by Chris Ryerson

One of the best parts of my job is planning out the wines to serve for the variety of special dinners we host throughout the year. However, several weeks ago I was stumped trying to finalize the list of wines to offer during our Balsamico Dinners. Usually, I have some pre-conceived notion of the types of wines I’m looking for; the best choices for the Oceanic, Truffle, and Whole Hog dinners come easily.  Yet, wines that seemed like an intuitive fit with Balsamico weren’t obvious to me.   I decided to go with the idea that wines from the area where Balsamico comes from might be a natural match.  Unfortunately, other than Lambrusco, most of the top wines of Emilia-Romagna didn’t exactly role off my tongue…

After a little research and digging through the portfolios I most trust, I came across the wines of La Stoppa. When I called the importer to inquire, she was practically giddy as she told me more about them: 100% organic and biodynamic, naturally low-yielding older vines grown in poor soil, and a dynamic young owner, Elena Pantaleoni, who is a leader in Italy’s natural wine movement.  The wines seemed to have everything going for them, but I still wasn’t prepared for how impressive they are.

The 2005 Ageno falls squarely into the category of “orange wines,” “oxidized whites,” whatever you want to call them, and it’s one of the best I’ve tried.  Made from Malvasia and Trebbiano soaked on the skins for 30 days with natural yeasts and then aged 12 months in a combination of stainless steel and used French barriques, it greets you with an amazing deep, orangey, brassy color. The Ageno is a study in contrasts. Although the color makes you think the wine will have apparent nutty flavors, it is actually quite fresh, light, and youthful. And even though it has fruit tannins nearly comparable to some red wines, it comes across as quite vibrant and light on its feet. Specific fruit notes are hard to pin down, but the amalgam of other flavors are plenty intriguing: hay, straw, wet tobacco, white tea, and dried flower nuances are all mesmerizing and lead into an amazingly long finish. 162 cases produced.

The 2005 Macchiona is made from equal parts Bonarda and Barbera aged 12 months in ten and twenty hectolitre Slavonian oak casks. The deep, dark, purple color is almost completely opaque. The subtle nose gradually reveals aromas of dark plum, black cherry, wet earthy/mulchy notes, cassis, cocoa powder, subtle baking spice, and even a touch of dried orange peel. The wine is beautiful, vibrant, and alive on the palate.   The acidity is lively and balanced and the tannins add just enough structure while remaining completely velvety and seductive.

Overall, the La Stoppa wines truly give the impression of being alive.  They each have a unique character, are clearly the product of careful, yet natural winemaking, and completely engage all your senses.