A Pilgrimage of Wine

Finally, a wine event! After practically two years of isolation, Saturday, March 12 was a special day: the 7th edition of Wine&Siena, organized by The WineHunter, inaugurated the tasting season. And they chose a great day to do so: my birthday! Visiting Siena is a step back in time. An authentic jewel of Medieval and Renaissance art, Siena was an important stop on the Via Francigena, the pilgrimage route connecting Canterbury to Rome, and then Puglia, for those who wanted to embark for the Holy Land. The route went through France, hence the name; and the main axis running through Siena was indeed the Via Francigena.

The stunning Siena Cathedral, with its gothic façade and bell tower

Every wine event is in a sense a pilgrimage: we wander from table to table, stopping to sip, to chat, getting to know people and terroir. Thus, the architecture and frescoes of Santa Maria della Scala were a perfect backdrop to this event. Once a city-run hospital for the poor or abandoned children, it also welcomed pilgrims on their way to Rome. The most beautiful room of the hospital is dedicated to the latter.

The frescoes in the Pilgrim’s Hall; yours truly headed towards the wine!
This is definitely A Room With A View!

I started my pilgrimage in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the northeastern corner of Italy. The 2018 Schioppettino di Prepotto by Petrussa is made from a native variety that grows in an area close to the border with Slovenia. With elegant aromas of red berries and sweet spices, this wine is a great example of the Italian treasure trove of less-known native grape varieties. The name Schioppettino has a story: some say it comes from the sound made by the crispy grape when pressed.

Alto Adige is always a good idea for Gewürztraminer lovers like me! Laimburg Province Winery’s 2017 Gewürztraminer Riserva Elyònd DOC really made my day. Tipping my nose into the glass, a bouquet of lychee and roses charmed me. But this winery had another surprise in store: Col De Réy 2017, a blend of the native black variety Lagrein with Petit Verdot and the yummy Tannat. This full-bodied wine with its fine tannins, black fruit aromas and notes of smoke, was a warm embrace.

Elyònd means golden-haired mountain princess, and comes from a legend of the Dolomites. It perfectly suits this wine!

Next stop on the journey: Lombardy, the region of Milan. Selva Capuzza is a winery in the south of Lake Garda, near the Veneto. They proudly promote native grape varieties like Turbiana. This grape is the backbone of the winery’s flagship wines: from Hirundo, a traditional method sparkling wine, to Selva, a Lugana DOC. Last but not least: Menasasso, a Lugana Riserva made from late-harvested grapes. We tasted the 2017 vintage: lovers of citrus fruit, peach and sweet spice aromas, this is the one for you!

In a little strip of land in southern Lombardy, between Piedmont and Emilia Romagna, there lies the area known as Oltrepò Pavese. It takes its names from the Po River, Italy’s longest. This wine region, famous for sparkling wines, is ‘on the other side’ of the river Po. La Travaglina winery honors this tradition with its traditional method sparkling wines, an Italian version of Champagne. My nose and palate particularly enjoyed the 2010 Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico DOCG Rosé Millesimato – that is to say, a vintage rosé sparkling wine made from 100% Pinot Noir. After 12 years, it showed an excellent freshness and acidity, and an interesting bouquet of red berries and ripe apples.

In the heart of Tuscany, you cannot help but taste wines from this wonderful region. Brunello? Chianti Classico? Super Tuscans? Yes, all these and more. At the end of my little pilgrimage, I stopped by what may be a less famous area: Carmignano DOCG. An enclave in the bigger (much bigger!) Chianti, Carmignano lies east of Florence, and is rich in history – of course related to the Medici family. They owned several country villas in the area, and particularly enjoyed this wine for their dinners. In the early 18th century, the area was identified by Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici as one of the four main wine areas in Tuscany.

Capezzana is part of this incredible story. There is evidence that they grew grapes there in 804, even before people started walking the Via Francigena to embark on the Crusades! I had the chance to taste the Carmignano DOC Villa di Capezzana 2018, as well as Trefiano, a Carmignano Riserva DOCG 2016. Villa di Capezzana is made from 80% Sangiovese with 20% Cabernet, while Trefiano also has a small percentage of Canaiolo, an indigenous grape of Central Italy. Trefiano expresses the best of these grapes in a full-bodied red wine with high but elegant tannin, aromas of red berries, red and black cherry, as well as vanilla, cocoa, and licorice.

My day didn’t lack birthday treats! A great way to rev the engines and start up new adventures through the Bel Paese’s enological treasures. Keep an eye on Italian Grapevine as the pilgrimage continues… Vinitaly, here we come!

By Italian Grapevine contributing writer, Francesca Giuliano, WSET Level 3

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