The philosophies of Sparkling Nebbiolo
Italian sparkling wines originated in Piedmont, in Canelli, where Carlo Gancia began to study the secrets of bottle fermentation during the eighteenth century, the method that until recently used to be called the “Champagne method”. In fact, the focus was on the great Champagnes, but Gancia’s research had initially concentrated on the grapes most suited to the Piedmont area, where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir had no history and where native grapes, such as the whimsical but precious Nebbiolo and sweet Muscat, were widespread.
Sparkling Nebbiolo, an historical figure
More similar to Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo has a sweet and sparkling past. The US President Thomas Jefferson visited Turin in 1787 and tasted a Nebbiolo wine “as lively as Champagne,” while the “Nebiù” from Asti was put on the list of sparkling wines of the period. The Nebbiolo Gancia Spumante was still being produced during the twentieth century. No doubts can be cast on the versatility of this grape variety, however most Piedmontese wineries may have decided to abandon production because it was difficult and unprofitable. Meanwhile, Nebbiolo was becoming the favourite variety for great reds such as Barolo and Barbaresco, giving them colour, aroma, structure, elegance and fame.
Erpacrife: four friends in the vineyard to give Nebbiolo back its old role
To find sparkling Nebbiolo wines you need to jump forward in time by almost two centuries. It is also necessary to have faith in the dream, and perhaps also the recklessness, of the four young men (sons of producers) who, straight after getting their diploma from the Winemaking School in Alba, decided to go back to making sparkling wines from native Piedmont grapes. “We launched into this adventure in 1999, when we were only just of age. We realised that Nebbiolo was a grape variety that suited us down to the ground,” says Erik Dogliotti. Since then they have set up Erpacrife, a company made up of friends united also in the name, an abbreviation of Erik Dogliotti, Paolo Stella, Cristian Calatroni and Federico Scarzello. They started off with just 500 bottles, but today they are one of the major sparkling wine producers in Piedmont, because the project has expanded: as well as sparkling Nebbiolo, the four winemakers produce a white from Erbaluce, Cortese, Timorasso and Moscato, the latter also being the protagonist of a third wine, a sweet sparkling wine with bottle fermentation, which is difficult to produce given that the yeasts do not use up all the available sugars. The more curious could venture to ask one of the members of Erpacrife what happened to the 2008 vintage. (Spoiler: It was rather a noisy end. With a bang!).
The Second project Enosol
Thanks to the technical skills they have acquired, a second project has been created from Erpacrife: Enosol, a consulting, bottle fermentation and disgorgement winery for third parties, “a dual business which enables us to carry forward and spread our ideas,” explains Dogliotti. Still young today, but with more experience and success behind them, the young men from Erpacrife can consider themselves the champions of a rediscovery. In fact, there are many wineries all over Piedmont, and an offshoot in Val d’Aosta, which have decided to give Nebbiolo back its former role.
Two philosophies to make Sparkling Nebbiolo
Erpacrife has identified the vineyard suited to its purpose in Madonna di Como, near Alba. Here, thanks to poor and light soils, an altitude of 400 metres and an eastern exposure, the early-picked grapes have the necessary traits for making an excellent sparkling base wine. The manual harvest of all the bunches is done in two different stages. The first grapes picked are pressed, while the grapes from the second harvest undergo maceration, a phase that other wineries don’t do because it is difficult to control the extraction of unrefined green tannins. After the first fermentation, the wine rests for at least 36 months on the lees and the next vintage will be released with a completely new look: the “Albeisa” bottle for sparkling wines. While Erpacrife and other producers pick whole bunches selecting them directly in the vineyard according to the ripening period, there is a second school of thought that came into being in 2004, but operative since 2010 and headed by the winemaker Sergio Molino.
The second philosophy of Sparkling Nebbiolo is on Italian Wine Chronicle 01/2016. To read it you have to buy the last issue in our shop (also in digital edition) or write to email@example.com.
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