A stunning, natural wine.
Bright and fresh but with deep colour and intense flavours of blackberry, cherry and plum, with smoky notes that develop on the palate. It is hugely enjoyable, vibrant and enticing. With natural bitterness from the Barbera to make your mouth water, this is perfect for food matching.
If you're in any doubt over the 'natural' discussion then fear not: this is just good wine and has been made in a winery that has been 'natural' since at least 1990. These guys know what they are doing. The whole environment of the winery - natural yeasts that live in the air, bacteria in the barrels - is set up to be able to deal without the use of Sulphur Dioxide. This, if it is to be the yard-stick for judging 'nature' in 'natural' wines, is what makes their wines fresh, lively and vibrant, as well as clear as a bell and representative of their soil, grape varieties and sense of place. Zero Sulphur. Except... for a tiny addition of 5mg per litre used at bottling. This prevents oxidation and sterilises the bottles to protect against bacterial infection from outside the winery (which is where the bottles come from!). 5 parts per million. That's not measurable according to the USA Department of Agriculture, to technically there is no Sulphur Dioxide in the wine. A long-winded way to say that this is a 'natural' wine.
This wine is made from 60% Barbera and 40% Bonarda (which is really Croatina in this clonal version of the variety), and is a selection of the best and biggest berries from Elena's young vines. They are grown in the Colli Piacentini subzone and though Elena admits that the addition of Croatina isn't as authentic a representation of the region, it does a really important job for her in making this particular wine, which in turn is a hugely significant commercial part of her winery's business.
There is a DOC for the Colli Piacentini but like the organic certification that Elena has found really problematic for her wines, the DOC is similarly frustrating: too much leeway and inauthentic concessions are given to producers of large-volume wines that eschew vineyard authenticity and varietal clarity in favour of, well, homogenous wine styles made in large volumes. It's a common grievance of smaller boutique wineries the world over, but for a region like this, where delicacy and interest are so achievable, it seems to be more of a crying shame that the Big Guns get to do what they want in return for bland wines that churn cash.
The situation of La Stoppa's winery is really interesting - sharing many similar aspects to two neighbouring zones, but they are in separate Italian regions (Colli Tortonesi Timorasso in Piemonte and Oltrepo Pavese in Lombardia) which keeps them, legally, firmly apart. So, situated in the far north-west of her region, Elena draws the best from the vines in her care, all of which are farmed organically.
The winery was established in the 1790s by a lawyer of the name Argeno, who's name is used for their extraordinary white wine today, and has 30 hectares of vineyards; Barbera, Croatina, Malvasia, Merlot, Semillon, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Carmenere and "other small things" as Elena says herself! There's much from which to choose, but in truth, it all grows together in the way that it has done for over 200 years, and the results are excellent, interesting, living wines.
They are in the last corner of Emilia Romagna, where they actually call it Emilia, dropping the Romagna, which one can understand by looking at the map! The problem is that this region is vast and covers land from the southern corner of the mountainous and relatively cool Piemonte, right down to the Adriatic coast, south of Rimini and San Marino. Easy to remember, so: Emilia-Romagna reads left to right - Emilia first, including the city of Parma, then Emilia-Romagna between Modena and Bologna, sort of in the middle, and then Romagna after that including Imola, Forli and Ravenna on the coast. It really is a huge region and essentially follows the southern reaches of the Po valley and its life-giving river, which itself forms the boarder with Lombardia and the Veneto to the north west and north east respectively. Phew.
It goes to show the variety of land and climate in one region, reflecting the importance of site as opposed to name of region. What does Elena have in common with the producers of Rubicone in the south? Nothing at all really, but the region is officially the same.
But this is surely the point - not all wines do the same job and there are enough wines to suit the preferences of the world's palates. The wines from La Stoppa are pure, earthy, natural, elegant, complex, fresh and unique from one vintage to the next and the next. The wines of larger, corporate producers are consistent in their style, whatever that may be, and seldom vary from one vintage to the next, by their very design, and the wines are met by their customers with open arms and empty glasses. It is impossible, not to mention unhelpful and plainly wrong, to say that one way is better than the other: there can be merit in both approaches and both roads can lead to wines of extraordinary quality and excellence; just as both paths can lead to wines full of errors, yielding horrific experiences. How do you know what you're getting?! This is the infuriating part of the wine trade, but at least you should have a guide if you're bothered to read this. In fact, if you get this far I applaud you. And so does Elena, I know it.
Grape(s): Croatina, Barbera
Style: Vibrant, Pure, Organic, Natural, Mineral, Medium Bodied, Herbaceous, Fruity, Fresh, Engaging, Elegant, Complex, Bright, Balanced
Best food matches: Venison, Salads, Roasts, Red Meats, Lamb, Hard Cheeses, Grills, Goat's Cheese, Game, Fine Dining, Duck, Cheeses, Charcuterie, Casseroles, Beef