It’s the water.
Readers of a certain age will recall a famous beer commercial with those words extolling a then-popular malted beverage.
The theory being, of course, that having a superior water source somehow made for a superior beer.
I’m not sure how that works, since I never tasted the water at its source (although I had some limited experience with the final product).
However, I can attest that drinking water without chemical additives for purification, without high levels of distorting minerals or the teeth-numbing metallicity that comes from running through rusty pipes, can be a mind-opening experience.
Most Americans (by which I mean in the U.S.) drink plain tap water, of which in most cases there is nothing wrong. You can even get charged for tap water in some “gougé” restaurants, but that’s your fault. Other countries, however, more often drink bottled water, either by choice or necessity. I asked a friend, a lovely chef from Parma, why Italians predominately drink bottled water even when the tap water is safe (except on trains).
She looked at me as if not understanding the question.
“It’s because we have so many great springs,” she said at last. “Why drink treated water?” Why, indeed?
Every place you go people are opening bottled water; particularly in northern Italy, close by the Alps and the Dolomites, where natural springs bubble nearly everywhere and are tapped wherever there is room to install a bottling plant.
It’s said even Roma has good water, since it’s taps are filled by water piped from the north.
Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the recent Summa 2014, a gathering of winemakers held last month at the 17th-century palazzo of Alois Lageder in Magré, Italy.
As in way north Italy, where the Alto Adige (or All’ Adige, if you are local enough) snuggles against the Dolomites and pure spring water is abundant as fresh air and eye-popping scenery.
One of the first things you see upon entering Lageder’s stone-walled courtyard is the eye-catching spring filling a trough the size of a small Fiat.
The Lageder family history is intertwined with the natural water; the family summer home, Villa Lageder in the South Tyrolean mountain village of Sarentino/Sarnthein, also has a historical spring.
The wines shared at Summa reflect that freshness and purity found in the water and Lageder’s own philosophy of “respect for nature, appreciation of the surrounding environment, and responsibility to future generations.,” as his website notes.
As I wandered the two-day event, talking to wine-makers and tasting their wines, I asked them how much their wine philosophy was inspired by their personal terroir.
Many of them echoed the words of renowned Prosecco maker Primo Franco, who effused about how your mouth and palate are pampered and developed by drinking clean water.
“No question a person’s palate is better when it isn’t maltreated,” he said.
That coddling of the palate is evident throughout Summa, where Lageder’s constant spring proved an ideal way to start anew each session in the tasting rooms.
Tezze di Piave, TV, Italy – When I first met winemaker Antonio Bonotto, of Tenuta Bonotto Delle Tezze, he looked like anything but a renowned winemaker continuing a family tradition almost 400 years old.
Instead, dressed head-to-toe in a forest-green rubber suit and standing on scaffolding 12 feet high, Bonotto was diligently power-washing 400 years of grime off the walls and ceiling of the ancient, heavy beamed space where grapes once were delivered by horse-drawn wagon and making the room into a new tasting room/reception area.
For the moment, Bonotto was making it rain harder inside than out.
I was with my friend Patrick Caseley of Trevignano and when Bonotto recognized Patrick, the oenologist called out, “Hey, Patrick, welcome,” and crawled down from the high rise.
“You caught me at a bad moment, I’m really working,” he said, shutting off the sprayer and walking to us.
It didn’t seem he was very dry, in spite of the rubber suit, and specks of grime dotted his smiling face
“But I’m quite happy to quit for a moment, this is hard work,” he said. “You probably don’t want any photos of me right now.”
He laughed and brought us a treasure found in the walls during the ongoing renovation.
“It is, or it was, a bottle of wine my father put in the walls in 1966, when he was doing some remodeling,” Bonotto said.
He showed us a broken bottle, still bearing a hand-written label with the date 22/9/1966.
“One of my workers was inexperienced with a machine and he wasn’t able to stop in time to save the bottle,” said Bonotto, shrugging. “Too bad, it would have been nice to have it whole. My father made this wine.”
Bonotto’s family has lived in the Tezze area since at least the 1400s and for centuries the family rented farmland from the local monastery and paid their rent with wine.
The commercial winery began in the 1800s and today Tenuta Bonotto makes a line of still and sparkling wines, including a delightful Prosecco DOC (he’s just outside the Prosecco DOCG zone) in brut and extra dry and a refreshing Novalis, made of 100 percent Manzoni Bianco, with hints of oranges, apricots and a stony minerality derived from the soils and waters washing down from the nearby Dolomites.
He’s particularly proud of his Raboso del Piave-based wines.
It’s an ancient grape, Bonotto said, with ancient records indicating this indigenous grape, considered the “king of wines” by Venetian aristocracy, having been vinified since the 800s.
“The real distinctive characteristic of this grape is the acidity,” Bonotto said. “Normally, when a grape ripens the sugars go like this (moving his hand in an upward arc) and the acidity goes like this (a downward arc). But with Raboso, the acidity gives you this,” and he drew a straight line.
It’s that straight-on acidity that deters many winemakers who don’t understand how to make wines with Raboso, Bonotto said.
“It’s not something you can eliminate, so you learn to work with it,” he said. “Or not.”
When vinified as a sweet wine, the acidity balances the sugars, the result being a sweet wine with “nerve,” as Caseley said.
That bottle of his father’s wine from 1966 may still have been drinkable, given Raboso’s acidity, and the current Bonotto rued not being able to see how it might have aged over nearly 50 years.
With his wife Vittoria, we tasted Bonotto’s 2009 Potestá Raboso del Piave DOC (100 percent Raboso Piave) and found hints of violets and roses on the nose with spice, licorice and a pleasing bit of earthiness and minerality.
He also makes a Raboso Passito, its grapes dried naturally for four months before vinification, and a Raboso Rosato Frizzante, bright and indulgent in fresh red berries and cherries.
“This is the blessing of this grape, you can make so many different wines from it,” Bonotto said. “It’s a pity because we have so many other varieties here we don’t focus on Raboso. It’s really a marvelous grape.”
The memory of the sub-freezing temperatures earlier this week was put to rest with today’s unrelenting warmth and the forecast of temperatures in the 80s this weekend.
Just right for a bit of gardening, maybe a tour on the bike and a chilled white wine on a shady deck.
Thanks to Cornerstone Communications Ltd., which represents the Spanish wine region Rias Baixas DO, I’ve been able to taste a selection of Albariños and this week’s wine comes from that package, the Bodega Castro Martin 2012 A2O Sobre Lias Albariño.
The name is pronounced “A to O,” which happen to be the first and last letters of “Albariño,” and spelled with a tilde over the “2” to make the connection.
The original bodega dates from the 1880s and in 1981 the winery and vineyards were purchased by current owner Domingo Martin Morales who installed stainless steel tanks (quite revolutionary back then but industry standards today) and built a new, multi-level winery.
This top-to-bottom processing helps reduce the need for pumping the juice, must and lees and cuts down on over-handling the wine.
Up to 2002 Bodegas Castro Martin made only one Albariño, the well-known Casal Caiero, but under the thoughtful management of Angela Martin, daughter of Domingo Martin Morales, there now are four wines, all albariños, each blended to take advantage of the different characteristics found throughout the bodega’s various vineyards.
The soils in this cool, maritime climate of northwest Spain are mineral-rich sandy loam overlaying granite and quartz. All of which contribute to the sharp minerality, floral/citrus aromatics and crisp acidity that makes these such great food wines.
Bodega Castro Martin labels the A2O “Sobre Lias,” signifying it ages for six months on its lees, adding complexity and character to the wine.
The website says the eye-catching label is designed for placement in wine bars, restaurants and regular bars, where it’s aimed at the younger wine drinkers looking for a food-friendly, low-alcohol wine.
There is citrus, pears and white flowers on the nose, with lime, ripe pears and that touch of Gallician minerality holding it all together.
Price is around $15.50. Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, N.Y.