There are times in life that you realize that luck is on your side. For me, at the top of that list was when my wife said “I do.” But there was also being hired as a bicycle tour guide in Europe, having the opportunity to teach and coach a boatload of fantastic people, and welcoming my two sons into the world.
Since I started this blog about five years ago, it seems as though the amount of “luck” I experience has been gradually increasing. Such was the case last Fall when I was asked to join a press trip to visit Mezzacorona, the large cooperative winery located in the Trentino region of Northern Italy.
I had visited Italy before, but it was many years ago, I really only hit some of the major tourist regions, and spent no time anywhere near any vineyards. So three days in Northern Italy among the vineyards? Lucky me.
On Monday morning, I landed in Verona bleary-eyed and groggy, having barely slept a minute on the plane as it crossed the Atlantic, landing first in Munich and then on to Italy. After collecting myself and my luggage, the awaiting driver shuttled me quickly to the banks of Lake Garda and the Hotel Baia dei Pini, just steps away from the beach.
After a quick nap, we met downstairs for an aperitivo before dinner, which featured the 2015 Mezzacorona Rosé—one of the better Italian rosés I have tried, and at its price point (under $10), I doubt there is a better value. An intentional rosé, made with grapes from the Adige region, this is light and lively (12% ABV), nice and tart from the start. Very Good.
We enjoyed dinner that evening at the hotel, learning a bit about the winery and the region. By any measure, Mezzacorona is huge with an annual production of nearly 25 million bottles. It all started in 1904 when 26 farmers in the region joined together to form the cooperative to pool resources with the aim of being more competitive. Today, the cooperative has grown to over 1,500 growers from whom the winery purchases all their production.
The evening continued with dinner at the hotel, with several more wines, including the relatively new Cliffhanger brand. The 2015 Cliffhanger Pinot Grigio ($20) showed some nice flavors but lacked the requisite acidity that is needed in a top-notch Pinot Grigio. Good to Very Good. Interestingly, I was much more impressed with the standard 2015 Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio ($9) which was bursting with flavor as well as a tangy tartness that made the wine my Wine of the Year. Outstanding.
The following morning, we loaded into the group van and made our way up to the winery outside of Trento. The drive along Lago di Garda, though slow, was incredibly beautiful with majestic peaks tumbling into the water. Just minutes into the drive, the valleys and lower slopes were festooned with grape vines, about 75% of which were white varieties (mostly Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay).
We soon picked up the Adige River which flows from the Alps in the North, through Trento, then down to Verona before making a turn to the East, eventually emptying into the Adriatic just below Venice.
Along the way, it seemed as though ever available hectare was planted to something. The entire region is agrarian, but rarely does any land come up for sale as it is passed on to subsequent generations. Thus, land in the area can be as expensive as in Champagne, home to some of the most expensive vineyard land in the world.
Before getting to the winery, we stopped and met Mezzacorona’s winemaker, Lucio Matricardi. There really is no simple way to describe Lucio—I guess “force of nature” comes the closest. There is no doubt that he is incredibly talented and knowledgable, but he is also refreshingly personable as downright hilarious.
He is also passionate about the region, the soils, and mostly about the growers he represents.
In that first vineyard, with the majestic Dolomites as a backdrop, he explained that the soils in the region, although similar to those in Champagne, are unique since the volcanic activity in the Adige region resulted in magnesium being added into the already calcium rich rocky soil.
This new type of rock, which is only found in the region, was first “discovered” by a French geologist who visited the region in 1860. Like the French are apt to do, he named the “new” rock after himself. Soon thereafter, the mountain range explored by Professor Dolomé soon bore an Italianization of his name: Dolomiti. Lucky him.
To be continued….