I provided a general introduction and Bardolino tasting notes on the combined 2014 Anteprima event for Bardolino and Custoza here: https://oleudsenwineblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/30/of-old-cats-and-tender-mice-bardolino-anteprima/. While I adore the best Bardolino wines and therefore had positive expectations for those, my expectations in respect of the Custoza wines were more moderate. Custoza is a white wine that is primarily marketed as a simple, young quaffing wine to be drunk within 1-2 years of the harvest, and this was indeed what I had come to expect from my relatively scarce encounters with it over the years, apart from the odd exceptions from the likes of Monte del Frà and Le Vigne di San Pietro. To be clear: there is nothing wrong with young and simple quaffing wine. I consider this an honourable and noble category of wine, fulfilling a need and having a function in the various uses that we have for wine, however, wine geeks such as myself often look for that extra something that gives wine a sense of place and a recognizability, and I had not yet generally come to identify Custoza with that.
So I was somewhat surprised when our Anteprima host Angelo Peretti started waxing lyrical about the minerality and terroir fidelity of the Custoza wines when given sufficient bottle age. Angelo described the development of the best Custozas as one of having an initial young and fruity period, dominated by primary fruit aromas and freshness. After 1-2 years the wines then close down for perhaps 2-3 years, and then emerge with a richly mineral and vegetal character that reflects their places of origin.
I preach to anyone that bothers listening – and to Italians in particular, who seem mostly unaware – that Italy is a country of great and ageworthy white wines. It has some of the most interesting white wine varieties in the world, an incredibly varied geography and numerous climates with which to refine the art of white wine making, and the results are often stunning. I need only refer to the great verdicchios, the amazing vermentinos and the fabulous grecos, fianos and falanghinas to prove my point, but there are so many more Italian white wines of real interest for more than the short term. Now you can add Custoza to that list.
The growing zone of Custoza largely coincides with the southern part of the Bardolino district and is characterized by softly rolling morainic hills to the South and East of Lake Garda. In appearance, this is a soft, mild landscape, but soils are to a large part dominated by gravel and pebbles, here and there intermixed with larger rocks. The poverty of the soils does not lend itself well to intensive agriculture, but is ideal for growing fruits. And indeed, apart from vines, the fields here are mainly orchards of peaches, cherries and kiwis.
Custoza, like nearby and much more famous Soave, is primarily based on the garganega variety, with the potential addition of numerous other varieties, of which special mention must be made of trebbianello (the local name for the variety that we must no longer call tocai) and bianca fernanda (the local name for cortese, known from Gavi in Piedmont). Malvasia, chardonnay, riesling italico (welschriesling) and trebbiano toscano can also make up part of the wine, but do not seem to be much favoured, while manzoni bianco seems to be gaining in favour with the winemakers. Where garganega in the best versions of Soave displays notes of apricot, almond and bruised apples, with perhaps soft green herbs making an appearance, the character of Custoza seems slightly harder or edgier, with a fruitiness reminiscent of acidic apples or white berries, and notes of minerals and more resinous herbs.
Winemaking here tends to be quite “clean”, with little use of wood for ageing, and the wines tend towards very slender and fresh. As you will see later on in this post, age does not tend to make these wines much fatter, but it will generally soften the sometimes acidic edge that these wines can have.
The following are my tasting notes of my preferred 2013 Custozas, tasted at the Anteprima event itself. As usual, no colour notes and no points.
ALDO ADAMI Custoza 2013
Apple, elderflower, citrus. Slender, good acidity. An OK wine.
BERGAMINI Custoza Colline di Colà 2013
Lightly aromatic apple, flowers, touch of clay. Firm, good acidity, minerals.
BOLLA Custoza 2013
Hint of sugar snaps over minerals and apple. Dry, quite firm, lightly herbal.
CANTINA DI CUSTOZA Custoza 2013
Sweet apple, fennel, white flowers. Good fruit and acidity, greenish herbal touch.
CAVALCHINA Custoza 2013
Slightly reductive at this point, but apples and minerals. Dry, firm acidity, minerals.
CORTE GARDONI Custoza 2013
Celery, apple, hazelnut. Lightly and appetizingly bitter, good dry matter; clearly needs time.
F.LLI ZENI Custoza Vigne Alte 2013
White currants, citrus. Dry, mild and quite long, minerals.
GORGO Custoza San Michelin 2013
Celery, dry apples and minerals. Slender, good acidity, citrus. Good.
LAMBERTI Custoza Santepietre 2013
Apples and soft green herbs. Mild, charming, lightly floral.
LE TENDE Custoza 2013
Slightly neutral but firm nose, white flowers. Dry, good dry matter, waxy fruit and dry herbs.
LENOTTI Custoza 2013
Lavender and sweet apple. Slender, good perfume, flowers.
MENEGOTTI Custoza 2013
Minerally apple, herbs. Slender to medium body, good fruit, minerals.
PIGNO Custoza 2013
Has character, leesy, with apple and minerals. Slender and dry, with good acidity and a hint of grapefruit.
SARTORI Custoza 2013
Aromatic apple and white flowers. Slender, dry, good fruit, flowers.
TABARINI Custoza 2013
Slightly earthy/greenish citrus. Slender, minerally, citrus and flowers.
TAMBURINO SARDO Custoza 2013
Mild apple, light smoke and minerals. Slender, lithe, lovey minerality, flowers and apple.
VALBUSA Custoza 2013
Pears, minerals and boiled greens. Slender, firm, dry, minerally.
VILLA MEDICI Custoza 2013
Light herbs, minerals. Slender, good acidity, minerals and apples.
The absence from the above list of some of the normal greats of the area underlines for me that these wines were tasted very young, and that they would almost all benefit from coming into their own with a bit of time. As if to underline this, Angelo Peretti on the spur of the moment arranged two tastings of Custoza with significantly more age.
The first tasting took place at the Anteprima venue, and the following wines were tasted:
MONTE DEL FRÀ Custoza Superiore Ca’ del Magro 2008
Spectacurlarly minerally, intense, with hazelnuts, green herbs, a hint of varnish (not in an oxidized sense, more in the sense of resin). Slender to medium body, soft, dry. Long, with notes of boiled celeriac, celery leaves, hazelnut, quince and hydrocarbon minerality.
LE VIGNE DI SAN PIETRO Custoza 2007
Dry apple, waxy apple, lanolin, dry herbs and minerals. Slender, dry, with ample dry matter giving a hint of tannins. Long, with dry apples, dried celeriac and minerals.
CAVALCHINA Custoza Superiore Amedeo 2006
Delicious minerality of the babbling mountain brook variety, juicy apples, dry herbs, light touch of smokiness. Slender to medium body, soft, still good acidity, dry. Long, with apples, hydrocarbon minerality, touch of bitter leafy greens and hazelnuts. Impressive.
ALBINO PIONA Custoza Campo del Sèlese 1999
Soft, dense, quite intense nose with lightly caramelized apple over touches of lanolin, boiled herbs and strong minerality. Light to medium body, dry, good acidity, elegant balance. Long, repeats the aromatics from the nose, with great minerality, fading slowly away while developing touches of smoke and dried herbs. Excellent, and that this was to be topped by another bottle of the same wine in even greater shape the next evening is hard to believe.
LE VIGNE DI SAN PIETRO Custoza 2003
Apple, lovage, minerals and fresh hazelnuts in a relatively muted nose. Slender, soft, warm, dry, good dry matter, slight alcohol heat. Good length, somewhat muted, repeats the nose with a touch of bitter herbs and slight alcohol. From an insanely hot year, who would ever have thought that a slender white wine made for early consumption could have lasted this long?
ALBINO PIONA Custoza Campo del Sèlese 2004
Broad, mature nose with hazelnuts, dry apple, boiled herbs and hydrocarbon minerality. Slender to medium body, with good acidity, good dry matter and the merest hint of appetizing bitterness. Long, acidic dry apple, minerals, hazelnuts and touch of smoke. Good stuff.
ALBINO PIONA Custoza Campo del Sèlese 2006
Slightly closed, slender, soft and somewhat neutral nose with apples, minerals, soft leafy greens and a touch of resinous herbs. Slender, round, soft and dry. Good length, remains somewhat neutral, but has hints of quince, boiled herbs and resin, with slight alcohol heat at the end. This appeared as if the fruit had been picked later than for the other vintages of the same wine, rendering the wine less characterful.
The second tasting took place the following evening at the fantastic little restaurant called Il Giardino delle Esperidi in the centre of Bardolino. This is an excellent, wine-centric place – self-described as an “enoteca con cucina” – run by the wonderful, energetic Susanna Tezzon. As it turned out, Susanna had once worked for a Danish charter airline, so spoke a bit of Danish. That did not help me in the language confusion that I always start to suffer from at such events, and which had seen me talking Italian, English, German and Swedish in the preceding days…
The food at Il Giardino is locally-sourced and at the same time simple and with great, complex flavour in that inimitable Italian way. During that evening, we first dug into a huge pile of homemade “polenta carbonera” made by Angelo’s wife. This is an old, traditional dish in the area, and basically consists of about 50% polenta made from coarsely ground maize and 50% cheese (normally 4 different ages of Monte Veronese), with a bit of olive oil to lighten the impact. The dish was originally invented by the coalmakers of the area, who needed the calorific hit to sustain themselves during long days of insanely hard work. These days, it’s a lot of densely packed sustenance for the likes of us couch potatoes, but it was so good that I had three servings.
After that followed a deceptively simple dish of spaghetti alla chitarra with spinach and lake fish. There is no describing the goodness of this plate of food, but I was dumbfounded by the simplicity, elegance and complexity of the flavours, the spinach being sweet, the olive oil used coming through so clearly, and the lake fish having clean, distinct and direct flavours and leaving an unctuous, slightly gelatinous sauce that stuck gently to the lips. I would love to be able to replicate such a dish at home, but I’m afraid it takes the exact raw materials Susanna had used to do it, and I’m rather certain I could only get those in Bardolino. Heaven is indeed a place on Earth.
My last dish that evening was another extremely simple serving: Slightly roasted fillet of bull, sliced very thinly, drizzled with olive oil and served with 4 different salts (I chose the Danish smoked salt…). Susanna normally serves it with mostarda – mustard-pickled fruits – but due to my allergies this was impossible, so I just had it with the fantastic local oil and the Danish salt. This allowed the raw material to shine, and what raw materials. The meat was fantastically flavourful.
The outing was primarily made to try another few bottles of Custoza with age, with a bit of other wines to provide comparison. This is what we drank that night (notes a bit brief, we were having a great time, with little time for writing…):
MONTE DEL FRÀ Custoza Superiore Ca’ del Magro 2009
Lovely nose of apricots, mandarin peel, saffron and minerals. Medium body, soft, intense, minerally.
ALBINO PIONA Custoza 2008
Apple, apricot skin, mountain brook minerality. Soft, long, minerally; lovely.
LUIGI MAFFINI Paestum Fiano Pietraincatenata 2005
Yes, a Fiano from Campania. These can live for a long time, so an interesting comparison. Intense, beautiful nose, with hydrocarbon minerality and citrus peel. Slender, intense minerality, long, repeating the aromatics from the nose.
FILIPPI Soave Vigna del Brà 2006
Slightly closed, apricot skin, bitter herbs, minerals. Medium body, good fatness, soft, long and very minerally. Clear family resemblance with Custoza here.
CA’ LOJERA Lugana Riserva del Lupo 2003
Somewhat closed nose, caramel, hazelnuts and minerals. Long, dry, just slight hint of oxidation setting in, with hazelnuts and minerals; good, but just slightly on a downward trend, drink up if you have any.
CA’ LOJERA Lugana Superiore 2002
Delicious, slightly greenish in an appetizing way, minerals and apple. Slender to medium body, long, soft, minerals, apple. Another clear family resemblance with Custoza.
UMANI RONCHI Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Riserva Plenio 2002
Fat nose with oak vanilla, boiled greens, dry minerality. Rather intense, caramel from oak, dry, not really well balanced. I do prefer my Verdicchio without new oak.
ALBINO PIONA Custoza Campo del Sèlese 1999
Super-fresh and enormously minerally, with apples and a leesy hint. Slender to medium body, intense, minerals, green perfume, dry apple, dry and very long. Even better than the bottle the day before, very young.
HOFSTÄTTER VILLA BARTHENAU Alto Adige Pinot Bianco Vigneto San Michele 1990
Somewhat fungal, musty nose, touches of peach and minerals. Slender, rather neutral, not quite clean on the exit. A bit over the hill, this one.
GUIDO MARSELLA Fiano di Avellino 2005
Caramelly, minerals, fennel. Round, then dry, a bit short, with oxidized hazelnuts. This one a bit over the hill too.
ALBINO PIONA Custoza 2010
Slightly honeyed note over apples, minerals and a bit of herbs. Slender, minerals, apple. Not fully expressive yet, needs a bit of time.
MONTE DEL FRÀ Custoza Ca’ del Magro 2010
Here, too, a slightly honeyed note, with acidic apple, minerals and a strong hint of saffron that seems to be the hallmark of this particular vineyard. Slender to medium body, soft and long, with saffron.
CHÂTEAU SIMONE Palette Rosé 2009
Soft nose with raspberries and hints of garrigue and minerals. Quite dense, soft, lots of dry matter, somewhat lacking in acidity, light touch of alcohol heat. Long and intense, repeating the aromatics from the nose, with a hint of alcohol sweetness. This last wine was a contribution to a long-running, partly humourous debate that Angelo and I have had. Angelo loves the rosés from Provence, while I find them a bit too flabby and alcoholic. This one, while quite intense and full of character, and of surprising freshness for its age, was true to type, so merely convinced the two of us of our views on that matter.
Once again, Custoza showed surprising longevity. It is of course not the be all and end all of wine to be longevous, but when the wines develop in such an interesting manner as the Custozas here, I would say that good Custoza, in fact, needs to age at least 3-4 years – and sometimes much longer – to really show its best side. That was a nice discovery to make, and one that I would advise you to go out and make for yourself. And as opposed to many other longevous wines, Custozas won’t bankrupt you.