Old School in the Best of Ways
Location: Puianello di Quattro Castella, Reggio Emilia, Northern Italy
Owner & winemaker: Vanni Nizzoli
Vineyard area: 6.8 hectares (~16.8 acres), estate-owned
Vineyard management: certified organics (Ecocert)
Soils: clay with sand and silt, rich in silica, on chalk subsoil
Main varieties: indigenous Emilian grapes like Lambrusco Gasparossa, Malbo Gentile for the reds, Spergola d’Emilia, Trebbiano and Moscato Giallo for the whites
Annual production (approx.): 15 – 25,000 bottles
Winemaking: mostly sparkling wines fermented in concrete tanks and re-fermented in bottles with the addition of chilled grape must. A small quantity of still red and skin-contact white. No fining, no filtration, no sulfur added.
- Cinque Campi is a family estate passed down from father to son in the Nizzoli family for more than 200 years
- The name means “Five Fields” and refers to one of their historical vineyards
- Vanni focuses on local indigenous grapes and old clones of Lambrusco, which are best adapted to the soil and climate of the area
- The wines mostly age in vintage concrete tanks (some as old as the 1970s) that Vanni appreciates for the neutrality, temperature stability, and freshness they bring to the wine
- A tremendous amount of handwork is involved: every bottle is filled, riddled, and then disgorged by hand
Jump to wines | Cinque Campi Website
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.
Lambrusco Rosso Frizzante — Back to the top
This is Cinque Campi’s flagship – an honestly crafted old-school Lambrusco from a traditional local clone complemented by indigenous grapes. Label art by Vanni’s little son.
Grapes: Lambrusco Grasparossa 75-80%, the rest is Malbo Gentile and Marzemino
Vineyard: Clay loam, rich in silica. The average age of vines is 30+ years
Total production: 6000 bottles
Making of: 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.
Personality: charming. Comforting. Friendly and irresistible. This wine, if it were a person, would be that friend who’s fun, unpretentious yet super interesting to talk to, always happy to hear you out and laugh it off all while offering you interesting food for thought, so you’re enjoying every minute together, be it a week-night PJ party or a dressed-up dinner. No really, see for yourself. Lush fruit and heaps of pleasure but also interesting depths and well-incorporated tannins and a hint of funk.
Le Marcone — Back to the top
The only still red that Vanni makes, as a tribute to the old-style family house wine that they used to drink from the barrel over the year.
Grapes: Malbo Gentile 90%, Cab. Sauvignon, Marzemino and Terrano 10%
Vineyard: Le Marcone. 30+ years old vines on silica-rich clay and chalk
Total production 1300 bottles
Making of: Grapes are hand-harvested, destemmed, and macerated in stainless steel vat for 15-20 days with daily pump-overs. The wine then spends 24 months in neutral French and Slavonian oak barrels and further 6 months in bottle. Bottled unfiltered, unfined, and with zero sulfur added.
Personality: Rustic and ripe. Balsamic notes, tannic grip but also some succulent dark fruit from brambles to ripe figs. Pleasant companion to all kinds of steaks and stews. Like that wild boar ragu, mmm…
Bora Lunga — Back to the top
A tribute to local traditional blend and style of (skin-contact) white wines.
Grapes: 90% Spergola, 10% Moscato Giallo
Vineyard: planted in 1948, rich in silica and clay
Total Production: 2500 bottles
Making of: Grapes are hand-harvested in small crates, destemmed, and fermented in stainless steel tanks, in contact with the skins for 4-5 days. The wine then spends 12 months in concrete tanks and further 6 months in bottle. Bottled unfiltered, unfined, and with zero sulfur added.
Personality: fresh, acidic, bright and light! All is in balance here: some exotic fruit and apple pie on the nose, courtesy of the Moscato grape, lifted by the poised citrusy palate with a touch of wet stone and silky tannic touch. A very pleasant, skillfully crafted “orange”, perfect even for those a bit tired of the category or its sometimes overpowering tannins and aromatics.
Fuorleggero Frizzante — Back to the top
Total Production: 1700 bottles
Soil: Clay loam
Varieties: Lambrusco Grasparossa
Vinification Method: The grapes are hand-harvested into small crates and direct pressed to make a rosé. The wine ferments spontaneously in concrete tanks and spends 6 months settling. After that the wine is transferred to bottle with an addition of unfermented juice from the same vintage to finish fermenting in bottle as a sparkling rosé. No fining, no filtering, no sulfur added at any point (total sulfites <13ppm). Disgorged, zero dosage added.
Personality: As seductive as the label art by Vanni’s friend and artist Susan Dutton! Fruit candy for all the senses – light strawberry color w orangey glints, raspberries on the nose, cherries in the mouth…
Terbianc Frizzante — Back to the top
This wine is made from a local kind of Trebbiano that has more body than the ones you find elsewhere in Italy. Named after its name in the local dialect, with label art by Vanni’s little son.
Varieties: Trebbiano di Spagna
Total Production: 2000 bottles
Soil: Clay loam, rich in silica and chalk
Vinification Method: The grapes are hand-harvested into small crates and then macerate on the skins for 5 days. After 6 months in stainless steel and cement tanks, the wine is transferred to bottles with addition of unfermented juice from the same vintage to finish fermenting in bottles. No fining, no filtering, no sulfur added at any point (total sulfites <10ppm). Disgorged, zero dosage added.
Personality: herbal and lush with delicate bubbles. At just 11.5% ABV, it’s a truly pleasant affair for any occasion…
Particella 128 Spumante Metodo Classico — Back to the top
The elegant bamboos on the label fit perfectly with the wine’s delicate profile. Painted by Susan Dutton, an LA-born artist and Vanni’s friend who now lives in the area.
Grapes: Spergola d’Emilia
Vineyard: a single vineyard whose plot number is “128”, hence the name. 20-year-old vines (“young” in Vanni’s book), planted on clayey silicious soils. Yields limited to only 2 kilograms per plant.
Cellar: once hand-harvested into small crates, the grapes are macerated on the skins in steel tanks for 3 days for aromatic richness, and then spend 6 months in concrete and stainless steel vats. Secondary fermentation happens in bottles with the addition of chilled must from the same parcel and vintage. The wine spends 8 – 12 months aging on its lees, with regular remuage by hand. No fining, no filtering, no sulfur added at any point (total sulfites <10ppm). Disgorged, zero dosage added.
Personality: an instant charmer! Fine tingly bubbles, light color, intense floral aroma, beautiful citrus acidity, lingering mouth-watering salinity. A great example of how sparkling wine can be both classy and sassy when coming from a skillful grower & maker.
L’Artiglio Spumante Metodo Classico — Back to the top
This wine uses the same blend as the Bora Lunga skin-contact (see above), the typical local combination of Spergola and Muscat. Vanni makes this wine as a statement that great and refreshing sparkling wines can be made with ripe grapes.
Grapes: Spergola d’Emilia and roughly 10% of Muscat
Vineyard: clayey silicious, yields 1.5 kilograms per plant. The Muscat comes from an old vineyard planted in 1948, the Spergola vines are about 30yo.
Total production: ca 1000 bottles
Cellar: once hand-harvested into small crates, the grapes are macerated on the skins in steel tanks for 5 days, and then spend 6 months in a stainless steel vat. Secondary fermentation happens in bottles with the addition of chilled must from the same parcel and vintage, where the wine spends 3 years aging on its lees, with regular remuage by hand. No fining, no filtering, no sulfur added at any point (total sulfites <10ppm). Disgorged, zero dosage added.
Personality: full-bodied, fresh and mineral. Hints of dried flowers, sage, rosemary and grapefruit, a nice layered sparkler revealing more and more with each glass.
Rio degli Sgoccioli Spumante Metodo Classico — Back to the top
Lambrusco Barghi is one of the many Lambrusco varieties, and it gives intense, dark-ruby-colored wines. Once extensively planted in Emilia-Romagna, only a couple of hectares remain planted now, but Vanni, as a champion of the traditional regional grapes, is proud to showcase it in this rare cuvée (only about 1500 bts produced per year).
Grape: Lambrusco Barghi
Vineyard: clayey silicious. Yields only about 2 kg per plant.
Making of: hand harvested and macerated on the skins in steel tanks for 2–3 days. The wine then spends about 6 months with its native yeasts in concrete tanks. Secondary fermentation happens in bottles with the addition of chilled must from the same parcel and vintage. The wine spends 8 – 12 months aging on its lees, with regular remuage by hand. No fining, no filtering, no sulfur added at any point (total sulfites <10ppm). Disgorged, zero dosage added.
Personality: fresh and mineral, layered red bubbles full of raspberry, strawberry and other red fruit.