I grew up with my grandmother who told me "in Saint Martin every must becomes wine", and November 11th was the day dedicated to chestnuts and the wine tasting that my grandfather did buying the grapes in Velletri.
A wine that today we will call 'natural' and which he made following his Venetian traditions, resting it in the cellar he had built himself, and where he met with his collaborators at the end of the working days.
These are also the days of Saint Martin's summer linked to the story of the French bishop who cut his cloak in two parts to protect a traveller. Then he met another traveler and gave him the remaining part of the cloak so, moved by such generosity, the Lord brought a mild temperature: the summer of Saint Martin.
The day of Saint Martin was a turning point and the end of the earth's cycle: in November the wine was tasted, the fields were sown and then the farmers had nothing left to do but wait for the start of a new working year in spring.
Let's say that around November 11th the fermentation of the must was completed and the character of the wine could already be understood. It was the moment in which you could choose whether to let him make some wood in barrels or barriques or let him rest in peace.
Therefore, the Italian tradition of Saint Martin has always been linked to oenology. Yet we have not managed to create value around new wine, as the French have managed to do. But let's try to understand why.
French and Italian new wine
The French specification of Beaujolais nouveau is very rigid to the point that over time it manages to create expectations and an allure of charm linked to an original lifestyle. In fact, the story in France began in the Beaujolais area where the winemakers had created this particular wine only from Gamay grapes, the least prized compared to all their other vines.
By law, therefore, new wine is only Beaujolais nouveau from Gamay grapes vinified with carbonic maceration, i.e. with whole bunches placed in watertight containers where carbon dioxide is introduced. Only at the end of 10 days, the residues of the bunches are pressed and any sugar residues are transformed into alcohol with a traditional fermentation.
The result is a fresh wine with little tannin, ready to be tasted after just thirty days with a ritual that has gone beyond the borders of France reaching every country in the world.
The word novello therefore indicates both newly produced wine and a light wine that must be consumed immediately because it is not suitable for aging. For this reason, it is released on the market on the third Thursday of November, withdrawn at the end of December and its two months of presence are a real event.
Following the French success, about 30 years ago the Italians began a major communication campaign renewing the Saint Martin tradition with the new wine which had to be light but with an aromatic bouquet suitable for autumn foods such as mushrooms or roasted chestnuts. Then it was an optimal situation because it coincided with the many chestnut festivals and celebrations present in many areas of Italy.
But why do we no longer hear about new wine in Italy today?
I don't want to cause controversy, but we Italians have 'threw her into a mess – buttiamola in caciara'. By law we have authorized the term 'new wine' for a wine produced from around 60 different vines and then we have authorized the blending of the new wine produced by carbonic maceration with other wines available in the cellar. Practically only 40% of the wine must come from carbonic maceration.
This facilitation allowed many people to use what they had available. In practice they ruined everything, and the consumer often found a wine that did not live up to expectations. In few years we went from 17 million bottles consumed to around 3 million.
This is why today, to taste a real new wine, you have to go directly to those few producers who produce it, putting their name into it and giving guarantees of quality.
We at Donna Vittori (www.donnavittori.com) don’t’ produce ‘vino novello – new wine’ but we spend the day going and tasting the new wine with our oenologist Gabriele Graia and we are very satisfied with Clea, Lazio Rosso IGT 2023. Now you can taste and buy the 2022 wine only.
However, we will not tell you about Lettera, the Cesanese di Piglio DOCG because with the problems of downy mildew the 2023 production will be very limited and we will only enjoy it with friends.