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Making the best of Bergamo wines

On the second night of New York City’s Snowcopalypse 2011, about 20 winter-hardened wine veterans huddled at Enoteca Di Palo, a wine shop in New York City’s Little Italy, to meet and chat with winemaker Vanessa Verdoni of Cantina Sociale Bergamasca.
Most of those present were in town for VINO2011, also known as Italian Wine Week, produced by the Italian Trade Commission.

A winter's day in New York City, January, 2011

You never know who you’re going to meet during this week of tastings, seminars and special dinners, and even after a hectic week, Vanessa Verdoni was a charming and intriguing as anyone I met during the week.
At 32, she’s yet one more of the immensely talented winemakers Italy is revealing to the world. My friend and fellow blogger Susannah Gold has written many posts about italian women winemakers but as fast and as well as she writes, it seem there always is someone new springing up somewhere in that immense land of wine. Susannah also has an informative post about Bergamo here.
Verdoni is different from most of the other winemakers in that she does not come from a wine-industry background.
“My father really wasn’t that interested in wine, we didn’t have a wine cellar when I was growing up, and when I told him I wanted to be a winemaker, it was like, ‘Oh, no, what are you thinking?”‘ recounted Vanessa with a laugh. “But now he accepts it and gives me all the support he can.”
Among her hands-on learning were stints at wineries in Italy (Montalcino, Verona) and New Zealand and then working for several years with the Bergamo-based Valcalepio Consorzio.
She said her first vintage was in 2000 and today she’s the second or assistant winemaker at Cantina Sociale Bergamasca, a co-op winery in San Paolo d’Argon, just east of Bergamo, in the heart of Lombardy. Situated right at the base of the Italian Alps, the area sees tremendous variations in climate from hot summers to very cold winters.
Bergamo is known for its hard-working citizens and for having the best “muratori” (brick masons) in Italy.
Most vineyards are split 50/50 with cabernet sauvignon and merlot and most of the region’s wines are table wines.
This isn’t said disparagingly. Bergameschi love their land and their food-friendly wines and for years they really haven’t cared that the big “rank-by-the-number” wine critics ignore their wines.
But as the world gets smaller and the economics demand more markets, we’re starting to see more Bergamo wines available, and hurray for that.
Verdoni let us taste several of her red wines from the Valcalepio DOC, including her 2009 Bergamasca IGT Merlot, fermented in stainless steel. The wines have vibrant fruit (red cherries and blueberries) and my notes from the evening remark that this is a delicious merlot that reminded us why the varietal was so immensely popular (before the merlot-phobic movie “Sideways” came out, anyway).
We also tasted the Bergamasca 2008 Valcalepio DOC Rosso, a blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon and 40 percent merlot. Silky tannins, great fruit from the merlot and the heft of a classic cabernet sauvignon.
Finally, there was the 2005 Akros, a Valcalepio DOC Rosso Riserva, 50/50 cabernet and merlot. Vanessa said the winery puts only the best grapes into the Riserva, which sees two years in large (25 hectoliter, about 660 gallons) French oak barrels plus six months of bottle aging before release.
The oak was evident but not overwhelming, providing good conterpoint top the vibrant fruit.
Bergamasca also makes a Valcalepio DOC Bianco (40 percent chardonnay, 30 percent pinot bianco and 30 percent pinot grigio) and an IGT pinot Bianco but I can’t find my tasting notes for thee. Maybe the snowplow ate them.
Even as the storm grew in intensity, everyone agreed meeting Vanessa Verdoni and tasting the wines of Bergamo was a great way to wrap up VINO 2011.

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