''Lambrusco? Here we all know that if you want to get good grapes you need to grow a lot of them''.
''Mass distribution? It has been Lambrusco's salvation, seeing how the wine we make here is for the common people''.
''The land? Without the man it counts close to nothing''.
''Burgundy? If one producers sells it at 100 and his neighbor at ten, then it's not because of the vineyard. Let's get real, its because of the winemaker''.
''Wine? It always reflects the people who make it. If Piedmont wines are austere and those from Veneto are merry, the land and the grapes have little to do with it. The reason is because the Piemontese are austere and the people from Veneto are merry''.
Here in a nutshell is the philosophy of Sandro Cavicchioli, president of Assoenologi Emilia Romagna (winemaker's association) and since 2003 the driving force at the Francesco Bellei winery (part of the Heres Distribuzione empire), which recently broke way from the Cavicchioli Wine Cellars (which has been been absorbed by Gruppo Italiano Vini). We are in Sorbara, between Modena and Mirandola, right in the heart of the Po River valley, in the Padana Plain, lying between the Secchia and Panaro Rivers where the soil is sandy. Here in a rather ugly warehouse is one of Italy's best wineries producing sparkling wine. If you are looking for an Italian wine that is similar to a Champagne, more than Brescia (where the bubbly is more horizontal and wrapping than in Reims) or Trento (where the spumante is unique to itself), this is the place.
Sandro Cavicchioli is an enologist who knows a lot about wine (and he knows it), above all spumante.
''The world of sparking wine is divided into two camps: the first, the majority, believes that spumante is a wine, thus matter, while the second considers it to be a bubbly, in other words air. I belong to the latter group. In my lifetime I have met some of the best Chef de Cave in Champagne and learned a lot from them. Their training is totally different from that of a classic enologist. For a bubbly-maker acidity is everything, for a classic enologist its is the enemy to defeat. I think that is the wrong approach and it explains why many, too many, Italian sparkling wines are not spumante but wine with bubbles. A real spumante should close quickly and sharply, leaving the mouth clean and juicy. A great Lambrusco should close like that, too. This is the opposite of what many believe and do.
Doctor Wine: So you are not a fan of Selosse...
Cavicchioli: Exactly. I root for Dom Pérignon.
D.W.: Is limiting the sugar residue the key to making a good bubbly and a good spumante?
Cavicchioli: No. The quantity of residue is in itself insignificant. There are spumanti with five grams of residue that are heavy and others that have 15 grams and are balanced. It is always only a question of internal balance, above all in regard to acidity. Gualtiero Marchesi once told me that he knew when his risotto was ready by its color. You can tell a spumante has the proper sugar residue by how bright it is and how the bubbles look in the glass when you pour it.
D.W.: Traditional method Bellei are great wines in every sense, the result of the maximum attention, we think, paid to making white wine from Pinot Noir grapes and the blend. But we are here today for the Rifermentazione Ancestrale (Ancestral Re-fermentation ). Could you explain what it is in a simple way?:
Caviccioli: Its the bubbly made here in the traditional method. In other words, wine that re-ferments in the bottle and only wine of the same type, partially fermented, is added, no sugar or any of other dosage. Since there is no disgorgement the bubbly in the end is not very clear.
D.W.: And so there's a strong risk of reduction?
Caviccioli: Yes. But then you have to see what kind, the term reduction means nothing by itself.
D.W.: For a few years now you have been producing, alongside the red Rifermentazione Ancestrale all Sorbara grapes, a white version with Pignoletto grapes. Isn't Pignoletto is generally associated with the Bologna Hills?
Caviccioli: Only if you are not that familiar with Pignoletto. The grapes we use for our white Rifermentazione Ancestrale are local. It is a grape that has always grown in this area and that has a potential that still needs to be fully explored.
D.W.: In recent years Lambrusco has become popular even with more sophisticated wine-lovers and this without any changes to its image, which is that of being a simple and joyful wine. Was this a miracle or a tactic?
Caviccioli:It is a fresh wine with a low alcoholic content which is extraordinarily good at the table. This is especially true of the Sorbara which is, in my opinion, the most intriguing Lambrusco.
D.W.: Tell us more about Sorbara.
Caviccioli: The secret of Sorbara is its acidity and, above all, its sapidity. Added to this is its extraordinary floral bouquet, that we obtain through a two-day cryomaceration. The potential of its acidity and sapidity make it a great base for the traditional method for the way it evolves after disgorgement (we tasted the 2008 and agree, even if it was a bit severe, editor's note).
The grape yield is quite abundant, the harvest in mid-September. The Sorbara vines are cordon trained and spur pruned and intermingled with some Lambrusco Salamino vines because they are indispensable to pollinate the Sorbara, since its Sorbara's pollen is sterile. The other Lambrusco grapes, especially the Reggiano, give body and fruit. They are all great but very different from each other.
In our small way we agreed. Lambrusco is Lambrusco, but Sorbara is Sorbara.