Thu 11 Aug 2016

Calcaia: Italy’s Sauternes?

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Barberani's Calcaia

Barberani’s Calcaia

One of the real gems of Umbria is Barbarani’s delicious sweet white wine, Calcaia. It is a hard wine to sell, as it falls into its own category in a way, however whenever it is shown at a tasting, it gets a very warm welcome indeed.

Calcaia Orvieto is made with thanks to botrytis cineria aka noble rot, which is brought on by the vineyards’ proximity to Lake Corbara. The fog which develops through the night envelops the vines until the cool morning winds clears it away so the vines can enjoy the sun. This process brings on noble rot, which dries out the grapes, causing them to shrivel on the vine, concentrating the sugars and the flavour.

As sweet wine goes and in comparison to Sauternes, the Calcaia is a beautifully light and elegant style. Alcohol tends to come in around 10-10.5% and the wine is beautifully crisp, fresh, pure and bright – no wonder it is so often a hit with our members when it is tasted.

In order to really get the best idea of how this wine will age, we recently opened a few back-vintages, which Italy buyer Sebastian Payne MW had very handily tucked away over the past few years.

Grechetto grapes in Barberani's vineyards affected by 'muffa nobile'

Grechetto affected by ‘muffa nobile’

Sebastian explained how this wine is painstakingly produced, with individual berries being picked, over sometimes five or six harvests in order to account for the different grapes achieving the same level of noble rot at different times. The varieties used are grechetto and trebbiano procanico, two grapes widely planted in Umbria, although grechetto actually has Greek origins and it tends to be these two grapes which feature in most vintages of this wine, albeit with a few tweaks from one year’s blend to the next.

The first vintage of this wine was made in 1986 and although we didn’t have the opportunity to taste that far back on this occasion, we did have a bottle of 2005, 2006 and 2007 vintages, along with the 2013 and the soon-to-be-released 2014.

2014: Bright, pure beeswax on the nose with a mouthwatering touch of honey and apricot. Light on the palate, very fresh and clean with perfectly poised acidity. Youthful and fine.

2013: Slightly deeper fruit aromas on the nose with a little more botrytis evident. Fresh acidity remains and a nice weight on the palate. Complex, layered and delicious.

2007: Golden in colour. Unctuous palate with more of the beeswax notes and barley sugar. Some of the acidity has now rounded out but is still very well balanced with stunningly vivid caramelised orange-peel notes and a slight hint of burning incense.

2006: A more herbal nose, again with quite a pronounced botrytised character. The acidity is still there but this wine is much more full and viscous. Showing signs of age but wearing it well.

2005: Orange peel and candied fruit but with an intriguing savoury note which adds to the complexity. Lost a touch of the freshness but the charm is still there.

The 2013 is currently available for £22 per 50cl bottle, as part of Sebastian’s ‘The Best Of Italy’ selection.

I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how it tastes in a few years… if I can manage to keep my hands off it before then…

Freddy Bulmer
Trainee Buyer

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