When an invitation came in to visit Villa Sandi in the Veneto it was intriguing on two levels: the first was that since I last visited the estate in 2009, they have picked up an unbroken string of ‘3 bicchieri’ awards from Gambero Rosso, the highest accolade dished out by Italy’s most influential wine guide. The awards have been for their top Prosecco, a single-vineyard wine from the hill of Cartizze. The second point of interest was that I’d be travelling with renowned chef Theo Randall to look at matching the wines with regional cuisine, a prospect potentially too delectable to miss.
Villa Sandi is a substantial producer, best known for its Prosecco, but also producing traditional method sparkling wines and still table wines to the tune of four million bottles annually. The great bulk of this is Prosecco, but I would also taste their traditional method wines made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc (which have a minimum of 36 months secondary fermentation in bottle), and their still wines made from Pinot Grigio and Merlot.
Stefano Gava, Villa Sandi’s oenologist, led the tasting. He explained that their Prosecco falls into three basic bands: wines bottled as DOC Prosecco come from the flatter vineyards, not the hills between the towns of Conigliano and Valdobbiadene. Those hills form the second band: the superior DOCG of Conegliano-Valdobbiadene. Finally there are wines labelled Cartizze, from a specific area within the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOCG. Yields for DOCG wines are substantially lower than DOC.
Villa Sandi bottles its Prosecco to order – one aspect of the winemaking process that makes Villa Sandi different from many other producers. The must is held in tanks at zero degrees, and the secondary fermentation (in Prosecco this also happens in tank – the charmat method in French winemaking terminology), and bottling are done in batches. The use of added sulphur is low – around half the legal limit – and alcohol is always around 11.5% abv.
That 3 Bicchieri winning wine is their single vineyard Prosecco from the top terroir of Cartizze. Cartizze is amongst the most expensive vineyard land in Italy, a renowned zone where 140 owners share only 216 acres. Villa Sandi is the largest single owner, and their vineyard known as La Rivetta (pictured left) sits in the middle of the Cartizze micro-zone.
Their range of traditional method sparkling wines, where secondary fermentation takes place in individual bottles, appears under the label ‘Opere’. Three century-old underground cellars stretch for over 1.5 kilometres beneath the villa, creating an ideal environment for wine aging with constant humidity and cool temperature. The top bottlings of Opere spend a minimum of five years in the cellars. Though the traditional method sparkling wines of the area have not previously had their own DOC appellation, a brand new classification of DOC Serenissima has just been created, presumably to help these wines compete more evenly against the growing reputation for the wines of Franciacorta just to the west. All of Villa Sandi’s Opere wine are Brut, with between 8 and 9.5g/l dosage.
The cellars also house the barrel rooms where Villa Sandi’s still wines are made, filled with oak barrels from top French coopers. All of the grapes come from the Treviso area, most from vineyards around the villa, with Merlot dominant though Cabernet Franc is grown too. The indigenous Raboso is also made as a still wine, though I did not taste it on this occasion.
Run by the charming Giancarlo Moretti Polegato, Villa Sandi is a prestigious player in the Prosecco production area. The magnificent Palladian Villa Sandi (right) and the underground cellars are open to the public for free guided tours, and they run the Locanda Sandi nearby, a lovely restaurant specialising in local foods with comfortable rooms. The Polegato family also own the Geox and Diadora footwear companies, so one presumes investment in the quality of Villa Sandi will be ongoing.
|for tasting notes on 13 wines from Villa Sandi|
Via Erizzo 112
31035 Crocetta del Montello
TEL. +39 0423 665033