• Wine of the Month: 'Tis the Season for Fizz

Wine of the Month: 'Tis the Season for Fizz

11 December 2015 by Chris Boiling

Chris Boiling, who runs wine tastings for hens, stags and private parties in Brighton, continues his hunt for the city’s most interesting wines.

Wine of the month: Malvasia Dell'Emilia Camillo Donati 2014

Winery: Donati

Winemaker: Camillo Donati

Grape variety: Malvasia di Candia Aromatica

Alcohol: 11.5%

Tasted in: Plateau, 1 Bartholowmews, Brighton, BN1 1HG

Price: £30

‘Tis the season for fizz. ‘Tis the season to share a bottle of something slightly unusual. This wine from a biodynamic winery in the Emilia-Romagne region of Italy will certainly get a group talking. Some will love its Christmassy aromas of orange blossoms and cloves; some will be put off by its cloudiness; a few will think they are drinking a strange beer. However, most will agree the intense, complex flavours, which include pear, wheat and honey, are something special and definitely worth trying (at least once).

The reason this wine will divide opinion is because it is a ‘natural wine’, which tends to mean the grapes are grown organically, the fermentation is as natural as possible with no added yeasts and no temperature control, and after the wine is made there is no fining (no cleaning of the wine with products made from eggs, fish bladders or clay), and no added sulphites to protect the wine from spoilage. In other words, they’re riskier, less predictable, more exciting and often more expensive (the makers have to work harder in the vineyard).

Most natural wines are still, but this one has a little fizz, which comes from what winemaker Camillo Donati calls “natural refermentation”. The trendy term is pét-nat (short for pétillant-naturel) and the more official term is méthode ancestrale. Basically it’s close to the original way of making sparkling wine, when the refermentation in bottles occurred by accident as the warmer spring weather reawakened dormant yeast cells. Then it was a problem as the weaker bottles could explode; now it is something to toast.

I found this wine in Plateau, an excellent French-style wine bar and restaurant in The Lanes, Brighton (opposite the Town Hall). This place is a haven for ‘natural wines’, as that’s what the French friends behind it love.

As I sipped the wine with Plateau’s owners, Thierry Pluquet and Vincent LeBon, I uncovered more reasons why this frizzante, with its soft and short-lived bubbles, and obvious sediment, is the ideal wine to share with friends. If you put the bottle down between pours you will stir up the sediment that has grouped together during storage, making it even cloudier. If you dwell over the bottle, it could go flat by the time you get to the last drop. Even though this doesn’t really matter – the savoury flavours last to the end – a little fizz adds to the fun.

Another reason for sharing is that there is a possibility that the second bottle will be different and it’s interesting to compare the differences. Well, it is for us wine geeks. “There is variation like with every living product,” Vincent confirmed. “Sometimes they are very fizzy, sometimes they are less fizzy.”

For a natural fizzy wine, it is fairly priced. It is actually the cheapest bubbly (bulle) on the wine list at Plateau, where the price range for sparkling wines is £30-£150 (for still wines it’s £15-£190). “It’s an honest product at an honest price for the work that has been done,” Vincent explained. Thierry added: “It’s not near the quality of Champagne but it is fun.”

Thierry and Vincent come from Le Mans in the Loire – which explains their love of the Chenin Blanc grape variety. There is certainly a lot of Chenin Blanc on their excellent wine list.

But the wine in front of us is made from Malvasia di Candia Aromatica. There are lots of grapes called Malvasia Something but few of them are related. The name ‘Candia’ suggests that this one originated in Crete but there is no concrete evidence of that.

It’s a simple, tasty wine with a bit of fizz that works well as an aperitif. “It’s a farmer’s work but it’s very gluggable,” is the way Vincent summed it up.

Wines like this pair well with simple foods such as Plateau’s charcuterie board (£16).

Winemaker Camillo, the third generation to run the Donati estate, said: “Sparkling (frizzante) wines were born in Emilia because of our traditions of very rich (fatty) cuisine. Pork, salami, Parmiggiano Reggiano, butter: that’s how the frizzante style originated, as a way to cleanse the palate and help digest the fatty foods. Bubbles help with that process noticeably.”

Merry Christmas!