Durello's sparkling makeover

Friday, 25. August 2017 - 12:15

Italy has a region where it’s possible to find everything a consumer or buyer could want – whites, reds, dry, sweet, still, and sparkling – and all from autochthonous grapes. The place is Verona, in the northeast. Here is where the light and friendly red Bardolino or the velvety Amarone della Valpolicella can be found alongside a surprising sparkling wine: Durello.

Long history
The production area of this wine is limited and lies in Lessinia, a sort of ‘Middle Earth’ between the hills and the mountains of Verona. The vineyards of the Durello grapes can reach as high as 600 metres above sea level. Nowadays, a mere 889 acres of Durello are cultivated in the provinces of Verona and Vicenza, and all of them are on hills with volcanic soil. Two cooperatives produce 80% of the whole production of sparkling Durello, but there is also an active group of small producers increasing their production. At present, there are 26 wineries, 23 of which are members of the Consorzio Tutela Vino Lessini Durello. In 2016, just under 900,000 bottles of sparkling Durello were produced, a rise of 9% on 2015. Of these, 635,600 bottles were made in Charmat and 250,000 in metodo classico, to a combined value of €8m to €9m ($8.9m to $10.1m).

The variety has been cultivated since the 13th century, on some of the most beautiful land of Veneto. The grape was once called ‘Durasena’ from the Latin ‘durus acinus’ (hard berry), not only because the skin is very thick and rich in tannins, but also because the wine made from this grape is extremely acidic. This gave rise to the popular saying, “Durello is a male wine, a drink for true men” – it’s not easy to drink.

For centuries, Durello remained a still wine for local consumption, where it was mixed with water, or it was exported to Germany or France to be blended with Sekt or French sparkling wines. At the end of the 1950s, producers began to realise that they had always made Durello in the wrong way, and that the grape was much more suitable for making sparkling wines rather than still ones.

Sparkling emerges
Producers such as Marcato (recently bought by Gianni Tessari), Renato Cecchin of Casa Cecchin, and Guerrino Fongaro of Azienda Agricola Fongaro Guerrino were pioneers in the sparkling Durello classic method. Fongaro, which specialises in sparkling Durello, was the first in the area to achieve organic certification.

Other winemakers have followed, and Durello has become one of Italy’s trendiest sparkling wines, according to a recent report by the Italian Sparkling Wine Observatory (OVSE). That report suggests that Italian consumers are no longer interested in sparkling wines that simply offer good value for money, but are seeking out wines with a strong identity.

The consumption of Italian bubbles is also increasing internationally, thanks to the success of Prosecco. Exports in 2016 rose 13% in volume and 7.5% in value over 2015. It’s possible that as international consumers tire of Prosecco, or simply wish to vary their sparkling diet, they may also end up looking at sparkling wines from autochthonous grapes that offer an original taste, and this is where Durello could play a role.

“We have noticed that over the last four to five years that bubbles have become a way of drinking, and this is pushing people to discover sparkling wines even from the most strange indigenous grapes,” says Alberto Marchisio, president of the Durello Consorzio. “Durello is becoming the favourite bubble of those who wish to drink something uncommon and nice without spending a fortune.” Marchisio says that a Durello Charmat can be bought for as little as €4.00 to €7.00 a bottle, while the price rises to €18.00 to €20.00 for a metodo classico. “Obviously, if you want a Riserva, the price is higher, but never prohibitive.”

He describes a typical sparkling Durello as having a specific personality. “You’ll always be able to recognise its acidity, its tannins, and its so-called ‘mineral’ notes, regardless of the method,” he says, “because the grape’s character is stronger than the technique.”

So far, the most enthusiastic consumers of sparkling Durello are found in Italy and in Germany, but there is a growing interest being shown by consumers in Holland, Belgium, northern Europe, and even Japan, where tastings are planned over the next few months.
Elisabetta Tosi