One of the great things about travelling through a wine region is the sense of discovery one gets. It is rare in these times to actually discover much of anything, other than wines new to one’s self, but there are always exceptions.
Of course a real discovery would be to find someone doing things out side the norm and perhaps out side the classic zones yet producing wines of unusual and unique expressiveness. Just north of Rovereto, in the suburb of Calliano, if you can call this small village that, lies one of the greatest finds of recent years.
While visiting my family in Trentino recently, I had scheduled about a week of winery visits to re-familiarize myself with some producers and explore others for the first time. Trentino is essentially divided into three winemaking areas, one of which is centered around the city of Rovereto. Vines literally surround this medieval city and the villages that skirt the city limits. In this, the southern part of Trentino, the grape Marzemino is particularly prized and flourishes on the alluvial flood plains that lead down to the Adige river as it winds it’s way through this narrow valley. There are a few historic vineyard areas here, the recently expanded Zeresi and the renowned Isera zone with its unique Basaltic soils, both of which lie a fair distance from the river. These particular microclimates offer Marzemino an ideal combination of soil, sun, and airflow that creates the ideal stress on the vines, producing uncommonly dense and nuanced examples of Marzemino. Finding an untried Marzemino that really wowed me was something I that never occurred to me. I guess that old maxim “expect the unexpected” has more than a little truth to it.
Eugenio Rosi is making a tiny amount of wine in his deep, rented cellars just off the piazza in Calliano. This young trailblazer, this artisan viticulturalist, has relied on the techniques and skills of decades past by farming organically and utilizing natural fermentations initiated by indigenous yeast. The wines, while technically not perfect, are absolutely brilliant. They speak of the grape, the soils, the air and the land, and even Eugenio’s hands. They are among the most authentic and expressive wines being made today.
After obtaining his degree in Enology and working through several cellars in the region, Eugenio decided a decade ago that he wanted to work a different vein. He wanted to return to his roots as a farmer and spend time not only in the cellar, but also in the fields. He began tending his scant 5 hectares of vines, some owned for generations, others recently leased, only a decade ago and has spent each vintage since perfecting his techniques, learning from his mistakes, and moving to the fore of his field.
Eugenio’s cellar is filled with botte and barrique though there is a decided shift to larger wood in progress. In fact the movement is not only away from barrique but also away from the woods we traditionally associate with modern winemaking in Italy, namely French and Slavonian Oak. Eugenio is pushing for a return to the more traditional woods of the region and has begun using 550 liter barrels of Cherry and Chestnut which, obviously, contribute to the unique character of his wines
These are wines that may not appeal to a particularly broad range of consumers, but with only a few thousand bottles of each wine produced they really don’t have to. These are wines that will appeal to those already familiar with producers like Pepe, Capellano, Bea, Quintarelli, and Gravner. Wines that may not always succeed but when they do have something other wines just don’t offer. These are not wines that are easily exchanged for other Marzeminos for example, and the details of the viticulture and vinification play a great role in defining these wines and setting them apart.
While I am thrilled to have “discovered” Eugenio and his fine wines in fact it is just another case of discovering the wines only for myself. Alas they are already imported into the US, but I don’t think anyone really knows about them yet. That will absolutely change, so at least, in a small way I can take some small credit for introducing the wines of Eugenio Rosi to a public thirsty for something unique, historic and wonderfully different.
2006 Anesos white
This unusual blend of 60% Pinot Bianco, 20% Chardonnay and 20% Nosiola comes from a vineyard in the Vallarsa region to the west of Rovereto, hard up against the provincial border with the Veneto. Bottled unfined and unfiltered this funky white blend is the result of a blend of Chardonnay and Nosiola which spent about 5 days on the skins and Pinot Bianco that got a full 12 days maceration with the skins.
The nose is clean with note of mint and earthy, smoky dried fruits but is still a bit tight and reticent. In the mouth there is a touch of tannin here though this medium plus bodied white has excellent balance and integration yielding a round, velvety mouthfeel. The flavors span the range from dried waxy yellow fruit, to floral, herbal, animal, mineral and nutty. This was sampled at cellar temperature and while drinking well might have been a touch more expressive if it was a degree or three warmer. Nonetheless this was long, complex, and layered with an earthy core of savory fruit melded with a fine, rich mouthfeel. Very compelling stuff. 93pts
2007 Cabernet Franc
Organically farmed and bottled unsulfured from old vines that lie within the city limits of Rovereto in an old vineyard of pure sand. The nose here is explosive with big balsamic and incense notes popping from the glass then fine rich notes of smoked paprika, drying chilies, and mica rich earth slowly revealing themselves. Medium bodied and very elegant in the mouth with great balance between the ripe tannins and fine acids. The fruit on the palate is impressively deep and pure with just a hint of the pepper/herbaceous quality so apparent on the nose. Full of wild berry fruit and has just a whisper of rusticity adding some complexity on the palate. This has great focus and the finish is rich in velvety tannins which add some weight and depth to the lingering notes of earth fruit and a gentle note of exotic, aromatic wood. 91pts
Barrel Sample #1 - A solera experiment, one barrique started in 2004 and refreshed in both 2005 and 2006. Again intense aromatics impress with their blend of spicy notes and vegetal tones that accentuate the slightly jammy wild plum notes tinged with cinnamon and earth and the deep underlay of dried porcini. This is a much more imposing wine in the mouth, packed with ripe tannins yet fresh with solid acidity. It is big and rich with a strong cocoa and prune entry which freshens admirably on the mid-palate turning towards crisp, red fruits. While this tightens up a bit with air there is excellent purity to the fruit and a fine, layered feel that gets clipped only on the finish. I’m not sure what to make of the finish, which felt very closed and was certainly less expressive than the nose or palate. This holds promise but really deserves a longer look. Based on what was there (88-92pts.)
2007 Poiema Marzemino Barrel Sample -Slavonian Oak - This is made in the governo style with Marzemino wine refermented with grapes that had been dried for 4 weeks. Approximately 40% of the grapes are dried- A bit too woody at this point with smoky notes of mace, but there seems to be very jewel-like fruit lying at the core. The tannins on the palate are a bit woody and drying but the fine acids support lovely dark berry fruits. Still very early for this wine and tough to judge but if the wood is absorbed there is good promise here. (86-90pts)
2007 Poiema Marzemino Barrel Sample- Ageing in Cherry wood that had been used to store Cabernet for 2 months, to soak up some of the youthful wood character. The fruit for this bottling comes from the Zeresi Vineyard just outside the village of Volano. A great source for Marzemino but as is so often the case, a vineyard whose boundaries have recently been expanded to include a large parcel of vines outside the traditional area. A very fine and intense nose of beeswax, incense and earth frames sweet and spicy red currant fruit that offers great purity. In the mouth the tannins are very, very fine and the acidity offers great cut yielding a jewel-like, faceted mouthfeel. The flavors mimic the nose with rather assertive wood tones that are in the earthy, balsamic, dried baking spice register and serve to show off the rich core of fruit well though there is just a hint of oxidation creeping in here. None-the-less very complex and layered if too youthful to give a complete picture. (90-94pts)
2006 Esegesi Barrel Sample - Translated from the Greek origins the name here refers to Eugenio’s goal of offering his own “Interpretation” of the vines he tends. In this case those vines are a field blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot. As with all of his wine this blend represents Eugenio’s minimal-interventionist winemaking at it’s best. The organically tended fruit here crops at low yields and the merlot is harvested very late to add a touch of sur-maturitie to the final blend. The wine is vinified in a combination of new wood and cement then sees 2 years of barrel aging so this was nearing the end of it’s barrel time. Crazy complexity on the nose with layers of fresh fruit, dried fruits, earth, herbs, mineral notes, a rich savory core and grace notes of sottobosco and aromatic redwood. This is big and plush in the mouth but retains very bright acids, which support explosively rich blackberry, and black currant fruit that is pure and lithe with a gentle edge of barnyardy leather. The tannins, which were initially not noticed, spread across the palate and add depth and a bit of rigidity to the wine. This is classic Bordeaux! The finish is long and offers gently minerally notes of cherry pit fruit and a lovely finale of arugula. This can compete with the best Cabernet from virtually anyway on the globe. (90-94pts)
2005 Esegesi - from bottle but not yet released. This has a touch of VA on the nose adding lift to the fleshy, animal notes and bit of woodiness. Decidedly more funky and earthy than the 2006 on the nose, there is a striking resemblance in the mouth. This combines the bright acids of the ’06 with those some, very fine, sneaky tannins. The tannins here may be a bit more obtrusive than with the ’06 as they seem more wood driven and are a bit more drying. The fruit on the palate is vibrant and rich mixed berry pie that has admirable freshness and is dusted with earthen and spice tones. There is great focus here and the wine presents a fairly linear progression through the mouth and to the finish with a long, curranty finish that is richly spiced with notes of Asian 5-spice. Perhaps a touch less cohesive than the 2006 but still a wonderful success. (88-92pts)
2002 Poiema - Here is a bottle that has had the time to integrates and the nose speaks intensely of Marzemino with a huge, fragrant floral note over the slightly astringent red fruits which recall pomegranate seeds. In the mouth it is big and layered with a sweet core of wild berry fruit gentle edged with a touch of shaved bakers chocolate and a very sharp mineral note. There is a touch of oxidation here that adds complexity to the wine and a bit of aromatic spice that recalls poppy seeds in the mouth with a fine finish that is perhaps just a but short. Excellent and pure Marzemino with power and grave. Very well done 90pts
And just one final note here but not on the wines. The labels for Eugenio’s wines feature original artwork created by his wife. They are as elegant, interesting and original as the wines and serve to well to distinguish the nature of these wines from much of what is on similar shelves.
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