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Exploring Wineries | Published DoctorWine N°67
Lambrusco Bellei: Bubbly for the Common People
by Francesco Annibali 24-01-2013

''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.

The tasting.

 
Modena vino frizzante secco Rifermentazione Ancestrale Lambrusco 2011
Emilia Igt
Bellei

Rating » 82
Category » Red
Region » Emilia-Romagna
Country » Italy

A veiled, gray-pink color. There is some heavy reduction to the nose but also raspberry and bread. The taste all plays on its drinkability, very quick and full of flavor. The persistence is biting, due to a harsh effervescence, floral and because of the reduction potentially bothersome. For our tastes it was a bit over the top.

13 euros

 
Modena vino frizzante secco Rifermentazione Ancestrale Lambrusco 2010
Emilia Igt
Bellei

Rating » 88
Category » Red
Region » Toscana
Country » Italy

The color is a Cerasuolo pink with gray nuances, certainly not crystal-clear but less cloudy than the other. The aroma is more distinct, very fragrant, raspberry and bread, then graphite and some mineral hints. The flavor is very dynamic and drinkable, Lambrusco at its best, with an effervescence that is subtle yet penetrating, while the finish is salt and raspberry. A wine in line with the splendid 2007, perhaps with a tad less complexity.

13 euros

 
Modena vino frizzante secco Rifermentazione Ancestrale Pignoletto 2011
Emilia Igt
Bellei

Rating » 88
Category » White
Region » Emilia-Romagna
Country » Italy

The color is a mustard-yellow, while the aroma is more on primary scents, reinforced more by the cryomaceration than the re-fermentation, very pleasing (candied fruit, pear, a touch of resin). The taste is all flavor and speed, the effervescence playing exclusively a supporting role, holding together what the palate senses and a very fresh finish, just a touch biting, full of energy, once again more focused on the fruit than the yeasts. There is no doubt about it, a top bubbly that is certainly one of the best food wines. Great with a carbonara. Seeing what the 2009 was like (see below) this vintage should evolve nicely in the bottle.

12 euros

 
Modena vino frizzante secco Rifermentazione Ancestrale Pignoletto 2009
Emilia Igt
Bellei

Rating » 90
Category » White
Region » Emilia-Romagna
Country » Italy

An intense, mustard-yellow, veiled, lively. The aroma is extremely dense, very grapey, of grains, dried flowers, resin, bread and aromatic nuances. The flavor is quite robust, the effervescence rough yet pleasing and the finish is slightly aromatic, very lively, very savory, again with bread and grains. A very rare example of a bubbly that brings together spontaneity, cleanliness and true complexity and that – we are convinced – will drive the the lovers of the so-called 'natural' wines around he twist with joy. It seems to have improved a lot in the bottle and we believe this is something important to take into consideration. A great surprise for a very great, four-wheeled bubbly.

12 euros

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Via Nazionale, 130/132
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