Cinque Campi Lambrusco Rosso

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Winemaker: Vanni Nizzoli

Appellation: Reggio Emilia, Italy

Grape Varieties: Lambrusco Grasparossa, Malbo Gentile, Marzemino

Grapes are hand-harvested into small crates and destemmed. Maceration on skins in open vats of oak and chestnut, with daily mixing for 10 days. The primary fermentation then takes place in a stainless steel tank for 6 months. After that, the wine is transferred to bottles with addition of unfermented juice from the same vintage and left to re-ferment for 8 months minimum. No fining, no filtering, no sulfur added at any point (total sulfites <10ppm). Disgorged, zero dosage added.

Arriving at Cinque Campi’s estate near the city of Reggio Emilia on a sunny morning in late October feels like receiving an almost lethal dose of pastoral idyll: a white horse calmly grazes on the grass, fenced out of the household veggie patch, where the late-season salads and cavolo nero cabbages look so delicious it’s probably only for the best that we’re separated from them by a fence too. A beautiful (and shockingly clean) vintage Fendt tractor is parked right next to the mailbox-shaped outdoor concrete fermentation tanks, all cute and shiny in their dark red and minty green paint. Right behind the understated winery building, the estate’s first rows of vines and their leaves turning from green to the autumnal shades of yellow and orange are so bright they almost make you reach for your sunglasses.

No time for sunbathing and vistas, though: Vanni Nizzoli, the scion of a farming family that’s been taking care of the estate for more than 200 years, appears at the door and is ready to give us a tour of his charming property. For most of this long history, it was a mixed farm with wine production reserved for the family, until the 1980s when the estate took the name of its most ancient vineyard (Cinque Campi or “Five Fields”) and expanded to selling wine in glass demijohns to local customers. In 2003, Vanni finally turned the winery into what we know now, taking the long-time family legacy and building quite a reputation for making one of the most charming and genuine Lambruscos and other (mostly) sparkling wines out there.

A vital factor for the authenticity of Cinque Campi wines is their absolute focus on local Italian varieties and clones. The vineyards are quite old (Vanni refers to a 20-year-old vineyard of his as “the young one”) and planted with traditional local types of Lambrusco (like L. Grasparossa or Barghi), Trebbiano or Spergola, which thrive on the local soils – part clay, part sand. “The high silica content of the sandy parts gives freshness and acidity to the wine; an almost skeletal character, which I call the bone of the wine. The chalk subsoil complements that with a bit of power and minerality,” as Vanni describes when asked about the imprint of his soils on the wine.

The estate became officially organic in 2003, but the vineyards had already been cultivated without systemic chemicals for a while before that, echoing the family conviction that “every single living being present on the vine’s leaves, branches, and in the soil is part of the territory’s natural balance and originality, and we believe that this is the only possible way to make wine,” Vanni explains why the 7 hectares of vines he currently takes care of couldn’t be handled differently.

They are separated into several plots, some of the names of which can also be found on the bottles: there’s the Bora Lunga, giving a fragrant skin-contact white blend from its 70-yeard-old vines; Le Marcone denotes a red blend whose balsamic notes, pleasant rusticity, and pronounced tannins echo a traditional house red wine the family was making historically for themselves; Particella 128 sings with a special local variant of Spergola and its elegance and fine bubbles make it pure joy to drink.

Some of the plots are as old as 1948, and some of them are brand new, recently planted from a massal selection by Vanni himself. At the time of our visit, the fragile young vines were protected by plastic tubes, a highly appropriate defense given the wild boar hoofs stamped in the soil literally everywhere around us. “Ah yes, there’s a lot of cinghiale here,” Vanni acknowledges, “we always cook them for the end-of-harvest feast. Very tasty with polenta,” he continues with the beaming eyes and lifted spirit that food conversations always induce in Italian people (and we absolutely don’t blame them for that, quite the contrary).

To veil all this typicity and natural richness as little as possible, Vanni’s winemaking is really minimal and old-school in the best of senses – no fining, no filtration, no sulfur, no BS at any point. Even the secondary fermentation starts without any artificial additives, aided only by a chilled must from Vanni’s own grapes (the amount added determines the final bottle pressure, ie. less must = frizzante, more must = more pressure = spumante). There’s a lot of manual work involved too: the grapes are hand-picked into small crates and the bottling, riddling, and disgorging of all the roughly 10,000 bottles that CC produces each year is done by hand by Vanni, who is aided by his father or little son. All the wines are made without any dosage, too; “what you see is what you get” rings 100% true here.

An interesting point is that fermentation happens mostly in the aforementioned concrete tanks, a material that Vanni loves not only for its neutrality but also for temperature stability. “They weigh as much as the liquid inside, so you get very little temp variations with all this material. After the many tests I’ve done, I’m persuaded that the wines are fresher in the long run when compared to the very same grapes treated in stainless steel. And they are eternal – if you take good care of them, they can last a lifetime,” he says patting the curved vintage tanks from the 1970s that still shine like new. Just like the spotless Fendt right next to them (“this is a rather new tractor, only 25 years old”) and the equally polished impressive Land Rover temporarily parked in the winery, they testify to Vanni’s inborn respect for well-crafted things and the effort to make them last by giving them the care they deserve – qualities you’ll also find aplenty in the soulful wines he makes.