It’s harvest time and to wine lovers this heralds the arrival of vino novello, or ‘new wine.’
Imbibed with the vigor of newly plucked grapes and designed to be drunk immediately instead of aged, vino novello is a lightweight introduction to the richer flavors of autumn and the colder months that follow.
The Italian version of France’s six-week-old Beaujolais Nouveau, vino novello was originally a type of litmus test conducted by producers to gauge the maturation of the grapes shortly after harvest. Vino novello has since come into its own as a stand-alone wine, and in 1999 it officially entered the Italian market.
While Beaujolais Nouveau is produced from Gamay grapes, in Italy producers tend to use a range of varieties, such as Merlot, Sangiovese, Cabernet, Corvina and Nero d’Avola, in the production of vino novello.
According to Italian law, vino novello cannot be released before November 6 on the year of harvest. However, it’s not merely the relative youth of the wine that separates it from its heavyweight siblings; the manner in which it is produced differs as well. Vino novello requires manual harvesting, after which the grapes are placed intact in sealed stainless steel tanks and undergo carbonic maceration, a process in which carbon dioxide is used to trigger intracellular fermentation without the addition of yeast.
The result is a light, fresh and fruity wine, low in tannins and with pronounced berry characteristics. Ideally drunk within a year of being produced, vino novello is best enjoyed with light first courses, white meat or fresh cheese, as well as that other harbinger of autumn, roasted chestnuts. Light enough to be enjoyed in draughts rather than slowly sipped by the glass, it’s the ideal wine to kick off a season of autumn harvest festivities.