Year’s Best from Italy – To Date

July 2, 2012 at 11:36 am 6 comments

Come learn Italian wines by tasting some!

 Francesco Carfagna, Az. Agr. Altura, Isola del Giglio (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

As we turn the calendar from June to July, we come to the half way point of 2012. So I’d like to share a few thoughts on the best Italian wines I’ve tried this year, both from my three trips (Verona, Montalcino and Grosseto/Campania) as well as a few wines I’ve tried at home, while working on a special project. It’s been a great year so far with plenty of highlights!

Best Sparkling Bellussi DOCG Superiore di Valdobbiadene Prosecco Ferghettina Extra Brut 2005

The Bellussi Prosecco (green label) is everything I look for in a Prosecco: excellent freshness, very good acidity and a richness on the mid-palate. This has excellent complexity. The Ferghettina is a multi-layered Franciacorta with tantalizing notes of caramel and honey that you rarely find in this wine type. It is an outstanding sparkling wine.

Best Whites – Several examples from Campania

I tasted so many first-rate whites during my visit to Irpinia in May; this is a tribute to the work of the producers as well as the quality of the fruit. A few highlights include the 2009 Villa Diamante Fiano di Avellino; 2011 Donnachiara Fiano di Avellino2011 Mastroberardino Fiano di Avellino “Radici”2011 Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo “Cutizzi”; 2010 Pietracupa Greco di Tufo and the 2010 Vadiaperti Greco di Tufo “Tornante“. All of these wines show wonderful varietal purity, perfect balance and a vibrancy that keeps these wines fresh and gives them longevity. I’ve been a fan of Campanian whites – especially Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino – for many years and based upon the examples I’ve tasted over the past two or three years, I have to rank these whites as among the very best in all of Italy!

Wild papaveri amidst the vineyards in Montalcino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Best Reds – 2007 Brunello/ 2006 Brunello Riserva/ 2008 Barolo

So many great wines to choose from here; let’s start with the newly released examples of Brunello di Montalcino. Both 2007 and 2006 have been rated as 5-star (outstanding) vintages by the local consorzio with 2007 being more forward while 2006 is a more classic, tightly wound vintage that will need more time. I don’t have room to list all the great wines here, so a few highlights from the 2007 Brunello normale: Poggio di SottoLisiniFuligniSesta di Sopra and Sassodisole. For the 2006 Brunello riserva highlights include Biondi-SantiLe ChiuseIl Poggione “Vigna Paganelli”Tassi “Franci”Talenti and Citille di Sopra. As you can see from the photo above, Montalcino in May was the most beautiful viticultural area I have visited this year!

As for 2008 Barolos, this is shaping up to be a classic vintage, as temperatures that growing season were relatively normal, cooler than several recent years where conditions were quite warm. The 2008s have beautiful aromatics and acidity and display a sense of place in a far more direct way than the hotter vintages. I have only tasted about 20 examples so far, with several dozen to go, so my list is partial. But at this point, here are my favorite 2008 Barolos: Renato Ratti “Marcenasco”Mauro Sebaste “Prapo”Conterno-Fantino “Sori Ginestra”Marcarini “La Serra” and Einaudi “Costa Grimaldi.”

I also have to tell you about a fabulous red wine I tasted at a wine fair near Grosseto back in May. I met Franecsco Carfagna, who with his family, farm a few acres on the island of Giglio in the Tyrrenhian Sea. His winery is called Altura and his estate red is called Rosso Saverio; it is a blend of about 15-18 varieties, both red and white, some of them well-known, such as Sangiovese and Canaiolo, others rather rare, such as Empolo, Biancone Giallo and Pizzutello (!). The result is a totally original wine, one that has aromas like a white wine (yellow peaches) at first, but then quickly reveals more typical red wine aromas, such as strawberry, dried cherry and notes of milk chocolate. Medium-full, this has amazing complexity as well as a velvety feel on the palate. The current vintage is the 2010, which is drinking beautifully now and should be in fine shape for the next 3-5 years. This is not a powerhouse Italian red, but one that shows what a dedicated producer with a vision can do. As I taste so many wines in my trips to Italy, it takes something special to get me excited – well, this is the wine! (Note: this wine is imported in the US in limited quantities by Louis Dressner.)

Best Older White – 1994 Vadiaperti Fiano di Avellino

Not only did I taste so many wonderful new white wines from Irpinia, there were also a few beautiful older versions as well. None was more eye-opening than the 1994 Fiano di Avellino from Vadiaperti. Proprietor Raffaelle Troisi was kind enough to open this wine for my friend and I at his estate and I am forever grateful for that decision! Light yellow in color, this looked like it might be four or five years old, not eighteen. The aromas were lovely – Anjou pear, honey, mango and magnolia blossoms and the wine tasted as fresh as it smelled. The finish was quite long with impressive persistence and distinct minerality. What a gorgeous wine – one that shows how wonderfully Campanian white wines can age!

Best Older Reds – Several at the Frederick Wildman Italian Portfolio Tasting

National importer Frederick Wildman held a tasting of their Italian producers in several cities across the US back in May and made a stellar decision to have the producers pour an older wine. They made it clear that these wines were not available any more, but how nice is it that they took this approach so one could witness first hand how wines such as Amarone, Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo and other wines age. Also, isn’t it great to be able to try these older wines, especially with the producers present? There were several outstanding wines, my favorites being the 1985 Le Ragose Amarone ( a stunning wine), the 1974 Barolo  from Marchesi di Barol0 (a true classic) and the 2001 and 1995 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva from Le Chiuse (marvelous wines of grace, finesse and complexity – seamless wines that are perfectly balanced.) Thank you to these producers for showing these wines and thank you to the people at Frederick Wildman for offering this opportunity. Here’s hoping that more importers offer tastings such as this one!

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mark  |  July 2, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    That’s very interesting about the Rosso Saverio. I will have to look for that. And a ’94 Fiano? That’s great that they’re holding so well- again, a testament to the quality of this grape in some winemakers’ hands. We heard that the 2006 was an outstanding Barolo year, and then 2007 was supposed to be (arguably) better. Now, as you mention, the 2008s are predicted to be a classic vintage. It’s become a bit confusing, at least for me. In your opinion, what really distinquishes these three vintages, and which do you prefer and why? Mark

    Reply
    • 2. tom hyland  |  July 2, 2012 at 12:32 pm

      Mark:

      The Rosso Saverio is truly one of a kind, while the ’94 Vadiaperti Fiano is a stunner – it’s as though the wine hadn’t aged a bit.

      Re: Barolo. 2006 ann 2008 are more classic Piemontese vintages, while 2007 is a bit more forward. All are impressive vintages. 2006 is the most full-bodied of the three and will need more time. 2007s are lovely wines, quite elegant with good acidity. These wines will peak sonner than ’06 or ’08. The ’08 Barolos are lovely wines with gorgeous aromatics ( as with the 2004s) and outstanding structure. These are not as tightly wrapped as the ’06s, but they may ultimately age more gracefully.

      Reply
  • 3. Mark  |  July 2, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    Tom,
    Thanks for the rundown on the vintages- that helps. Would you suggest the Barbarescos follow a similar dynamic? I was in a wine shop on the main drag in La Morra last May where these two Italians got in an argument about which Barolo vintage was better, the 2006 or 2007. They were in agreement, however, that the best Barolos come from La Morra. Mark

    Reply
    • 4. tom hyland  |  July 2, 2012 at 4:40 pm

      Mark:

      Yes, similar notes for the vintages on Barbaresco. I like your story about the two Italians arguing about the vintages. I would have loved to have heard that discussion!

      As for the best Barolos coming from La Morra, that depends on what you are looking for. The La Morra Barolos are generally more perfumed than others and given the relatively rounder tannins, the wines are more approachable and inviting upon release. However, there are some lovely polished Barolos from Verduno (Fratelli Alessandria Monvigliero) as well as Novello (Elvio Cogno).

      If I have to name one commune that produces the most “typical” Barolos (whatever that word typical means), I would opt for Serralunga d’Alba. These are not the easiest wines to understand, especially when young, but given the structure of the wines from this commune, these are among the most classic Barolos when they are 15-25 years of age. Look for Massolino Parafada and Vigna Rionda Riserva, Fontanafredda “La Rosa”, Ceretto “Prapo”, Davide Rosso “Ceretta” and Ettore Germano “Ceretta” among others.

      Reply
  • 5. Charles Scicolone  |  July 3, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Ciao Tom- Interesting list of wines from Campania as I had most of them recently. I had the Vadiaperti Fiano at a restaurant near Sorrento. It was the 2011 and it was way too young

    Reply
    • 6. tom hyland  |  July 3, 2012 at 11:41 am

      Charles:

      Thanks. Isn’t it nice to know that 2011 is much too young for these wines? The Vadiaperti wines age beautifully! Hopefully, you will have the chance to try some of his older wines.

      Reply

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