Italian road trip 2016: at the home of the Friars

Our trip had already been unbelievable… we had visited some great vineyards we, had some great food and had been very lucky with the weather as well 🙂 Travelling when the sun shines makes a trip much nicer. As if we ordered it, the sun was heating and more present on white wine Saturday than it was the other days!  So visiting a vineyard a stone’s throw away from the Garda lake was perfect, add great white wine to that and you have a perfect holiday 🙂 Coincidentally the vineyard we were visiting that morning had lots of great white wines 🙂 LUCKY US 😉

Ca dei Frati near Garda lake

When you visit a vineyard you always have some wines you prefer over others. It doesn’t mean those wines you don’t like are bad, they are just not how you prefer your wines to be…  If I tell you that we took home at least 1 bottle from every wine in the assortment from the Ca’ dei Frati vineyard…what does that tell you? Yes, in first place that our character or intention to buy less wine was out of the window. Also that my car has a big trunk, but also that all wines we tasted were our thing :-). For both of us (Carlos and me), so I consider this something quite rare 🙂

Ca’ dei Frati is as I mentioned before only a stone’s throw away from the Garda lake or from a town called Sirmione (I always remember Sirmione as the Garda Lake town with the Castle :-)) . That first bottle of Frati by ca dei Frati I had a few years ago at the Pazzo winebar with my dad left a big impression with us… ever since that day I had put the Ca’ dei Frati vineyard on my ‘to-do’ list if I was ever in the neighborhood… now, a few years later that moment had finally come. It was the Stefano (husband of the founder’s daughter and responsible for export) who showed us around the estate accompanied by his 2 year old son who insisted to come along 🙂 he reminded me a lot of my sweet little baby girl as they share the same big appetite 🙂 FYI, I know that you might say she inherited that from her dad, but at that age I was a very bad eater! It was only at the age of 12 when going to the chef school the tide had turned and I never looked back 😉

Ca dei Frati estate 1 Ca dei Frati estate 2 Ca dei Frati estate 4

I’m wondering off here… back to Ca’ dei Frati. You might have guessed the winery has something to do with ‘Friars’? You have guessed correctly as the winery used to be ‘Casa dei Frati’ or Home of the Friars in English. In documents from the 18th century the Del Cere Family (who owns the property since 1939) has found there is told that the home that is now the Ca’ dei Frati vineyard already had a wine cellar back then and that it was owned by Friars. It was only in 1939 that the wine estate was founded by Felice Dal Cero, the current owner’s grandfather who left the company to his son Pietro around 1969.  It was Pietro who actually made the Ca’ dei Frati estate world famous and expanded from 12ha to over 100ha 🙂 So you could definitely speak about an expansion and growth.  Since 2012 after Pietro’s passing away it are his 2 sons and daughter (and their families)that carry on the family tradition and legacy. The estate also keeps growing and modernizing…

Ca dei Frati estate 9 Ca dei Frati estate 8

Ca dei Frati estate 7

Ca dei Frati estate 6 Ca dei Frati estate 5 Ca dei Frati estate 3

Unlike lots of people might think, the vineyard is located in the Italian region Lomardy and not Veneto… but I admit it’s a close call is they are really at the border of both regions.  The vineyards themselves are among the best in the region (as the estate was on the first in the area), on limestone silt soils at the southern part of the Garda lake rich in mineral salts which help the fruit to reach high levels of ripeness. It really gives beautiful wines as a result.

90% of the wine production at Ca’ dei frati is white wines with exception of 2 red wines and 2 rosé wines. The story behind 1 of the 2 reds is special because it is a tribute to Pietro! Not just any wine, an Amarone. Yes, An Amarone! The Amarone gets cultivated (as it is dictated by the DOCG and with the allowed grapes:  Corvina, Corvinone, rondinella and Croatina) in the Valpolicella area. In reality it was Pietro’s project to go back to his ‘radici’ (roots –  as het originates from the Valpolicella region where his grandfather was a winemaker), unfortunately didn’t make it to see his ‘baby’ grow and meet the world. This is why the family decided to finish this wine and make it as a tribute. A success I might add (beautiful product)! The Pietro Dal Cero Amarone had quit the rest before it was sold (2008 it the first edition of this wine that is currently sold) 24months in a barrel, 12months in stainless steel  and 24months in its bottle. Patience is again the keyword here…

Amarone Pietre del cero

For the white wines their most well-known wine is without any doubt the Lugana.  Lugana is made with the Turbiano grape (aka Trebbiano di Lugana) which is  the essential ingredient for white wines in the region.  According to regulations a Lugana can only be names Lugana when it at least holts 90% of the Turbiano grape. They are characterized by their freshness , fruit concentration, underlying floral and spice notes, and delicate acidity.  Or basically a pleasure for the nose and taste buds.  Ca’ dei Frati has 2 different Lugana wines: Frati and Brolettino. FYI The Brolettino was in 2014 in the list of 50 best wines from Decanter. The only difference between the 2 is that one (Frati) was only in stainless steel and the other (Brolettino) stayed 10months in barriques and 3 more months on bottle.  I wouldn’t really see one is better, as they both have different characteristics, both very rich wines.  On the nose there were intense aromas of lime, white flowers, almonds and green apple… at taste there are the nice minerals and the green apples 🙂 FYI, it was actually the Frati I had that night at Pazzo and also the first bottle I opened when I came home from this trip 🙂 .

Frati

When looking at the grapes used in their other wines,  both the still as the sparkling, I noticed Ca’ dei Frati also uses Sangiovese and Barbera grapes in their wines… this is the second time on this trip I learn that in Veneto and Lombardy these grapes  are used to blend.  They obviously do enrich the wines. The Sangiovese is used for the other red wine from the Ca’ dei Frati estate  (Ronchedone), but more surprisingly also for the Rosé wines (from which 1 is still and the other sparkling). For the Rosa dei Frati and the Cuvée which is the rosé sparkling wine they blend Sangiovese with Barbera, Groppello and Marzemino . The first thing that came to mind when having a taste of this wine “this would be something for my wife” :-)… how dare she tell me I only think of myself during my winetrips :-)Rosa dei Frati has notes of  green apple, wild cherry and white almond. In the mouth it immediately shows authority… it keeps it fresh and delicate thanks to a pleasant acidity that points out the carefree ease of drinking 🙂  but at the same time robust and capable of being elected the versatile star of the table!! Need I say more? Basically a bottle that can become everybody’s friend 😉 (the same goes for the Cuvée by the way that adds a bubble 🙂 🙂 (I know to much smiley’s, but that’s the way it is)

Rosé ca dei Frati

Again a very unforgettable experience where we learned a lot and can’t wait to visit the vineyards again when their renovations are finished as they were already very impressive now that they were not finished yet.

Up to the last vineyard of our trip 😦 Up to our friends of Sandro de Bruno

For more information or to purchase Ca’dei Frati wines in Belgium please contact Non solo vino. For other countries please check with the wine estate itself.

Italian roadtrip 2016: 1st stop and already beyond the clouds

It had already been almost a year since my last wine trip, so it was about time to do another one. My idea to do one again actually came during a meal with Raffaele Bosciani from Masi who said he hoped I would pass by one day… let’s call it the trigger 🙂 The only problem I still had was to convince or better find the perfect time to tell my wife I was going on a wine trip… AND Then it happened, as if the gods were favorable to me my wife told me she was thinking of going on a weekend with her sister 🙂 🙂 In the time she was still thinking I had already planned 2 trips 🙂 (one wine trip with by buddy Carlos and one with my daughter to visit my grandparents in Italy). Deciding which vineyards to visit was quite difficult as I wanted to visit lots of them, but I must say I had my mind made up pretty quickly. This wine trip brought us to 3 different Italian regions, we started in Alto Adige with a visit to the Elena Walch vineyard. We continued our trip in Veneto with visiting Masi and Guiseppe Quintarelli (and surprise stops at Farina and Bulgioni). To finally end our trip on what we called white wine Saturday at Ca dei Frati in Lombardy and Sandro de Bruno in Veneto again (Soave).

Route trip

What I love about travelling to Italy, is the fact that no matter where you go or how big the vineyard is they still receive you as you are part of the family.. I guess that’s the southern hospitality…

On the road

After a looooong drive we finally arrived in a little town of Termeno that is a few kilometers from Bolzano and from the Austrian border. What you notice when you are in this region is the Austrian influence in the housing, but also the fact that I think around 80% of the people speak German as first language (but all of them also speak very good Italian). We also couldn’t have imagined a better way to start our trip/holiday then in Termeno, we started it with a wonderful lunch at  Ansitz Romani outside in the open air with a nice bottle of Pinot Bianco from the Elena Walch estate… to already get familiar with the vineyard we were about to visit after the lunch  😉 FYI believe it or not, but the picture of the wine was taken with a smart phone camera (Huawei P9 –  with Leica lens)

Pinot Bianco Elena Walch

Ansitz Romani

Normally it was Julia Walch who would be showing us around, but unfortunately she had to travel abroad… but she had found good substitutes, her mother aka Elena Walch herself 🙂 and Lena a lovely young lady (oenology student) who was doing a internship at the vineyard and who I can say was very passionate about wines.

Elena Walch and daughters

Azienda vinicola Elena Walch was only founded in 1985 but the Walch Family already makes wine under the the name Wilhelm Walch that make ‘table wine’( or everyday wine or however you prefer calling it) since 1869 but it was not until Elena’s husband took over the family estate that he together with his wife Elena (who until then was architect) decided to start making next to the Wilhelm range of wines also wines of a higher quality or better ‘Cru’ wines from the grapes of their best parcels which they would make under the name Elena Walch. Eventhough Elena stopped working as an architect in 1985  when they founded the Elena Walch estate, you can clearly see that once an architect – always an architect 🙂 you see the influence of an architect in the newest part of the estate (the buildings that is) . You just know these are details only an architect would think of (I know Elena didn’t design it herself, but I’m sure she influenced it) like special lightning, the shapes of everything, etc…

It also seems like the next generation is getting ready to take over the torch as both daughters of Elena Walch recently joined the family estate and work in the Marketing department and took over most of the travelling from their parents.  When I asked Elena if it was difficult to work together with her daughters she said: “It is not difficult, but you do notice the difference with a regular employee. When you tell a regular employee something he’ll just do it. My daughters on the other hand 🙂 :-)”  But was very happy they were around and helping and continuing the business.

Elena Walche Estate 1 Elena Walche Estate2 Elena Walche Estate3 Elena Walche Estate4 Elena Walche Estate5 Elena Walche Estate6

The vineyard does use the most modern techniques and machinery , but they do still try to respect tradition. This you mainly see in the older part of the vineyard. What I personally love is the big decorated barrels… something they only back in the day as nowadays making the decorating  would cost too much

Elena Walche Estate 7  Elena Walche Estate 9 Elena Walche Estate 10 Elena Walche Estate 11 Elena Walche Estate 13

The philosophy of the estate is dedicated to its ‘terroir’. They have the idea that wines must be the expression of the grounds, climate and even of the cultivation in the vineyard that like mentioned gets done according to the most modern techniques and to principles of sustainability. The two main territories (where the grapes grow)  of the Elena Walch estate are Castel Ringberg (the ‘regular’ top wines. In France they would call it premier cru) and Kastelaz (the absolute top or Grand Cru) that today have a surface of almost 55 Ha. Where other estates in the region might mix grapes from multiple territories, at Elena Walch they handle the grapes separate (something similar like they do at the Bollinger Champagne estate).

Castel Ringberg that was once owned by the Hapsburg dynasty is located on mostly steep chalky soil, but with some sandy and loamy parts (basically a quit unique combination as mostly it is one of the 3). Because of the diversity of soil  it allows the estates to be very flexible and grow a very wide range of grape variaties: Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lagrein, Schiava. Again something very unique. I was really surprised about the amount of varieties as I thought in the mountains (even-though the Elena Walch vineyards are only up to 400m altitude above sea level) were very difficult and only a few grape varieties were strong enough to grow here… but that’s why I like to visit vineyards as you always learn news things you don’t always learn in books 😉

Castel Ringberg

What makes Kastelaz more special for Elena Walch or maybe even for the whole region is the southern location of it that creates micro-climatic conditions. Most other pieces of land in Alto Adige follow the valley and therefore get less sunshine. In difference with Ringberg, at Kastelaz there are only 3 grape varieties grown Gewürztraminer, Merlot and Pinot Bianco. This is due first of all because the soil here is chalk with raw rock like granite which isn’t the ideal soil for grapes, only a few can survive in these conditions

Kastelaz

It is of course all nice to know that they separate all of this, but how does it reflect in the glass.  Well we obviously didn’t try all the wines they have as that is I believe 31 different wines. From the wines we did try you can actually draw a line or find a red wire in all the wines (and it seems that most guides like Robert Parker, Gambero Rosso and Wine spectator agree on this when I read their comments about the wines they tasted). The Elena Walch wines are full bodied yet very elegant with a harmonious acidity where needed and a long length/finish (that I personally like a lot) and on top of all that every wine (because of its grape variety and location where it came from) adds that own specific mark on the identity.  Every taster we were served asked for more… I mean even the heavier red wines had that fresh part in them and want you to have more 🙂

Just FYI another piece of modern architecture at the estate is the Bistrot where we tasted the wines… not to speak about the view

Elena Walch Bistrot

One of our favorites (and I do think I speak for myself as for Carlos who joined me during this trip) was the Castel Ringberg Sauvignon with its fresh nose of minerals and green apples that definitely do not disappoint once you taste!! You’d be surprised how often a wine has a wonderful nose, but when you taste it its not what you hoped for… but in this case the taste was everything you’d hoped it to be 🙂 that’s also why we brought a box home :-). I do realize I can buy all those wines here in Belgium or anywhere else in the world for that matter…but you just get caught up in that moment that you just have to have it then and there 🙂 🙂 (a feeling we had quit a few times during this trip 🙂

Sauvignon

Another wine that got our immediate attention was the Pinot Nero ‘Ludwig’ Aged for 14 months in half new oak and half old oak, its power is discreetly brought to the surface by subtle tannins and lively acidity. Perfumed, complex, elegant, it is drinkable now, but I guess a bit of aging wouldn’t hurt… so we’ll have to try not to touch those bottles we brought back home 😦

Pinot Nero Ludwig

I can say for a fact that we couldn’t have imagined a better first day! A great lunch (with great wine), being around lovely beautiful ladies a whole afternoon (I don’t remember seeing to many men working at Elena Walch‘s estate) and finishing the day with a good piece of meat and some great red wine at the Schwarz Adler 🙂 What more do we need?? We also slept like babies as it had been a very very long day.

dav

Next stop VERONA!!!

In case you would want more information on Elena Walch wines or where to buy them in Belgium you can contact Young Charly. For the rest of the world you can check the Elena Walch website or contact the Elena Walch estate directly