La Stoppa, Macchiona 2002, Emilia Rosso IGP


50% Barbera/50% Bonarda (aka Croatina). Named for an old farmhouse in the midst of the vineyard, Macchiona is La Stoppa's flagship red. It is made with the estate's oldest vines (up to about 65 years old), grown on silty clay soils and farmed organically, with no fertilizers and with wild plants flourishing between rows. The fruit is harvested by hand, then destemmed and crushed. The juice is fermented with native yeasts and without sulfur in concrete and stainless steel; maceration with the skins lasts 45 days. The wine is aged for about 3 years in 10-to-20-hectoliter Slavonian oak botti. It is bottled unfiltered and aged for at least 2 more years before release; vintages are often not released in sequence.

*Note: the 2002 has a slightly different label from other vintages of Macchiona. The "dieciannidopo" or "ten years later" is a nod to that vintage having been held back for 10 years before release.

The Macchiona cuvée comes from vineyards planted between 20 and 40 years ago on the nutrient-poor clay soils of La Stoppa at altitudes of around 250m above sea-level. The climate here is really warm, hot almost: during the summer, it can be warmer than parts of Sicily. Elena explained that the soils here are poor in nitrogen, although rich in phosphorus and potassium. This results in red wines which can be closed and quite reductive when young. Bottle age is essential for these wines to mellow out and show at their best. 2009 is the current release and we tasted a small vertical of 3 vintages: 2007, 2006 and 2002.

Deep, velvety looking ruby garnet colour with a little orange on the rim. The wines are unfiltered and unfined and there is a bit of ‘materia‘ in the glass. Luscious and ripe on the nose, kirsch, ink, warm earth, charred red pepper, some volatile acidity, but just enough to contribute complexity. Dry, sweetly fruited, savoury, zesty acidity. Soft, mellow mouthfeel, great freshness and length. Warmth on the finish, the only evidence of the 14% alcohol. So hard to carry these levels of alcohol without the wine feeling overblown, but this carries the alcohol perfectly. Open and expressive now, will continue to evolve over next 5-10 years.

LA STOPPA, Elena Pantaleoni, Rivergaro Certified organic, natural

La Stoppa is a 58 hectares estate (30 planted to vines) located in the Colli Piacentini in north-west Emilia-Romagna. Founded in the late 19th century by a wealthy lawyer named Giancarlo Ageno, the estate was bought by Elena Pantaleoni’s father in 1973. At the time, the estate focused on producing international style wines. Elena inherited the estate in 1991 and by 1996, she and head vignaiolo Giulio Armani began to execute the vision they had for the future of the estate. They replanted 32 hectares of Barbera and Bornada, as well as a small amount of Malvasia Candia, Ortrugo and Trebianno, all of which were much more suited to the hot climate (it can be hotter than Sicily during the summer) and heavy clay soils of the Colli Piacentini.

The vines were worked organically from the early 90s and La Stoppa received organic certification in 2008. Elena, in typical humble fashion, describes herself as ‘la custode de la vigne’, merely a guardian, until she in her turn passes the estate to the next generation. Her low-key, but powerful conviction is that her responsibility is to farm and make wine in as sustainable, non-interventionist and authentic a way as possible. The wines qualify for Colli Piacentini DOC, but are bottled as Emilia IGT because she feels that the rules of the DOC do not allow the authenticity of the terroir to speak. Her stances on the necessity of truly artisan (as opposed to industrial) production, the use of indigenous grape varieties, yeasts and minimal intervention in the cantina have made her a leading voice for devotees of natural, artisanal wine. She featured in Jonathan Nossiter’s 2015 documentary ‘Natural Resistance’.