Cantina Toblino Vènt project – a different kind of tension
Cantina Toblino was recently awarded the Wine Alchemy WOTY 2021. This was for their sweet dessert wine, Trentino Vino Santo DOC. You can read all about this here. However, as we’ll see, this isn’t the only terrific wine they make. Thanks to their Vènt Project, there are several new wine stars, all with a different kind of tension.
Cantina Toblino is a leading wine cooperative in the Trentino region; it was established in 1960 and now has 880 hectares of vines and 600 grower members. Situated near the town of Toblino, this is in the western part of the region, occupying the Valle di Laghi, literally the valley of the lakes. Geographers might be interested to know that the River Adige once ran through this valley before river capture between glaciations significantly altered its course to the east, leaving behind a series of lakes.
This u-shaped glacial valley is orientated from north to south, with garden-like vineyards on the valley floor rising to a heady 900 metres in altitude, requiring heroic agriculture. It means sunny aspects, with glacial soils containing limestone, sand, gravel, and many fossils. That orientation is also critical because two opposing winds determine the microclimate here. The warm Ora blows north from Lake Garda in the afternoon, while a cold wind blows down from the more northern Brenta Dolomites at night and early morning.
Hence in this spectacular location, the warmth of the Mediterranean collides with colder Alpine conditions and thus defines its identity. Palms, olives and Holm Oaks grow with orchard fruits and many grape varieties, yet there are extensive ski slopes close by at Monte Bondone.
These windy conditions also mean that organic agriculture thrives. Indeed, since the late 1990s, the Cantina has owned a 40-hectare farm once owned by the Bishops of Trento. The Cantina has become a leading exponent of organic wine growing with the largest organic vineyard area in Trentino.
White grape varieties at Cantina Toblino are Nosiola, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Gewürztraminer, Goldtraminer, Moscato Giallo, Kerner, Müller Thurgau, Sauvignon, Riesling Renano, and Manzoni Bianco. Their reds include Pinot Nero, Lagrein, Schiava, Teroldego, Rebo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. That means more than 30 wines are made. There are whites, reds and rosés, with dry, sweet, still and sparkling styles, and many of them are organic.
The Vènt Project
The Cantina has long been a leader in sustainability, biodiversity and environmental protection and has played a big part in restoring the local Nosiola grape variety. Meanwhile, their winemaking combines modern oenology with traditional methods. Hence you’ll find stainless steel tanks and wooden barrels alongside terracotta amphorae made from local clays. The Cantina also epitomises modern winery architecture, yet this blends into the landscape.
In 2016, Cantina Toblino commenced a new project called Toblino Vènt to create a new flagship wine range. Vènt means wind, referring to its defining importance in these parts. The project selected the best individual plots of each grape variety to include. Each undergoes a fermentation and maturation process tailored to maximise varietal character and terroir. Hence stainless steel, french oak and terracotta amphorae are all used as deemed appropriate.
The human dimension can’t be overstated either because a professional team complements the manual work undertaken by each grower to create uniformly high standards of quality. Successfully optimising the complexity and tensions between grape varieties, sites, growers, harvest dates, and winery capacity has enabled Cantina Toblino to reach new heights of wine quality that would perhaps amaze past generations.
The Vènt wines
The Vènt range comprises Vent Trentodoc sparkling, plus five single-variety organic wines made with Manzoni Bianco, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero and Lagrein. This lineup can be added to their top Nosiola dry white wine.
Except for two wines, these wines now feature below.
Vent Extra Brut Metodo Classico Sparkling, Trento DOC, 2017, 12.5%
The classic Metodo Classico process makes this Spumante. This golden 2017 wine was disgorged in June 2o21, after an average of 36 months on the lees and is 100% Chardonnay.
With no dosage, the natural residual sugar is just three g/l. So this is a bone dry wine featuring long mineral sensations. There’s a purity of apple fruit and an exceptional balance gained from 15% of the base wine going through the Malolactic secondary fermentation to round out the acidity. With the first fermentation in stainless steel, the secondary bottle fermentation and maturation time add the essential yeasty aromas and tiny bubbles.
This wine is delightful now but will doubtless age well, albeit slowly, perhaps over the next fifteen years. Cantina Toblino will hold museum stocks so that ageing potential can be measured. 20,000 bottles. A Riserva version is also underway, with 60 months on the lees.
This is a gastronomic style of sparkling wine, best with food. Prawns, oysters and mussels will all benefit. Poached Salmon with fennel works well too. Price: £24.26 from Drinks & Co.
da Fòra Manzoni Bianco, Trentino DOC, 2018, 13%
This wine is revelatory. Manzoni Bianco is a grape variety that remains unknown by many. It’s a modern Italian crossing of Rhine Riesling (Riesling Renano) and Pinot Bianco (though genetic studies now suggest it may have been Chardonnay rather than Pinot Bianco). Planting is becoming ever more popular in the Trentino, Veneto and Friuli regions because of the potential for high wine quality.
I’m a big fan of this variety, which retains Riesling’s characteristic aroma and scents without oiliness. Thanks to the other parent, it also has more palate weight. Manzoni Bianco is arguably the most outstanding modern vine crossing, making delicious and distinctive wine. Thankfully, Manzoni Bianco’s name is also more memorable than its original one, which was Incrocio Manzoni 6.0.13.
This example was fermented in a mix of stainless steel and terracotta amphorae (hence the name da Fòra). Ageing is a complex process, with an initial seven months split between amphorae and steel tanks while still on the lees. Then, after racking and blending, there are another four months in steel followed by six in the bottle.
It’s a yellow-green wine with richness and texture but without any oiliness. Linger over the various aromas; quince, pears, peach, and passionfruit. There’s more tropicality as the wine opens up in the glass. The palate reprises those perfumes and compliments them with a precision-balanced weight in the mouth and a tension between the fresh acidity and richness. There’s a long and persistent finish with a hint of leesy umami and a refreshing minerality taking you back for more. 10,000 bottles.
This exciting wine must be a candidate for the most outstanding example of Manzoni Bianco yet made. It’s perhaps also the ultimate companion for Japanese Sushi/Sashimi. Price: £27.80 from Hedonism.
Foll Chardonnay, Trentino DOC, 2018, 13.5%
Chardonnay is the most planted white grape variety in Trentino, and with good reason. Not only is it a mainstay of the sparkling wine production for which Trentino is famous, but it can also make stunning still wines.
Foll is made from 100% Chardonnay; the ripe grapes are given a cold maceration for a week before pressing. The juice then takes three different journeys. 40% ferments in used French oak barriques, undergoing the Malolactic with some battonage. 40% ferments in stainless steel without malolactic. However, the remaining 20% is fermented in amphorae. After ageing these base wines separately for seven months on their lees, they are blended and kept in stainless steel for another seven months before bottling. There are another seven months of bottle ageing before release.
The result is a Chardonnay with personality and bounce. There is a passing resemblance to white Burgundy, but look closer; the fruits are typical of the Valle de Laghi – cumquat, lime and tangerine all feature, with a bit of mango. The texture is remarkable; there’s a sleekness and leanness, without fatness or overt wood effects. Fresh acidity and a streak of minerality lead to a long farewell. 8,000 bottles.
Foll made a fine accompaniment for Christmas Day dinner! A free-range organic roast chicken as the main course followed the smoked salmon, cream cheese and sourdough bread starter. Price: £33.80 from Hedonism.
Baticòr Pinot Nero, Trentino DOC, 2018, 13%
Again, this is the first vintage, a Pinot Nero that isn’t trying to copy Burgundy but instead expressing an alpine style. It succeeds admirably and joins my ever-lengthening list of great Italian Pinot Noirs.
The grapes are from warmer lower-altitude vines, fermented in conical oak vats and then matured for ten months in used medium-sized French oak barrels, before a further six months ageing in bottle. Future releases will also feature amphorae, so the Cantina describes this wine as a work in progress.
It’s unmistakably a Pinot Noir in colour, a delicate light crimson. There are aromas of raspberry and cranberry with attractive hints of vanilla. A little lushness and purity of fruit on the palate might put you in mind of a Pinot Noir from New Zealand. Then the freshness and mineral length pull it back, with a finish featuring sage, rosemary and a little smoke. It’s incisive, fine drinking even this young, and will evolve over perhaps the next five years. I can’t wait for the next release if this is a “work in progress”!
Roast breast of mutton with rosemary potatoes made the perfect accompaniment. Price: £37.80 from Hedonism.
Largiller Nosiola, Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT, 2013, 13%
Let’s end with Nosiola, which is where we came in. This wine has been around for longer than the others in the Vènt Project, helping to re-establish the reputation of the local Nosiola white grape. See it as an honourary group member!
And also, note the vintage date of Largiller is the current release; 2013 is not a typo. It has all the development already done for you.
The Nosiola is from vines bordering Lake Toblino, grown high on the Pergola Trentina system (as shown on the label). These golden late-harvest grapes from October, with fermentation, is in stainless steel. Maturation on the lees occurs in old French oak casks of 6,000 litres capacity for six years. Then there is a further six months in bottle. This ageing regime is unique and probably why this wine is an IGT rather than a Trentino DOC.
The deep yellow colour shows distinctive ageing, while secondary aromas have developed. While some green apple fruit is present, broom flower and hazelnut scents show. The broad, weighty palate shows tension between the complexity of dried apples, vanilla custard, and mouth-watering salinity. Persistency? Measure it in minutes. In short, this stunning wine will continue to evolve over the next 20 years and more.
Largiller was a good match for swordfish with wild garlic pesto and excellent with creamier cheeses. I suspect the best pairing would be with a delicate lake fish such as Arctic Char or Trout. Or then again, try white truffle shavings on pasta or risotto. Price: £34.50 from Hedonism.
The two untried wines in the Vènt range are Pràal Pinot Bianco and Las Lagrein. I hope to update this article with those in due course.
The only criticism I have is that the still wines come in über-weight bottles. In marketing terms, these are impressive and undoubtedly play well in many markets, including Italy. However, they clash with the otherwise excellent sustainability credentials of Cantina Toblino, while the contents need no such assistance. Regular readers know my commitment to glass bottles, but lightweight ones!
Meanwhile, each of these gastronomic wines is a masterpiece, easily justifying their price tags. In their different ways, each one also has a rival claim to the Vino Santo previously chosen as WOTY 2021. In short, there’s probably no new wine range more exciting.
Is there a favourite? Of course. It’s the one in my glass!
1, Località Sarche
38076 Madruzzo (TN)
My special thanks go to Carlo de Biasi (CEO), Giovanni Brumat (Export Manager) and Alessandro Marchesan (Business Development Director) at Cantina Toblino.