Is there is any Xmas cake on your horizon this festive season?
I can remember a warm Christmas cake with coins stuck inside as a family Christmas tradition. We haven’t done it in years, but it was peak kid thrill to pull coins out of your dessert. $2! I’m rich.
If I were going to drink anything (besides eggnog) alongside the expensive-to-make Christmas cake, then surely it would be this super, vin santo style, Pizzini Per Gli Angeli 2012.
Per Gli Angeli translates as ‘for the angels’, and uses King Valley Trebbiano, the workhorse, large-berried, white-skinned grape. Technically, there are many genetically different varieties out there labelled as Trebbiano. Still, they all share the tendency to be seriously vigorous, delivering huge crops which are perfect for making vin santo. ‘Treb’ is late-ripening and will hold its acidity, which is why it is the backbone of many a fresh white wine – like Soave, where it is married to Garganega (although it is Trebbiano di Soave, which is also known as Verdicchio Bianco).
For this Pizzini sweet wine, the grapes are picked early (potential alcohol of 9-10%, or circa 10 Baume) and then dried on racks for four months. This reduces the volume of water to sugar in each berry, while the early pick ensures this still has plenty of acidity (final total acidity of 7.6g/L).
From here, it’s off to the press, and it’s a trickier process to press when you have these dried grapes with much less liquid. So what Pizzini do is press the dried grapes and then return some of the juice back into the press. This helps keep the press going. Plus, you also rehydrate the berries themselves, which helps extract more flavours.
The final process is fermentation, which can take years because of the high sugar levels. Pizzini does this in 100-litre octaves (small barrels, prized for fortified) with ferment stretching out over two years (which is short, six years or more is not unusual). The very sweet finished wine then spends a further three years in barrel before bottling.
Besides the patience required to make such a drink, the pricetag isn’t arbitrary. Volume losses during the process are significant – you get just 20 litres of must from 100kg of grapes, maybe less, and then losses during fermentation and maturation can be another 40%. Once you account for losses during bottling and transfers, you’re looking at just 30 375ml bottles from 100kg of grapes max.
Given that, on average, you might get 70 litres from 100kg of white grapes, it’s a fascinating comparison. Let alone the costs of storage etc., for a wine that is not released until it is six years old.
Finally, then, how does it taste?
There is always a certain level of oxidation that comes with a long barrel-aged style like this, but it’s more a whiff than a distraction. Otherwise, it’s a cavalcade of butterscotch, honey, salmon, lemon peel and vanilla bean, the cascading richness of the figgy dried fruit and the sweetness of oak all adding extra choruses in the mix. Style-wise it’s closer to, say, a white port than a traditional botrytis dessert style, but the decadence is unique. Very rich and still youthful, despite some woolly lanolin secondary characters. At just 14%, it doesn’t taste warm, like a tawny, either, although still very sweet. Coffee and caramel raisins bathed in vanilla, that’s the vibe, without being necessarily heavy. Effortless finish too.
Ultimately, this is such a satisfying, indulgent drink. Of course, you’re not going to drink more than a glass, but the indulgence without feeling unbalanced is excellent. Hello Xmas.
Pizzini Per Gli Angeli 2012. Best drinking: great now. You could keep it, and it may never die, but it’s ready. 18.7/20, 95/100. 14%, $125. Pizzini website. Would I buy it? Two glasses and an extra slice of Christmas cake, thanks.
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