If you’re looking for a special bottle of bubbly, Lessini Durello has it all. Native grape that only excels in a small, specific area? Check. Volcanic soils? Check. Metodo classico? Check. Racy, elegant and savory? Check. These wines tick all the boxes for fans of dry, vibrant sparklers that boast longevity and personality. Read on to discover more about this radiant, under-the-radar, bottle-fermented sparkler from northern Italy.
On The Wild Side
Lessini Durello’s growing zone lies on the border between the Verona and Vicenza provinces in the Veneto region. Overlapping part of the Soave denomination, the wine is named after the Lessini mountain range. Durella, a rare, native grape, thrives in the range’s steep, wild eastern hills.
The high-altitude, well-ventilated vineyards benefit from full southern exposures, while sharp day-night temperature changes generate complexity. Composed of basalt rock and tuffs containing iron and magnesium, the area’s volcanic soils lend noticeable minerality to the wines.
The growing area’s thick, unspoiled woods and meadows surround the vineyards, creating remarkable biodiversity and housing predatory and pollinating insects. There’s also a plethora of microorganisms, all of which translate into healthy vines.
Durella, the grape behind Lessini Durello, is a thick-skinned, high-acid white variety native to the Monti Lessini area. The name means “hard” or “tough” in Italian and is thought to derive from the toughness of the skins. Others say the name refers to the extremely high acidity that is passed onto the wines.
The naturally high acidity makes the variety ideal for sparkling wine production, especially for bottle-fermented wines called metodo classico in Italian, that boast tension, energy and finesse.
Although other varieties used for sparkling wines may be picked early, before they reach full maturation, to ensure fresh acidity, this isn’t true for Durella.
“Durella has much higher natural acidity than other grapes normally used for sparkling wine production,” says Giacomo Danese, head of international sales at his family-owned Corte Moschina firm. “So instead of picking early, we harvest Durella at full maturation, when grapes are balanced between acidity and sugars.”
And if warmer, drier summers are causing acidity to plummet in many other grapes, Durella hasn’t had a problem. Its thick skins are also rich in tannins, and these polyphenolic compounds play a role in Lessini Durello’s strong personality.
Production regulations stipulate wines must be at least 85% Durella, but these days, many use it in purezza.
The rules are changing to create separate denominations, but currently, Lessini Durello comes in two versions made with different production techniques. One is made using the Charmat method, in which secondary fermentation occurs in a steel tank, yielding creamy, fruitier wines, while the other is made as a metodo classic.
Pending final authorization, the new production code will lead to a name change: Lessini Durello will be used exclusively for Charmat sparklers while the metodo classicos will be called Monti Lessini.
The metodo classicos are the true expression of the area and are unique, world-class sparklers with structure, elegance and complexity. Aromas include white spring flower, citrus and white stone fruit that carry over to the palate along with tangy mineral notes recalling saline and sea salt. They rarely have aromas of bread crust found in many other bottle-fermented sparklers.
The best are bone dry with an extremely fine perlage. The metodo classico category also has a cellar-worthy Riserva version that even after lengthy aging on the lees, still features a crystalline purity.
Producers exporting to the U.S. include Sandro de Bruno, Fongaro, Dal Maso, Fattori, Franchetto, Corte Moschina, Gianni Tessari, Zambon, Corte Giacobbe, Cantina di Monteforte and Cantina di Soave.
Italy’s Other Metodo Classicos
This Lombardy denomination’s wines are made mostly with Chardonnay and Pinot Nero. It’s home to some of the first dosaggio zero bottlings in Italy.
Hilly terrain and calcareous soils are ideal for Pinot Nero and Chardonnay in this part of Piedmont, and wines are always vintage-dated.
Situated in Lombardy’s Pavia province, Pinot Nero reigns supreme and is the main grape in the area’s sparklers.
This article originally appeared in the December 31, 2021 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!