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Loving Lubigo: the native Piacenza fizz of Croci’s Ortrigo varietal

by Claudio Celio

The Colli Piacentini appellation is a historic terroir for fizzy and sparkling wines, possibly the Italian area where production of fizzy wines has its deepest roots in tradition. The Croci family, for instance, has been making wine since 1935 – at the time of the war in Ethiopia, just so we’re on the same page –: at first, it was mostly sold in bulk, not bottled by the Crocis themselves.

The winery is located on the Monterosso hillside, in Val d’Arda, at an altitude of 250 meters (820 feet), in the northernmost hills south of Piacenza – facing the medieval village of Castell’Arquato, on geologically rather recent clayey and sandy terrains. This is where Massimiliano Croci, together with his dad Ermanno and his brother, manages some 10 hectares under vine (a little under 25 acres), yielding a range of mostly fizzy wines from native varieties. Besides the reds from Bonarda and Barbera, Massimiliano Croci also vinifies a local white grape called Ortrugo, producing some 7,000 bottles per annum of a frizzante wine, Lubigo.

Grapes are hand-picked and vinified in red, i.e. with maceration on the skins, lasting as long as 15 days, prior to a couple of rackings and bottling. The wine is bottled with sugar residue that later determines refermentation in the bottle in late spring, when temperatures start to pick up again. For this reason, fizzy wines like Lubigo are never perfectly transparent; on the contrary, they are characterized by sediment caused by secondary fermentation in the bottle, one of whose many functions is safeguarding the wine and increasing its longevity.

I recently had the opportunity of tasting the latest two vintages, 2014 and 2015, which show opposite characteristics. “On the one hand – Massimiliano confides –, there’s a year like 2014, distinguished by freshness and acidity. On the other, there’s the 2015 vintage, where the summer’s intense heat reduced acidity and heightened sugar levels. These are wines produced with all-natural methods – he adds –, that faithfully reflect vintage conditions.”

Upon tasting, I can only agree. 2014 is nippier and livelier. On the nose, it is reminiscent of sorghum, hay and bread crust while on the palate, the perlage and acidity create an extremely enjoyable combination and appealing quaffability. Instead, 2015 has the makings of a fatter wine. The bouquet itself shows notes closer to yellow fruit and peach skin. In turn, the palate is richer and more structured, with a tightly knit texture that is necessarily less lively than 2014. 2015 is a more challenging and versatile vintage in terms of food pairings, which can vary from the classic ones, cold cuts and soups or first courses, to risottos with very rich condiments.