At the end of one year or beginning of another, “best-of” lists are quite common; I’m no different, as I’ll include a few of these posts soon. But for today, I’d like to highlight a few of my favorite Italian wines I enjoyed during 2012. Some of these will be included in my year’s best list, but many will not. The difference between “best” and “favorite” is rather arbitrary to begin with anyways; quite often all of us get too caught up in the “best”, as we believe that having these wines will enhance our lives. Perhaps, but more often than not, my “favorite” wines are the ones that best fit the moment, whether it’s an ideal match with the meal I’m enjoying or simply a wine that delivers great character for the right amount of money.
Enough with the philosophizing, on to the list!
2011 Jankara Vermentino di Gallura – Vermentino is a successful white along the coast of Tuscany as well as in Liguria and Sardegna. This Jankara version is from the latter region and it’s a textbook example of what this variety is all about, with its expressive aromas of jasmine, grapefruit and green apple, excellent richness on the palate and vibrant acidity. This relatively new producer made a nice version of this wine from the 2010 vintage, but this 2011 is far superior! This has an especially lengthy finish and is ultra clean with excellent complexity; pair this with just about any type of shellfish. ($26)
Emanuele Rabotti, Monte Rossa (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Monte Rossa Franciacorta Blanc de Blancs Brut “P.R.” - I tasted so many wonderful bottlings of Franciacorta during my visit to this district back in November, with many different styles from Extra Brut to Rosé. Here is one my my favorite Blanc de Blancs, a 100% Chardonnay with a very fine and persistent stream of bubbles along with beautiful melon, pear and acacia aromas and flavors. Medium-full with excellent persistence, this has good acidity, lovely varietal character and ideal balance. It’s also delicious, whether enjoyed on its own or with risotto or lighter seafood. Every cuvée from this first-rate producer is something special!
2011 Giovanni Manzone Dolcetto d’Alba “Le Cilegie” -This renowned producer from Monforte d’Alba crafts some pretty special examples of Barolo – his 2008 “Bricat” is outstanding – but he also puts a great deal of effort into his other, more “humble” wines such as this beautiful Dolcetto. This has classic aromas and flavors of red plum, boysenberry and black raspberry fruit along with a hint of lavender on the nose and it’s a juicy, fresh and absolutely delicious wine! Medium-bodied, this has moderate tannins, balanced acidity and it’s nicely balanced and above all, such a pleasure to drink. What a great partner for lighter pastas or a simply prepared roast chicken. If more people were not as serious about “great red wines” that can age for decades and more excited about a purely delicious wine such as this – one that’s a real crowd pleaser – Dolcetto would be one of the most popular wines – red or white – in this country. ($25)
2008 Zyme Valpolicella Classico Superiore – Today in the Valpolicella district, Amarone has become so famous and so revered that Valpolicella has become somewhat of a forgotten wine. Thankfully, there are numerous producers who still produce an excellent example of Valpolicella; this version from Celestino Gaspari offers delightful bing cherry fruit along with hints of tar and cedar in the nose, while there are moderate tannins and very good acidity and overall balance. This is a medium-bodied red that’s so typical of what a well made Valpolicella should be – a wine to be enjoyed with lighter red meats or risotto or stews tonight or over the course of the next year or two.
Like many of you, I’m counting on the number 13 – 2013 – to be a lucky number for me. As I’m someone who believes that you make your own luck, I’m brimming with confidence these days, as my first book on Italian wines (front and back cover above) is about to be released in a matter of weeks.
This is my testament to the greatness of the Italian wine scene, as I write about more than 500 wines from 460 producers from every corner of the country. Yes, I discuss the famous reds, such as Barolo, Brunello and Amarone, but I devote a lot of text to great examples of everyday wines such as Soave, Gavi, Dolcetto, Nero d’Avola, Verdicchio and hundreds of other wines. Too often these wines are forgotten in today’s wine world, one in which too many people spend too much time waxing poetically about the most famous – and often, most expensive – wines, most of which are red.
After 54 trips to wine regions throughout Italy, I believed it was time to write such a book and honor the growers and producers of wines from Abruzzo, Campania, Alto Adige, Friuli, Umbria and every other region for their contributions to the wine scene. If Italian wines are to remain successful in today’s market, it has to be because of their uniqueness and not their similarities to wines from other countries. Thank goodness that growers in Campania continue to work with Greco, Fiano, Aglianico and Piedirosso and how wonderful to know that producers in Friuli constantly strive to refine their versions of Friulano and Ribolla Gialla. And yes, isn’t it a delight to experience red wines from Piemonte such as Gattinara, Ghemme and Dolcetto?
I’ll let everyone know on this blog when the book is available for sale (it can be purchased at amazon.com). Time will tell how successful this book will be in terms of sales, but I’m happy knowing that my labor of love will help others – at least in some small fashion – to learn about the amazing world of Italian wines!
Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines by Tom Hyland
P.S. 2012 wrapped up on a pretty good note for me, at least blog-wise. I had over 10,000 hits in a single month for the first time ever in December. I’m sure there are numerous wine blogs out there that get a lot more views than that, but I think for a single topic blog such as this, these figures are pretty good!
Thanks to everyone who checked in during December and the entire year!
Fagottino con cicoria e caciocavallo con cream di ceci al profumo rosmarino
Puff pastry with chicory and caciocavallo cheese with cream of chickpeas, rosemary fragrance (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Be it a humble trattoria or a celebrated ristorante, I’ve experienced many great meals in Italy, but few were as memorable as the magnificent lunch I enjoyed at Il Posto delle Rose Selvatiche during my most recent visit to Campania.
The restaurant is part of a small resort in the town of Summonte about a 25-minute drive outside the town of Avellino in the inland province of Irpinia. This locale is somewhat isolated, as you drive up a gravel road, finally reaching your destination 1000 meters above sea level. This is a lovely retreat from everyday life, as there are a few apartments for guests as well as a handsome equestrian center.
Chef Antonella Iandolo (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
I was invited to lunch by my friend Antonella Iandolo, whom I first met two years ago when I enjoyed her cooking at a restaurant in nearby Avellino. Sadly, that restaurant closed, but she is staying busy consulting and teaching and is now perfecting her craft at this lovely resort. (Two things to note about my friendship with Antonella: first, she wrote a brief essay about pairing Campanian wine and food for my upcoming book on Italy’s most distinctive wines; second, I am in love with this woman!).
While Italian wine is my primary focus, I’ve learned a great deal about the country’s foods as well, as one enjoys great wines with equally great foods throughout the country. The starting puff pastry course (pictured above) was excellent, as all the flavors combined perfectly; the cream sauce was quite delicate, allowing the chickpea flavors to shine; this was a very flavorful, subtle, delicious dish.
The wine paired with this opening dish was the 2010 Guido Marsella Falanghina (Benevento), which was a lovely match, as this medium-bodied white with its lime and kiwi flavors backed by very healthy acidity, had enough weight and character to support, but not overwhelm the cream and chickpeas. Marsella, whose winery is located very close to the restaurant, is a little-known producer outside this immediate district, which is a shame, given the extremely high quality of his wines.
“Hamburger” con gorgonzola e noci al profumo di aneto
Hamburger with Gorgonzola cheese and walnuts, dill fragrance (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Two other courses were highlights of this meal. The secondi was a sensational dish that combined pumpkin, pepperoni, potatoes and a “hamburger” with Gorgonzola and walnuts. This was one of the most original dishes I’ve ever tasted, quite rich, yet also quite harmonious, with the gorgonzola providing quite a contrast to the pepperoni. The 2010 Guido Marsella Fiano di Avellino stood up to all the various flavors here and was an ideal match, especially with the vibrant acidity and distinct earthiness in the finish.
Piccola torta con uva sultanina arance e cioccolato con crema calda all vaniglia
Torte with egg, orange and chocolate with warm vanilla cream (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Finally, as I’m not one to turn down dessert, no matter how full I am (especially in Italy!), I adored the dolce that Antonella prepared, a chocolate panettone with vanilla cream sauce. The complementary flavors were sublime and the torte itself was as light as a feather – what a superb way to finish an amazing meal!
After the meal, Antonella asked me what I thought of her cooking as compared to what I had experienced two years ago (as if I would have anything but the nicest things to say!). I told her how much I enjoyed everything, summing up my thoughts by stating that her cooking had become “more refined.” She was quite pleased to hear that! Antonella Iandolo is quite a chef, with great talent and creativity and I think she will handle any challenge that comes her way in the kitchen .
Aldo Genovese, proprietor, Il Posto delle Rose Selvatiche (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
A big thank you and complimenti to Aldo Genovese, owner of Il Posto delle Rose Selvatiche for hosting this lunch and creating such a warm atmosphere at his dining room. He is a very wise man for hiring Antonella Iandolo as his chef!
I’m in the final stages of tasting out some of the highly regarded examples of 2008 Barolo. They say it’s not work if you enjoy it, so this has most definitively NOT been work, as I love these wines! 2008 was a cooler year than 2007 and several other recent vintages in the Barolo zone, meaning the wines from 2008 are more classically styled Barolos with very good acidity and structure; these wines also have marvelous aromatics. Thus 2008 is a more Piemontese style of Barolo as opposed to the more international stylings of the wines from 2007, for example.
The Barolos from 2008 are not the most powerful wines – examples from 2006 are much weightier on the palate – but these are among the most beautifully balanced Barolos in some time; I think of the lovely qualities of the 1998 Barolos – not overly big, but seductive, attractive wines of great typicity, wines that offer a distinct sense of place.
I’ll include my tastings notes in my Guide to Italian Wines (Winter issue) soon *; for now I want to let you know about one of the finest wines of this vintage. It’s from the renowned producer Massolino in Serralunga d’Alba. I’ve loved the wines of Franco and Roberto Massolino for some time now, especially as they are traditional producers, maturing their wines in large Slavonian oak casks. I prefer Barolo made in this fashion, as it better allows the local terroir to emerge in the wines.
Almost all of their production is from vineyards in the commune of Serralunga; this includes cru bottlings of Parafada, Margheria and the sensational Vigna Rionda Riserva. Recently, the family purhased a small parcel of the Parussi vineyard in nearby Castiglione Falletto, another superb Barolo locale. The 2007 was the first release of this wine for Massolino and it too was aged in the traditional large casks. I rated that wine as my favorite of the 2007 Barolos from Massolino, noting its lovely perfumes, ideal balance, lengthy finish and precise acidity.
The newly released 2008 Parussi is even more impressive with gorgeous aromatics of currant, morel cherry, tar, dried roses and a hint of licorice; offering notable depth of fruit, this has excellent persistence, ideal acidity, beautifully integrated wood notes along with sensations of balsamic and coffee. The tannins are quite silky and the overall balance of this wine is impeccable! Again, this speaks beautifully to its source – this is not as powerful a wine as the Parafada from Massolino, which is from Serralunga – so it will peak a bit sooner, say 12-15 years instead of 15-20 for the latter, but it is as accomplished and as harmonious a Barolo as Massolino produced in 2008 or from 2007, for that matter! This is an outstanding Barolo!
* – For information on a paid subscription to my Guide to Italian Wines, a quarterly publication, email me at email@example.com
The Story of a Great Day in Alto Adige
Text and Photos ©Tom Hyland
Sundial at J. Hofstatter Winery, Tramin
I’m fortunate enough to travel to Italy three or four times per year; thankfully, I never tire of it. Thus every day in la bella Italia, even if it’s cold and/or rainy, is a special one. In fact, I can recall virtually every day I’ve spent in Italy over the past twelve years and almost every one has been pretty special. Then there was one great Friday I recently spent in Alto Adige.
The day started with my host Martin Foradori Hofstatter driving me to his winery in Tramin for a special tasting of Alto Adige Pinot Nero from three vintages. The tasting was organized by the editors of Fine magazine in Germany; Martin mentioned the tasting and asked if I would like to attend, as I was in the area. I appreciate his hospitality as well as the kindness of the magazine editors for allowing me to sit in on the tasting. (Before the tasting, by the way, I stopped at a local bar for a croissant and apple juice – believe me, there is no better place in Italy – or perhaps all of Europe – for apple juice!).
The tasting featured wines from the 2009, 2005 and 2002 vintages, each of them excellent. The 2005s were arguably the best performing wines in terms of balance and structure, although 2002 was not far behind, while the 2009s were a bit fleshier, though no less accomplished. Producers included Girlan, Abbazia di Novacella, Colterenzio (Schreckbichl), St. Michael-Eppan and of course, J. Hofstatter; winemakers from several of those estates also took present in this tasting. While Pinot Nero is not one of the varieties most people associate with Italy, these examples displayed impressive complexity and were first-rate evidence of the foundation this grape has in the cool climes of Alto Adige.
Martin Foradori Hofstatter
After a brief lunch at the Barthenau estate of Hofstatter, it was off to my appointment at Abbazia di Novacella, northeast of Bolzano, not far from the Austrian border. Accompanying me as driver and interested spectator was Hannes Waldmüller, who recently became director for the Alto Adige consorzio. Waldmüller is a fountain of information on seemingly every business in the region, from wine to apples and just about anything else and that knowledge combined with his passion for the region makes him a great spokesperson for Südtirol.
I had tried wines from Abbazia on several occasions in the past and had always been delighted with the high quality and the impressive varietal focus of their wines, especially with varieties such as Kerner, Sylvaner and Pinot Nero. So here was a chance to try the new releases as well as tour the facility. Actually the word facility is not an apt descriptor here, as this is an amazing location that is part winery and a bigger part, an abbey with an stunning church (one of the most beautiful I have ever visited), an amazing library that contained hand-drawn manuscripts from the resident monks of the 14th century as well as a school for middle grades. This is quite an experience and one that should be part of your required itinerary on your next visit to Alto Adige.
Detail of ceiling of the church at Abbazia di Novacella
The tasting itself, conducted by Costanza Maag, who recently joined the winery, was excellent. Every wine tasted out beautifully, especially the Müller-Thurgau, Sylvaner and Sauvignon as well as all the “Praepositus” releases (these are the selezioni of the winery; the term Praepositus means “the chosen” or “elevated” – a perfect descriptor). I have included the Praepositus Kerner and Pinot Nero in my upcoming book on Italy’s most distinctive wines; if I had room, I’d include a few more, including the Praepositus Sauvignon (wonderful aromas of yellow apples and green tea!), Sylvaner (the 2011 is outstanding) and the Gewurztraminer, with its gorgeous lychee, grapefruit and lanolin aromas. What marvelous wines and while I also love the Pinot Nero, this is a winery – as with dozens of others in the region – that shows the world how routinely great – and occasionally brilliant – the white wines of Alto Adige are, year in and year out!
After our lengthy visit, it was dark outside and we were headed to one more appointment. Hannes made his way to Weingut Niklas in Kaltern, about an hour’s south; he pointed out as we entered the autostrada that if we headed north, we would be in Innsbruck, Austria, sooner than our next winery visit. It was a tempting proposal, but we proceeded to our business at hand.
Dieter Sölva, proprietor, Weingut Niklas
Our visit to Weingut Niklas was an impromptu one, as two other producers not far from Abbazia that I wanted to visit were out of town. I mentioned to Hannes that I knew the importer of Niklas in America (Oliver McCrum in the Bay Area) and that I had enjoyed the wines. Hannes called Dieter Sölva at the winery, who agreed to meet us. Unfortunately, his winery is in a small town, hidden behind a number of small streets, so Hannes had to get on his cel phone and have Dieter walk him through this. It was quite dark and rather cool and we were getting a bit tired by this time (around 7:30), but we managed to finally locate this small winery.
Dieter is a charming man, someone who gives you his attention and is open and direct – there’s no hidden agenda with him. That’s great, because I could relax around him and be honest about my opinions of his wines; not that he had anything to worry about, as I loved both his 2011 Kerner and especially his 2011 Sauvignon with enticing yellow pepper and elderberry aromas; here was a lovely Sauvignon with plenty of fruit, yet only a trace of the assertive herbal notes that often dominate other examples of this variety in cool climates. The wine has lively acidity and beautiful structure and is one of my favorite examples of Sauvignon from Italy – highly recommended!
Finally, it was off to a quick dinner and some pizza and pasta. We found a comfortable place with excellent food and by this time, a beer was in order – an Austrian beer, as Hannes said that’s what he recommended, so I went with it. But I just can’t help myself when I’m in a restaurant in wine country – I have to see the wine list. I noticed that the Peter Sölva Gewurztraminer was on the list, so I ordered a glass. Now I didn’t have pizza, as I opted for pasta and I can’t say that the wine was an ideal partner for my food, but at this point, it certainly tasted great. I love Alto Adige Gewurztraminer and this one was excellent, especially as this had proper structure to back up the lovely aromatics. A great way to finish my wine tasting that Friday!
Hannes then drove me back to my guesthouse, promising me another day of touring wine estates the next time I’m in Alto Adige. This is why I love the Italian people – after all this man did for me that afternoon and evening, he was making sure I knew that he would be happy to show me around his region again. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but the Italians are among – perhaps the – most gracious people in the world!
P.S. I can tell you that many residents of Alto Adige, still clinging to their Austrian/German heritage (Südtirol was part of the Austrian empire until the end of the First World War), don’t believe they are Italians. On more than one occasion lately, there have been discussions about the Südtirol becoming an autonomous state, separate from Italy. In fact, many of the local residents talk of Alto Adige and then refer to Italy as being “down there.” True enough, but for this post and for the sake of argument, I’m including these wonderful denizens as Italian – their graciousness certainly fits the part!
Post-Harvest images from Franciacorta
(all photos ©Tom Hyland)