The Durello region between Verona and Vicenza in Italy is becoming recognised for the intensity of its sparkling wines. For publication in the week starting 3 June 2019.
Italy makes a range of fine sparkling wines. The best known is Prosecco and this column has written extensively about it. Other well regarded sparkling wine regions described in this column include Franciacorta, Trento, Lambrusco and Asti Spumante.
Franciacorta and Trento are made like champagne and use the same French-originated grapes to make dry wines with fine bubbles. Franciacorta comes from Lombardy and Trento from the far north of Italy in Alto-Adige. Lambrusco is a sweet red but producers are also making a more dry style from the grape that gives the wine its name. Asti Spumante is another sweet sparkler, made from Moscato grapes.
The latter pair are made using the Charmat or Martinotti method, as is Prosecco. This process is explained in previous columns about Prosecco. The main distinction is the fact that champagne styles tend to be dry while Charmat or Martinotti method wines tend to be sweeter.
This column focuses on Durello. It is less well known than those listed earlier but becoming more popular, especially among people bored with sweet wines. In recent years production has been growing by 50 per cent a year, to 1.2 million bottles last year. The region has about 400 hectares of vines and plantings have been rising by about 15 per cent a year in recent years.
The number of producers has also soared. The original six had grown to 45 by the end of last year. The region believes it has the potential to make about 3.5 million bottles a year, though the exact total is imprecise because the number of bottles to be disgorged is not known. Some wines spend up to a decade on the lees, absorbing the flavours of the yeast, before being disgorged and bottled. The photograph shows the lees (yeast cells) in the neck of the bottles. Main export markets are the US, the UK, Japan and Germany.
Durello refers to the region and the style of wine. The wine is made from the Durella grape. The Durella-Durello distinction can be confusing at first and is based on the final character in words that signify gender in Italian. The grape is feminine and the wine is masculine. The region received DOC status in 1988.
The wine Durello must be made with a minimum of 85 per cent Durella. The balance can be Chardonnay, Garganega, Pinot Blanc or Pinot Noir. Durello is made in the Lessini Mountains east of Soave, between the provinces of Verona and Vicenza.
Most other sparkling regions use either the champagne method, known as traditional method or “metodo classico” in Italy, or the Charmat or Martinotti method. With “metodo classico” the secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle while with the other method that fermentation happens in a stainless-steel tank known as an autoclave.
Durello uses both methods. The former is labelled as Lessini Durello while the latter is known as Monte Lessini. The first is fruitier with more noticeable aromas. The other is more nuanced, textural and structured.
This is partly because of the region’s volcanic soils and partly because wines made with the Charmat method spend less than a year ageing in the bottle. Wines labelled Monte Lessini spend at least 24 months ageing on the lees, and at least 36 months if the wine is to become a “riserva” (reserve).
The region recently allowed production of Monte Lessini wines with nine and 18 months of lees ageing. The objective appears to be a way to encourage winemakers to embrace “metodo classico” instead of Charmat methods and increase the volume of that style of wine. Currently about 70 per cent of Durello are made via the Charmat method.
Diletta Tonello is the winemaker at Cantina Tonello, taking over from her father five years ago. She gave me two pieces of volcanic rock to rub together, to notice the smells from those rocks. The same aromas can be found in the Durello sparkling wines.
A major characteristic of Durello is its searing acidity, coupled with the tangy minerality typical of volcanic wines and a hint of tannin from the grape skins.
For me this acidity and minerality make Durello distinctive. The acidity comes from the Durella grape and when you taste the wine you will find hints of chalk and iodine. The origins of the minerality were discussed in last week’s column.
The combination of acidity and minerality might create concerns for people who have never tasted this wine before, the same way that encountering the piercing acidity in English sparkling wine can be confronting the first time. With Durello the acidity can come across as aggressive.
Yet this acidity also makes the wine ideal as a palate cleanser at the start of a meal. The choice of food to pair with it will also influence one’s appreciation. The acidity would be perfect for serving with battered food like tempura or fish and chips.
Some of the best Durello tasted included Diletta Tonello’s 2015 Teti Lessini Durello reserve, the 2015 Dal Maso Pas Dose Nature Lessini Durello and the 2014 Casa CecchinExtra Brut Lessini Durello reserve.
Diletta Tonello names her wines after Greek words, some for the elements associated with winemaking. Teti means water. Her 2013 Pas Dose Aura (nil sugar in the dosage) is named after the word for wind. The wind blows through the vineyards and helps reduce diseases connected with humidity. This wine offers intense umami flavours with a clean and lingering mouthfeel; the kind of wine that makes one’s mouth water in anticipation. Cloe is Diletta’s still Garganega and Eos is a still wine made from the Durella grape.
Dal Maso winemaker Nicola Dal Maso demonstrated the sabring technique used to remove the cork on special occasions (see video).
As the name suggests, his 2015 Dal Maso Pas Dose Nature Lessini Durello mentioned above has no added sugar in the dosage. It is clean, precise and elegant and sings of the volcanic soils from which the grapes came. “We don’t want to copy Franciacorta,” he told me. “We are making something unique.”
Our tasting took place amidst the beautiful surroundings of the Dal Maso estate and winery. Nicola also showed seven journalists where he makes his famous Vin Santo Gambellara. Only three regions in Italy make this sensational sweet wine, and Gambellara is the only DOC among the trio.
After the harvest the best Garganega bunches are placed in small boxes inside the winery’s drying area called the “fruttai”, where they remain for about six months. The dried grapes are made into wine which is aged for at least a decade in small oak barrels. “It is a wine for great occasions. You remain speechless after tasting it,” he said.
Dal Maso also make a Recioto di Gambellara DOCG. These sweet wines are wondrous, and a complete contrast to the austere acidity of Durello. Think of them as the yin and yang of vinous beauty. Yet they are all wines that cry out to be tasted.
Disclosure: Stephen Quinn was the guest of Consorzio Vini Soave who provided flights, meals and accommodation.