Ferdinando Principiano Spumante Extra Brut Rosé Belén 2015
Winegrower: Ferdinando Principiano
Region: Piedmont, Italy
Picture medieval villages atop sprawling vineyards fragranced with the aromas of truffles – this is the Langhe Valley in Piedmont. It’s also the home of today’s traditionally made Spumante Extra Brut Rosé Belén 2015. And by ‘traditionally made’ I mean the Champagne method, or Metodo Classico as the Italians call it. This is a dry, elegant and ultra-refreshing rosé that speaks Italian with a French accent. The beautiful, fine creamy bubbles give it a fresh and stunning mouthfeel, and along with the nuanced flavours of brioche and lemon zest it delivers exactly what you’d expect from a Champagne. It’s beautifully aromatic with floral and fresh red raspberry notes. On the palate it is a bit richer than Champagne because Piedmont is warmer and produces grapes of greater ripeness. This delightful sparkling rosé is from Ferdinando Principiano, one of the leading natural winegrowers in Italy and one of the Piedmont’s top producers. It’s an elegant and dry rosé that you will not soon forget. It offers the pleasures of Champagne but at a much lower price, and with the upcoming festive season, that’s a good thing.
The Principiano family have been farmers and winemakers in Piedmont since 1700, but it wasn’t until 1993 that all of the family’s land was converted to vineyards. Previously it was a mixed farm that also made wine. Ferdinando took over the estate from his father the same year. After a ‘false start’ making modern styled wines, which he was richly rewarded with all sorts of high scores from the critics, he abruptly switched gears and started to produce traditional Barolos, Barberas and Dolcettos. He also became one of the leaders of Italy’s natural wine movement and hasn’t looked back since.
By now you’ve either accepted one of several popular definitions of ‘natural’ wine or come up with your own. The basic premise is to minimize inputs. This starts in the vineyard with the elimination of chemical fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides and pesticides. It then extends into the cellar by avoiding the hundreds of legally permitted additives and technology – think roto fermenters and micro-oxygenators – that change wine dramatically. Add to this the debate on sulphur: to add or not to add? And to eschew new wood and sometimes any wood at all during the aging process.
Ferdinando’s maturation as a winegrower is one of regression from a modern style in which the winemaking is dominated by technology to the traditional in which there is very little to be found. Many winegrowers have crossed the line from ultra-traditional to modern, but never the opposite. His first wines were modern, young drinking and souped-up to guarantee 100-point scores from critics. But after several years he realized they “didn’t age well, and they didn’t represent the terroir, my culture or history.”
In 2003 Ferdinando started to farm organically and by 2006 all his vineyards were certified organic. But he didn’t stop there. Ferdinando then eliminated the use of copper and sulphur and started to practice what he calls ‘deliberate benign neglect’ which resulted in untamed, Edenistic looking vineyards. From the 2004 vintage things started to really change; vineyard yields dropped by 40% leading to more structured wines with greater complexity, tannins and more intense aromas. He started to use only natural, ambient yeasts, fermented without temperature control and did only manual punch downs during fermentation. Old Slovenian oak botti and 400-liter barrels replaced the barriques, grapes are crushed by foot and no sulphur is added during the wine making process. Today, you will only find traditionally made wines of incredible purity and focus, ranging from his majestic Barolos, Barberas and Dolcettos, to today’s amazing vintage Spumate Rose. Like all of Principiano’s wines: organic farming + indigenous yeasts + minimal handling + very low (or no) sulphur = a wine that’s easy drinking but has great depth, complexity and energy.
Spumate Extra Brute Rosé Belén 2015 is the product of Barbera grapes from the vineyard used to produce Ferdinando’s Barbera d'Alba DOC. The grapes are handpicked about 15-days earlier, and a must extracted from the same grapes is added for the secondary fermentation rather than sugar. The wine rests on its lees for about a year. This elegant and dry rosé is beautifully aromatic with fresh raspberries, apricot, ripe tropical fruit and honey notes. The delicate small bubbles give it a fresh and stunning mouthfeel. On the palate it is crisp, fresh and grippy with distinct notes of raspberry and a subtle salinity. The finish is long and supported by a racy, refreshing acidity. Serve at 16˚ to 18° in Champagne Flutes or better yet Burgundy stems so as to best capture this rosé's beautiful aromatics. Only 250 cases were produced.