By Celia Strong
Having been to a wine tasting last week, I had an easy time choosing a new wine to feature this week. Actually, I couldn’t choose just one, so you get two! One winery, one red, one white. Both really interesting and different from so many other Italian wines.
We’re back in Italy, the Veneto region. (You may remember some of this from a couple of months ago with the Santi Soave?) Anyhow, the Veneto area is located in Northeastern Italy. It is one of three very productive Italian wine regions known together as the Venezie. The Venezie as a whole produces more red wines, but the Veneto itself produces more whites. The Alps protect the area from harsher northern European climates and the cooler climate vineyards are perfect for white grapes, in particular this region’s Garganega. Along the Adriatic coast, the plains are warmer and produce the well-known Bardolino, Valpolicella and Amarone wines from Corvina grapes.
The growers in Veneto are some of the most modernized in Italy. One of the country’s leading wine schools, Conegliano, is here as is Vinitaly, their most important wine fair. (You might recognize the name of the wine school as the name, also, of one of the better Prosecco sources. Now you know another wine from this region.) The Veneto is the eighth largest wine region in Italy with over 200,000 acres of vineyards. They produce 21 percent of the total DOC wine made, making the region the biggest DOC producer. White wines account for just over half of the total production.
Since they make more white wines here, let’s look at the main white variety first. Garganega is the sixth most-planted white grape in Italy. It is used to make Soave wines, 70 to 100 percent. Trebbiano and Chardonnay are the two grapes usually blended with it. This grape can produce delicate wines with lemon, almond and spicy notes. It has a tendency to ripen late and can be very vigorous — easy to grow and yielding a lot of grapes — but controlling the output of the vines makes the wines more flavorful with crisper acids.
For reds, Corvina is the main grape in this area. It is usually blended with several other grapes (Rondinella and Molinara are the most traditional) to make Bardolino, Valpolicella and Amarone. Corvina produces light to medium body wines that are light crimson in color. The grape has naturally high acidity, so its wines can be slightly tart with bitter almond notes and sour cherry on the finish. Acidity, though, becomes refreshing when chilled a bit, but we’ll get back to that. Corvina grapes ripen late, also, with high yields. Controlling the quantity of bunches and the trellising while they ripen keeps them making better wines.
And, now, we’re at our winery for the week — Tenuta Sant’Antonio. The four Castagnedi brothers founded this winery. They grew up with a father in the wine business and spent years as technical consultants for other wineries because they were driven to test themselves outside the family business. Finally, in 1989, they bought 30 hectares which brought the family’s total to 50 hectares. The brothers focused on making quality wines, even when others around them were emphasizing quantity. Tending to the vines branch by branch, carefully hand picking the bunches, low yields on every plant, clean grapes through every step, patient waiting for each wine to mature in new wooden barrels, bottle aging for the wines that need it — all of these practices are normal procedure for the brothers. Tightly controlled vineyards, impeccable cleanliness of the winery machinery and the grapes themselves, a great water source on their own land all have established them as an icon in their region. Their vineyards are attended with love and attention to maintain a balance with nature; organic fertilizers are used sparingly, pesticides are scarce and kept to a bare minimum; pruning in February leaves 8 to 10 buds only on each vine; shower irrigation is used only when necessary; the grapes are picked entirely by hand (from the first ten days of September until mid-October) — quality and respect for nature are the priorities. The whole production method, although maybe slow with lower bottle numbers, is geared to produce the best wine possible.
And, bingo, right on cue, here are their wines: Scaia Garganega/Chardonnay and Scaia Corvina. The Scaia white is a blend 50% Garganega, 30% Trebbiano Soave and 20% Chardonnay. The vines for this wine are an average of 10 to 15 years old. The grapes, after hand picking, are cold macerated for 10 to 12 hours, cold pressed, punched down once a week during fermenting and cold stabilized. The wine is aged in stainless steel. The bottle for this white is clean, sleek and modern looking. And classy. I try really hard not to fall for the “packaging” of a wine, but this bottle is truly pretty. Thank goodness, the wine is too! It’s full of jasmine aromas with grapefruit, orange and pineapple flavors up front followed by apples, pears, mangoes and even some banana. The acidity is soft but just enough to keep you sipping. This wine is smooth and tangy and amazing. So “un-Italian,” but so good you don’t care where it’s from. I would love it with any seafood or summer salad on the back porch on a Sunday afternoon.
The red Scaia wine is the Corvina, but you knew that now, right? It’s 100% Corvina and, when I had my first sip at the warehouse last week, it was slightly chilled. They said by accident, but I’m not so sure. It couldn’t have tasted any better. The chill made it so refreshing! Crisp ripe red cherry flavors flooded out of my glass, followed by baking spices and even some mocha powder. (Please notice I didn’t mention anything tart. That’s because the chill chased away the negative parts of the grape’s acidity.) This wine, too, is hand picked, cold pressed, made with temperature controlled fermentation and cold stabilization and aged in stainless steel. Again, good with seafood, salads, cold sausages, grilled vegetables, back porch parties and Sunday afternoons. And, it has the same good looking bottle as the white Scaia. Not a really traditional red Italian wine, again like the white.
I should tell you that the legal designation on both Scaia wines is IGT, a step below the DOC wines. But, you know what? Legal level is not necessarily everything. I guess that’s what the four Castegnedi brothers planned. Lucky us. At $13.99 a bottle, we can be really happy with their wines. Enjoy.
By Celia Strong