a community of wine lovers


November 2013

Autumn into Winter

After a glorious Devon summer, we moved quickly into an autumn that threw just about everything at us, from warm, sunny days to gales and torrential rain. I have been travelling over most of this period, finding myself in the wine hills of Barolo, in tea plantations of Sri Lanka (but that's another story), back in the wine country of Piedmont, and most recently in Sicily, in the vineyards and olive groves of Alcamo and Marsala.

2013 has proved to be a testing year for wine growers. And yet, the grape vine crops but once a year and producers have learnt, over centuries and millennia, to maximize whatever each season's unique conditions bring. In the wine hills of Barolo, the late, cold and wet spring meant that the growing season was a good two weeks behind. A hot, dry summer, however, brought Mario's Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo grapes to near perfect condition, then autumn rains delayed the harvest further, so that the last of the Nebbiolo grapes were not brought in until the end of October. This, however, is not unusual in the region: Nebbiolo is named after nebbia - fog - for the grapes have traditionally been harvested well into autumn and the season of mists. It is only the recent hotter summers - global warming? - that have brought forward the vendemmia, with Nebbiolo harvested as early as the second or third week of September in some years. Mario is confident that 2013 will be a good year: now that the first fermentations are complete, the wines display a good balance of alcohol, acidity and the right measure of tannin, depending on each variety. They will now be left to evolve and develop in their own time as naturally as possible, with the Dolcetto 2013 to be bottled in July 2014, Barbera 2013 and Langhe Nebbiolo 2013 to be bottled in July 2015, and Barolo 2013 to be bottled and released not before 2017. The latter is certainly a wine for people with patience!

Here in Topsham's Pebblebed Vineyard, as many of you who helped out know, Geoff has enjoyed a bumper harvest of some 45 tonnes this year (in comparison to a meagre 4 tonnes in 2012). Here, too, the season was behind due to the cold and wet spring and miserable early summer. This delay in the flowering meant that harvesting was only completed at the end of October. Not to worry, waiting as long as possible to bring in the grapes, though risky, has paid dividends and Geoff is delighted with both the quantity and quality of grapes harvested. Fermentation is well underway, and now there is little more that the winemakers can do but wait. And we'll wait too - in eager anticipation of the taste of the first new Pebblebed vintages to be released in spring and summer 2014 (and two years at least more before we'll get a first taste of Pebblebed's 2013 sparkling wines).

Meanwhile, as we move from autumn into winter, it's time to enjoy wines from previous vintages. Pebblebed Brut is drinking better than ever and is certainly the wine to enjoy for celebrations and the holidays. Mario's red wines - Dolcetto, the lightest and easiest to drink, Barbera, more serious and weighty, Langhe Nebbiolo, elegant and perfumed, and Barolo, an austere and concentrated heavyweight - are perfect wines to enjoy at this time of year. These above all are wines to enjoy with food - robust and warming foods such as we will be serving at our last two Vino Kitchen evenings of 2013, taking place on Wed November 20th, and our Festive Vino Kitchen on Wed December 11th.

We hope to see you soon and raise a glass of Pebblebed or Cascina Fontana wine with you.

Best wishes

Marc and Kim

Vino Kitchen 2013

Our last Vino Kitchen evenings until the new year.

Wed November 20th "A taste of Sicily" - CV members £15 non-members £18.50 SORRY FULLY BOOKED

Wed December 11th "Festive Vino Kitchen" - CV members £22.50 non-members £26

Please email marc@vino.co.uk to reserve your places.

Wines for the holidays

Please do consider stocking up your cellars with some of our wines for the holidays. These are special wines indeed and also make great gifts. While I will be in the Pebblebed Cellar on some Saturday mornings leading up to Christmas, I am always happy to meet by appointment in the cellar at a mutually convenient time or on most evenings. Just email marc@vino.co.uk or telephone 0777 572 4573

In addition to the wines of Cascina Fontana (see below), these are our best-selling wines:

Prosecco Bisol Jeio n/v @ Club Vino £12.50 non-CV £13.90
There is Prosecco and there is Prosecco - this is the real deal from our friend Gianluca Bisol, one of the best producers within the classic heartland of Valdobiaddene-Conegliano.

Madregale white and red @ CV £7.90 non-CV £8.75
Our 'house wines' come from Abruzzo and are very well-made, characterful varietals from Chardonnay and Montepulciano. Easy to drink, they are great wines to enjoy with food.

Cascina Fontana and us

We began this small wine company in large measure as a means of bringing some very special wines to Topsham, made by a special friend, Mario Fontana. We first met Mario some 20 years ago when as a young man he drove to England in a white van full of his wines, to try and sell to local Italian restaurants. My great friend Nello and I tasted the wines and we were immediately impressed by both their quality and above all by their natural genuineness. These were real Italian wines, as we had both tasted and enjoyed in Italy, but which at the time were rarely seen in the UK, where the mass-produced, industrial wines with familiar names - soave, valpolicella, verdicchio, frascati, chianti in the straw fiasco bottle - were what sold best. So a friendship was born and Nello's Ristorante began to stock Mario's wines. Indeed Nello's house Barbera was probably the best house wine in the South West at the time. Life events happen; the years pass by. Nello and Nello's Ristorante are no
longer with us. But Mario's special and genuine wines continue not only connect us with past happy memories, but also to lubricate and mark today's daily joys and celebrations, as well as tribulations.

Meanwhile, the wines of Cascina Fontana themselves have developed and evolved over the years and gained significant recognition. Though a very small producer, Mario is now considered one of the Barolo region's finest traditional winemakers. The only other importer in the UK of his wines is no less than the most iconic wine merchant in the country, Berry Brothers & Rudd, a family business founded in St James in 1698, with two Royal Warrants and eight Masters of Wine. Through Mario's involvement with BBR, the wines of Cascina Fontana have now been presented around the world, notably in Japan and China where they found great favour. So I feel very proud that they were here in Topsham first, and that we are able to bring these truly great wines direct to you to enjoy, in the Pebblebed Cellar, at our Vino Kitchen Italian Table evenings, or to purchase for your drinking pleasure at home.

Cascina Fontana Gavi 2011 @ Club Vino £12 non-CV £13.50
This elegant, minerally white has depth of flavour and concentration and is a classic dinner white, a beautiful, understated wine that is very classy indeed. Gavi ages in the bottle well, too.

Cascina Fontana Dolcetto d’Alba 2011 @ CV £10.90 non-CV £12.20
Mario Fontana above all makes serious red wines, full stop. Dolcetto is the easiest and most approachable, with gorgeous colour, punchy, dense fruit and only minimum tannin. It is a lovely wine to enjoy with plates of Italian cured meats, simple bowls of pasta, or just to sip on its own. It also ages surprisingly well, gaining richer, deeper flavours.

Cascina Fontana Barbera d’Alba 2010 @ CV £13 non-CV £14.50
Barbera grapes grown on the white, chalky-clay wine hills of Barolo have the capacity to make wines of real structure and power, and Mario’s is a classic example. This is a full-bodied, serious food wine, with good acidity and tannin, and a touch of oak from used barrels which just softens out the edges. This is probably my favourite wine in the world.
Note: for real lovers of Barbera (like me), we also have some Barbera d'Alba Superiore 2011 that has been aged in 'botte grande' - big casks - not small barriques, an intriguing contrast. This is a fascinating Barbera, a fruit-driven wine of uncompromising power and rasping character. This Barbera 'BG' is available at the same price. Do ask me if you are interested.

Cascina Fontana Langhe Nebbiolo 2009/10 @ CV £18 non-CV £22
The aristocratic Nebbiolo grape produces some of Italy’s greatest wines, including Barolo and Barbaresco. Langhe Nebbiolo is a slightly lighter, less austere manifestation, a wine of great purity and elegance. Produced from Nebbiolo grapes grown on Mario’s Castello di Sinio and Galinotto vineyards, this is no mere ‘baby Barolo’ but a great wine in its own right.

Cascina Fontana Barolo 2007/8 @ CV £26 non-CV £30 (older vintages available from CV £35)
In the Barolo wine region, as elsewhere, producers divide between two camps: the traditional and the modern. Mario Fontana is most definitely in the former, producing wines following the same philosophy as his grandfather Saverio. His aim is to allow the Nebbiolo grapes grown in his Vilero, Valletti and Gallinotto vineyards to express as purely and as fully as possible the personality of his own Barolo terroir. Vintages can vary considerably, but the underlying character of Mario’s Barolo is always its immense structure and a complexity that is only revealed after patient ageing in both cask and bottle. This is a wine to sip and savour, and to share only with your best friends!

Cascina Fontana Barbaresco 2005/6 @ £25 non-CV £29
Yet another manifestation of Italy’s greatest red grape, Nebbiolo, from the neighbouring Langhe zone of Barbaresco. This mature, muscular wine is drinking beautifully right now and is something of a bargain.

Cascina Fontana ‘Dorato’ Moscato 2012 @ CV £10 non-CV £11
Delightly fresh, grapey, slightly sweet and with a touch of effervescence, ‘Dorato’ is a must wine to have in for the holidays, to open any time of day or night, at once the perfect finish to a meal or evening - or the perfect breakfast wine. Enjoy with abandon and without guilt: it has just 5.5% alcohol!

The perfect Christmas gift or stocking filler?

Wine, a global history by Marc Millon @ CV £9 non-CV £9.90
My latest book: relatively brief, entertaining and as easy to read as Mario's Dolcetto is to drink. This is the sort of book that you can quite easily complete over just a bottle or two of something good. May I modestly suggest that signed copies might be well-received as a Christmas gift or stocking filler, perhaps accompanied by a bottle or two of Mario's wines to sip while reading . . .

Club Vino membership

Do consider joining Club Vino to receive first notice of our events and tastings and to gain members prices on events, wine dinners and wine purchases. Membership costs just £15 p/a.

Just a reminder, too, that most CV memberships fall due at the end of the calendar year. We would greatly appreciate your renewal and continued support.





Copyright Marc Millon 2005-2011 All rights reserved

Quay Press