The Knot of Love and Custoza DOC wines, Part 2
Part 1 of this article looked at Custoza DOC and the reasons influencing the taste and quality of its dry white wines. Now Part 2 puts that to the test with six representative Custoza DOC wines presented by the Consorzio. An interactive map below shows the locations of the featured producers, while there are also prices and stockists. Finally, there are food matching suggestions, including The Knot of Love.
The six Custoza DOC producers – an interactive map
The six wines
Le Tende, Custoza Bianco DOC, 2020. 12.5%
Grape Varieties: Garganega, Bianca Fernanda, Trebbiano Toscano, Trebbianello
Background: With a total of 14 hectares certified organic since 2012, Le Tende makes around 30,000 bottles of this wine each year from their 2.5 hectares of Custoza vines. Le Tende is the northernmost property in the appellation at 120 metres altitude. The grapes ferment in stainless steel. The Garganega gets native yeasts while the others use cultured yeasts, presumably to express specific aromatic and flavour characteristics. All the component wines then get four months of maturation on the lees with lees stirring, adding extra complexity.
Tasting Note: A greenish colour. Young, with petillance bubbles in the glass. It might be an entry-level wine, but the quality is exceptional. A white flower nose and a hint of almonds, followed by a palate of green fruits (greengage?), with apple and pear. A slippery texture and a final saline kick on a refreshing citrus finish. Dangerously easy to drink.
UK availability: Le Tende wines are currently unavailable in the UK, and hopefully, this will change. In Italy, this is €6.95. Reason enough to travel!
Gorgo, San Michelin, Custoza Bianco DOC, 2020. 13
Grape Varieties: Garganega, Bianca Fernanda, Trebbiano Toscano, Riesling Italico
Background: Founded in 1975, Gorgo went organic in 2015 and has been certified organic since 2017. They also devote attention to energy and water conservation and recyclable packaging. Gorgo has 53 hectares in total, with a total 0utput of some 400,000 bottles. However, San Michelin is a small hilltop single-vineyard with 60-year-old vines. Winemaking is in stainless steel, with six months on the lees in steel with lees stirring. As an aside, Gorgo successfully fought the Michelin tyre company over using the name, winning a 10-year legal battle.
Tasting Note: Yellowish with greenish glints, a few bubbles in the glass. Floral aromas, perhaps honeysuckle. Refreshing acidity complements a soft-pillowed body. A savoury note, perhaps capers, and impressions of peach, nectarine and lemon on the palate. Long flinty finish with a hint of salinity.
UK availability: Gorgo San Michelin is currently unavailable in the UK. However, other wines in the Gorgo range are available from UK on-trade importers Ellis of Richmond, including their “entry-level” Custoza Bianco wine. That’s an excellent alternative, not as complex but still terrific value for £11.95 at Jaded Palates, The Wine Tribe and Hercules Wines.
Cantina di Custoza, Custodia, Custoza Superiore DOC, 2019. 13%
Grape Varieties: Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Trebbianello, Manzoni
Background: Cantina di Custoza is a co-operative with 200 members and includes 600 hectares of Custoza vines. It recently merged with the Valpantena co-operative in Valpolicella. That should help to show Custoza wines to Amarone and Valpolicella lovers! Custodia is a carefully made cuvée from ten hectares of the best parcels of member growers. The Trebbianello gets cryomaceration to help release colour and flavour from the grape skins. Fermentation is in stainless steel; then the wines spend four months in large and inert French oak barrels plus another three months in the bottle after blending.
Tasting Note: Another demonstration that co-ops make great wines. Greenish hints, honeysuckle and white flower scents, then a palate of unusual complexity and subtlety. Almonds and hazelnuts with apple, lemon, pear and greengage, before a mineral-laden farewell. Excellent wine!
UK availability: Custodia is currently not available in the UK. However, Cantina di Custoza’s entry-level Custoza is also very good. It doesn’t have the same complexity but compensates with more bottle age, £13.50 at Drinks & Co.
Cavalchina, Amedeo, Custoza Superore DOC, 2019. 13.5%
Grape Varieties: Garganega, Bianca Fernanda, Trebbianello, Trebbiano Toscano
Background: Cavalchina were founded in the early 20th Century and were the first to label a white wine as Custoza in 1962. Cavalchina makes some 450,000 bottles overall each year and have established a fine reputation. The Fernanda grapes undergo cryomaceration. The wines ferment in stainless steel, and the malolactic fermentation is blocked, which keeps a good tension and freshness in the wine. Lees ageing and stirring is for around six months before blending and bottling.
Tasting Note: This screwcapped example from Cavalchina called Amedeo fully deserves its epithet “superiore”. A bright and attractive light green colour. A more full-bodied wine, but still balanced by that fresh acidity and white and green fruit flavours, peach, apricot, lime and greengage, a flinty undertow, capers again on the long finish. A stylish wine and one that will also age well.
UK availability: St. Andrews Wine Company, £16.25
Monte del Frà, Ca’ del Magro, Custoza Superiore DOC, 2018. 13%
Grape Varieties: Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Bianca Fernanda, Manzoni
Background: Monte del Frà (the Hill of Monks) has two sites, in Custoza and Valpolicella Classico. They own 137 hectares and rent a further 65 hectares, so making 1.5 million bottles per year. Ca’ del Magro is an eight-hectare hilltop single vineyard, facing southeast at 100-150 metres altitude, with 30-year-old vines on soils with chalk and sand. The Garganega undergoes cryomaceration and then ferments and stays on the lees in cement tanks for eight months. The other varieties ferment in stainless steel and age on the lees. There’s no malolactic. After blending, the wine is kept for six months in the bottle to settle down before release.
Tasting Note: Garganega seems the critical component here, and so the wine is reminiscent of a Cru Soave. A pale gold colour. Intensely floral scents, perhaps Hawthorne, followed by white fruits on the palate (apple, pear). There’s also a hint of tropical fruit, plus apricot and lemons before capers, flint and salinity round things off. No wonder this is one of the best known and prized Custoza wines, and with good reason. Delicious now, it will only get better over 5-6 years.
UK availability: Philglas & Swiggot, £16.95
Le Vigne di San Pietro, San Pietro, Custoza Superiore DOC, 2017. 13%
Grape Varieties: Garganega, Trebbianello, Trebbiano Toscana, Bianca Fernanda, Manzoni
Background: Founded in the 1980s, this is a boutique winery with just 9 hectares in Custoza and Bardolino, all cultivated organically but not certified. San Pietro is a limited edition, being bottle number 1,641 out of only 3,213. It’s from a tiny o.5-hectare hilltop vineyard. This 2017 is the oldest wine in this article. It’s the current release from one of the hottest ever vintages. The wines ferment in stainless steel, then spend six months in old oak tonneau before blending and a further six months ageing in the bottle before release.
Tasting Note: Still young and fresh, with no signs of the torrid vintage conditions – perhaps blending helps. It’s a lovely wine now, but everything suggests this will improve and develop over the next few years. It’s greenish, still with some tiny bubbles remaining. The aromas are full, perhaps showing jasmine, plus a green note reminiscent of celery. There’s a sleek body and a slippery texture. Green fruits, white fruits and capers appear before a long finish that’s savoury, clean and persistent.
UK availability: Tannico, £20.96
Custoza food suggestions. Including The Knot of Love.
Food-wise, Custoza wines offer versatility. Try the lighter wines with antipasti or pea and asparagus risotto. Superiore matches weightier fare, such as grilled, baked and fried fish, white meats, and various funghi. Further afield, Asian cuisines from Thailand, Korea or Japan are good too.
Nodo d’Amore is an annual feast held each June in the lovely town of Borghetto Valeggio Sul Mincio. It celebrates a classic pasta called Tortellini di Valeggio Sul Mincio, a Custoza speciality. In English, it’s known as The Knot of Love.
Originating in Borghetto in the fourteenth century, this tortellini has a stuffing of beef, pork, chicken, carrot, celery and rosemary. These cook briefly in a meat broth. Serve with melted butter, sage and a little grated Parmigiano cheese. This pasta is available in many restaurants and Pastaficio’s. Unsurprisingly, the Custoza DOC wines provide the perfect foil!
Meanwhile, the central part of the festival takes place on a bridge over the river Mincio, the Ponte Visconteo. Here, 4,000 diners eat thousands of tortellini at a table 1.3 kilometres long. Some banquet, and plastic-free too! Meanwhile, you can find out more about it here.
The shape of a tortellino looks like a knot. In short, legend has it that an Army Captain called Malco fell in love with a water nymph named Sylvia from the river Mincio at Borghetto. He discovered her dancing in human form. Enter jealous love-rival Isabella, who had Sylvia arrested and imprisoned. When Malco then freed Sylvia, he became incarcerated in her place. Sylvia visited him as a water nymph and implored Malco to abandon human form and run away with her to the river. So they did, leaving behind only a knotted golden handkerchief symbolising their devotion. Hence, from this knot came the shape of tortellini and the Knot of Love festival!
After all this, I’m surprised that this story hasn’t become an Opera!
Here are three wishes. Firstly, here’s to a happy 50th anniversary for Custoza DOC. Also, the same to the Consorzio for their 50th anniversary next year. And then, hoping that the Knot of Love festival will return post-pandemic in June 2022.
Meanwhile, look out for the white wines of Custoza because they are a much too well-kept secret!
Link back to Part 1.