Day 30.2: Metodo Ancestrale (or whatever the Italian term is for it)
Pam Govinda is a freelance wine writer/lover. Because of her i went to Tayyabs in London so i’m forever grateful.
Helena Lomazzi of Colombaia has eyes that gaze without intruding and one of the warmest smiles I’ve seen. I had met her twice during her visit to New York for the Jenny & François portfolio tasting in March and recently had a lengthy Skype conversion about a particular wine that bowled me over at the J&F tasting.
Helena’s husband, Dante (who appears to have an equally kind disposition), is the third generation to join his family of winegrowers. They focus on traditional local grape varieties. The wines are subtle, light, fresh, absolutely delicious and pure – adjectives that I’ve rarely associated with Tuscany. They own 4 hectares of vines, looking onto the hills of Sienna, farmed organically and according to biodynamic principles. The vineyards are situated in the Chianti Colli Senesi area, one of eight sub-zones in DOCG Chianti but like many producers making wine without additives or technical tweaking, they’ve opted out of the governing system, preferring to make IGT wines instead.
The wine that had me smitten was their Vino Rosato Frizzante Naturale 2009 vintage, a method ancestral wine. Beauty is a concept usually applied to visual aesthetics but I use the term on occasion when talking about taste, and this wine is astonishingly beautiful. It is a blend of Sangiovese, Colorino, Malvasia Nera and Canaiolo – the same cépage used for their still red.
I confess I’m crazy about method ancestral for the genuine purity and near innocence to be found in a bottle. It is reminiscent of the days, as a child, when I couldn’t get enough of the plump, purple-staining, juicy, tart-sweet blackcurrants that grew wild in the common near my house in the summertime. That’s the sort of unadorned pleasure to be gained from a simple glass of pet-nat.
Method ancestral is a bit of growing thing. Besides the tradition for it in Bugey, we’ve recently had Jean-Paul Brun, Domaine de la Tournelle, Philippe Bornard, René Mosse, Domaine de la Renardière, La Grange Tiphaine, and more, produced MA wines.
I wanted to know what drew Dante and Helena to method ancestral. Helena told me that curiosity encouraged them to attempt it in 2003. They made a few bottles from Malvasia and Trebbiano, purely for their own consumption. “We discovered method ancestral after reading old French wine books. The first time we read about it was in Max Léglise’ Les méthodes biologiques appliquées à la vinification & à l’oenologie. We also heard others talking about it.” They were particularly influenced by Camillo Donati’s example in Emilia Romagna. “Camillo Donati does not disgorge. His wine is quite different to ours. It is very fresh and reminds me of beer.” She acknowledges, “He is the master.”
Helena continues to tell me, “It’s a very sensitive method. Not too strong in the sparkle and you do not add anything. Sulfur is not needed because the sparkle naturally protects the wine.” She also told me that the risk in method ancestral is bottle fluctuation and there is less consistency then one gets in the champagne method.
MA wines mostly have a delicious and natural sweetness about them. I’ve often had a problem with champagnes that have high dosage. The sugar, in my opinion, dominates (though I do acknowledge high acid and unripe grapes sometimes calls for it) and masks all sense of fruit and place. Not to mention all industrial sparkling wines which have the bubble-subtlety equivalent of seltzer.
Here’s the making of Colombaia’s Frizzante Naturale Rosato, as explained by Helena. Nothing is added, no sugar, no yeast, nada. “As soon as we harvested the grapes we squeezed the fruit so there is not too much color. It ferments naturally in tank. When we got down to a remaining 20 grams of residual sugar we bottled quickly and closed it with a cap similar to the kind used for beer, in the French language it is called bidule. The wine is stored in the cave for second fermentation in the bottle. After about three months, sometimes less or more, we put the bottles in a special box for remuage, which is done for 21 days following moon phases, then the disgorgement. We add some wine back into the bottle and re-cap with a beer closure.”
It is unfussy, fast, meant for instant pleasure and yes; it is beautiful in its simplicity.
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Up next: Alice gets punchy, or; Who cares how much you argue the semantics of natural when we’re the ones enjoying it?