Saturday, November 20, 2010

Diary of a Sommelier Student-Muffa Nobile, Up Close and Personal

Muffa Nobile-Noble mold or rot. I heard these words for the first time during my level one sommelier class. Latin words…Botrytis cinerea, a mold that forms inside a grape, and is the goal of any winery who wishes to produce a passito, a dessert wine. A couple of paragraphs in our text book, a photograph on page 164.

I wanted to get up close and personal…to visit a vineyard with grapes still on the vine while this muffa nobile formed. To walk through the rows of vines and pick this sweet fruit off the plant, like a kid in a candy store. I wanted to go back to Montemarano…I really wanted another visit to Mastroberardino’s Aglianico vineyards.

Saturday afternoon, November 13th. Back in Antonio Dente’s SUV after a week of wind and rain in Irpinia. Rain that turned this vineyard’s terrain into a muddy mess. No way a tractor could get through here for the harvest the following week, Antonio shared. Wow…I was here about three weeks earlier. What a difference. First of all, half of the grapes had been harvested about 10 days earlier. Mastroberardino left behind the bunches whose grapes were spread out…whose grapes had room to breathe. Another major difference was that a large quantity of leaves had been stripped off the vines thanks to the weather earlier in the week. From a distance, however, spectacular views of Autumn in Irpinia.

But I came for a look up close. To see, touch, and taste the grapes along with Antonio as he picked up where my textbook left off. He pointed out how the grapes had changed. The bunches that were left behind had become darker, drier, more concentrated. We picked a few from the vine and tasted. Sweet, dolce. That extra time in the vineyard, under the right conditions, with the proper care gave way to what Mastroberardino had hoped for.

My lesson continued. These grapes would be harvested, and laid out to dry in a room under carefully controlled temperatures and climate. Here the grapes will continue to lose water and become more concentrated, sweeter. Here the grapes will spend at least 1 ½ months before they continue their trip to becoming one of two aglianico passitos that Mastroberardino has in mind. This Aglianico, a very sensitive grape, was on its way to give their Aglianico DOC Irpinia Passito the desired sweetness, the aromas similar to balsamic vinegar and dried figs. Antonio looked satisfied.

There was another vineyard he wanted me to see. Santo Stefano, Fiano di Avellino grapes. I thought that these grapes had already been harvested, but Antonio let me in on a little ‘secret’. An experiment. Three rows of Fiano were left behind after the October 29th harvest. Left behind to form that muffa nobile. Here it was easy to tell by looking what was going on inside the grape. Here the grapes were turning brown, becoming sweeter. A few tastes confirmed this.

It was getting dark, so back in the SUV. On the drive back to the winery, I was trying to absorb all the information Antonio shared with me that afternoon. Now that I better understood this muffa nobile, I was very interested in knowing how all this hard work would look like, smell like, and taste like in a glass…

Magari la prossima volta che torni ti faccio provare...(The next time you come back, I'll let you try...)

Ok!! See you next time..

Italian Version

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