The dark trunks of Elena Pantaleoni’s vines were silhouetted against the vibrant green of new spring growth. I walked up and down the rolling hills of her estate along the Trebbia River in Emilia sensing the raucous vitality that would soon burst forth.
When I was here last summer, that had already happened. The vines were dressed elegantly in green. Elena farms with traditionally natural methods in both the vineyards and the cellar. On small sign is the verdant growth between the rows.
Elena chafes a little at the term “natural” wine saying, “I would rather just say that I make wine.” She explains that until about fifty years ago, all wine in Italy was made naturally, and it was simply called “wine”.
In her view, it would be better if what are now known as “conventional” producers had to put a list of the additives and industrial processes they use instead of asking “real” wine winegrowers to get organic or biodynamic certification and prove that they use “natural” methods in the cellar.
Another problem with the term, “natural” wine, is that many people have gotten the idea that “natural” wine can’t age and has to be drunk young. Going back to the fact that all wine used to be “natural”, Elena points out that a wines ability to age depends on the characteristics of the grape variety (whether it has acidity, minerality and/or tannins) and choices by the winegrower in the vineyard and in the cellar.
La Stoppa’s oldest vines are planted with the red native varieties Bonarda and Barbera that Elena Pantaleoni’s father first used to make La Stoppa Macchiona in 1973 (50% Bonarda + 50% Barbara). She opened a bottle from 2005 to demonstrate the wines aging capacity. It had the decisive freshness that comes with the acidity from both varieties against a backdrop of firm but gentle tannins. Elena only releases the wine after a year of aging in large, oak barrels and two years in the bottle. It paired easily with our main dish of tagliata (sliced rare beef).
Elena next opened a white wine with aging capacity,La Stoppa Ageno 2010, which is made with 30-day skin contact (60% Malvasia di Candia and 40% Ortruga and Trebbiano). These native varieties complement each other perfectly since Malvasia is aromatic (lots of fruity aromas) while Ortruga and Trebbiano don’t have distinctive aromas and flavors, but have a lot of acidity. The slightly oxidized wine is like a study in paradoxes: complex but delicate, full but light, elements of sweetness, but still very dry. The tannins from skin contact give it structure and make it pair easily with food, especially anything with fattiness or sweetness (e.g. aged cheese, prosciutto, etc.).
At the end of the meal, Elena poured La Stoppa Vigna Del Volta, a passito wine made 95% with Malvasia di Candia grapes dried in the sun. Aged 10 months in barriques and two years in the bottle, it is a dessert wine or vino di meditazione, not too sweet and full of the aromatic characteristics of the grape variety.
After trying the La Stoppa wines meant for aging, Elena sent me home to Liguria with a bottle of La Stoppa Trebbiolo 2013 made with 60% Barbera and 40% Bonarda grapes. The mix is similar to Macchiona, but the grapes come from younger vines and are fermented in stainless steel, resulting in a lighter, easier drinking wine, not meant for long aging. Spring is coming to the seaside, too, and the wine was perfect with a simple dinner of Focaccia al Formaggio on the porch.
The beauty and fascination of Elena’s wines is clearly related to their breadth and their depth. Yes, they are natural, but that is just the beginning. They tell true tales of terroir and are tied intimately to the place, the history, the traditions and the people who make them.
To arrange a visit, a tasting or an event at La Stoppa, write Eleanor at firstname.lastname@example.org or directly to La Stoppa at email@example.com