grape, Al­bana.

Prac­tices such as bring­ing back am­phorae for wine ag­ing and bury­ing them in the earth, and al­most all as­pects of moon mon­i­tor­ing in the pro­duc­tion of biodynamic grapes and the tast­ing of the sub­se­quent wines, at­tract de­trac­tors. “I am also aware of the skep­ti­cism that stands around the re­sults of this par­tic­u­lar ag­ing,” says Grilli of his un­der-the-sea prac­tices. “But I usu­ally take it as an ex­tra rea­son of sat­is­fac­tion when de­trac­tors change their mind, and they al­ways do!”

The wines are only in the sec­ond year of pro­duc­tion but are al­ready re­ceiv­ing ac­co­lades in­clud­ing one very im­por­tant one: the Al­bana 2012 was named Wine of the Show in Lon­don late last month at Bellavita 2015, an expo spe­cial­iz­ing in ar­ti­san Ital­ian food and wine. “I was cer­tainly sur­prised to win Bellavita,” says Grilli. “The com­pe­ti­tion was high, there were many ex­cel­lent pro­duc­ers who deal with wine since decades ago, and I am new in the mar­ket.”

Al­bana is most of­ten as­so­ci­ated with light and acidic wine, though it can be crafted into a richer style when the grapes are semi dried, pas­sito style. The award-win­ning Tenuta del Paguro Al­bana 2012 has a com­pelling style all of its own. It ex­hibits a sear­ing lin­ear­ity and pu­rity with lively acids that fin­ish with just a touch bit­ter. But it has min­eral char­ac­ters, too, and while pretty and flo­ral and el­e­gant on the nose, is sub­stan­tial of body, with hon­ey­suckle notes above honey, and cit­rus over or­chard fruits.

The San­giovese in­hab­its a sim­i­lar ground to the Al­bana, be­ing pure and lin­ear, and it is more about deep dark fruit than the bright cherry so of­ten as­so­ci­ated with the grape. It is fresh with sea breezes. The Paguro Mer­lot is sim­i­larly marked with deep dark cherry at the back, with pro­nounced liquorice, but tends to be more earthy and mush­roomy than fruity. In­ter­est­ingly, when blended with 15 per­cent Caber­net Sauvi­gnon the re­sult­ing wine is more fruity with clas­sic cas­sis notes and oh-so­gen­tle tan­nins: a lovely chance for these Bordeaux grapes to ex­press them­selves with­out the heav­i­ness of oak treat­ment. They dis­play, in­stead, the light­ness of wave treat­ment.

Pro­duc­tion cur­rently stands at 3,000 to 4,000 bot­tles a year, and while that could po­ten­tially in­crease, Grilli says it will stay lim­ited. “The sub­ma­rine reef in which I keep the bot­tles needs the most care­ful en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion, and I don’t mean to crowd the nat­u­ral oa­sis of the pre­cious life forms that in­hab­its the Paguro area,” he says.

“My vic­tory is for me the vic­tory of my city, Ravenna, and of my re­gion, Emilia Ro­magna, which I would like to celebrate in ev­ery pos­si­ble way,” Grilli said af­ter the Bellavita awards. Stephen Quinn writes about wine for a va­ri­ety of publi­ca­tions in the re­gion. From 1975 he was a jour­nal­ist for two decades with the Bangkok Post; BBC-TV, The Guardian, ITN, the UK Press As­so­ci­a­tion; TVNZ; the Mid­dle East Broad­cast­ing Cen­ter in Dubai and a range of re­gional news­pa­pers in Aus­tralia. Dr. Quinn be­came a jour­nal­ism ed­u­ca­tor in 1996, but re­turned to jour­nal­ism full time in 2011. He is based in Hong Kong and is the au­thor of 17 books. Annabel Jack­son has worked in the wine in­dus­try for more than 20 years, and has writ­ten eight books about wine and food. She is an Ad­vanced Am­bas­sador of the Academy of Wines of Por­tu­gal, and teaches wine mar­ket­ing at the Univer­sity of Brighton in the United King­dom.

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