After working your way through my last blog post, you’ve possibly heard enough about the Veneto and its wines from me for the time being. I’m sorry for any repetition, but I wasn’t going to pass up the recent opportunity to taste the wines of Azienda Agricola Cecilia Beretta; particularly as I only had to travel as far as Hanging Ditch to do it.
I remembered trying the Cecilia Beretta Amarone several years ago; it was a modern, drier, tannic style that impressed me enough for it to have lingered in my memory. The estate was also memorable for the name of the family who founded it: Pasqua, better known on the international export market for its good quality ranges of popular Veneto classics than for the production of artisan wines.
Cecilia Beretta is the result of the Pasquas’ ongoing quest for innovation and research, fuelled by their desire to constantly strive for higher quality. Such ambitions are difficult to achieve when producing large volumes of wine at specific price points, leading the Pasquas to create the Cecilia Beretta estate in 1980. Not only could the family focus on the quality and character of the Veneto’s finest wines, but the estate could also operate as a viticultural research centre and run studies in conjunction with some of Italy’s most prestigious universities. In the process, the objective was to rediscover and celebrate the unique personalities of the wines of Valpolicella and Soave that result from the region’s distinct terroirs and its winemaking heritage.
The decision to keep the Cecilia Beretta estate entirely independent from the other Pasqua winemaking activities, combined with a limited production of high quality wines from historic vineyards, have allowed tradition and innovation to be combined to great effect. Cecilia Pasqua was on hand to present a selection of her namesake estate’s wines and to prove that there is more to the wines of the Pasqua family, and to the wines of the Veneto, than meets the eye.
Given the Pasquas’ association with the Veneto, I was a little surprised by the origins of the first two wines: Sicilia and Puglia respectively. This made far more sense when Cecilia explained that the Pasqua family originally hailed from Puglia and it still has contracts with a number of growers in the south.
The wines we tasted were:
1. Cecilia Beretta, Il Carretto Bianco Di Sicilia 2011 IGT (12% ABV, £9.00)
Made primarily from Grillo, this had a herbaceous, gently floral and white grapefruit nose that was faintly Sauvignon-esque. The palate was dry, light bodied, softly nutty and citrus flavoured, with a delicate austerity and a savoury/mineral edge. Pleasingly long for a light white; drink now.
2. Cecilia Beretta, Masseria Bianca Fiano 2011 IGT (13.5% ABV, £10.00)
Pear and floral aromas with hints of tropical white fruit (lychee). Dry, with enough acidity to keep things balanced; fresh, but not too firm. Light, bright and not hugely complex, with pithy, fennel flavours and a saline minerality to the finish. Enjoy it now.
3. Cecilia Beretta, Luna Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie 2011 IGT (12% ABV, £10.00)
Harvested at night to preserve freshness, moonlight provided the inspiration for the name of this wine. A lightly scented pear and apple nose echoed through the palate, complemented by subtle mineral and white pepper flavours. Fresh, delicate and quaffable; not a blockbuster but it didn’t need to be. A lovely example of a wine that nowadays is all too often insipid and bland. Not for keeping, though.
4. Cecilia Beretta, Terre Di Brognoligo Soave Classico 2010 DOC (13.5% ABV, £13.50)
Noticeably deeper in colour than the previous wines, the addition of 15% Chardonnay to the Garganega made this a more modern style of Soave. A degree of bottle age had provided the slightly reticent nose with suggestions of toast and honey. The dry palate displayed a touch of nutty maturity that paired well with its nutty, lemon zest flavours and its savoury mineral core. Complex, poised and long on the finish, this really was very good and there will be no advantage to keeping it any longer.
5. Cecilia Beretta, Belvedere Merlot 2011 IGT (12.5% ABV, £10.00)
I have nothing against Merlot, indeed it makes a far better (and a far less dominating) blending partner than does Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah, but as a solo act all too often I find it to be rather two dimensional and unexciting. The mono-varietal Merlots I have most enjoyed have been from either Washington State or from the Veneto as, although very different in style, they can both possess sappy, bracing aspects to their character that raise them above the inoffensive style into which this grape usually vinified.
Aromas of ripe red fruits, sweet spices and a gentle woodiness from three months in old oak drew you into a smooth palate framed by velvety tannins. To the sweet red berry fruit dusted with pepper spice, grippy acidity and a hint of capsicum added interest without being unripe. Long and surprisingly complex, this was a fine piece of winemaking that made me realise there might be more to Merlot than I give it credit for.
6. Cecilia Beretta, Terre Di Cariano Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2010 DOC (13% ABV, £13.50)
Six months in third fill barriques and a further twelve months in bottle prior to release lent a savoury edge to the nose and to the palate. Dark cherry and roasted coffee aromas neatly segued into the rich, dark and elegant palate. Dry, with hints of oak spice to the mid-palate and bright cherry fruit over. The short stay in oak had rounded off any corners, and the long, savoury finish had a traditional amaro note.
7. Cecilia Beretta, Terre Di Cariano Amarone Classico 2007 DOC (15.5% ABV, £35.00)
The flagship wine of the Cecilia Beretta estate, this Amarone was recently awarded the ultimate accolade of tre bicchieri (three glasses, the vinous equivalent of three Michelin Stars) by the esteemed Gambero Rosso Italian Wine Guide. This was the only Cecilia Beretta wine I remembered tasting previously, and I was keen to see how accurate my memory was.
First came the hugely ripe and concentrated nose, redolent of dried cherry, oak spice (coffee) and an intriguing mix of balsamic/menthol/liquorice aromas. Still a dry, modern style, its fresh acidity was supported by firm but very fine-grained tannins. As with the Valpolicella above, there was a lovely amaro edge with coffee and balsamic flavours. The oak was very well integrated and in no way dominated the fruit, lingering seductively as the long finish faded gradually. A big wine as you’d expect, but so well structured that this could be drunk with a meal as easily as it could be enjoyed with cheese and good conversation.
A very big thank you to Cecilia Pasqua for a very interesting tasting and for restoring my faith in the ability of large wine producers to use their resources to produce high quality wines at competitive prices.