Monte del Frà – a preview of five new wine releases
Monte del Frà is a family winery in Sommacampagna, between Lake Garda and Verona. They are highly regarded, and rightly so, for a wide range of wines of excellent quality and value. While some of these wines have been featured on Wine Alchemy previously, this article previews five new wine releases (white, rosé and red) recently tasted with Marica Bonomo of Monte del Frà.
These wines will officially launch at the 2023 VinItaly exhibition in Verona from 2-5 April 2023. So why not read about them here beforehand? They will all be available in the UK, with prices and stockists given.
Monte del Frà
Firstly, here is a little background on Monte del Frà (Hill of the Monks), which began in 1958 on the morainic hills surrounding Lake Garda. Here the founder Massimo Bonomo rented land and grew wheat, strawberries, peaches and grapes. Wine production was small and sold directly. That continued a long tradition, as, in 1492, the Friars (Frà in Venetian) of the Order of Holy Mary of Scala in Verona had established a monastery with vineyards here.
The company is still family-owned and run, with 137 ha of owned vineyards and a further 69 ha rented. That makes it one of the area’s most prominent producers and allows it to offer a comprehensive portfolio of wines (and styles) from all the appellations in the region – Lugana, Custoza, Bardolino, Chiaretto di Bardolino, Valpolicella and Soave. Most wines are made at the Sommacampagna winery, and 1.5 million bottles are produced annually.
As far as sustainability is concerned, Frà is certified in integrated production by SQNPI. While this is not organic, pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers are prohibited, only drip irrigation is used, and pheromones are used to control insect pests. The rules also govern winemaking, waste and distribution. So, for example, only recycled paper is used, and lighter 400 g examples replace those heavy bottles beloved by Italian wine lovers.
Perhaps the biggest sustainable project will be the redevelopment of the winery to include solar power and wastewater management and allow micro-vinifications of individual vineyard plots. This will commence this summer, and the project’s scale is such that it will have a significant positive impact on sustainability while taking 4-5 years to complete.
Custoza recently celebrated 50 years of the appellation. This is a classic example, blending all three compulsory grapes; 45% Garganega, 35% Cortese (locally called Bianca Fernanda) and 20% Trebbianello (aka Friulano). If you’d like to know more about this underrated appellation, there’s an article on Custoza here. Indeed, Frà is the largest family owner of vineyards in Custoza.
The grapes are fermented in steel tanks, and this wine demonstrates excellent blending skills. It’s the Frà “calling card”, with around 200,000 bottles made each year. This may be their entry-level Custoza wine, but they realise it’s the gateway to their other wines and is commercially vital. Hence the quality and value on offer must be top-notch, and repeat business is critical.
Indeed, this is a wine to return to again and again. Given the heat of 2022, the way the freshness and aromatics have been preserved is outstanding. A pale yellow at this stage, the aromas are of white flowers, with citrus depth and richness and a softly textured palate. A hint of salinity adds pleasure to a good long finish. Drinking brilliantly for one so young, yet this will also improve for maybe another five years. It’s bottled under a screwcap.
This wine makes a great aperitivo, but it shines brightly with food, Gnocci being a classic match. I paired it with a tuna steak slathered with pesto and oyster mushrooms. Widely available, try Divine Fine Wines at £11.75 or Booths at £9.85. Buy a case! You won’t regret it.
Cà del Magro, Custoza Superiore DOC, 2021, 13%
Cà del Magro is an 8-ha single-vineyard “cru” wine from old vines on a gentle hill at 100-150 metres altitude. There are about 80,000 bottles annually, blending Garganega, Trebbianello and Cortese as before, but this cru also includes lncrocio Manzoni (Manzoni Bianco). As for awards, this gets Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri (year in, year out), so don’t take my word for it! Being a Superiore, this ages eight months in concrete tanks with lots of skin contact. It then gets six months of bottle age (under a screwcap) before release.
All this means it’s the über-version of Custoza, and Frà can demonstrate that it can age and improve for a decade or more. Indeed, it’s a beauty (as was the 2018 vintage I previously reviewed here). A shade deeper colour, the prominent aromas are all about Hawthorne flowers; they linger awhile. The palate is explosive and zingy, with more tropical fruit (mango and maybe pineapple with the citrus and a hint of apricot), while an intriguing saffron-esque note adds complexity. The texture is soft, mouth-filling and perfectly balanced (some might say the texture is akin to extra-virgin olive oil). Finally, a caper-like saline persistence is there on a long dry finish, leaving you refreshed and eager for more.
Food? Round up the usual fishy suspects, but I’d drink this with just about anything. You’ll likely want a case of this as well. Divine Fine Wines at £15.95
As regular readers know, Chiaretto di Bardolino is a favourite rosé of mine, the Provence of Italy. You can read all about it here. This one blends Corvina with Rondinella (both compulsory) and a little Molinara from vineyards around Sommacampagna. Only 12 hours of skin contact to get that tell-tale pink, described memorably by Marica Bonomo as the colour of “the sunset over Garda Lake”. And so it is. Big cherry fruit, floral, soft caressing acidity, well balanced, a little minerality and herbaceousness on the finish.
Try salmon, salads, cold leftovers (morning-after pizza cornicone, anyone?) and anything fried in Tempura batter (cauliflower in tempura is terrific). And while it’s a taste of summer, it’s good in any season. This is the freshest you’ll get; drink now and for a year or two. Screwcap.
NY Wines of Cambridge, £13.50.
Again, regular readers will have seen my recent article on the first releases of the new Bardolino “Cru”, including a great example from Monte del Frà. This is the more usual “annata” version, not muscular or complex, but hugely enjoyable because it offers simple and fresh harmony – the essence of good Bardolino. Low yields of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes ferment and age in stainless steel. There’s strawberry fruit with cinnamon and clove. Pepper and liquorice will appear as this wine ages over the next five years. Screwcap. It’s drinking well now.
Divine Fine Wines, £10.75
Monte del Frà acquired the 18 ha Lena di Mezzo estate in 2006, adding a new string to their bow. It’s located east of the famous Classico town of Fumane, in Valpolicella’s heartland. Vinification, drying and storage of the Veronese reds (Valpolicella, Ripasso and Amarone) are at San Pietro in Cariano, further down the valley, in a dedicated facility purchased in 2019.
Lena di Mezzo is at 250-450 metres altitude, bringing fresh drying winds to Pergola-trained vines aged 18-39. Corvina/Corvinone accounts for 80%, the remainder being Rondinella. First, fresh grapes ferment in steel before adding air-dried grapes. This induces a second slow fermentation in concrete tanks. Maturation is then for 24 months in large older French oak casks, not for wood flavours, but for micro-oxygenation to smooth the wines out. After this comes bottling under cork and a final six months rest before release.
All this leaves the wine dry, with low residual sugar, so the wine is complex, gastronomic in style and not heady or overpowering. This is not an Amarone-lite in manner; it’s a turbo-Valpolicella. And if that description is a little confusing, please see here for Ripasso styles. Deep garnet colour. Intensity, denseness and Umami. Fresh acidity, finely polished tannins, cherry, prune and dark berry fruit. Nuances of vanilla, cloves, chocolate, and coffee. Long finish, nicely dry, no alcoholic heat. You could drink this now, but it will improve and live for over 20 years, an outstanding example.
If you visit VinItaly, I recommend Monte del Frà at PAD.5, Stand A3. Alternatively, visit their winery in Sommacampagna, which is particularly good for discovering old vintages – only 10 minutes from Verona airport.
Azienda Agricola Monte del Frà s.s.
Strada Custoza, 35
Sommacampagna 37066 (VR)