Life and Wine on the Edge

Life and Wine on the Edge

I am often reminded as to how precarious life is. Somebody who is strong today can be gone tomorrow, on account of illness, age, or tragic accident. In life, I am fascinated by both success and failure. Just how many factors have to converge at a certain time and place, how many stars have to align for somebody, or something, to be ultra-successful? And just what differentiates the successes from the also-rans? To me there are two seemingly incompatible, and perhaps even contradictory pathways, on the journey to success: a tireless attention to detail and a willingness to take risks. Occasionally success can be plucked from the jaws of defeat, but far more commonly the opposite is the case. 'Extreme' is an overused word today, but taking something or someone to, but not over the edge requires both risk and skill. A comedian can be very funny, until a boundary is crossed, and the humour is gone. But just where is the boundary; where is the edge?

Life and Wine on the Edge

I recently reflected upon these considerations when tasting a range of traditional method sparkling wines from the producer Castello di Cigognola. The estate is based in the beautiful but largely unknown area of Oltrepò Pavese, in the region of Lombardia. There are some 13,500 hectares of vineyards in this area, which lie at the latitude of 45°N, which is the same as the illustrious appellation of Margaux. The Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) variety, which was introduced in the mid-19th Century excels here, and now accounts for 3000 hectares or so.

The beautiful 12th Century Castello di Cigognola is perched atop lush hills planted with Pont Nero. The estate is owned by Gabriele Moratti and family. There are 28 hectares of vineyards situated at an altitude of 300 to 350 metres (985- 1150 feet), having a large diurnal temperature range, which helps lock refreshing acidity into the wines. The vineyards benefit from gentle breezes from the Alps, which really help to prevent the development of cryptogamic diseases. The CEO, Gian Matteo Baldi and agronomist Giovanni Bigot, are passionate about sustainable viticulture, and use organic and homeopathic methods. The altitude, breezes, farming methods and attention to detail all contribute to the production of healthy grapes with all the precursors that lead to complexity.

Life and Wine on the Edge

There can be no doubt that many of the world's greatest sparkling wines are produced from grapes grown on hillsides, where the soils and sub-soils are calcareous. These include some of the finest Champagnes and English sparkling wines. Calcareous (alkaline) soils also contribute to crisp acidity in the fruit. Pinot Noir (Nero) is perhaps the most fickle of varieties, but on an the perfect site, it gives aromas, flavours that no other variety comes near, and provides backbone to the greatest sparkling wines. It provides power behind the elegance, and perfume to complement structure. So Oltrepò Pavese is one of the perfect areas for sparkling wine production - Pinot Noir achieves full ripeness here (something the Champenois can only dream of), but still retains a lively acidity. Thus Champagne focuses on yeast autolysis, rather than primary, secondary and other tertiary aromas and flavours. Here, in Oltrepò Pavese, all these can be in harmony. Put simply the hillside vineyards of Castello di Cigognola are perfectly situated to produce great sparkling wines.

Life and Wine on the Edge

Castello di Cigognola estate produces both still and sparkling wines. The sparkling wines, which are all produced by the traditional method (second fermentation in bottle), are marketed under the family Moratti brand name .

I'll give my perceptions on the wines I recently tasted with Gian Matteo Baldi.

Moratti Blanc de Noir 'More Pas Dosé

A persistent and creamy mousse, fragrant nose of strawberries, cherries and other red fruits, with a full palate that shows delicious green apples, overlaid with yeasty bread and brioche notes from over two years of bottle ageing. As the name indicates, no dosage (liqueur d'expedition) is added when the wine is disgorged, resulting in a crisp, bone-dry wine with a great line from attack to finish..

Moratti Blanc de Noir 'More Brut

Also with over 24 months of lees ageing, a light dosage lifts the fruitiness. The purity of ripe, lively Pinot Nero sings through but the background of autolytic characteristics is strong. The limestone-clay soils are giving a raciness, but the wine is supple and creamy. A long finish confirms the quality.

Moratti Blanc de Noir Cuvée dell'Angelo Brut 2013

Made from vines exposed to the evening sun, this concentrated, rich sparkler spends a full 6 years on the lees in bottle after the second fermentation. This period of ageing is much longer than the legal requirement for vintage Champagnes, which is just three years (although the best wines are aged for much longer). The aromas of the boulangerie in the early morning are supreme - autolytic aromas and flavours overlay classic Pinot Nero fruitiness.

Moratti Rosé 2013

Now here's another treat - a rosé fizz that looks great, and tastes even better. Delightful pink hues, lively mousse, perfumes of alpine strawberries and Friuli cherries, followed by a fresh but creamy palate exuding the delights a fruit compote. Yes its fun, but it's also classy. To me, and I make no apologies for saying this, it's a dazzling lady in a pink silk dress, running free, with a sparkle in her eyes.

Moratti R.D.M. 2014

Now this where we are exposed to life on the edge. Made from 100% Pinot Nero grapes, the wine was bottled before the malolactic fermentation took place, allowing this to happen in bottle together with the second alcoholic fermentation. Risky? You bet. Exciting - no doubt. It is running to the edge of the cliff, but not over it. That's the thrill. The wine has recently been disgorged manually (R.D.M) in order to help stability, and no dosage is added. There are few winemakers who would take such risks, and it would never happen in a big company. But the result is exhilaration in a glass. There are fleshy apple notes, but citrus tones give zing and zest. Images are stacked one upon another, as might be woven by Bob Dylan or Procol Harum. It is Bach and rock, with a searing tenor towering over the harmony and counterpoint.

Life and Wine on the Edge

As I sip my last mouthful of this superb wine, I reflect upon Life and Wine on the Edge, and listen to the music of the late, great Gary Brooker. Thank you Gary. Thank you Gabriele, Gian and Giovani. You have taken me right to, but not over, the edge.

For more information Castello di Ciognola/Moratti