We arrived at La Stoppa as the botrytized grapes were being harvested for the dessert wine. They were some of the last grapes of 2012 that would be picked there. The majority of the harvest had already begun vinification.
As you drive up the winding road to La Stoppa, the vines line up in rows to greet you on either side.
There are close to 35 hectares of vines on the rolling hills of this estate in the Emilia.
La Stoppa is owned by Elena Pantaleoni. She took over the management from her mother in 1991.
Elena has a warm personality, seemingly akin to a friendly aunt. Like she understands that you have perhaps misbehaved or misunderstood at times, but she likes you anyway.
She lives here and in Sicily, where she has another home near her friend Arianna Occhipinti.
Giulio Armani, who has worked at La Stoppa since 1980, is the enologue. He came out to greet us, and although he speaks little English, I found him vino simpatico from momento uno.
The rest of the La Stoppa team had also been patiently awaiting our arrival.
We made our greetings and headed into the house for lunch.
Elena has a refined taste, and various artworks and photographs hanging in the rooms reflect her many travels across the world.
I was a little concerned at first that the food would not fit in with the decorations, but fortunately everything matched up nicely.
Giulio, in addition to heading up the winemaking for La Stoppa, also has his own project, called Denavolo. The Denavolo wines are vinified at the La Stoppa facility. For Denavolo he introduces skin contact to Malvasia, Marsanne, Ortugo, and the like.
We tried Giulio's first release, from 2011 fruit, of a wine he has labelled Catavela. It was in a lighter, more open style than Denavolo wines I had tried in the past. There was vivacious fruit, and the kind of nose that you either like about natural wines or you don't.
There was also the Dinavolino from 2010, which was richer and thicker than the Catavela, as well as more barnyard funky.
And we were poured two vintages of the Denavolo flagship wine, the Dinavolo (I know, I know, there are a lot of D fronted vowel heavy words to keep track of). There was the Dinavolo 2010/2 (that's how it is labelled), which was all kinds of powerfully exotic, with a wintergreen nose, saffron, and clove notes. It was also deeper, with a sunken minerality and yet there was a supple texture. The supple quality and the complexity that was exhibited were in contrast to the Dinavolo 2008, which clamped down hard with tannin in the mouth and lacked both the lift and the length of the 2010/2.
The Denavolo harvest is from higher elevation vineyards (at 600 meters) than those at La Stoppa, and they are harvested later in the year. This means that Giulio doesn't have to be in two places at once. It also means that he gets to make very different wines for each label. La Stoppa focuses a lot of his attention on red wines, while with Denavolo the focus is whites. This makes sense, as the vines at La Stoppa are planted in clay, but the Denavolo vineyards are mostly calcareous. You can understand the adjustments that have been made. At La Stoppa there has been a lot of Barbera planted, which has high natural acidity. And those vines are picked somewhat early so as to mostly avoid residual sugar in the finished red wines, which has been present in some of the La Stoppa releases in the past. Controlling ripeness is the concern at La Stoppa. At Denavolo, conversely, the concern is to ameliorate the strong grip of the wines. You can see with the introduction of the Catavela that Giulio wants to offer a Denavolo wine that is more immediately drinkable and open.
I certainly had no problem pairing any of the Denavolo wines with the spinach and cheese tortellini.
In 2010 La Stoppa introduced the Trebbiolo labels, a Rosso and a Frizzante. These are meant to be drinkable table wines of the sort that you might pour by the glass. The "Trebbiolo" are named after a valley in the area. The frizz in the Frizzante 2010 was a subtle two atmospheres, and you might not notice the slight turbulence if you decanted a bottle. There was a bit of brett in the Frizzante that you probably would notice, though. The Trebbiolo Rosso 2010 also had a bit of brett, but the texture was more open knit, at least until you arrived at the tannin on the finish.
The Barbera 2007 was still wearing its hot blooded youth on its sleeve, 5 years from the harvest. There was a bit of reduction, a bit of tar, and just the most interesting nose once those notes blew off with some swirling. The palate had enough room for everything to come together inside and mingle nicely. There was prominent deep fruit, a notable herbal jag, some pronounced minerality, and some well maintained barnyard. It was the kind of red wine that is nice with aged cheeses.
And luckily there were a few of those cheeses at hand.
The Macchiona 2006, which is half Barbera and half Bonarda, is a wine you could age for awhile longer, and probably should. Not so much the wilting flower, this one. There was a density below the density. Also above it. But with some time and dedicated swirling this wine began to gain length between the strides, and be not just muscular, but also impressive. It really was very good.
A Macchiona 1987 gave further indication of how this wine can age. The 1987 was very precise and measured, with the kind of examination of the herbal family that a botanist might record in a finely ruled notebook.
Drinking done for the moment, we headed outside.
Rocco, our ever genial host, went out of his way to ensure that the gravel in the driveway was everywhere flat for us to walk on.
We took a look around the grounds.
And then made our way over to the winery building.
Over in a corner, Semillon grapes from the harvest underway were being pressed for the dessert wine, the Buca della Canne.
Botrytized Semillon juice tends to generate a lot of buzz, I was told.
Giulio led us inside for a look.
Some new bottles were collected on a pallet.
And some old bottles were collected on a shelf.
The Ageno is a wine from La Stoppa that I generally really like. Unfortunately, this 1971 was all drunk up before we got there.
At one time La Stoppa had Pinot Noir vines planted in the vineyard, but those were removed in 1997.
These bottles seemed interesting, but were also all emptied out.
Fortunately there was plenty to drink still waiting in the cellar. All told, there are 16,000 bottles resting at La Stoppa. Think about that for a second. 16,000 filled bottles of wine in the cellar of a producer that doesn't really make sparkling wine and doesn't fortify. That's a lot of bottles. Luckily for everyone, La Stoppa has a new powerhouse United States importer - the pride of Brooklyn - the one and only Louis/Dressner/McKenna. So I imagine that many thousands of those 16,000 bottles will soon be sold and gone.
The folks at Roberta's like Orange Wine.
Or maybe Roman's might take a few of these.
Is this the parcel for Franny's?
Or Prime Meats?
And if the bottles do run out, because you know Dressner is national now, there is more where they came from.
Maybe these are headed to Durham? Or Portland?
Made thirsty from all this speculation, Giulio poured us a 2011 Ageno sample.
This was showing the pretty side of Ageno, without the savagery it sometimes displays. There was the flower garden without the thorns. We'll see if the spikes grow later.
The 2010 Ageno, from tank, showed more power, and more broad tones.
We also tasted a very fruity 2009 Ageno, a very fruity 2009 Macchiona, and a very open 2011 Trebbiolo Rosso, none of which have been bottled yet.
And then we took at last look at what would soon be headed to America, before heading ourselves to the vineyard.
When I asked Giulio, he said that he was medium happy with 2012.
When I asked Rocco, he said that he was always happy.
Assessment done, we took to the road.
Headed up to the Denavolo vineyards, the roadwork gets a little "unfinished".
These are some of the first vines Giulio started working with for Denavolo. They are, if I understood correctly, his oldest vines. He recently planted new vineyard parcels in nearby areas in 2008 and 2009.
The Emilia really is storybook beautiful.
Giulio's own house on the hill is modest and well-ordered.
He showed us to his private cellar.
We toured the bottles.
And he pointed out a few favorites.
There was a quick visit to a new building.
And then we went back over to the house.
Where I recognized an ingredient that I don't often see in the kitchens of New York.
Afterwards we headed up the hill to view the new vineyards.
These are at the highest elevation of the Denavolo holdings, and planted mostly to Marsanne.
After the Denavolo visit we returned to La Stoppa, where the vines again reached out.
And we soon grasped a La Stoppa Pinot Noir from 1988.
As well as a few other rarities.
It was very pleasant company. Giulio displayed a quiet certitude and the calm that grows from firmly held convictions.
And it had been a wonderful first visit to the Emilia.