The Bolla name and winemaking history goes back centuries, to its nascent origins in 1883. Like many things in the world that have withstood changing times, Bolla remains. Yet not without struggles. In the 1960’s and 70’s Bolla rose to prominence in America by selling millions of gallons of mass produced Soave which, due to its affordability, was especially popular given that America was not yet a winedrinking country. As America became more serious about it’s wine consumption, the Bolla name suffered and the subsequent acquisition by apathetic beverage conglomerate Brown-Forman deepened the weakening of the brand.
When Brown-Forman began shedding its wine holdings, Gruppo Italiano Vini acquired Bolla and immediately set about restoring the estate to it’s traditional roots. In 2008, Banfi Vintners became the sole U.S. importer when the Mariani family invested heavily in Bolla and quickly began re-charting Bolla to prominence.
This past Monday evening, I had the privilege of attending a Bolla winemaker dinner, hosted by Banfi Vintners at the wonderful Rafele Ristorante in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. Winemaker Christian Scrinzi was the guest of honor.
|The Street Facade of Rafele
|The Cellar Room at Rafele
New Bolla winemaker, Christian Scrinzi was there to discuss and show the wines. Scrinzi has been at the Bolla helm since 2008 and he is clearly passionate about restoring the estate to greatness. His admitted first priority: “I make wines with a soul, that are true to nature, to the terroir of our land, of Veneto.” Scrinzi is as affable as he is patient. Behind his fashionable glasses, his eyes are almost studious and seem to project humility. As one of the Banfi Reps remarked to me – “he has been tirelessly working at Bolla since 2008, but this is his first trip to the United States to show the wines. This is the first time he’s been comfortable enough to present them, knowing that they would show well.”
Among the first improvements Scrinzi made was the removal of the old barrels in the winery. Many were chestnut, that he does not regard as a “noble wood for wine” and further, many were covered inside by wax. A technique meant to extend the life of the barrel – a nod to the former conglomerate owners drive for profit maximization. However, this “hermetically seals the wood, making it a completely inert vessel and robbing the wine of the opportunity to benefit from the slow aging characteristics of botti.”
Today, Bolla is using large wooden casks of Slavonian oak, commonly referred to as Botti Grande. Wood treatment is judicious, with attentive care to toast, grain, and time in barrel. Grape yields have been reduced, vineyards are now more carefully farmed and hand harvested. In classic Veneto style, many vineyards employ the Pergola-Trellis method for training their grapes. Scrinzi believes this provides the benefit of carefully managing the vines canopy – something that has become all too crucial in protecting grapes from the higher heat of global warming. Also employed are bio-organic methods such as “sexual confusion techniques” which reduce the reproduction of predatory insects. This is the third producer that has mentioned this to me recently, along with Il Palazzone and Oddero.
|Winemaker Christian Scrinzi discussing the Bolla wines. Banfi Vintners’ Lars Leicht at left, interpreting.
The overall quality of the wines was excellent. I think some eyebrows were raised around the table. I took formal notes but as the restaurant was fairly dark, it was difficult to shoot the wines. Some images below I previously had on hand.
The 2011 Prosecco was handed to us upon arrival. This is the only Bolla wine not sourced from the Veneto, and also the only wine I didn’t get a photo of. It’s a pale gold with lots of nice bubbles. Clean, lemony, crisp and fragrant with minerals. A wonderful aperitif and a great “ice-breaker”. 86 points.
We were then poured two very interesting whites once the various appetizers began arriving.
The 2011 Soave Classico is a pale straw color. Made from 100% Garganega grapes, the wine is completely fermented in stainless steel. Aromas and flavors take on notes of lemon, spice, and mineral. This is simple and unpretentious and the perfect foil for the scallops, artichokes, and green olives. 88 points and only about $10-$12.
|Bolla Soave Classico, 2011 (from a previous image)
|Bolla Soave Classico “Tufaie” 2011 (from a previous image)
We then moved onto the red wines. Initially, the first two were served with the antipasti and then the pasta dishes made their way to the table. The first wine was the 2011 Bardolino. I probably have not had Bardolino in 20 years, likely more. Bardolino is a DOC that hails from the hills to the east of Lake Garda. It’s often a blend of Molinara, Rondinella and Corvina. Typically, less Corvina is used as that tends to lend additional body to the wine.
Lars commented that he treats the wine as if it’s a Rose and during the summer, almost always has a bottle in his refridgerator. We indeed were served the wine slightly chilled and to my admitted surprise, it was delicious. Think Beaujolais here. Crisp, fresh with simple cherry flavors and slight spicy vanilla. It’s honest. It’s not trying to be something other than what it is. It almost begs for a prosciutto panini and a tumbler rather than the Reidel we were using. Yet, with the prosciutto and the olives this was delicious. It’s not meant to be Brunello, Barolo or Amarone and it’s not. But I can see myself with this, in a tumbler, on my patio this summer. 85 points. And it’s about all of $8.
Next up was the 2011 Valpolicella Classico. Made from Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella grapes this was a nice ruby color with simple aromas of sour cherry and spice. On the palate, it seemed slightly lean to me and had a somewhat bitter olive streak. I didn’t really care for this wine and this is the only wine of the night where I could make that statement. That said, I’ve never really enjoyed Valpolicella before. 83 points, about $8.
|Tagliolini with Funghi and Truffles
The last red of this group came out with the pasta dishes and was a much heartier wine. The 2010 “Le Poiane” Valpolicella Ripasso is serious wine indeed. Darker in the glass, a blackish red, with aromas of blackberry, leather, and smoke. On the palate, the complexity from the ripasso method is evident. Rich blackberry fruit is framed by leather, smoke, spices and a slight raisined character that is not overdone. Elegant, with good acidity, this is delicious stuff. This is a wine I’ll be adding to my cellar. Made from Corvina and Corvinone. 93 points. About $18.
In speaking about Le Poiane, Christian Scrinzi remarked, “The key to making a great Ripasso is not to artificially strengthen your Valpolicella, but to weaken your Amarone.”
|Trio of Reds: Bardolino, Valpolicella, Le Poiane
To turn back the clock, Bolla first produced “Creso” in the 1990’s as a response to the wave of success the Super Tuscans were enjoying, for Creso was indeed predominantly Cabernet. This sort of knee jerk reaction to the market was just the sort of judgemental error indicative to Bolla’s problems. After a lackluster response, Creso production was halted in 2001. With the re-birth of Bolla, so too is Creso reborn. The 2010 Creso is the first vintage of the re-invented wine and it’s only just arrived on the shores of America. Completely redone, Creso is now a Veronese IGT blend of 70% Corvina and 30% Cabernet. The latter having been dried using the classic passita method employed for Amarone. The results are as spectacular as they are unique.
The color of the wine is dark reddish purple, with violet streaks. Rich aromas of blackberry, baking spices, deep black cherry and mint are evident on the nose and palate. The balance of acids and silky tannin is nearly perfect and the wine finishes long and elegant. The Cabernet for Creso is harvested in October and left to dry. By early November it’s crushed and blended with the Corvina using the Governo method employed with traditional Amarone. Aged for 9 months in 2nd passage barrique and then in botte; prior to an additional 3 months in bottle before release. I loved this wine. It’s soulful and unique. 94 points. A steal at the anticipated retail of $20-$25.
|The New Flagship from Bolla: Creso. 70% Corvina, 30% Cabernet. Right: Creso in Glass
|Gorgonzola Dolce, Pecorino Sardo, Crostini
|Lingering over Cheese, Amarone, & Fernet Branca (Image courtesy of Chad Carns)
As we lingered, I had the chance to ask questions of Winemaker Christian. He had already hinted at this topic in discussing the increased attention that Bolla is paying to the vineyards and so I asked:
Are great wines made in the cellar or the vineyard? How does he view his role as winemaker?
“Giovanni, I am not a chemist or a scientist. We want to make traditional, authentic, honest wine that speaks to the Veneto area. A winemaker must know how to do everything, but not do it all. He must know the varietals and know the vineyards. That is where the work is done. In the cellar, a winemaker can only screw up good grapes. He cannot fix bad ones, so we must work in the vineyards to ensure premium raw materials.”
On his utilization of oak….
“You don’t want to mask the nature flavors of the varietal. Oak is an accenter and should be used judicously. I prefer mostly botti grande. We don’t want to take away from the wines nature, that essence that is true to the area.”
I asked him what his most difficult wine to produce was… To my surprise, he answered…
“Bardolino! Perche? There is always the temptation to do something wrong, to try and force this wine to be something other than what it is. Every wine has a role. You cannot drink Amarone every day. It is important to retain the focus on what the wine is trying to be. I have to remember to retain the freshness, the vibrancy of the fruit in this wine.”
The night was a clear success. I hope you seek out some of these wines and approach them within the context that they were presented here. This, in a sense, is the mission of TuscanVines. Italian wine belongs on the table, with food, family and friends. These wines embody those qualities. I hope you give them the chance to prove your past impressions wrong. But first, give me time to stock up on Creso.