As the old joke goes, nostalgia is not what it used to be and yet we are all prone to it, including my corkscrew, Vinnie, who occasionally yearns for his French roots. Sometimes the results of this desire to look back are not a great success, as David Bowie’s album, Pinups, bears witness to, and yet, as Socrates said, an unexamined life is not worth living and so we must reflect on where we are and how we got here. The other side of this particular coin is, of course, that this process of reflection can lead to new beginnings and so it was for Renato Cecchin.
Renato made a successful career as an engineer and yet he yearned, as many of us do, to return to the more simple life. The difference is that he actually did it. Casa Cecchin is in the Monti Lessini, around 250 metres above sea level, to the east of Verona. Here, using his skills as an engineer, he carved out a vineyard and built a winery between 1975 and 1978. On this beautiful site, he and his daughter, Roberta, grow the Durella grape. This is really a local grape – 93% of the Durella is grown in the Veneto and most of that is grown in these mountains where it is used to make a spumante called Lessini Durello. People tend to use the terms frizzante and spumante interchangeably but there is technically a big difference. Frizzante describes wine at 1 – 2.5 bar of atmospheric pressure whereas spumante is at above 3 bar and so more sparkling.
There are currently 4 hectares of vines and they produce around 18,000 bottles per year. They have another four hectares that are currently being replanted with Durella vines and when these come into production Roberta says they will have to increase the floor space in the winery. This is because they produce their wines using the metodo classico which means they stay in the bottle for either 36 or 60 months before released, During this time a second fermentation takes place to produce the carbon dioxide that produces the bubbles, The residue is yeast and to remove this the bottles are stored at an angle and regularly turned. Renato has designed a special hexagonal rack that allows 273 bottles to be turned in one go, a vast improvement on the time-consuming process of turning individual bottles.
Before tasting the big spumantes, we tried two other Durello wines, the first being Pietralava, a still wine. The grapes are harvested by hand and go through an 18-hour chilled maceration to extract the maximum aroma before being fermented and matured in steel. It has a pale straw colour and a full bouquet, rich with pears. The salinity that it takes from the volcanic soil makes this ideal to pair with an oily fish like mackerel or sardines.
The second wine we sampled is called Mandégolo and takes its name from a little stream that runs through the estate. This is a lightly frizzante wine; the grapes are fermented and matured in steel and it is bottled in the spring with a little sugar to provide the sparkle. It is unusual because it is bottled on the lees and is served after the bottle has been inverted to distribute the residue through the wine so it has a cloudy colour. This is the traditional method of presentation but for those who prefer their wine clear, simply decant carefully to avoid disturbing the sediment. On the nose there is sherbert, probably from the yeast, and pink grapefruit and on the palate it is dry and saline. It will go well with an Italian salami like the local sopressa or a strong cheese like gorgonzola.
We then moved on to the spumante wines that really show off the best qualities of the Durella grape. The vines are on the Spianata vineyard that was excavated and planted by Renato in 1975. These wines are DOC Lessini Durello and the first is called Nostrum. This wine is kept for 36 months on the lees before disgorgement. We tried the 2016 that has a big bouquet of cantucci and a wonderful golden colour that Roberta says is due to the weather that year. Full of life and freshness with a bright acidity, this is a great accompaniment to seafood.
Finally, we were privileged to try the Riserva, a wine that has been awarded the prestigious tre bicchieri by the Gambero Rosso guide. The wine comprises 85% of the current year’s harvest and 15% of the wine from the previous year to add complexity, and remains on the lees for five years. We sampled the 2015 that had a delicate colour with a bouquet of citrus, yeast, and toasted hazelnuts. On the palate there was a delicious minerality. For a piece of unashamed hedonism try it with oysters.
We left this quiet hilltop winery with a feeling of having met someone totally dedicated to what they do and, through that dedication, having achieved a life worth living.