From behind a vine popped a shaggy haired, bearded American. Some had already met him. At one of the tasting tables from yesterday I presume. They joke at being in “Wayne’s World”. This was his territory; him being Wayne Young, a contented, amiable chap who works for the Bastianich Winery.
Dull weather means the photos lack a little sparkle and photographic inspiration was a little lacking, but Wayne gives us an entertaining half hour describing the vines and a potted history of the estate and how he became involved in the wine making. He wandered by sometime in the eighties and just happened to be offered a job… been here ever since.
It’s Autumn here, up in the hills, with a heavy cloud cover reminiscent of long dull winter days in the UK. The vines, plucked of their grapes a few weeks past, are turning in a final colourful flourish. Even under the dulling cloud cover they exude a warmth. A chill sets in so we debunk to the winery proper for a little pre-lunch tasting session. It’s just twenty past nine in the morning.
Bastianich is run by Joe Bastianich “father, author, TV personality, musician and marathoner” who also happens to own a string of some 17 restaurants across America. The Friulian winery, opened in 1997, was joined by a Tuscan venture three years later.
We were given just three wines, from a range of eleven. But with these we, as Wayne enthused, were given the unabashed “Wow factor”.
A white is first, The Bastianich Vespa Bianco, 2009, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy [Adegga / Snooth]. With this the estate aims to “produce the greatest white wine in Italy”. Blending equal measures (45%) of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc with a touch of local Picolit they have crafted a wine so elegant and beautifully fresh and textural that you could believe their “greatest wine” goal has been reached. The Picolit, gives texture, and is vinified dry. Usually the grape, “a great pain in the arse”, is dried and made into sweet wines. Its difficult to grow, its difficult to ripen fully and supplies tiny yields. I’m captivated – the wildflower aromas of the wine, the richness countered by a mineral backbone and that elegance are gorgeous. That acidity means Vespa is a white that will age, seven to ten years is suggested.
A second white is poured, the Bastianich Plus, 2007, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy [Adegga / Snooth] “an extreme style of Tocai”. Its from old vine Tocai (Friulano) of which 10% are bunch dried “appassito” to further concentrate the flavour. This drying process means the grapes loose about 1/3rd of their water content, a process that can take up to 6 weeks. The Plus retains some sweetness (7g sugar which is hardly a concern) and leans somewhat to the styles of wines from Alsace. It divides opinion. Some find it overtly American in style too rich, too ‘explosive’; although Wayne denies it was specifically designed for the American market and the companies restaurants. Me? With a liking for the wines of Alsace I am a huge fan…
Another wine that will age. When young hugely versatile in matching with food – fish and sushi are mentioned as are quite spicy dishes. With age though soft cheeses are suggested.
Finally a red, the Bastianich Calabrone, 2007, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy [Adegga / Snooth]. (Calabrone is a hornet). This wine has a complicated construction. Refosco grapes make up 70% of which half are dried. 10% is from Schioppettino all of which are dried and then there is 10% Pignolo and 10% Merlot. Each is vinified separately before blending, aging in new oak for 24 months before a final two years in bottle before release. Its magnificent but others disagree finding it far too extracted, sweet (10g sugar, more than the white) with an explosion of spices, chocolate and deep, deep red fruits on the palate. A big wine for robust dishes. Wild Boar and steak are suggested. These certainly were the wineries “Wow” bottles.
In retrospect one wishes one had purchased a bottle or two at the time, as some of the group indeed did.
While these wines from Bastianich were tasted in the winery several from the extended range are available through Bibendum in the UK. They currently list the Vespa 2008 at £19.13 a bottle alongside three other wines. The two blockbuster wines – the Plus, and the Calabrone are made in tiny quantities with prices to match; €60 for the Calabrone for example.