Natural Wine Gains Respect: Recommended Italian Producers

After much deliberation, the French have finally officially recognized “natural” wine. From now on, producers who farm organically, harvest by hand, ferment with ambient yeast, and avoid manipulative practices like flash pasteurisation, thermovinification, reverse osmosis, and cross-flow filtration can label their wines vin méthode nature.  Surprisingly, producers can still add sulfites (up to 30 mg/l) and label their wines “natural”.  However, producers whose wines are sulfite free can use a different label [shown here].  These criteria are remarkably similar to those used by Isabelle Legeron for her Raw Wine fair that she has organized in London for several years.

More details about vin méthode nature can be found here.  While this new classification currently applies only to France, Italy and Spain are expected to follow suit.  Our experience with “natural” wines is mixed with producers like La Castellada and Il Carpino in Italy’s Oslavia-Collio region and COS and Occhipinti in Sicily producing unique wines of real character, while wines from some other producers have tasted unfinished. More on our recommended top natural wine producers in Collio and Sicily below.

Profiles of COS, Il Carpino, La Castellada, and Occhipinti are given below. We visited each of these wineries to taste with the winemakers when preparing our reports on The Wines of Sicily and The Wines of Friuli: Collio’s Special Whites.

 Outstanding Producers of Natural Wine in Collio & Sicily

COS    Founded by three school friends, Giambattista (Titta) Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti and Cirino (Rino) Strano in 1980,  COS is a natural winery in the Vittoria region that started off with three hectares and today owns 30. The name derives from the first letter of their last names.  Fascinated by ancient wine methods, they  work with 400 liter clay amphorae jars called Pithos, similar to those used by the ancient Greeks to make wine . They make nine different wines, including a sweet moscato. The COS wines are innovative and out standing.  We especially recommend the Cerasuola di Vittoria and the Frappato.  US Importer: Polaner Selections

Il Carpino (San Floriano–Collio) is located in Borgo del Carpino, between Oslavia and San Floriano on the same road as Gravner and Radikon. It began operating under its own name in 1987 and today has 17 ha of organically farmed vineyards. They macerate their white grapes on the skins and ferment and age in French barrels and Slavonian casks for their Il Carpino  line of wines. The entry level line called Vigna Runc is done in a fresh, fruity style.  Owners Anna and Franco Sosol are today assisted by their children Naike and Manuel. We especially recommend the Il Carpino Ribolla Gialla and Il Carpino Vis Uvae.

La Castellada (Oslavia-Collio) is a small winery run by the Bensa family in Oslavia. Giuseppe Bensa started this family’s 10.5 ha vineyard in 1956; in 1985 his sons Giorgio and Nicolo established the family winery. Along with their neighbors Gravner, Kante, and Radikon, they radically changed winemaking in the region. Currently, Nicolo’s son Stefano makes the wines, and he conducted our tasting at the winery in Oslavia. The 10 hectares of vines on the property are now 45-55 years old and organically farmed; they are vinified through spontaneous, open-vat fermentation with extended skin contact, individually customized oak-treatment, vat maturation and bottling performed without filtration of sulfur. Annual production is just 25-30 thousand bottles. They make single varietal whites like the Ramato Pinot Grigio,  Chardonnay and Sauvignon as well as white blends like the Bianco della Castellada and the Bianco Riserva Vrh  and a Bordeaux blend Rosso Castellada. La Castellada exports about 80 percent of its production. The wines are often given long aging in barrel and tank. The wines are original and outstanding. We especially recommend the Friuli and Ribolla Gialla.  US Importer: Balanced Wine Selections

Occhipinti   This small artisanal winery is owned by the young and talented winemaker Arianna Occhipinti.   She launched her winemaking venture in 2004 with only one hectare and today produces  wines from 12+ hectares of vineyards in Vittoria, which are cultivated organically without the use of  chemicals either in the cellar or in the vineyard.   She produces wines from Frappato, Nero D’Avola, Muscat and Albanello, an ancient grape that isn’t produced very much anymore.   Arriana’s uncle, who stimulated her interest in wine, is Giusto Occhipinti of COS wines. We especially recommend the Frappato and Siccagno.  US Importer: Louis/Dressner Selections

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