Montalcino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
The 2009 Brunello di Montalcinos were released a few months ago and while a new vintage of this iconic Tuscan red should be great news for wine lovers, the results in this vintage reveal a year that while offering some very good, even excellent wines was one that was frankly a bit of a disappointment.
2009 was a very warm year in Montalcino. One of the blessings of this zone is that they do not get as much rain as in most of the Chianti districts; this is a warmer and drier area. So ripening is more consistent, although there are big years – such as 2006 – and more subdued years, such as 2008. 2009 was a year in which the warn to hot conditions ripened grapes quite well, but perhaps too well, as overall the wines do not have the pronounced perfumes of recent vintages such as 2001, 2004, 2006, 2007 or 2008. Also, the wines have a little extra alcohol – 14.5% is routine for the 2009 Brunellos, but I tasted a few with 15% alcohol. I realize that alcohol is just a number to some people, but I find these higher percentages a bit alarming, as the wines just do not have the balance of the finest years, as with 2004 or 2006-2008. Even the best producers made wines that, while flavorful, lack the complexity and above all, the finesse of the best examples of Brunello. Yes, Brunello can be a “big” wine, but bigness does not often equate to roundness and elegance.
Le Chiuse Estate
Here are brief notes on several of the best examples of 2009 Brunello di Montalcino I have recently tasted. These are among the best, but none of these wines represent their estates at their absolute best. A few are disappointing, while others are excellent, so keep in mind that 2009 is not a great vintage in Montalcino (as was 2004, 2006 and perhaps 2010; these last wines will be released in 2015). As with any well-made Brunello, these wines will drink well for another 10-12 years; it’s just that for 2009, the wines are not at the highest level.
Le Chiuse – The very fact that this great estate is relatively unknown is a tremendous shame, as this acreage was once part of the famed Biondi-Santi holdings. Proprietors Simonetta Valiani and her husband Nicolo Magnelli have performed brilliantly over the past decade; in my opinion, Le Chiuse is not only one of the most consistent of all Brunello producers, but also one of the finest, period. The wines are made in a traditional style and reflect a great sense of place as well as displaying beautiful varietal purity.
The 2009 has beautiful aromas of marasca cherry, a hint of tar, thyme and dried red flowers. Medium-full with very good concentration, this is a lovely wine with impressive harmony, ideal ripeness and, as always, subdued oak. There is good acidity along with balanced tannins and impressive persistence. Although not as magnificently styled as their best offerings, this is nonetheless, a lovely wine that will be at its best in 10-12 years. Excellent (4 stars)
Maté “Campo Alto” - Husband and wife Ferenc and Candace Maté have been quietly producing some very fine examples of Brunello di Montalcino at their lovely estate near that of Gianfranco Soldera and Angelo Gaja for the past several years. This 2009 “Campo Alto” is a new bottling and for my thoughts, the best wine they have produced to date. Displaying rich aromas of morel cherry, tar, Damson plum and a hint of coffee, this is medium-full with a rich mid-palate. I am a bit concerned about the 15% alcohol (again, 2009 was quite warm), but the wine seems well balanced. it certainly is flavorful with very good varietal focus and the persistence is more pronounced in this wine as compared with previous efforts from this producer. Best in 12-15 years. Excellent (4 stars)
Sesta di Sopra – Another ultratraditional Brunello producer, this is a tiny estate, so these wines are limited to only a few large markets in America; they are, however, well worth the search. The 2009 has aromas of sage, wild cherry, tar and tree bark. Medium-full with very good to excellent concentration. Good acidity, medium weight tannins, impressive persistence. Very good varietal character, but not as focused or as pure as the best releases from this producer. Best in 10-12 years. Very Good to Excellent (3 and 1/2 stars)
Poggio di Sotto – Beautiful youthful garnet; fragrant aromas of red cherry, wild strawberry, carnation and cedar. Medium-full, this has good acidity and persistence along with very fine typicity. Well balanced wine with subdued wood notes. This is not as refined or as complex as the best vintages such as 2004, 2006 and 2008, but it is an impressive wine. Best in 12-15 years. Very Good to Excellent (3 and 1/2 stars)
Terralsole – Aromas of cedar, dried cherry, dried brown herbs and a hint of green olive. Medium-full with very good concentration. Good richness in the mid-palate, good acidity, youthful tannins and nicely integrated wood notes. Not as ripe as some 2009s (which frankly, is a good thing), nor as rich as previous years with this wine. Well made with good harmony. Best in 10-12 years – perhaps longer. Very Good to Excellent (3 and 1/2 stars)
Il Poggione – Deep garnet; aromas of red cherry, red plum, clove and cedar. Medium-full with very good concentration. Nice ripeness, slightly high tone fruit, but not overripe. Elegant tannins, good acidity and overall, nicely balanced. 14.5% alcohol, but not overpowering like some other examples of Brunello this year. Not a great Il Poggione Brunello, but a well made wine from a less than accomplished vintage. Best in 10-12 years. Very Good to Excellent (3 and 1/2 stars)
Col d’Orcia – Beautiful garnet; dried cherry, cedar and thyme aromas. Traditionally made with elegant tannins; good acidity, very good typicity. Medium-full with very good concentration. The alcohol (14.5%) shows through in the nose and in the finish, so the charms of this wine are somewhat dissipated. Best in 7-10 years. Very Good (3 stars)
Gianni Brunelli – Good (2 stars)
Eredi Fuligni – Good (2 stars)
Talenti – Good (2 stars)
The Tre Bicchieri awards of Gambero Rosso have been announced for 2015 and as usual, there are many familiar names on the list along with some welcome new ones. It’s a well thought out list, one that honors Italy’s most famous wine types such as Barolo, Brunello and Amarone along with many excellent wines that normally don’t get the attention they deserve, be it a Muller Thurgau from Trentino or a Falanghina from Campania.
There are now as many as eight major wine guides in Italy and while all of them have their particular merits, Gambero Rosso is still considered the so-called Bible of these. There’s been a lot of discussion about the guide, especially with some internal changes a few years ago, but the tasting panel at the publication continues to do an excellent job. Change is inevitable and sometimes change angers certain people, but the goal of discovering the best Italian wines of the year is still that of Gambero Rosso and their results are always newsworthy and valuable.
Once again, the Enrico Serafino Alta Langa “Zero” is a Tre Bicchieri winner (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Piemonte is the region that leads this year’s results with a total of 79 Tre Bicchieri-winning wines; Toscana follows with 72 and then Veneto with 36, Alto Adige with 28, Friuli with 27, Lombardia with 23, and then Campania with 20. Every region has at least two wines on the list; as you might expect, Molise, the smallest Italian region, has the fewest winners (2).
Piemonte is a deserved number one on the list; of course Barolo and Barbaresco lead the list, but there are also some beautiful whites as well as one excellent sparkling wine. That is the 2008 Enrico Serafino Alta Langa “Sboccatura Tardiva” (late disgorged) Cantina Maestra “Brut Zero.” I’ve had this wine for the last several vintages and have always been impressed with its purity, balance, acidity and complexity; it’s a marvelous Brut, very dry with a long, satisfying finish; it’s also got a lot of finesse. It’s a great example of how good Alta Langa can be and while it’s a shame that there isn’t at least one more Alta Langa on this year’s list, it’s nice to see this wine awarded with the highest honors again (in last year’s guide, it was named the sparking wine of the year).
Mariacristina Oddero (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Of course, numerous examples of Barolo were on this year’s list; this was not unexpected, given the quality of Barolo from today’s finest producers, but this year the new releases were from the outstanding 2010 vintage. Such examples from 2010 as the Bartolo Mascarello, Michele Chiarlo “Cerequio” and the Aldo Conterno “Romirasco” are brilliant, world-class wines, one that exemplify the amazing quality in this territory.
It was also nice to see a few examples from the great 2008 vintage on the list. 2008 is a classic Piemontese vintage, one that resulted in wines of ideal structure; this was not a vintage for flashy wines, but instead wines that have impressive balance as well as offering their terroirs in great fashion; look for the best 2008 Barolos to drink well for 20-25 years, with a few able to cellar for as long as 35-40 years. Among three of the finest 2008 Barolos that received Tre Bicchieri in the 2015 guide are the Paolo Scavino Rocche dell’Annunziata “Riserva” from La Morra, the Ettore Germano Lazzarito “Riserva” from Serralunga and the Poderi e Cantine Oddero Bussia Vigna Mondoca Riserva. The Scavino has become a classic and the 2008 is an outstanding wine – a well deserved Tre Bicchieri winner. The Germano is a relatively new release for this producer and the wine displays the characteristic spice from this noted Serralunga vineyard – this is also a notable Barolo. The Oddero “Vigna Mondoca” has been on the top of my list of underrated Barolos for years; this has typical Monforte weight and tannins, yet it is not as forceful as many other Barolos from this commune. The 2008 is particularly elegant with the grip and weight to age well for 25 years or more.
I was thrilled to read that 11 examples of Verdicchio were awarded Tre Bicchieri this year. Eleven! I would have expected perhaps five or six, so it’s a positive sign that the tasting panel found so many exemplary example of this marvelous white wines from Marche this year. Famed estates such as Bucci, Garofoli and Umani Ronchi were once again awarded top honors, but it was also nice to see artisan producers such as Collestefano (Verdicchio di Matelica) and Andrea Felici also receive such recognition. The latter estate was honored for its 2011 Riserva, named “Il Cantico della Figura.” It’s an amazing Verdicchio with superb focus and stunning varietal character. It was one of the three or four finest Italian white wines I tasted this year!
Other estates that received Tre Bicchieri for their Verdicchio included a few that I am not familiar with, such as Tenuta di Tavignano and La Marca di San Michele (Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi) and Borgo Paglianetto (Verdicchio di Matelica), so I will have to get busy and try and acquire these wines. Bravo to the tasting panel at Gambero Rosso for recognizing the amazing quality of Verdicchio – no other white wine type in Italy received as many Tre Bicchieri awards this year!
I could go on about how many different wines were honored this year, but there isn’t enough room for all my thoughts. Let me say however, that it’s nice to see Gambero Rosso (as well as other Italian wine guides) honor the beautiful sparkling and white wines from across the country. Yes, Italy is known for its big reds and while they grab a lot of international attention, the sparkling and white wines from the country are just as notable in terms of qualiyt and distinctiveness. Sparkling wines that won top honors this year include several examples of Franciacorta (Bellavista “Cuvée Alma”, Ca’ del Bosco “Annamaria Clementi” Rosé, Ferghettina “Pas Dosé 33″ and Guido Berlucchi “Palazzo della Lana” Satén – a superb wine!). From Trentino, there were also several examples of Trento DOC, including Letrari “Riserva”, Dorigati “Methius Riserva” and to no one’s surprise, the Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore, always one of Italy’s finest sparkling wines, one that is world class!
I was particularly delighted to see that the 2013 La Vis Müller Thurgau “Vigna delle Forche” was awarded a Tre Bicchieri rating. Here is a wine that so defines what Italian viticulture is all about – a distinctive wine of excellent quality produced from a variety that works beautifully in a limited area. Think about
Müller Thurgau elsewhere in the world- it’s clearly a third rate grape in Germany (at least in terms of respect – there are some fine versions from Germany) and in New Zealand, they’re ripping out as much as possible to plant more Sauvignon Blanc. Yet in the Cembra Valley of Trentino, a few growers and producers have found this small zone to be an ideal spot for exemplary Müller Thurgau; my friend Fabio Piccoli, an Italian journalist, believes this small valley may be the finest place in the world to grow this variety.
2013 was an outstanding vintage, as it was cool, resulting in wines of striking aromatics, lively acidity and beautiful structure. This is not a big wine – enjoy this by its fifth birthday, but what a marvelous wine with dazzling aromatics of elderflowers, white peach and jasmine! I love this wine with Thai food and how wonderful that the panel at Gambero Rosso can give a wine such as this the same rating as a great Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino or Amarone! (For the record, another Müller-Thurgau, the 2012 “Feldmarschall” from Tiefenbrunner, an excellent Alto Adige producer, also received a Tre Bicchieri rating this year.)
I’ll comment a bit more on a few of the Tre Bicchieri wines in a future post.
Vineyards at Serralunga d’Alba in the heart of the Barolo zone with the snow-covered Alps in the background (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Eric Asimov, wine writer for the New York Times, penned an excellent column on October 17 about the 2010 Barolos. (read here). I almost don’t even have to use the word “excellent” for Asimov’s work, as he is a first-rate wine writer, not only a good journalist, but someone who can write about wine – famous or entry level- with equal focus; he writes intelligently and never talks down to the reader. We need more people like him.
In this article, he praises the 2010 Barolos; his panel of tasters sampled 20 wines, ranging from $43 retail up to $95 (the limit for this tasting was $100 retail). The tasting included such renowned Barolo producers such as Vietti, Renato Ratti, Giacomo Fenocchio and Elio Altare among others. Asimov and his team were generally pleased with the wines; he wrote that “2010 was an outstanding year for Barolo.” This statement is something I am in total agreement with; having sampled more than 125 this past May at a special tasting for journalists in the city of Alba in Piemonte, only a few miles from vineyards in the Barolo zone. You can read my post about these wines here.
Asimov and I agree on the quality of the 2010 Barolos. We also agree that the best examples will need time; this is true for any Barolo vintage, as Nebbiolo, the grape which is used exclusively in the production of this wine, has high levels of tannins. Barolo is just meant for enjoyment down the road in most instances; that may be five to seven years, it may be 10-20 years, the finest examples may even be at their best in 35-50 years. To me, the absolute best offerings of 2010 Barolo that I have sampled, such as Bartolo Mascarello, Vietti “Rocche di Castiglione, Umberto Fracassi and Francesco Rinaldi “Cannubi” will peak sometime between 30-35 years in my estimate (this is never an exact science, but after tasting several thousand Barolos for the past fifteen years in the production zone, I can start to make an honest prediction, based on experience).
So I agree with Asimov that the best of the 2010s need time. However, I disagree with him regarding one point. He writes that these wines “are not nearly ready for drinking.” He later writes in the same paragraph, “How will restaurants handle such a vintage?”, noting that most restaurants are not able to store Barolo for the years it will take for the wines to be approachable for service.
However, if one were putting together a wine list with Barolo and did not select a 2010 Barolo, because they believed the wines would not be approachable now, would be doing somewhat of a disservice. In the post I wrote back in June, I singled out some examples of 2010 Barolos that can be enjoyed relatively soon; these include Batasiolo and Giovanni Viberti “Il Buon Padre”; other 2010 Barolos that are enjoyable now include Fontanafredda “Serralunga d’Alba” and the Poderi Ruggeri Corsini “Corsini Bussia”.
It’s important to note that all of the wines mentioned in the above paragraph will be better with time; Barolo shows greater complexity a few years after release (which is generally four years after the vintage). Some examples of Barolo drink well at 7-10 years of age; some of these will peak in 20 years. But while the most famous (and often the most expensive) examples of Barolo do need at least a decade to soften their youthful tannic grip and round out, the wines listed above can be enjoyed tonight, as the tannins are quite round and beautifully balanced.
So if a wine director at a restaurant wants to include 2010 Barolos on his or her list, go right ahead! This is the beauty of 2010, which is a classic Piemontese vintage – you will have Barolos that will drink well in 30-40 years, while you have some very fine examples that while nowhere near their peak, can be enjoyed tonight. Add to that the fact that virtually every producer in the zone crafted a noteworthy Barolo from 2010 and you have the rarest of all vintages – one in which you can’t go wrong!
Tom Hyland is the author of Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines (published in 2013) and is currently writing a book titled The Wines and Foods of Piemonte, to be published in 2015.
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
I’ve recently returned from a two week trip to Italy – my 63rd trip – finishing up in Piemonte. I’ll write about my time there soon, but for today’s post, I’d like to share some thoughts on the beginning of my trip, which was spent in the Sulcis area of Sardinia.
Sardinia is probably more famous for its beaches than its wines, but given the beauty of its seascape, that’s not a surprise. There are several marvelous wine types made on this island; proof of that is the fact that 13 Sardinian wines just received a Tre Bicchieri designation from Gambero Rosso, arguably the most important Italian publication on the country’s wines.
Carignano del Sulcis is a wine made primarily from the Carginano grape; Sulcis is an area in southwestern Sardinia. The grape is thought to have arrived on the island from settlers from Spain. It has found a great home here, as the grape thrives in the hot climes. It also works well here, as this area has very little rainfall; in fact when it rained on October 24 during my visit, I was told that this was the first day of rain in five months!
I visited five producers: Cantina Santadi, Agricola Punica, Cantina Mesa, Sardus Pater and Calasetta. Santadi, Sardus Pater and Calasetta are cooperative wineries, meaning they have member growers that supply grapes. Punica is a joint venture between Santadi and Tenuta San Guido, the famed Tuscan estate that produces Sassicaia, while Cantina Mesa is a privately held firm.
Cantina Mesa (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Carignano del Sulcis takes on an identity based on where the grapes are grown and the philosophy of the producer. There are some examples that are light to medium-bodied, while others are full-bodied, meant for peak drinking some seven to twelve years (or more) after the vintage. Some are aged only in steel or cement tanks, while some are aged in barriques, thus resembling a more international style of wine.
One of my favorite wines was the Cantina Mesa “Buio” (Buio is local dialect for “dark”). The 2013 is the current release, aged only in stainless steel, this has appealing cranberry and red plum flavors and modest tannins; in this way, the wine is not unlike a Dolcetto from Piemonte. This is an uncomplicated wine, but I mean that as a compliment, as it is straightforward and quite delicious! You could almost serve this chilled and to my way of thinking, this would be a great introduction to consumers who’ve never tried a Carignano del Sulcis. Vegetarians would love this wine at meals, while it would also be an ideal match with lighter poultry or simple pastas.
Another lighter-styled Carignano is the Grotta Rossa” bottling from Santadi, while their “Rocca Rubia” is a Carignano riserva, aged a bit longer before release. The latter is a richer wine with a bit more wood aging, but it is an elegant, delightful offering that is medium-bodied and never overpowering. The 2011 is meant for consumption now and over the next 5-7 years.
If you’re interested in a more powerful style of Carignano, Santadi offers a riserva known as “Terre Brune.” This is a true showcase wine for the territory and is aged in barrique and meant for consumption in 10-12 years. Enthused with ripe black cherry and black plum fruit flavors, this demands serious red meats or aged cheeses. The newly released 2010, incidentally, is one of the Tre Bicchieri winners for the 2015 Gambero Rosso guide.
Another signature example of Carignano del Sulcis is the “Barrua” bottling from Agricola Punica. Produced from 85% Carignano, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot, this is beautifully made, as the wood aging is perfectly integrated with the blackberry and bramble fruit (the wood aging is 50% new barriques and 50% second passage). Expect this to be at its peak in 12-15 years. (This is the 2011 that is the new release; you may be able to find the 2010, which is an outstanding wine and was awarded Tre Bicchieri last year.)
Alberello vines on the island of Sant’Antioco (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
It’s always a challenge to teach consumers about little-known Italian wines and to some degree, Carignano del Sulcis is one of those wines. So perhaps the best way to educate others is not to tell them that it tastes like other famous red wines of the world. That being the case, the examples of Carignano del Sulcis from the island of Sant’Antioco are glorious wines that taste like nothing else. This is an island that can be reached by automobile and there are two excellent cooperatives here – Sardus Pater and Calasetta – that produce wines from alberello vines. These are bush vines (also known as head-trained) that are only seen in a few areas of the world (Sicily has numerous alberello platntings as well). The reason for this system is easy to understand, as the climate is so hot (it was 95 and 96 degrees the first two days of my visit), that the fruit needs to be sheltered from as much sunshine as possible; thus these vines only reach heights of a few feet off the ground, with the bunches being only about a foot off the ground.
The vineyard in this photo is planted on pure sand; sand so fine, you think you were at the beach (yes, there’s that reference to beaches in Sardinia again). The vines in this photo are between 60 and 70 years of age, which limits production, but what quality they produce! The style of wines from these vineyards is quite different as well, as these are rustic wines, ones with a bit of a wild or sauvage character to them. It’s quite a change from the examples from the vineyards with today’s modern cordon spur system; That’s not to say that one wine style is better than another, it’s just to point out the differences. It’s clear that it is much more economical and productive for a producer in the Sulcis area to plant with modern training systems, so it’s unlikely there will be many new planting of alberello vineyards in Sardinia, but not to worry, as these vines last a long, long time.
Sardus Pater produces an excellent riserva offering from these vines; named “Is Arenas” (the name means “the sands”), the 2009 has very good acidity, rich maraschino cherry fruit and even a note of truffle. It’s a very classy wine – enjoy over the next 5-7 years. From Calasetta, the 2008 riserva “Aina” has beautiful structure, a touch more oak than the “Is Arenas” and will drink well for 5-7 years. Both of these wines are a tribute to times past, given their rustic edge, but make no mistake, these are wines of beautiful freshness and balance. They’re a pleasure to drink!
The past meets the present in Sulcis and these five producers are carrying Carignano del Sulcis to new heights. As these wines are relatively unknown, prices are reasonable, so grab a few bottles now – you will discover some distinctive wines that speak of their origins.
Note: I was invited by the Consorzio Carignano del Sulcis for this trip. My thanks to them for thinking of me and for their excellent job in organizing this event.
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
A few thoughts today about some very tasty Italian wines I’ve enjoyed recently. Some of these are quite famous, a few not so famous, but they’re all extremely well made wines that offer a great deal of pleasure, both on their own and at the dinner table.
2012 Livio Felluga Sauvignon - I’m guessing that almost everyone who is an Italian wine lover has enjoyed a wine from the Livio Felluga estate at some point. Certainly the Pinot Grigio is one of the most famous examples in Italy and it’s also on my list as one of the most delicious. But the entire lineup is a brilliant array of vibrant whites and edgy reds that are evidence of the excellence of this estate, located in the Colli Orientali district of the Friuli region in far northeastern Italy.
Particularly memorable is the Sauvignon. This is the same Sauvignon Blanc grape that is grown throughout the world; however in Italy, it is known simply as Sauvignon. The examples from Friuli and Alto Adige, another cool climate northern Italian region, offer very good acidity as well as strong aromas and flavors; the 2012 offering from Livio Felluga displays attractive aromas of Bosc pear, freshly cut hay, spearmint and chervil. These aromas are textbook for this variety and it’s nice to find such complexity in the nose and on the palate. However, lest you think this is an intense wine, think again, as this is a harmonious wine with beautiful balance, excellent persistence, precise acidity and ideal varietal character. This is a delicious Sauvignon and while that term is often used for Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco or other lighter Italian whites, it’s not often applied to Sauvignon. But here it is and it’s very enjoyable on its own, although the subtle herbal characteristics of this wine deem it an appropriate partner for sautéed scallops or shrimp with lemon or ginger, while grouper or tilapia would also be ideal with this excellent white. Enjoy it tonight or over the next 3-5 years. (Suggested US retail of $26)
2013 Attems Pinot Grigio - I don’t drink much Pinot Grigio, as I find too many examples to be too simple for my tastes. This doesn’t mean they’re bad wines, it’s just that the wines are made as crowd pleasers, aimed at offending no one instead of trying to please with specific characteristics. One Pinot Grigio I did taste recently that offered a little more complexity- as well as richness on the palate – is the 2013 Attems Pinot Grigio. This wine is also from Friuli and it’s from the splendid 2013 vintage, one that was cool and ideal for whites with expressive aromatics and wines with admirable structure, given their beautiful acidity levels. This has aromas of yellow apples and lilacs, is medium-bodied and is quite dry. This is a must with food – pair it with risotto with seafood or chicken with vegetables. (SPR -$19)
2013 Cantina di Soave “Rocca Sveva” Soave Classico – I don’t have as much space as I’d like to discuss my love of Soave, a wine that’s remarkably misunderstood in this country. It’s too often thought of as a summer white, a term I dislike, as it equates to saying the wine is a simple quaffer with little to offer. Yes, there are some examples of Soave that are a bit one-dimensional, but price will often give you a clue to the identity of those wines.
The Soave district in the Veneto region – about a 30-minute drive from the lovely town of Verona – is actually home to at least three extinct volcanoes, so yes, the soils in much of this district are volcanic, which means the best examples of Soave Classico have a distinct minerality to them as well as excellent complexity. This isn’t to say that these are weighty, “ultra serious” wines, as they are very appealing in their youth; it’s just that the best examples of Soave are multi-dimensional wines that can age for anywhere from five to fifteen to even twenty years in a few instances.
All of this is a preface to let you know how much I enjoyed the 2013 Rocca Sveva Soave Classico from Cantina di Soave. This is a large cooperative, located just behind the famous castello in the town of Soave. You can bring in demi-johns and fill them up with the basic Soave for a very inexpensive price or you can enjoy their finest selection of Soave under the Rocca Sveva label. This 2013 is a beautiful wine with enticing aromas of honeydew melon, honey and magnolia – just textbook. Medium-full with a rich mid-palate and a lengthy finish, this is especially nice this year, as it’s from the excellent 2013 vintage, which as mentioned above, was outstanding for white wines. In fact, this is the finest version of this wine I have tasted! This is so delicious on its own, but even better with vegetable risotto, sole or roast chicken. (SRP $15 – a great value. I can’t say I’ve had even one or two other $15 whites that are this good!)
By the way, the three white wines I mentioned above are fermented and aged in stainless steel – no oak on these! I prefer this approach more often than not (although there are numerous oak-aged whites I think are first-rate). It all depends on the wine, but my point here is that there are so many brilliant whites wines that never see oak.
Mionetto Prosecco “Valdobbiadene Superiore” DOCG - Finally, a note on a very charming sparkling wine. Everyone knows about Prosecco, especially given its proliferation on the shelves of not only wine stores, but also supermarkets. It seems as there are dozens of $12 Proseccos everywhere and while these are pleasant, if undistinguished wines, spend a few dollars more – as little as $15 – and you can find a Prosecco that will interest you and your friends. In other words, these are Proseccos you wouldn’t dream of mixing with peach juice!
For just under $20 you can find an excellent Prosecco that’s one of the most elegant and flavorful I’ve tasted in a while. That’s the Mionetto Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG, labeled as Extra Dry. In order to identify the finest examples of Prosecco, the regulations were changed a few years ago to let consumers know that the true home of Prosecco are the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene; this is important to know as the term Prosecco by itself has become somewhat generic as inexpensive sparkling wines from Friuli can be called Prosecco. Pleasant wines, perhaps, but not wines with much complexity.
Mionetto has been one of the leading producers of true Prosecco for some time now and their products are quite good and very representative of the heart of the real Prosecco zone. They’ve recently introduced their line of luxury cuvées of specialty Prosecco. This DOCG is well made with appealing lemon peel, chamomile and peony aromas, an off-dry finish (though dry enough for food) and an elegant finish. This is very refreshing and enjoyable on its own- I’ve enjoyed it with take-out Chinese food as well as seafood salad and I’m sure it would also be fine with lighter white meats. I can’t imagine a fan of Prosecco not loving this and wanting to find a few bottles for themselves.
I’m writing a book on the wines and foods of Piemonte and it’s amazing how many notable wines there are from this region, even if we’re just talking about the whites. Gavi is one of those whites that doesn’t get the attention it deserves; that’s understandable given all the attention paid to Barolo and Barbaresco from Piemonte, but it also has to do with Gavi not being marketed very well.
You see, Gavi was once a very popular Italian white wine; I imagine some of that had to do with the fact that it was an easy name to remember. Then along came a little wine called Pinot Grigio, which became a phenomenon. Once Pinot Grigio took over, it knocked much of its competition out of the way, so other Italian white wines such as Gavi, Soave and Verdicchio lost a lot of market share.
There were other reasons for the decline in sales of Gavi, as dull, one-dimensional efforts from some producers didn’t aide the cause. Thankfully, those days are becoming a faded memory, as there are now more artisan producers that are crafting very distinctive examples of Gavi; one of the best versions I’ve tasted lately is the 2013 Castellari Bergaglio Gavi “Fornaci”.
Gavi is made from the Cortese grape; the name means “courteous” in Italian and that’s a nice descriptor for wines made from this grape as they’re very agreeable with good, but not overwhelming acidity and pleasant fruit flavors such as pear and melon; sometimes in warmer years, notes of kiwi or other tropical fruit can be found.
Marco Castellari Bergaglio produces several versions of Gavi, from sparkling to passito. There are four examples of traditional stainless steel-aged Gavi made here; the Fornaci is a favorite of mine. The 2013 is especially expressive, offering beautiful aromas of melon and kiwi with notes of peony, this is very rich with a long, persistent finish and very good acidity, a signature of the 2013 vintage. All in all, this is a beautifully complex wine with a refreshing character and delicious fruit. It’s a crowd pleaser in the very best manner and it’s a marvelous example of not only the wonderful quality of today’s finest examples of Gavi, but also the great work being turned in by white wine producers throughout Italy.
This would certainly be an excellent match with vegetable or seafood risotto, as the wine is rich enough to stand up to these foods. I enjoyed this at a BYOB Thai restaurant, paired with crab rangoon – this was a wine and food pairing made in heaven! All of this for about $20 a bottle – maybe Gavi will make its way back after all.
One further note – It’s important to understand that there are eleven communes where Gavi can be produced. Naturally the one that everyone remembers is Gavi, but the communes of Tassarolo and Rovereto are generally considered superior or at least sites that generally result in more complex wines. But sound bites being what they are, the majority of consumers remember only the name Gavi, so there’s the common belief that one should purchase a “Gavi di Gavi.” Of course, this is like saying that a “Barolo di Barolo” – if I may use that term – is better than a Barolo from La Morra, Serralunga d’Alba or Verduno. It’s not better, it’s different, as each of those communes have a particular style. Bottom line, learn the districts where wines are made, but the most important factor is the name of the producer.
So don’t think for a second that you have to buy a “Gavi di Gavi”, or more formally Gavi del Comune di Gavi. Yes, there are some lovely versions of Gavi from Gavi commune, but I’ve enjoyed the examples from Tassarolo and Rovereto even more. So if you want this wine, you’ll be buying the 2013 Castellari Bergaglio Gavi “Fornaci”, a Gavi del Comune di Tassarolo. The same producer also makes a very nice Gavi called “Rolona” that is a Gavi del Comune di Rolona. This wine is also brought into American by the importer, Ionia Atlantic Imports.
Bottom line, Castellari Bergaglio is a leading producer of Gavi, so if you haven’t tasted an example in some time, seek one of these wines out, whether you’re enjoying crab rangoon, seafood risotto, roast chicken to simply want a well-made, delicious dry white that’s sure to please.
The name of this blog is Learn Italian Wines; I’m happy to write about my knowledge of this subject, which has been formed by more than 60 visits to wine regions around the country over the past fifteen years. I’ve been able to talk with winemakers, vineyard managers and winery owners – as well as other journalists that share my passion – about specific Italian wines and have learned about an incredible array of products that seem to be endless.
So it was with great excitement when I read the recently published book Native Wine Grapes of Italy by Rome-based writer/educator Ian d’Agata. Simply put, this is an exhaustive, encyclopedic study of this particular subject that is first-rate. While it is admittedly written for the serious student of Italian wines, I do think that casual Italian wine lovers will enjoy this book as well, given its dearth of information as well as its tone.
D’Agata covers everything here – and I mean everything. Everyone who knows Italian wines is familiar with famous varieties such as Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Barbera. If you’re a more serious student of this topic, then you probably know about cultivars such as Piedirosso, Fumin and Oseleta. But have you ever heard of Ortrugo, Cjanorie or Corenossa? They’re all part of this book as well.
The author covers a lot in this book and your enjoyment will depend on how much information you need. For example, there are detailed listings of various clones of the hundreds of varieties listed here; for example, there are two dozen separate clones of Barbera listed. I’m not certain how many people reading this book will care about this, but it’s always better to have too much information that too little in my opinion.
For each grape, D’Agata goes into great detail about its history and in many cases, explains how the grape received its name. He is smart enough to list two or more explanations for many of these varieties; I mention this as there have been too many writers these days that list only one theory, as though we’re supposed to believe this as gospel. I’m fascinated with words and their meanings, so it’s wise of the author to make this topic a more complex one.
But getting to the meat of the sections on each variety, D’Agata writes about the areas in which these grapes are grown, the soils and the distinctive characteristics of each variety. He includes quotes from winemakers about particular cultivars and also comments on examples of wines made from many of these grapes from outside Italy, including versions from California (and other parts of the United States), Canada, Australia and a few other countries. These sections, titled “Which Wines to Choose and Why,” is especially nicely organized and helpful to the reader searching for the best wines made from particular varieties. He rates his favorite wines from Italy with stars – one, two and three – instead of the meaningless point system; for me this is a real plus, especially as most readers will discover some excellent wines that are little known outside their immediate areas.
While this is a very serious book, D’Agata does offer his opinions – this is not a dry analysis of Italian wine. For example, he states that “Verdicchio is arguably Italy’s greatest white grape variety”; regarding Nebbiolo, he opines that it is “Italy’s greatest native grape… and one of the world’s five or six great cultivars.” These opinions are held by other experts on Italian wines and varieties, but it’s nice to read this from the author, who then gives us a multitude of reasons why he feels this way.
He also writes with a nice sense of playfulness from time to time. Describing the red variety Uva di Troia from Puglia, he writes, “the wine is never a blockbuster, but rather an exercise in equilibrium: think Marcello Mastrojanni, Cary Grant or Hugh Grant, not the bodybuilders in your gym.” When describing the stylistic changes in Barbera over the past few decades, he writes,”like many who have decided to consult plastic surgeons in these appearance-dominated times, Barbera wines have also undergone a remarkable makeover.”
There is also a chapter, almost 70 pages in length, titled “Little Known Native and Traditional Grape Varieties.” If you thought the varieties I listed earlier, such as Ortrugo and Corenossa were obscure, wait until you read this chapter to discover varieties such as Corinto Nero (Sicily), Francavidda (Puglia), Lecinara (Lazio) and dozens of others. This chapter is followed by three separate tables with detailed information about grape plantings throughout Italy in terms of hectares planted as well as percentages; this information is very helpful. This book covers it all!
D’Agata mentions that this book is the result of thirteen years of conducting interviews and walking through vineyards as well as many more years of tasting. He is to be commended for his tireless research and for taking the time to write this book which I highly recommend.
Native Wine Grapes of Italy
University of California Press, 620 pages ($50)