Sunday, November 05, 2006

New Wine – Vino Novello – What is it?

New wine, Vino Novello, Beaujolais Nouveau are all names for farmer’s simple pleasure. Vino Novello goes on sale on November 6 and will be available through February. Beaujolais Nouveau goes on sale the 3rd Tuesday of November and will be available through Easter. Aristide, an Italian wine site, goes into excruciating detail concerning how new wine is made and the legal definition of new wine. Vino Novello also has its own site for the annual Festival in Lecce.

Let me tell you how I learned about Novello. Every year in February I would travel to various wine producing areas around northern Italy. My favorite areas, most likely because they were the first, were around Asti and Alba. After visiting numerous producers and tasting even more varieties of homespun farmer wines I would order a damigiana, that is a 55 liter flask, of wine. Some years I would order just Barbera and Barbaresco. As the years passed and I learned more about wine, I would end up purchasing as many as 5 damigiana of different varieties.

My wife’s extended family members were big Barbera drinkers. They drank Barbara from the province of Alessandria but, if I insisted a little, Giusepe would accompany me wherever I wanted to go. Private vineyards, limited production, knowing the farmer and his passion for wine I would carefully choose my wines. Several weeks later, on the back of a flatbed country truck, my wine would arrive. Down into the cellar it would go and the Almanac would come out. Giuseppe would carefully scan the cycles of the moon and the weather patterns, getting daily information on atmospheric pressure, position of the moon, and wind. While he meticulously plotted the data, I began washing the wine bottles. Between the two of us we needed about 600 750 ml bottles and 50 1.5 liter bottles.

Washing bottles is not an easy task. A large oak barrel is placed in the center of the cellar over a drain. Then the barrel is filled with clean, very hot water, one bucket at a time. A frame is placed over the top of the barrel with a hand wound pump and bristle brush pointing upward. The empty bottles that have been religiously stored in the cellar after their contents consumed are individually place on the brush. Now comes the fun part, turning the hand crank pumps water into the bottle and rotates the brush, scrubbing and rinsing at the same time. Once the bottle is clean the bottle is placed on newspaper, neck down, to drip dry. This process must be completed at least one week before using the bottles, as any residual humidity would ruin the wine. It cannot be done more than 3 weeks early, as this would allow some dust to enter the bottle.

Needless to say this is an incredibly wet and dirty job. The bottles are covered with dust from the walls of the cellar and cobwebs are everywhere. Cleaning is done in the cellar, where, while not as cold as the outside, the temperature is still only about 43 degrees F. This is the passion for wine. Although I did not produce the grapes, I did follow the process, choose the wine, taste hundreds of samples, clean and process the bottles and in the just the right moment bottle the wine. The wine was mine! I would proudly announce it as such on every occasion.

Yes, the day of the moon and the weather, on the day you bottle, can be the difference between a good wine and a great wine. Giuseppe would determine the 3 day period of the moon, and we would watch the weather, no wind and a stable atmospheric pressure are extremely important.

So what does this have to do with Vino Novello?

No matter how much wine you prepared in March by October, the wine was gone or at significantly low levels. This is just before the season when red wine is a must for all of the hearty foods. Yes, you could introduce white wine but, for most farmers, white wine is for women and children. Placing a white wine on the dinner table just would not be right. Thus, the advent of Vino Novello.

Vino Novello is an antique wine although, only known among farmers until the 30s when, the farmers of Beaujolais decided to commercialize the product. Their wine, Beaujolais Nouveau, was a tremendous success. Vino Novello is made from a different process than normal red wines. Some even question if it is wine at all. The difference is in the fermentation process. The grapes are placed in large barrels or vats. They are then closed off and the oxygen is eliminated by pumping in CO2. The natural yeast migrate from the skin of the grapes into the pulp looking for water and oxygen and the fermentation takes place.

All in all, Vino Novello goes from grapes to wine in about 20 days and has a kicking minimum alcohol content of 11 % per volume. What it does not have is tannins. Tannins are the primary preservative in wine. No tannins, the wine will go bad in a short period of time. If the bottle is opened it must be consumed. Vino Novello is appreciated by red wine drinkers with limited supplies of last year’s wine and particularly by those who love white wine but do not like the bite of strong reds.

I consider Vino Novello as grape juice with alcohol.

Generally it is very fruity, sometimes tending toward sweet, and goes down real easy. Often served colder than room temperature Vino Novello can bite you without any signs along the way. One of those wines that seems to go on forever during dinner, so good, and then you try to get up from the table and stumble over your chair.

Vino Novello must not be conserved. It will go bad. In Brianza the last day to consume Novello is “I Giorni della Merla”, the days of the Crow said to be the coldest day of the year. In the rest of Italy, most will agree that Easter is the last day to consume new wine. It is not available until November 6 and will carry the current year as the harvest. So have some fun, pretend you bottled your own wine in March and need something to make it last, drink a bottle of Novello with a Chicken Cacciatora or other hearty meal and have a great evening, preferably at home.


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Blogger ChickyBabe said...

I have Beaujolais Nouveau on order. When it arrives, I'll drink a toast to your health!

1:44 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

ChickyBabe Now that is a compliment among friends. To you Chicky!

4:35 AM

Blogger Tracie B. said...

ooh i just had a glass of novello today! it was all grape gummy bears and bananas.

cheers to the harvest :)

1:03 PM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Tracie b. Cin Cin!!! I will be enjoying my Novello in just a short couple of weeks!

Please tell us about your Novello.

2:28 PM

Blogger Tracie B. said...

it was mionetto--the bottle with the cute baby. i started my "sommelier" course yesterday afternoon in napoli (my boyfriend gave it to me for my birthday) and we had a glass of berlucchi and a glass of novello. it's igt veneto so i'm sure a little bit of everythig went into it.

you know it bothers me when people say, "oh, I don't LIKE novello." it's certainly not my favorite, nor yours, i can imagine, but it has it's place and should be appreciated for the celebration of the harvest that it is.

and the harvest is DEFINITELY somethin' to celebrate!

12:25 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Tracie b. I agree, not my favorite but what a way to throw a party!!!!

5:13 AM


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