Wines of the Heart and Soul

Wines of the Heart and Soul

Just once in a while I am truly moved by a wine. A wine that sends a shiver down the spine, or brings tears to my eyes. A wine that is a cultural experience, in a way that might be compared with listening to the incomparable tenor Jonas Kaufmann perform E Lucevan Le Stelle, King's College Choir singing Allegri's Miseri Mei, or getting lost in the great Gertude Jekyll garden at Munstead Wood. What makes such a wine? And can it affect others in the way it moves me?

The interplay between art and science in wine production perhaps defies description, although I have spent many years trying to do just that. Most books on viticulture, focus upon the requirements for the production of balanced, ripe grapes, and the avoidance of pests and diseases. Similarly, books on vinification detail the processes of making wines that are technically correct, often to buyers' specifications. But, by definition, being correct does not equate to being exciting, and making wine by and to specification limits the potential for excellence.

So what makes, and what is, a wine of the heart and soul? It is perhaps easier to say what it is not. It is not a blockbuster, not a fruit bomb, not a smack in the mouth. It is most unlikely to be from a very hot climate, where grapes reach so-called phenological ripeness, before complex aromas and flavours have developed, and alcohol levels are in the stratosphere. It is not a Wine Advocate or Wine Spectator 100 pointer. It is not about technical excellence. It is not about the levels of acidity, and tannins, or the relationship between these. It is not really about aroma or flavour intensity, fruit characteristics or body. It is not a wine where oak ageing is assertive. It is certainly not about commanding a very high price, although factory produced, inexpensive, wines will have a simplicity that precludes their consideration.

There are, perhaps, several components essential to any wine that appeals to the heart and belongs to the soul. Some of these are intangible, although they certainly manifest themselves in an intricate way on the nose and palate. They all defy description, and when wine writers and critics attempt to do just that, the descriptors say more about the writer than the wine. Which means that I just about to 'expose myself'.

First, the wine, as a whole, must exhibit a 'sense of place'. It will show the personality of its origin, be it Margaux, the Mittel Mosel, or the Valle dei Laghi. Second the wine will exude tertiary development, the subtle nuances and the indescribable complexity that comes only with maturity. Sadly, in a world where instant gratification is sought and to some degree delivered, the rewards of patience pass by the vast majority of drinkers. And most classic reds and many whites are consumed well before their peak. Of course, with an eye to the market, and particularly the critics, even top estates create wines that will mature early. Such designer wines may impress the palate, but they will never penetrate the heart and soul. Third, the wine will reflect the brush strokes of the painter, the carving of the sculptor, and the expression of the composer. Finally, as with physical or sexual attraction, the taster has to be moved by the wine's individual sensory profile. In other word there must be a personal engagement between the taster and the wine.

Wines of the Heart and Soul

Cantina Toblino Vineyards in Valle dei Laghi

And so to Cantina Toblino. This is a forward-looking co-operative winery based just south of the beautiful Lago di Toblino, about 15 miles north of the top of Lake Garda. The vineyards are aentred in the delightful Valle dei Laghi which is protected by the Dolomites There are more than 500 hundred member vine growers, cultivating some 800 hectares, so the average vineyard holding is small. Cantina Toblino also has its own 40 hectare organic vineyard. The Mediterranean and Alpine mesoclimate and unique terroirs (the soils include dolostone, calcareous marls, calcium carbonate and magnesium) make this the perfect environment for growing fruit trees, olive bushes, holm oaks and, particularly, vines.

Wines of the Heart and Soul

I recently had the pleasure of tasting six wines from the 'Selezione' ranges with the director Carlo De Biasi, Alessando Marchesan ,and Giovanni Brumat Of these six, one was very good, four were excellent and one was beyond excellent: a wine of the heart and soul. The excellent wines were:

  • Vènt Extra Brut - Sparkling, made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with 36 Months lees ageing. Creamy, lively with gentle notes of autolysis.
  • da Fòra 2018 - dry white made from the Manzoni variety which is a Riesling Renano and Pinot Bianco crossing, named after the Professor who bred the variety. Fermented in terracotta amphorae and stainless steel, the wine is herby, gently spicy and persistent.
  • Baticòr - fragrant, mountain Pinot Nor - an organic wine fermented with natural yeasts. and gently aged in French oak. Elegant, with strawberry and cranberry fruit notes.
  • Vino Santo Trentino 2004: from the Nosiola grapes left to dry for five months and pressed, traditionally, during the Holy Week. The wine takes two years to ferment in French oak barrels, and is matured in barrel for over ten years! This sweet wine from Cantina Toblino is without doubt one of the best passitos of Italy. The wine is a real gem: amber to gold in colour the nose is a melange of white and stone fruits including peach and apricot; the palate shows flower-honey notes and finishes delightfully fresh.

Now, in this exciting tasting, there was one wine that was beyond excellent, truly a wine of the heart and soul.

Wines of the Heart and Soul
  • Largiller 2013

Made with the Nosiola variety, the wine is named after 'argilla', which translates to 'clay'. In fact, the argilla area is one the best areas for growing Nosiola in the Valle dei Laghi. Nosiola is the only native Trentino white grape variety. There are only some 65 hectares or so of the variety planted in Trentino, of which 45 are in the vineyards of growers for Cantina Toblino..The vines are 25 to 30 years old, and grown on a pergola system - the vineyards overlook Lake Toblino. The grapes are harvest by hand, softly pressed, and the juice then has a short period of skin contact. Fermentation takes place in large oak botti, and the wine matures in these for an incredible seven years. It is matured for another year in bottle before release. Well that's the basic facts, but they don't begin to reveal this extraordinary wine.

It's gold in colour, and very bright, looking so much younger than it's 8 years. The nose is so complex that it is impossible to describe. Sure, there are notes of apples, citrus fruits, garrigue herbs and subtle hints of vanilla. The palate is still amazingly fresh, slightly nutty, but overflowing with minerality - a word so overused by wine writers that I use with great caution. The line from attack to finish is unbroken, and the integration of each flavour is seamless. The length is eternal.

But my attempt to describe this wine is like breaking down Kaufmann singing E Lecevan Le Stelle into being an aria in B minor with semiquavers and bars, expressed with legato and breath control. Such a representation is meaningless. For it is a wine of the heart and soul: The shiver down my spine, the gentle warmth in my body, the reminiscence of my first love....

More information: Cantina Toblino