In Italy there are some 330 areas whose wines are entitled to carry the blue and white label and Capriano, Brescia is one of them, albeit one of the smallest. For us, the small wine producers are the more interesting so what better place to visit than an area with only around 100 hectares of Marzemino grape vines producing both red and white wines? The origins of this variety are obscure but it is certainly mentioned in the writings of the 16th century agronomist, Agostino Gallo, and it also makes a cameo appearance in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, although I suspect that was more to do with the librettist needing to complete the couplet, “Versa il vino! Eccellente Marzemino”.
Our search for the local Marzemino grape took us to Cantina San Michele where we met Mario Danesi who runs the cantina with his wife, Elena. The winery is situated in the Monte Netto regional park in the hills above Capriano.
The last few years have been a time of change and innovation for San Michele; in 2015 the production was certified as organic and two years ago the cantina was extensively refurbished. Yet Mario and Elena remain, quite literally, true to their roots as demonstrated by the vineyard next to the cantina where the vines are more than 35 years old. From 16 hectares of vines they produce around 70,000 bottles of wine per year in a range that includes white and rosé offerings but, for us, the pick are the red wines.
We tasted their Marzemino, Carme, and an innovation enigmatically called M. Made from 100% Marzemino this is a passito wine. This means that after the harvest the grapes are left - in this case for four months - to lose water and gain sugar, before they are macerated for 20 days in steel. There follows 6 months in which the wine matures in either barrique or tonneaux of French oak before a final 12 months in the bottle. The result is a complex and rewarding dessert wine that is a very approachable 14.5% ABV. There is an intense ruby colour and on the nose there is vanilla, red berries, liquorice, and pepper. In the mouth it is smooth and silky with a full, luxurious flavour, low acidity and tannins. Suggestions for pairing this delight include chocolate fondant and strawberry cheesecake.
The wines were all delicious but the one which really stood out was a riserva called 1884. As a riserva, it is made only in the best years and is 50% Merlot, 40% Marzemino, and 10% Sangiovese. The grapes are harvested late and left on the skins for around 20 days. 12 months of slow maturing in tonneaux of French oak is followed by another 12 months of repose in the bottle. With a deep ruby hue, with hints of garnet, it comes as no surprise that the result of all this lavish care is a wine with a complex bouquet full of cherries and plums with vanilla, tobacco, and the leather of old books. On the palate it is full-bodied and generous with soft tannins and a long finish. Enjoy it with roast or grilled meat or a mature cheese.
Capriano del Colle is such a small DOC that the wines are not well known outside of the immediate area and that is a shame because Cantina San Michele definitely deserves a wider audience. Mario and Elena, with the help of their enologist, Nico, are blending innovation and tradition to make some great wines.