Monday, March 12, 2012

Noble rot in a pocket of Umbria at Barberani Winery

Noble Rot, or botrytis cinerea as it is scientifically called, can be cause for great joy among winemakers. Because while other types of mold are harmful to grapes, this one actually can shrivel the grapes in such a way that they are perfect for dessert wines.
There are some places in the world that are well known for producing sweet wines from botryitzed grapes. Sauternes is the most famous region, as well as parts of Germany, Austria, and Hungary.
However, it is a rare thing indeed for any Italian winery to produce such wines.
On a recent visit to Barberani winery in Umbria when I traveled with bloggers from the International Wine Tourism Conference, I had the chance to taste one such wine.
Bernardo Bernardini led our group on a tour of the vineyards and winery, ending in their charming tasting room. We were fed thin, sweet slivers of local ham and salami on crusty bread, and led through a tasting of their high quality Orvietto Classico as well as delicious red wines.
However, it was their dessert wine that intrigued me. Apparently, the region used to produce sweet wines but this style of wine fell out of favor, and for decades everyone vinified their wines dry. But a funny thing happened in the early 1970s. Barberani forgot to harvest a parcel of land, and when it was discovered, some of the grapes had been affected by botrytis. The forgotten vineyard was harvested and a small amount of sweet wine, known as Muffa Nobile, was produced. Robert Mondavi was dining with a distributor in California, who brought a bottle of the sweet wine to dinner. Robert telephoned the senior Barberani in the middle of the night Italian time and congratulated him on his noble rot wine - and with that, it was decided that producing sweet wine in Umbria again was a very good thing indeed.
On my visit, I tasted the Calcaia 2006, a Muffa Nobile Dolce. Amber colored, with notes of apricots and honey, it was a lovely dessert wine that was bright and not cloying. I bought two bottles and will toast the innovators at Barberani when I drink their sweet sipper.