|Joel, Alfredo and Carla Pizzini in the cooking school kitchen at their Pizzini Wines cellar in the King Valley, in the northern side of the Victorian Alps ... photo Philip White|
A Few Quiet Ones On King River
Smokes Give Ground To Drinks
Foodnwine Family And Friends
by PHILIP WHITE
Like the idea of a vineyard with a trout stream ripping across its foot? King River’s the go. She runs fast north down the Victorian Alps toward the Murray, threading through country that was devoted to tobacco when first I visited as a kid. It was mainly Italians growing the stuff. As the noted weed fell from grace these tough, proud families stepped sideways into wine production, but the farms still sport the tall galvo sheds built to hang and dry the tobacco leaves. They remind me of the oast-houses of the English countryside, especially parked amongst the verdant oak-and-birch laced sward of these lush flats. But that most Australian of building materials, rusting galvo, snaps the viewer back to Aussie, and as you raise your glass your eyes rise too, and you’re gazing through your prosecco to the granite slopes beyond and you’re lost in the blue eucalypt haze and England evaporates and anyway it’s Freddy Pizzini you’re drinking with and he’s very obviously Italian.
Alfredo and Katrina Pizzini run the most civilised wine and food business at Whitfield. Their stylish newsletter, Tre Amori, promotes their three loves: wine, food, family and friends, which you immediately realise is actually four until you tune back in to listen to Fred and it becomes obvious that to this mob, wine and food are one and the same. Right beside the cellar sales tasting bench, for example, there’s a broad open doorway that leads to a big suave stainless kitchen. That’s where Katrina and Carla Pizzini run the cooking schools.
The Pizzini Prosecco 2012 is the most delicate yet authoritative introduction to the Pizzini adventure. It’s made from a grape called Glera, and it’s bone dry and only eleven per cent alcohol. It’s tangy sherbert joys aside, I first suspected its gentle parsnip and radish flavours must have been unique to this scarce variety, but there they were again in the Pinot grigio 2012 and the White Roman 2012.
“White Roman’s a brand,” Fred says. “The 2011 was an orvieto style made from Trebbiano, Prosecco, Chardonnay and Pinot grigio. This year we made it to suit Thai and south-east Asian dishes so we blended Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot grigio.” As well as those distinctive savoury tangs of the radix family, it showed another indicator of the Pizzini terroir: the acrid granitic whiff of the sediment of that broad valley floor.
We worked on, through a brilliant yet delicate Riesling (11.5% alcohol), a chalk-and-butter Chardonnay that had a third of its make done in old oak but still seemed more Chablis in style than full-blown Burgundy (12.5%), and a Sauvignon blanc of 11.5% alcohol that had no hint of Kiwi cat piss or battery acid but instead seemed to reek of plantain and banana leaf and had me yearning for vongole pasta.
The plantain reappeared in the stunning Arneis 2012, an elegant thing of the finest delight. I remarked that this finesse and understatement of alcohol and force was an uncommon grace amongst today’s droll dunderheaded industrial grapeyards.
“We never need to add much acid here,” Fred said. “We tweak it a little bit sometimes. If we get really hot conditions we have no choice. But on the other hand we get maturity here at 10 and 10.5 Beaume.” One degree Beaume, fermented dry, will generally produce one per cent of alcohol in the finished wine.
Even the Verduzzo was elegant, in spite of this rather agricultural variety’s tendency to push honey flavours and oily textures. “Yeah, it’s a maintenance-free variety,” Fred said, “it’s got quite thick skins. It makes great dessert wine, but we like this dry style too.”
Like? Like? Your little Bianco was in gastroperve heaven at that bench.
As we switched into rosso mode, I mentioned the first Pizzini wine that lured me many years ago, the 1998 Sangiovese, and an envoy was dispatched to a storage shed somewhere to quickly reappear rather dustily cobwebbed but bearing a bottle of that very wine. It still had fresh berries amongst its bitter chocolate, blood orange and leather. By Bacchus and Pan it was a treat!
“This was our first Sangiovese clone, the Grosso, and it was a difficult one to work,” Fred said. “But we worked hard in the vineyard and kept the vines balanced to go for lower yields and look at that: it worked ... that was only our third vintage off those vines ... we’re not alkaline here in our soils. We’re acidic, so we’re gonna get these flavours of the ground in our wines ... keep them long enough and you’re gonna get good drinks.”
He popped his Sangiovese 2002, by which vintage they’d planted the superior Brunello clone as well. It was an explosion of fatty chocolate acids and sweet Marello and bitter Maraschino cherries with a tantalising, languorous taper of a tail that seemed to flick a lemony zabaglione about my sensories.
By 2011 they’d established four clones of Sangiovese on four distinct geologies. These are fermented separately and then blended. “They’re four very different wines,” Fred explained, “but we blend to get this bold style that’s really acid-driven and assertive, but you know, we don’t want any heartburn, so we pull it back a bit and get this complex wine that’s fruitsweet, yet there’s no sugar. It’s bone dry.”
And a complex, closed in, hammered compaction of thing it is: a brilliant and lovely drink which will eventually blow the socks off that glorious 98. As will the 2008 Rubacuori (“Stealer of Hearts”) Sangiovese, which is their super-premium $110 jobby. One small corner of a hillside vineyard devoted to the Brunello clone makes this exquisity.
“We really wanted to give Sangiovese the importance it deserved,” Fred murmured into his glass. “So we think we finally found this spot in all our vineyards, this one corner on the hill, less than one acre, and it’s sunny and warm there. Sangiovese likes some warmth. We’re very proud of this wine.”
And so they should be. As far as the blood of San Jove goes, it’s bloody lovely. Those bittersweet cherries are there in abundance, and given the corks chosen are $1.80 a pop, should eventually bloom even brighter and more alluringly than the 98.
To finish, we wandered into that vague and mystical world of Nebbiolo: “the mist”.
“I won’t be opening my share of this for four years,” Fred sighed as he poured the current 2009 model. It seemed minty and lollyshopped – nothing like Nebbiolo. “You just gotta wait,” he said, pouring his 2002 alongside his 09. “This is proper Nebbiolo. I took it to a Nebbiolo producers’ conference in Italy, where it poured blind among all the others and they said ‘THIS is Nebbiolo’!”
Damn right it is. All those pickled walnuts and red berries; the orange oil; the creamy blanched almonds; the Campari bitters, the chinotto and the Fernet Branco welling together as mysterious as the mist … but even that was no mystery at all alongside the last glass of the day: the incomparable Pizzini Coronamento Nebbiolo 2005.
This moody mess of dried sage, wormwood, juniper and currants was like a Fellini movie. Licorice, saffron, dirt, nuts, currants … you name it, it’s there. Just proving that to this beautiful warm gutsy Pizzini family, food and wine are indeed only one thing.
Which is not to say you can’t do it in a million different ways. Go visit.
two more Victorian beauties found on the track:
Mount Langi Ghiran Auxerrois 2006
$20 (cellar door); 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points
This rare old variety was probably brought into Australia by the Swiss vignerons who settled Geelong. It smells a little like Sauvignon blanc from a warm year: it’s dry grass, not cut lawn. That’s one thing. It’s another thing completely when you get it in your mouth: after that illusory introduction, it’s surprisingly full, almost to the point of fulsome as in lugubrious, like oily, like slimy Kath Quealy Pinot gris. But while it dangles you out there in the expectation that soon you’ll be lowered into it to be gone forever, it gives blessed relief in a slender, neatly tapering acid finish with a savoury bitter melon tannic tweak. So it’s a fair dinkum adventure: a gastronomic ghost train with a very happy ending. I want it with a warm cannelloni bean and pork belly stew. Like now.
Best’s Great Western Dolcetto 2011
$22 (cellar door); 11.5% alcohol; screw cap; 88 points
Best’s have had this Piedmontese variety since the late 1800s. It’s a cute frivolity; a light-hearted party red that you could serve from the ice bucket. In other words the sort of red our thick-headed wine grocers will probably never understand, which is why you’ll have to avoid them and get it direct. Dolce is sweet, the etto is diminutive, so while it means sweet littlie, it’s sweet hearted not sugary. It is in fact dry and tannic in a rockabilly more than hard rock manner: more slap bass and polka dots than megametal. The fruit is snappy and nutty in a hazelnut sort of way, with bright red cherry jumping about. It’s the perfect happy red for summer, and I can’t help thinking it would make one king-hell sangria. Should be more of it!