Malvasia


So, what is “pet-nat”? Besides being a cute nickname. These of-the-moment sparkling wines, the darlings of astute somms — pétillant-naturel in French — exist at the basic level of making sparkling wine, less complicated than the méthode champenoise, more rustic in effect, yet often delicious and appealing. An added factor is that they seem the epitome of naturalness in winemaking. Simply stated: Wine is bottled before fermentation is complete, so that fermentation continues in the bottle (because of the residual sugar) and carbon dioxide forms: i.e, bubbles. The result is a light sparkling wine, often but not always slightly sweet, that tends to leave sediment as a mark of its down-to-earth character.

Today, we look at two examples of single-vineyard pét-nat sparklers from Onward Wines, fashioned in small quantities by winemaker Faith Armstrong Foster. These examples are bone-dry, spare and subtle, not as robust or complex as Champagne yet delivering very satisfying character of their own, with an unmistakable quality of authenticity and integrity.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Onward Wines Sparkling Rose of Pinot Noir 2016, Redwood Valley, offers a pale coral-onion skin hue and delicate scents of blood orange and watermelon, sea foam and heather; mild effervescence keeps the wine gently but persistently animated. Traces of fresh, yeasty bread and lime peel highlight the nose and the palate, where lithe acidity drives through notes of dried red currants and the slight bitterness of grapefruit rind, all of these elements expressed with spare elegance, lovely balance and a touch of reticence. 12.1 percent alcohol. Production was 174 cases. Excellent. About $30.

Redwood Valley is a small American Viticultural Area (AVA), approved in 1996, in northern Mendocino County.
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The color of the Onward Wines Sparkling Malvasia Bianca 2016, Suisun Valley, is pale platinum blond, a Jean Harlow hue, made lively by a steady stream of tiny bubbles; it’s made 100 percent from malvasia bianca grapes, which lend the wine notes of green apple, apple peel, almond skin and a slightly foxy greenness. This is very dry, almost austere, but delivers fresh and ripe touches of lemongrass and melon, cinnamon toast and orange blossom, energized by bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. 12.6 percent alcohol Production was 350 cases. Excellent. About $24.

Suisun Valley, approved as an AVA in 1982, lies east of Napa Valley in Solano County, bounded by Howell Mountain on the west and the Vaca Range on the east.
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Salina is one of the Aeolian Islands north of Sicily. Composed of six volcanic peaks, the island comprises only about 10 square miles. While Salina claims to produce the world’s best capers, the island is also notable for sweet wines made from the malvasia grape. In 2013, however, Tenuta Capofaro, a property owned by Sicily’s Tasca d’Almerita, produced the island’s first dry malvasia. I recently tried the Capofaro Didyme Malvasia 2016, Salina, and it’s one of the best white wines I have tasted this year. (“Didyme” is the ancient name for the island.) Made all in stainless steel, the wine displays a very pale straw-gold hue and arresting aromas of preserved lemon, bee’s-wax, melon and figs; a few moments in the glass unfurl notes of greengage, almond skin and camellia. Bright acidity, a necessity considering the grape’s tendency toward fatness, lends lift, litheness and energy to a dense and vibrant texture that seems filled with sunlight; flavors of roasted lemon and spiced pear, touched with an aura of salt marsh and green leafiness, are framed by a sense of spareness on the palate, all leading to a burnished finish polished by sea breeze and heather. 12.5 percent alcohol. We were intrigued and entranced by this wine, which served as a fine accompaniment to salmon marinated in olive oil, soy sauce and lemon juice and given a juniper berry rub, then seared in a cast-iron skillet. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $25, and Worth a Search.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.