Peter Ranscombe explores Zonin’s plans for expansion in California, Russia and Italy with prosecco prince Michele Zonin.
PROSECCO producer Zonin may have deep roots in Italy stretching back nearly 200 years, but Michele Zonin had a distinctly international focus when I caught up with the company’s vice-president on Friday.
Part of the seventh generation of the Zonin family to work in the business, Michele was visiting The Wine House Hotel 1821 in Edinburgh for the latest in a series of dinners.
The Scottish capital was the first city to host one of the family’s wine hotels, with a second housed in Sao Paulo in Brazil and a third opening last week in Moscow.
Edinburgh’s outlet was launched in partnership with Sep Marini, the restauranteur behind the Toni Macaroni chain, while the partner for the Moscow site has a network of 200 Italian restaurants across Russia.
Next on the hit-list is Milan – for which the company’s designers have developed a new colour scheme based on the colours of amarone and prosecco wines – and then Sicily, where a Zonin wine library is due to open inside a new Hilton hotel.
More wine hotels aren’t the only international expansions on Michele’s mind; the family already owns ten wineries in Italy, along with Barboursville in Virginia in the United States, and Dos Almos in Chile, and California is next.
“We’re looking to invest in Napa or Sonoma,” revealed Michele.
“It could be a direct investment or it could be another joint venture.”
I’m already a big fan of the Barboursville cabernet franc and viognier, so I’m excited to see what Zonin could do on the opposite coast in some of California’s top sites.
Michele reported that sweet sparkling and still reds wine are also selling well in the southern United States, appealing to America’s sweet tooth.
Dinner is served
In the meantime, there are still plenty of interesting wines to try within the family’s existing portfolio, with Friday’s dinner focusing on some of the “jewels” or top wines from each of its Italian estates.
After drinks in the basement bar – with the company’s new Imperiale gin debuting alongside its Oltrenero Brut Nature sparkling wine – guests were served the Ca’ Bolani Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (£4.50 for a 125ml glass, £23.50 for a bottle) to match a starter of cold smoked sea trout with fennel salad and pomegranate seeds.
Sauvignon blanc in Italy tends to be grown on warmer sites than, say, the Loire valley in Northern France, and so it usually has more intense fruit to balance its acidity, with the Ca’ Bolani delivering guava, passionfruit and lemon curd flavours.
The Castello di Albola Chianti Classico Riserva 2015 (£9.50, £39) served alongside a wild boar ragu and the Famiglia Zonin Amarone 2015 (£50) accompanying a braised shin of beef in a red wine and chocolate sauce are both big wines, with lengthy ageing potential.
It would be great to explore each of them in a few more years, once the tannins and vanilla-laced oak in the Chianti and the fresh acidity in the Amarone have had more time to settle down and integrate.
One wine that was drinking perfectly now with the beef was the Feudo Principi di Butera Deliella Nero d’Avola 2013 (£29); I love this grown-up style of Nero, with heavy woodsmoke on the nose and fresh blackcurrant and liquorice on the palate, avoiding the confected fruit pitfalls of so many cheap supermarket incarnations.
A Castello del Poggio Moscato d’Asti 2016 (£23) was paired with a passionfruit and mango cheesecake, although it was the wine’s crisp acidity that rose to the fore; perhaps a sweeter wine may have been a closer match.
Returning to the chianti and amarone in years to come will be a real treat – as will exploring the wines Zonin will develop in California.