On this special episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” host Zach Geballe is joined once again by winemaker Maurizio Maurizi of Mezzacorona in Trentino, Italy. They continue the conversation about the region’s notable Pinot Grigios and present the area’s latest product, Delisia Rosé made from Pinot Grigio grapes. Tune in to learn more.
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Zach Geballe: In Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe. And this is a special episode of the “VinePair Podcast.” Today I have the pleasure of being joined once again by Maurizio Maurizi, who is the winemaker for Gruppo Mezzacorona in Trentino in northeastern Italy. Maurizio, thank you so much for your time.
Maurizio Maurizi: Oh, thank you for inviting me. Ciao.
Z: It was about a year ago we had you on last, and we had a lot of conversations about Mezzacorona and Pinot Grigio. We’re going to cover a little bit of that same ground today. But for those of you who haven’t listened to that episode and do want a little bit more background, please go take a listen to that. I’ll make sure that there’s a link to it in the show notes here as well, so you can get a little bit more background. But let’s give a little bit of an overview — first about you, Maurizio. How did you come to Mezzacorona? What’s your background?
M: I’m the winemaker from Mezzacorona, but I’m not from Trentino. I’m not from northern Italy, I’m from the Marche region in central Italy. My family was producing wine, but a bigger quantity of wine than for themselves. I’m from a small farm where you make everything by yourself. You have cows, pigs, the vineyards, and everything. The part that was more seductive for me was the grape part, the vinification part. I wanted to make wine. So I started studying at college in Ascoli about vinification and winemaking. In Tuscany, I went to university, and then I went to Mezzacorona for my first experience. Mezzacorona was the stage, the training period during university. I started with them in 2006, so 15 years ago now. I started as a worker in the winery. I was a winemaker for the main winemaker. Then I went to Sicily for another winery of the group. And then I was back in Trentino for the last five years for Mezzacorona wines.
Z: Fantastic. For those who are unfamiliar, Mezzacorona is really interesting because it is a cooperative in Trentino of over 1,000 growers, as I recall. We don’t want to get too deep into this because there is that other episode that people can listen to. But can you explain a little bit about what that’s like and what the setup is in Trentino and the growers you work with? I think our listeners would really appreciate getting to understand that element of the winery.
M: Well, it’s a cooperative. We are 1,500 farmers that all together decided to create a winery — a co-op — more than 100 years ago. The winery is 100 years old. Each farmer cultivates one hectare or one hectare and a half, so it’s a small garden of the vineyard. They collect all the grapes in Mezzacorona. Mezzacorona is the biggest producer of Pinot Grigio. But, as I told you, it’s one hectare or two hectares maximum. So every farmer takes care of their own vineyards, really like a garden. And they live with that, so the money that they earn with these vineyards is the money that they make to survive. They care a lot about this. If you come to Trentino, you can see for yourself. It’s a very particular way to cultivate the grapes because they really care about that.
Z: We’ve mentioned Trentino a couple of times, but I think for some of our listeners and even those who are relatively familiar with Italian wine, their understanding of this part of Italy might be somewhat limited. Where are we, and what are some of the defining features of the landscape and of the place?
M: Trentino is the northernmost Italian region. 80 percent of the region is mountains. There are many valleys with rivers, a lot of lakes, about 300. There is everything about life and about cultivation. People who live there cultivate grapes, apples, blueberries, red berries, in this small part of the region. But really, the region is very wonderful. There is an advertisement on Italian television that talks about Trentino which says, “You are in Trentino. Breathe.” Just to tell you how pure the area is and how beautiful life is here. It’s a very natural place with a lot of mountains, more than 750 miles of sky slopes. It’s where the American ski team trains in the winter. In this place, it’s very nice to cultivate grapes, but you have to cultivate and care about that in the very small parts. That’s why just a few cultivations are made; grapes, apples, and something else. It’s a paradise for active holidays. It’s a paradise to live in. It’s a paradise to cultivate clean and healthy food.
Z: Wonderful. And I’m curious, since we are largely talking about Pinot Grigio, what is it about Pinot Grigio that makes it such a natural fit for these vineyards, that it is such a big part of production in Trentino and obviously for a Mezzacorona?
M: Pinot Grigio is cultivated worldwide, everywhere. In many places in Italy. One of the first places where it was cultivated in Italy was Trentino in the ’50s and ’60s. We’re adopting this grape because we took it to be, we’re productive and making very good wines. They started with a few hectares, and now we have many hectares of Pinot Grigio. But there is something special about Trentino Pinot Grigio because the hectare is not so big; it’s quite small. You’ll see that the appellation is different from the rest of Italy’s appellations. It is a very small appellation, you’ll see. With one kilo of grapes, you cannot make more than 0.7 liters of wine. The wine that you obtain from the grape means you cannot squeeze a lot out of the grape. And of course, the terroir is very particular. We have a very particular soil that is made by the river. There is a very particular climate because there is a big distribution of the temperature between the day and the night. You have to imagine that the coldest place in Italy in winter is Trentino. The warmest place in summer in Italy is Bolzano. That is in Trentino, too; Trentino has duality. So really, you have a big distribution. This permits the grape to accumulate a lot of aromas. That’s why we don’t have to work with Pinot Grigio in the winery a lot, because the grape is already very rich and powerful. We just need to press a bit, ferment it, and the wine is done and you have fantastic wine.
Z: You mentioned something that’s important and will be important as we talk about a couple of the wines in the portfolio in a moment. The retention of aromatics is something that I think is really interesting when we talk about Pinot Grigio. I’ll just say that some of the more uninteresting expressions of Pinot Grigio that you can find — whether from Italy or elsewhere — don’t capture any of the aromatics. Yet Pinot Grigio is an aromatic variety, right?
M: It’s not really aromatic, like a Moscato or something like that.
Z: Like a Gewürztraminer or something like that.
M: Yeah. But if you cultivate it in the right place, it’s able to accumulate a lot of aromas. Of course, it is not the aroma of the peach yellow flowers. But in Trentino, you accommodate the aroma of camomile and of white flowers. So it’s very delicate, but can be very intense if you’re headed in the right place. With the cold temperature we have, especially during the night, harvesting in the morning brings the winery very fresh grapes. So we don’t need to chill down the temperature. We just need to preserve the aroma that is already present from the natural climate that is in Trentino. The temperature shift between the day and the night is very important to accommodate the aroma in white grapes. In Italy, many people know that the best white wines come from the Northeast because of the climate, essentially.
Z: Allowing that temperature shift from day to night probably allows you guys to, as you were saying, get both a degree of ripeness into the wine and into the grapes, but also maintain freshness and acidity. That is so critical for all wines, but especially for white wines,
M: It’s very important. Another thing that is very important is that you can harvest at the perfect time. If you have one hectare and you know the territory of where you are, the agronomist can say to the farmer, “OK, today’s your time, go, please do the harvest.” And they go. The farmer and his family go, and in three or four hours, they harvest everything and bring it to the winery. So we don’t have to wait for the day when the people are ready to harvest. We can harvest at the right time. That’s very important for the maturation of the skin, for the maturation of the seeds, and for the maturation of the aroma of the grape.
Z: Speaking of aroma, one of the things that’s really interesting to me about some of what you have introduced into the market relatively recently is, you’re now making a rosé. I was really intrigued by this wine for a few different reasons. I would love to hear a little bit about how it came to be. I would imagine that some of our listeners who have had plenty of Pinot Grigio in their lives are perhaps baffled at the notion that, what to them is always a white wine, is capable of producing a rosé. They would think, “Well, don’t you need a red grape for that?” Maybe you can explain, first and foremost, how this is even possible.
M: We are talking about Pinot Grigio. Grigio, the grape is called that because the grape is not white. It’s a kind of middle way between red and blue; it’s Grigio. And of course, the color of the grape is on the skin. You could make a red Pinot Grigio, but it’s not really red. You can make orange Pinot Grigio or white Pinot Grigio or rosé Pinot Grigio, just depending on how much color you want to extract from the skin. If we collect the grape in the winery, we press it immediately and we take just the juice, we have white juice. But if we take these grapes and we maintain that in the press for a few hours, with the juice and skin in contact, we extract from the skin, and the juice would be pink. But it’s not only the color that we extract, because in the skin, there is also the aroma. Of course, we will have a different aroma from the white free-run juice or pink juice that we extract from the skin. So really, the Pinot Grigio rosé or the white Pinot Grigio are two different phases of Pinot Grigio, but they are different.
Z: I was really struck in tasting the rosé last night when I was preparing for this at how, as you said, different the aromas are. Maybe unsurprisingly to me, but to a lot of people listening, you got a lot of red berry fruit, cranberry, and raspberry on the nose. As well as a lot of ripe or citrus grapefruit and maybe a little bit of blood orange or something like that. Does that square with your experience with wine?
M: Yeah, exactly like that. The first impact you have on the nose is the red fruit. Which is strange because you think about Pinot Grigio and its white flowers. But the red fruit comes to your nose. And then, yes, pink grapefruit. That is the citrus sensation and natural white flowers you feel on the back of the nose. The floral notes are there, but the red fruit is the first impact. Also looking at the wine, you have pink wine in the glass. So you imagine something totally different from the classic Pinot Grigio. In the mouth, you feel something different. This is a bit larger and a bit more deep, but it always maintains the acidity and freshness of Pinot Grigio. We used to say that Pinot Grigio has a “friendly acidity.” The acidity is not sharp; it’s friendly in your mouth. With the Pinot Grigio rosé, you have a bit more sensation when you put it in the nose. But you always have the fresh, crispy, friendly acidity of Pinot Grigio.
Z: I know I could just go to Google Translate, but what does “Delisa” mean and where does it come from?
M: “Delisa” means delight. When we were producing this wine and we had to find the name, we were thinking about Trentino immediately. We were imagining and interpreting the region of Trentino like the garden of delight. So we had to find a name that was similar to delight that recalls these sensations. This one is born in a mountain garden, a garden of delight, so we decided to use that name Delisa to sound elegant and nice like the wine is.
Z: This is me indulging my inner wine geek side, so I have a couple of other questions about this wine. One of them is, is the harvest date later for these grapes because you’re looking for more color in the grapes? Or is this getting picked at the same time as the Pinot Grigio for the white wine?
M: It’s more or less the same time. But usually, we don’t produce from just one vineyard. We have different farmers in different areas of Trentino, a bit higher on the hill or lower in the valley. We produce different Pinot Grigio rosé, and then we blend them to create the perfect wine. Usually, it’s at the same time or two to three days later. What is important in wine is the color, yes, but the mouth sensation has to be perfect. So the acidity equilibrium has to be there. The most important thing is the mouth that the grape can bring to the wine.
Z: Are you looking for anything different in the grapes as they’re coming into the winery? Are you making the decision right away? I think this lot is going to be what we want to make into rosé. And if so, how do you make that determination?
M: We decide beforehand which vineyards will produce it. We have a different system of vineyards and cultivation in Trentino that is not the classic espalier. It’s like a roof where we cultivate this grape, and bunches are not in the middle of the leaves. So you can easily see the maturation of the grape, and the grape has a different disposition depending on which side of the hill they are cultivating. We got to choose the right vineyards that are well exposed to the sun. The grape has to ripen, of course, like with classic Pinot Grigio. But the effect of the sun on the skin is very important. The acidity has to be the same. The sugar has to be the same. But the color of the skin has to be a touch different because the sun has the work on it.
Z: I have heard it said, though I have never experienced that myself, that the best nap you can take is under pergola vines.
M: This is true.
Z: It’s one thing you definitely can’t do with espalier. There’s not a lot of shade.
M: We don’t do espalier. In Trentino, the classic system is the pergola because the soil is very rich. So the plant has to grow more and has to express more. If we put them in a small espalier, we have a lot of leaves and the plant doesn’t think about the grape. It doesn’t think about reproduction or vegetation. In a pergola, the plant can grow more and can express more. And after it expresses too much power, think about reproduction. So think about the grapes. That’s why in Trentino, for many years, we have cultivated in the classic way.
Z: Let’s talk about the Delisa as a wine to enjoy with different kinds of food. I would love to hear from you, Maurizio, what some of your favorite pairings are. And then I have a few thoughts that I want your opinion on. What are some of your favorite pairings for this wine?
M: I like to pair it with everyday food. For example, a pasta alfredo, hamburger, or veggie burger. It’s something that is very easy to prepare, and also it’s very easy to pair with. The freshness of the wine can contrast the oily sensation of these kinds of dishes. Fried calamari or salmon, for example, are all foods that are oily and fatty. This fatty sensation can pair well with the wine.
Z: Yeah, I was thinking along those lines and about how one of the foods that I classically associate with northeastern Italy would be all kinds of cured meats and things like that. Then I was thinking, Well, one of my favorite things is a really nice grilled kielbasa or bratwurst or something like that. I’m thinking about how lovely the floral notes and the expressive aromatics of the Delisa would be with that fatty, meaty, but not overly meaty and certainly not fussy, kind of meal. Does that sound like something you’d enjoy?
M: Yes, that’s true. Thinking about Italy, some Mediterranean fishes, for example. They’re made with salt. Because another thing about this wine is the salinity, the minerality that the wine has in it. When you have a dish with salt, you need a wine with a touch of salt, too. It’s a very good pairing with fish. I eat a lot of fish almost every day, so I like to try to pair it with the Delisa.
Z: Yeah, absolutely. I have one last question for you, coming back to where we started this conversation, orienting ourselves in Trentino, and understanding where this wine comes from. You mentioned the mountains and the outdoor lifestyle and things like that. But for people who might be thinking about a visit to the region, what are a couple of the things that they should do? Besides, of course, the wine and the food, what are some of the things they should not miss?
M: Trentino is a paradise for tourists in summer and winter. In the winter, it’s about skiing. I told you about the miles of slopes and mountains. In summer, you can enjoy an active holiday in the canyon and water sports. You have to go to the mountains, like Madonna de Campillo; it’s a great place. But also the cities and the culture are nice to see. Trento city is a wonderful place to visit because it’s very historical. It’s a city built by the church, so it’s very rich and beautiful. You can see the cultural part in the cities and do sports in the mountains, lakes, and rivers. We have the biggest lake in Italy, Garda Lake, and you can surf and do other water sports there.
Z: Wonderful. Maurizio, as always, it’s a real pleasure to talk to you and a pleasure to taste and enjoy the wines. Maybe one of these years, we’ll get to do this podcast in person in Trentino.
M: I hope so!
Z: Thank you again so much.
M: Thank you for inviting me.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all of this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team, who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.
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