Metodo Classico Wine Trip to Contratto, Alta Langa DOCG
Updated: Feb 9
If you'd like to start with the overview of Alta Langa DOCG, learn about varieties, winemaking techniques and the famous Canelli Cathedrals that are actually wine cellars - start here, at Metodo Classico Wines from the boutique Alta Langa DOCG
Historical facts about Contratto's sparkling wine saga
Founded in 1867 by Giuseppe Contratto, the winery has been sold a couple of times. However, as the staff ensures - it was for the best. Every owner brought something special to the estate. The original recipes are still kept for both sparkling wines and vermouth production - these come from the Contratto family.
The second owner was a serious gourmet. Taking a tour to Contratto's UNESCO 'Cathedral' underground cellar (read more about the UNESCO Cathedrals in Canelli here), you'll see an impressive dining table right there among the bottles. He was known for organizing amazing dinners for his friends and inviting best chefs from the world to cook for them.
The current owner - Giorgio Rivetti, owns as well La Spinetta winery, so it brought Contratto back to its' roots - production of only sparkling wines. While all the still wines are in La Spinetta (nearby in Castagnole delle Lanze).
The revolutionary Contratto For England
A very famous wine from Contratto is called 'For England'. In the past sparkling wines were sweet, wineries used to add a lot of sugar, around 60 g per liter! English market asked for less sugar - 30 g, which was a revolution back then, but would feel extremely sweet for us today. As the wine was such a game changer for all sparkling wine industry in Piedmont, Contratto decided to keep the label, even though today it's 0 sugar, a Pas Dosé wine.
The famous Parisienne label for Contratto
The new label was born in 2011. The very French styled painting of a woman with a glass of bubbly was painted by Leonetto Capiello in 1922 for Contratto Liqueur. The artist was born in Livorno in 1875, but he spend his whole life in Paris. Capiello is known to be the most influencial poster artist in history. The famous labels (those times, advertising posters) of Cinzano, Ramos Pinto, Cioccolato Venchi and many more are his creations.
Find a gold coin in Contratto's sparkling wines
Well, not anymore... Bacco d'Oro is their only sparkling wine that is not Pas Dosé, so it has added sugar and is and Extra Dry wine. In the past Contratto used to hide a gold coin in between the cork and cage, every 100 bottles of Bacco d'Oro. Then gold price increased, and they hid 1 coin every 1000 bottles. Today the name is kept but no gold coins to look for anymore.
How to determine whether the sparkling wine producer does manual riddling (remuage)?
On all metodo classico wines from Contratto you will always find the mark on the bottom of the bottle as they do remuage (riddling) only manually. There is always a mark on the bottle if the producer does remuage using the old-school pupitres.
Actually, at Contratto, Mauro Ferrero - their human machine, is doing all the riddling on his own. His speed is 15 000 bottles per hour and he has been doing it in Contratto for the last 40 years (since he was 16), every single day. They're doing it manually because in the cellar in high humidity conditions (80%) machinery and especially the giro pallet tends to break every two months.
Are the sparkling wines from Canelli vintage?
All the wines are Millesimato, which means they don't blend different vintages together. It's also the name of one of their wines, which is Pinot Noir & Chardonnay. They were first in Italy in 1919 to keep the vintage in metodo classico wines.
The reason why vintages are so rare in champagne and a normal thing in Piemonte's metodo classico wines is weather. Indeed, the climate here is milder, there is no dramatic difference from one harvest to another. That's why it's easier to produce wines of the same high quality every year.
Disgorgement of bottles in Contratto winery
Disgorgement of magnum sized bottles is also done manually, and, you guessed it right, by Mauro! He simply said it's faster, than using the machine.
For the other bottles a la glace method is used, which is mechanical. Read more about metodo classico wine production methods here.
What Liqueur d'Expedition they use in Contratto?
In Contratto they add only the wine from the same vintage as Liqueur d'Expedition, thus keeping the wines Millesimato. They do not add any sugar to Liqueur d'Expedition, unless the wine is labeled as Extra Dry. All sparkling wines of Contratto are made in Pas Dosage (zero sugar) method, and only one - Bacco d'Oro as Extra Dry sparkling.
Sparkling wine tasting in Contratto winery in Canelli
Contratto produces 250 000 bottles of sparkling wine every year. Although visiting their cellar you'll actually face 1 500 000 bottles - that is because every metodo classico wine made in Alta Langa must spend 30 or 36 months minimum (the later is for riserva) in cellar on lees.
Millesimato 2012 - it means 'vintage' in Italian, but as we know all Contratto's wines are vintage. So this time it's a proprietary name of the wine which consists of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay. It'a a pas dose sparkling wine, with no sugar added. We can see the harvest year on the front label - it's 2012, while the disgorgement date is on the back - 8 of February 2019. So 5 years on lees and 2 months with cork.
This wine is at the beginning of its life, and that life lasts for 15 years. After 15 years the bubbles are lost. It's very early to drink this wine after only 2 months on cork. On the nose we feel crust bread, pastry, yeast, flower blossom and fruits as it is very young. In a couple of years the aromas will transform to dry flowers and dry fruits.
On the palate - the acidity is high, the mouth is watering inside, there is no sugar whatsoever. The bubbles are gentle, smooth, because in 5 years they had time to divide themselves and dissolve in the wine. Contratto's Millesimato is perfect with white fish, fried fish and seafood, foie gras, cheese. as the bubble cleans the mouth well from oil.
Cuvee Novecento 2010 - this was my favourite metodo classico from Contratto, although it's definitely too early to drink it. It's a 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, a new entry presented this year at Vinitaly. Harvest year is 2010, disgorgement date 18 of February 2019. 8 years on lees, and less than 2 months with cork. So the wine didn't have enough contact with the oxygen through the cork yet, and we have to give it a few more months to be able to open the bouquet.
On the nose it's lots of yeast, crust bread, pastry, croissant and very fresh white flowers. The colour is pale gold. It's more full bodied because of the Chardonnay. If you like sparkling wines fresh and young open early within 1 year after disgorgement, if you prefer complexity keep it over a year.
For England Rose 2011 - not only for England anymore. A 100% Pinot Noir, that spent only 1,5 h macerating on the skin. Harvested in 2011, disgorged on November 5th, 2018. 6,5 years on lees, and more than 5 months on the cork, so this metodo classico is ready to enjoy.
On the nose - yeast, pastry, crust bread, raspberry, strawberry, the nose is not too strong, as it's just 1,5 h and Pinot Noir has thin skin that doesn't add too much colour or flavour in this short period. It's a Pas Dose sparkling wine as all the wines besides Bacco d'Oro, that is the only one with sugar.Pair it with tartar, white fish, white meet, fried fish, and whatever greasy that you want to make feel lighter.
La Spinetta Moscato Passito Oro - a Moscato wine that is produced only in the best years. It's a sweet wine made of dried (pasito) Moscato, so the quantity of grape must the winemaker can get from it is significantly reduced by the process of drying.
It's full of tropical fruits, caramelized sugar, dried pineapple, mango and peach. The wine is very sweet, and is fermented partially (yeasts at some point just give up fermenting the abundant sugars and die). However, the acidity from the cool hills of Castagnole delle Lanze solves this issue, bringing perfect balance between sweet and acidic.
We also tasted a vermouth, but, to be honest, I'm not a huge fan of it in general, so couldn't appreciate the palate :) But if you're curious to find out why EVERY metodo classico sparkling wine producer also has a vermouth in their portfolio, search for an answer in my Metodo Classico Wines from the boutique Alta Langa DOCG article.