Monte del Frà - Rock & Roll Arias

Monte del Frà - Rock & Roll Arias
Monte del Frà - Rock & Roll Arias

I have often written of my passion for opera, and particularly the great Italian composers of Puccini and Verdi. Perhaps my love of rock & roll is less well recorded. Jimi Hendrix, Bon Jovi, Peter Frampton and Eric Clapton often give my Rotel ampllfer and Jamo speakers real purpose. And I love those artists who blend rock and classics: The Moody Blues, Queen and, of course, Procol Harum.

I was recently one of a small group of wine writers selected to take part in a seminar given by Marica Bonomo of the Monte del Frà winery. And it gave me a wonderful warm glow to hear her describe the 2022 Bardolino as a wine with "elegance, freshness and acidity that gives this rock and roll way of drinking in your mouth." Now some wines weave a story, taking you on a journey through a country that is unknown, yet somehow familiar. Others are verses of a song poem and the emotions aroused reveal more than the words can say. And just a few are arias, with a lone voice rising above the power of the orchestra. But rock & roll with a classical heritage aptly describes the wines of Monte del Frà. These are wines that seemingly effortlessly blend elegance with attitude. Just like Marica.

Monte del Frà - Rock & Roll Arias

The Monte del Frà winery is based between Sommacampagna and Custoza at in the west of Italy's Veneto region. The south-east shores of Lake Garda are just a few miles to the north-west. The 137 hectares of vineyards lie on the morainic hills - hills of white stone that give a unique character to the wines. Minerality and salinity are key trademarks. The landscape is constantly changing, and the myriad of terroirs give a thousand and one identities to the wines.

Now at this point I am reminded that minerality in wine is a hugely controversial topic, as perhaps is the very concept of terroir. There is a book by Mark Matthews, Professor and Plant Physiologist at UC Davis: Terroir and Other Myths of Winemaking. Now this is not a book to read before going to bed, at least not if you want a good night's sleep. Matthews challenges any link between a vineyard's geology and minerality in wine, as well as many concepts that terroir lovers hold dear. Incidentally, he dismisses the principles of biodynamics in a couple of short paragraphs.

Now, back to wine for wine lovers.........

The story of the Monte del Frà estate begins in the late 15th Century when monks from Santa Maria Della Scala founded a monastery. They grew their own food and made wine. Fast forward to 1958, when Massimo Bonomo rented two rooms here, together with adjacent fields. Wine was made, but other crops were also grown. Massimo died when his sons Eligio and Claudio were barely out of their teens, but they took over the estate with great energy. In 1988 the brothers decided to convert the business into an exclusive wine estate, which they named after the hill of the monks (brothers). Eligio was one of the pioneers in changing the traditional high vine training system of the region to low, Guyot cane training. Today the estate has 137 hectares of its own vineyards, and rent a further 68 hectares. Marica, Silvia and 'young' Massimo comprise the third generation, but although in their 70s, Eligio and Claudio are still happily working! The estate has vineyards in the appellations of Custoza, Lugana, Soave, Bardolino and Valpolicella. There are 37 employees.

Monte del Frà - Rock & Roll Arias

it is easy to absorb Marica's passion for different vineyard areas, which all the family shares. "We try to represent the culture of an appellation in a glass of wine," she expounds. Monte del Frà can be summed up in three words: culture, character and territory. The old vineyards, 48, 55 and even 63 years old are a source of particular pride. These are on the top of the hills, where there is a large diurnal range, locking freshness into the wines. There is plenty of breeze which limites the development of cryptogamic diseases. Drip irrigation is undertaken in the vineyards, for careful water management. No pesticides are used, and inter-row herbs are renewed each season. Hormone ampoules are used for sexual confusion - they stop grape moths from breeding. And the vines develop immunity to harmful bacteria. Marcia proudly explains how her father has worked strongly to dissipate the impact of climate change.

The future for Monte del Frà is looking very bright. A big rebuilding of the winery is about to start - this was delayed by the lockdown. It is hoped that hoped that this will be completed in 2027-2028. The winery will be built with stone from the vineyards. The design includes a photovoltaic system that will produce 100% of the electricity needed. Water used will be filtered and recycled. Marcia says that in 2022 they really understood the importance of having extra water in the vineyard: it was a very hot vintage. Particularly in the Custoza vineyard drainage through the stones is very fast and drip irrigation was inadequate to preserver freshness. So Marcia's father and uncle together with 15 employees brought water in by tanker to avoid over-stressed vines.

The new winery will include a new cellar for micro-vinifications. With very small vineyards they will be able to show every identity from each vineyard. Plans also include a new garden with trees, flowers and herbs. The family are trying to replace what is traditional for the region. Marica explains, "looking to the future we have to come back to the past. We try to respect all we learnt from the book of my grandfather."

And so to the wines. I have tasted just five of the range to date, but have been oh so impressed.

Monte del Frà - Rock & Roll Arias

2022 Custoza DOC

This is 'the business card' of Monte del Frà, and the wine they produce the most of. The Bonomo family are the biggest private family owners of Custoza DOC vineyards. Custoza is about the art of blending. As with any good blend, the result is much more than the sum of the components. Garganega, which is also the main grape for Soave, and Bianca Fernanda (a local Cortese clone) are compulsory constituents. Trebbianello (a biotype from Tocai Friulano and Trebbiano) constitutes about 20% of the blend of the wine.

I really liked this wine: delicious, fresh and vibrant with a surprisingly broad spectrum of flavours. It will be perfect with a light salad, or pan-fried lemon sole. Or tagliatelle with smoked salmon and flat parsley. A hundred and one dishes come to mind. Or perhaps a glass or two whilst sitting on the terrace, watching my wife mowing the lawn - ouch! - I must save her half the bottle!

2021 Cà del Magro Custoza Superiore

Marica describes this wine as "my baby. The wine of my heart." This is the wine that gave rise to much intergenerational dialogue in the family. It's a vigourous, complex wine. The family focussed attention on the Cà del Magro vineyard in the heart of the Custoza DOC. The vines are over 55 years old. Of course the blend includes Garganega, Cortse and Trebbianello but there is also the addition of Incrocio Manzoni., which is a cross of Pinot Blanc and Riesling.

Marica explains that old vineyards give a lot of luxury and complexity to Custoza.

Monte del Frà - Rock & Roll Arias
Monte del Frà - Rock & Roll Arias

The grapes for this wine are viinified separately and the must has a long skin contact. The wine has lees ageing until June, but on the principle that less is more, this is only in concrete tanks, which preserves the energy that is the characteristic of this vineyard. Lees ageing gives more texture and mouthfeel.

The wine will be beautiful with Breton oysters, Norwegian salmon, Beijing duck, Dutch asparagus and, says Marica, her mum's risotto with herbs! At present minerality is to the fore, but this is a wine that will age, and further increase complexity. Can I keep my hands off?

Monte del Frà - Rock & Roll Arias

2022 Bardolino Chiaretto DOC

I loved the salinity of this wine - it's a trademark of good Chiaretto and one of the characteristics that distinguishes it from other rosés. The must of Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella grapes is given with just 12 hours skin contact to give a beautiful pale salmon-pink colour. Indeed the colour can be very similar to Provence rosé, but there the comparison ends.

The nose has lovely fragrant strawberry and raspberry aromas together with blueberry fruits and flowers. On the palate there is a soft acidity and marked minerality - oh those morainic hills!

As an an aperitif the wine will be great in spring, summer, autumn or winter. Is there any season I have forgot? With food: salads, of course, salmon, Saint-Jacques (or scallops for the English), Tempura, lighter fish in general and, of course, simple pasta. What's not to like?

2022 Bardolino DOC

I will readily admit that I have long had a love affair with simple, honest and unpretentious Bardolino. It's not a wine that I write lengthy tasting notes on, but it's all about drinkability.

Made with Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara, this wine is young, vibrant and fresh - to be drunk slightly chilled, especially in summer. This is the rock and roll way of drinking! The fun is back in wine!

Of course tannins are low, which makes the wine so versatile. As Marica puts it, this wine does not want to appear muscular and complex, but it's very smart! It's the perfect aperitif - light and super-fruity. And it's super-friendly for modern cuisine. At lunchtime Marica suggest pizza and tomatoes, or white fish with tomatoes, potatoes and olives, or perhaps crisp calamari.

One of the reason's that full-bodied red wines do not usually match sea-fish, is that heavy tannins fight salt. But, of course, there is no problem here! Other foods that scream out for this Bardolino are spicy soups, salami, cheese ,and olives.

Monte del Frà - Rock & Roll Arias
Monte del Frà - Rock & Roll Arias

2020 Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC - Ripasso Tenuta Lena di Mezzo

This beautiful vineyard of 18 hectares at Fumane to the north-west of Verona was purchased in 2006. It lies at between 330 metres and 530 metres, on mineral rich volcanic terroir. The breezes are strong and there is a big diurnal temperature range - here you need to wear a pullover in July and August. The Bonomos try to respect the elegance and complexity that comes from the Fumane vineyard.

Corvina comprises 60% of the blend together with 20% Corvinone (this variety is well-suited to the appassimento process) and Rondinella is also twenty per cent.

The harvest takes place in 1st and 2nd weeks of October - the grapes are then partially dried for 2 months, crushed and fermented to dryness. When finished, the skins from vats of Amarone are put into the tanks of Ripasso, which induces a re-fermentation, which gives the unique style. The malolactic takes place in concrete tanks and the wine then rests for 20 months in large French barrels. The aim is to add spiciness but not to change and globalise the wine. This wine will keep for 10 - 15 years: the acidity will become more gentle, and the spiciness more defined.

Sometimes ripassos can be too overpacked with sugar and jam character. For Monte del Frà, drinkability important, along with elegence. Unusually, the residual sugar does not exceed 4 grammes a litre making this a great main course wine. Accordingly, it matches a huge array of foods. Perhaps gnocchi with pork sausages, cheese and tomatoes? But for me, bring on the the pan fried duck breast........

Sometimes ripassos can be too overpacked with sugar and jam character. For Monte del Frà, drinkability is important, along with elegence. Unusually, the residual sugar does not exceed 4 grammes a litre making this a great main course wine. Accordingly, it matches a huge array of foods. Perhaps gnocchi with pork sausages, cheese and tomatoes? But for me, bring on the the pan fried duck breast........

So here I am reflecting on these wonderful wines, and marvelling at the seamless merging of rock & roll and classical music, in the form of JS Bach.. Which brings me to:

Procol Harum - Denmark 2006