Orlando Pecchenino, Dogliani, with a bottle of his 2010 Bricco Botti, one of 2013’s best Italian wines (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
January always means starting fresh as well as remembering what came before. So it’s time for my annual look at the best Italian wines of 2013, but instead of offering a complete list (that will be printed in the Spring issue of my Guide to Italian Wines, available to paid subscribers), I’m going to take a different approach and focus on just a few wine zones that were home to some pretty special wines, offerings that don’t get a lot of attention.
Dogliani – I adore Dolcetto and I’m on a constant crusade to tell wine lovers about this lovely wine; I know why it doesn’t sell as well as it should, but it doesn’t help that the major wine publications ignore this wine. In the small village of Dogliani, a bit south of the Barolo zone, a small band of dedicated producers specialize in the Dolceto grape and craft marvelous versions, wines that have more richness and age worthiness than examples of Dolcetto d’Alba or Diano d’Alba. That said, I visited several producers in Dogliani this past September and tasted four examples of Dogliani that were outstanding: the 2010 Pecchenino “Bricco Botti”a wine that has tremendous complexity and character; the 2012 Chionetti “San Luigi”, a wine of great varietal purity and focus and one of the most delicious red wines I tasted in all of Italy this past year; the 2009 Anna Maria Abbona “San Bernardo” from 65-year old vines that offers abundant floral aromas backed by tremendous persistence and finally the 2004 San Fereolo Dogliani Superiore from proprietor Nicoletta Bocca. Here is a current release – yes, a nine year-old (now almost ten) Dolcetto of superb breeding that will drink well for another 5-7 years. Wines such as this one and the others I mentioned are evidence that Dolcetto can be a first-rate wine; it’s a shame that more wine publications ignore this lovely grape.
Verdicchio (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi – Speaking of grapes that are largely ignored, Verdicchio is at or near the top of this list. Here is a grape grown in Marche that has uncommon complexity and can age – given the proper care at any particular cellar in the best vintages – for 7-10 years and even longer in some cases (I tried a 1991 Verdicchio from the excellent cooperative producer Colonnara a few months ago that was superb and still quite fresh). So why don’t you hear about this wine more often? Simply put, the major wine publications focus on red wines, especially in Italy, so Verdicchio is priority number 35 (or is it number 36?) for their editors.
The best new releases of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi I tasted were the 2012 Umani-Ronchi “Casal di Serra”, the 2010 “Vecchie Vigne” (old vines) version from this vineyard and the marvelous 2009 Umani-Ronchi “Plenio”, a Verdicchio of outstanding complexity with ideal balance.
Also, the 2009 Villa Bucci “Riserva” is one of the finest versions of this wine I have ever tasted; given the fame and outstanding track record of this producer, that’s saying something. With its heavenly orange blossom and hyacinth perfumes as well as pronounced minerality, this is a brilliant wine, easily one of the finest of the year. Look for this to be at its best in 5-7 years, although I may be a bit conservative in my estimate.
At Santa Barbara, the 2011 Stefano Antonucci “Riserva” is a heavyweight Verdicchio, a barrique-aged version that is lush and tasty with tremendous complexity; while I often prefer Verdicchio not aged in small barrels, here is an example that is perfectly balanced. A different approach can be found in the 2009 Stefano Antonucci “Tardivo ma non Tardivo” (loosely translated as “late but not too late” in reference to the late harvesting of the grapes); this is aged solely in steel. This is as singular a Verdicchio as I have ever tasted, given its exotic aromas of grapefruit, green tea and a note of honey, while the minerality and structure remind me of a Premier Cru or Grand Cru Chablis. Un vino bianco, ma che un vino!
Sabino Loffredo, Pietracupa (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Campania white wines - This is such a vibrant region these days for all of its wines, not just Taurasi, its most famous red, but also other distinctive wines such as Palagrello Nero and Casavecchia. Then there are the whites – wines of great varietal distinctiveness, minerality and structure. 2012 was a first-rate vintage for Campanian whites, as the wines have beautiful focus, lively acidity, excellent ripeness, lovely aromatics (thanks to a long growing season) and distinct minerality. I’ve loved these wines for years and it’s been such a pleasure to see the results from two superb vintages, such as 2010 and 2012.
There were so many gorgeous 2012 Campanian whites; I can’t list them all, so here are just a few of the best: Pietracupa Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino - from the brilliant producer Sabino Loffredo; Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo “Cutizzi”; Mastroberardino Fiano di Avellino “Radici”; Donnachiara Greco “Ostinato” and Villa Raiano Greco di Tufo “Contrada Marotta”. A wonderful collection of whites, drinkable now and over the next 5-7 years.
Chianti Classico - Every year, more and more of these wines taste the same to me. There are exceptions of course, those wines from producers that still craft offerings that reflect a sense of place, rather than just producing bottles aimed at a large audience. The two best I tried in 2012 were both Riserva wines from the very underrated 2008 vintage. The first was the Felsina “Rancia”, a wine of great strength with very good acidity and notable structure. The second was the Bibbiano “Vigna Capannino”, also a beautifully structured wine that represented to me what a top Chianti Classico Riserva should be, a wine with richness of fruit, not just a higher percentage of oak; of course there is admirable Sangiovese character, but there is also very good acidity, meaning this is a wine that will age gracefully, with peak in 10-12 years. The Felsina is a more powerful wine, while the Bibbiano is more delicate, but both are first-rate versions of what this wine type should represent.
Looking south from Appiano at vineyards in Alto Adige (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Alto Adige whites – Alto Adige, being a cool climate region, is of course known for its white wines, but I wonder how often wine lovers think about how special these wines truly are. The regular bottlings are quite nice, with very good acidity and balance; the wines are also quite clean, beautifully made with excellent varietal character. Then there are dozens – no make that hundreds – of vibrant Alto Adige whites that have excellent depth of fruit, distinct minerality and gorgeous complexity. A few of the best from include the 2012 Cantina Tramin “Stoan”, a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Bianco that is as complex and as satisfying as any Italian white (or a white from just about anywhere); the 2012 Gewurztraminer “Nussbaumer” also from Cantina Tramin (this is one of Italy’s top 50 producers, in my opinion), a wine of heavenly grapefruit, lychee, yellow rose and honeysuckle aromas backed by excellent concentration and subtle spice; the 2012 St. Michael-Eppan Sauvignon “Sanct Valentin”, with great varietal character – what a lovely wine for vegetable risotto or most seafood; the 2010 Cantina Terlano Pinot Bianco “Vorberg” Riserva, one of Italy’s most distinctive white wines, and finally, the 2012 Girlan Gewurztraminer “Flora”, a version of this wine that is not as explosive as the Tramin “Nussbaumer”, but one that is just as attractive and varietally pure.
Estate vineyards of Ferrari near the town of Trento (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Trento Metodo Classico – You could be forgiven if you weren’t very familiar with classically-produced sparkling wines from Trentino. After all, Prosecco is much-more famous as an Italian bubbly and the great wines of Franciacorta in Lombardia generally receive more attention. Still, the cool area near the town of Trento is ideal for beautifully structured sparkling wines, especially when made by the firms of Ferrari and Maso Martis.
There has been so much written about Ferrari- what marvelous sparkling wines they produce! The finest I tasted this year were the 2006 Perlé Nero, a 100% Blanc de Noirs with excellent concentration and beautiful complexity and then for a rare treat, the 1994 Giulio Ferrari “Riserve del Fondatore”; this latter wine was a special, extremely limited wine that was disgorged in 2011, meaning it spent 17 years on its yeasts – an unheard of length of time for almost any sparkling wine. Words can’t do this cuvée justice – this is simply an ethereal sparkling wine, one of tremendous length, with exotic flavors of orange, truffle and even a hint of cream – just amazing!
It may be difficult to compete – if that’s the proper term – with Ferrari, but the husband and wife team of Roberta and Antonio Stelzer do their best. Try their wines and you’ll see what I mean, as these sparklers are so beautifully balanced and such a joy to consume. Everything here is excellent, particularly the full-bodied 2007 Brut Riserva Millesimato and the stunning 2003 Madame Martis, with its appealing honey, cream and apple tart aromas and oustanding persistence.
The Slow Wine tasting, an event featuring more than 50 Italian producers pouring their wines, will be held in Chicago on January 29 at Spiaggia (900 N. Michigan). There will be two tastings – one for the trade and media from 1-5 PM, while there is a consumer event from 6:00-8:30.
This walk-around tasting is based upon the Slow Wine Guide, which honors the best producers of Italy, especially those that craft wine according to environmental sensitivity and eco-sustainable practices. There are producers from every region in Italy and they have been noted for various recognition, ranging from the best values in Italian wines to overall excellence for their type to finally the Snail award for a producer’s wine that interprets the Slow Wine philosophy in categories such as territory, environment and identity.
Thus anyone attending this event will have the opportunity to taste a wide array of the latest releases from Italy, ranging from Pinot Grigio and Friulano from Alto Adige and Friuli to textbook reds such as Dolcetto, Barbaresco and Barolo from Piedmont. Among the producers pouring their wines at this event will be Planeta (Sicily), Anna Maria Abbona (Piedmont), Giovanni Rosso (Piedmont), Grifalco (Basilicata), Pieropan (Veneto) and dozens more. There will also be producers from regions such as Emilia-Romagna, Lazio, Umbria and Marche, whose wines do not often receive the acclaim they deserve.
The 2014 Slow Wine Guide will be available at the tasting. Note that for the consumer event, the book is included in the ticket price of $45, while at the afternoon tasting for trade and media, the guide will be available for purchase.
Here are the links with information on registering for this event:
Trade and media tasting: click here
Consumer tasting: click here
I hope to see you at the Slow Wine tasting in Chicago on January 29!
Milena Pepe, Tenuta Cavalier Pepe (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
For my first post of 2014, I was all set to list my favorite Italian wines of 2013, but before I do that, I thought I’d tell you a bit about a few of the people that make these wines. They’re among my favorite people in Italy and they have always treated me graciously, especially during my trips – six in all – during the calendar year of 2013. So here are images – and a few words – about some of my favorite people in the wine industry in Italy.
Milena Pepe, proprietor, Tenuta Cavalier Pepe, Sant’Angelo all’Esca, Campania – Milena is a beautiful woman and also one of the most positive, outgoing people I’ve ever met anywhere in the world. I don’t care how bad a mood you’re in – if you spend ten minutes with this woman, you’ll come out with a smile on your face. Try her 2012 Greco di Tufo “Nestor” and you’ll admire the wines she oversees here as well.
Alessandro Locatelli, Rocche Costamagna (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Alessandro Locatelli, proprietor/winemaker, Rocche Costamagna, La Morra – I’ve known Alessandro about ten years and in all that time, he’s always remained down-to-earth; his success hasn’t changed him. He is a workaholic and takes a lot upon himself, but he knows he has to work hard if he is to succeed in his business, so he never complains. He’s been so helpful to me with my knowledge of the area – as well as with my Italian! His wines are beautiful, not only his top-of-the-line Barolo “Bricco Francesco”, but also his bottlings of Dolcetto d’Alba (especially his “Rubis”, which is one of my favorites of this wine type).
Roberta Giuraiali Stelzer and Antonio Stelzer, Maso Martis (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Roberta and Antonio Stelzer, Maso Martis, Trento – I met this couple for the first time in September (thanks to the help of my friend Aurora Endrici) and was won over by their genuine warmth – you get what you see with these two. Their metodo classico Trento DOC sparkling wines are first-rate across the board. It’s impossible for me to select one as my favorite, but their 2012 Brut and Madame Martis 2003 are outstanding wines, sparklers that are vibrant and delicious!
Camilla Lunelli, Ferrari (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Camilla Lunelli, Ferrari, Trento – Camilla and her siblings – Marcello, Matteo and Alessandro are outstanding ambassadors for not only their amazing sparkling wines, but in reality, for the region of Trento as well as Italy in general. They know how to treat people – with grace, courtesy and class! So many great wines from Ferrari, especially the Perlé Nero (100% Pinot Nero and very Champagne-like) and the Riserva Giulio Ferrari, a stunning wine that is among the three or four finest sparkling wines of Italy.
Orlando Pecchenino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Orlando Pecchenino, proprietor/winemaker, Pecchenino, Dogliani - A gentleman farmer, Pecchenino produces beautiful examples of Dolcetto from his immaculate vineyards in Dogliani. His hard work has paid off in the market and the media, but he prefers to let the wines do the talking. He’s very relaxed and confident and it’s always a pleasure spending time with him, whether tasting his latest releases in his cellars or enjoying his wines at a casual lunch. While he is most famous for his “Bricco Botti” Dogliani (a classic), his Barolo “San Giuseppe” from a cru in Monforte is a marvelous wine that is relatively unknown. This is a shame, as it’s a gem (it’s one of the very few 2009 Barolos that I thoroughly enjoyed).
Ilaria Petitto, Donnachiara (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Ilaria Petitto, proprietor, Donnachiara, Montefalcione, Campania – A friend of mine in Campania jokes with me whenever I talk about the wines of Donnachiara; “I know the real reason you go there,” she says. Ok, let’s be honest, Ilaria Petitto is a strikingly attractive woman, but it’s also her graciousness and warmth – as well as her marvelous wines that make my visits to Donnachiara a true pleasure. Beautiful Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino (especially the new releases from 2012) and now she has introduced special bottlings of these two wines – “Esoterico” Fiano and “Ostinato” Greco – that are totally different than the classic versions, but just as memorable.
Marica Bonomo, Monte del Fra (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Marica Bonomo, proprietor, Monte del Fra, Sommacampagna, Veneto – Marica is such a nice person, so it’s so wonderful to see so much success come her way. She produces beautiful versions of Valpolicella and Amarone, but it’s her lovely white wine “Ca del Magro”, a Custoza Superiore blended from several varieties that is her shining star. It’s always a pleasure to meet her and talk about her business.
- A Wonderful New Review
- New Entries
- Now available as a Kindle Book!
I’m excited to share some great news about my book Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines. The first is about a wonderful new review of my book and the second has to do with new updates to the book itself. Finally, as I’ve had a few people ask, the book is now available on Kindle.
The latest review of my book appears in the January issue of Decanter magazine; it was written by Ian D’Agata, the head of the magazine’s Italian wine team. He has given me a very positive grade; here are some excerpts from the review:
“The book is well written and informative. Anyone who loves Italian wines will enjoy it.”
“Most of Italy’s great or more famous wines are included and Hyland is knowledgeable enough to write about little known gems too… Starting each region with a principal varieties list is a great idea, rather than the useless DOCs and DOCGs. Advice on pairing wine and food from local chefs is also a nice touch.”
Thank you, Ian! I appreciate your kind words (as well as your constructive criticism). Yours is a professional review. (I am especially grateful that you mentioned the input from local chefs on pairing wine and food, as few reviewers to date have mentioned that.
The second edition, so to speak, has just been printed and I’ve included some new wine selections, namely from Umbria (Duca della Corgna Trasimeno Rosso, Cantina Tudernum Grechetto di Todo “Colle Nobile” and Cardeto Orvieto “Donna Armida”) and Campania (Nanni Copè and Luigi Tecce Taurasi “Poliphemo”).
Finally, the book is now available as a Kindle book. You can find the link at the amazon.com website, either under the “books” category or the “kindle” category. The price for the Kindle edition in the US is $17.95; prices vary in other countries according to currency.
Thanks to everyone for supporting my book. For those of you that have yet to purchase a copy – or want to buy an additional copy or two for a gift – I’m offering a 15% discount at the link below for a purchase of the book in paperback (sorry no discount on the Kindle version, but that’s priced lower than the traditional book version anyway).
Go to this link and use this discount code for a 15% savings: C7EXTZKF
Please note that this special discount will only be available until December 31, 2013.
Buon Natale e grazie a tutti!
Verdicchio grapes ready for harvest (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Here is part three of my favorite wines from my recent Italian trip; this installment is about the best white wines from Marche.
When you talk about white wines from Marche, it’s all about Verdicchio. There are sparkling versions – (some quite, quite good), dry versions, dessert styles and maybe most importantly, older bottlings. I say this as Verdicchio is among the white wines that has the greatest aging potential, not only in Italy, but anywhere (and this includes white Burgundies). I’ll write a post about Verdicchio soon – the wonders of this grape, why it isn’t better known, et al soon, but for now here are notes on a few of the best I recently sampled in the area.
Villa Bucci has become for many, the most famous producer of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, a Verdicchio from a beautiful, gently hilly area in northern Marche (there is another Verdicchio DOC – Verdicchio di Matelica – that is also quite expressive). The classic 2012 version (2012, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, is an excellent vintage for white wines throughout Italy), is a beauty, with aromas of acacia flowers, Bosc pear, jasmine and spearmint (the perfumes of a young, unoaked Verdicchio are irresistible) backed by very good depth of fruit, good persistence and very good acidity. Enjoy this over the next 3-5 years.
The Riserva Villa Bucci 2009 is outstanding; matured for two years in older barrels, there is a light creaminess in the aromas that accompany notes of hyacinth and orange blossom – just lovely! Medium-full with excellent concentration, this has outstanding persistence, a long, long finish and lovely finesse. What an outstanding wine! I also tasted three older vintages of this wine: the 2008, 2007 and 2004, each of which was excellent ,with the 2004 offering the greatest complexity, but the 2009 was in my judgment, the finest of all these wines. Look for this wine in a few months, as this continues the ultra impressive track record of this producer with this beautiful wine.
Stefano Antonucci (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Somehow the wines of Stefano Antonucci from Santa Barbara are not that well known in America; this is a true shame, as these are some of the most vibrant, most distinctive examples of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi being produced today. I tasted previous vintages in 2012 when I was writing my book on Italian wines and was very impressed, especially with the 2010 Stefano Antonucci Riserva, one of the finest examples of Verdicchio I have ever tasted. The new releases did not disappoint, starting with the 2012 Verdicchio “Le Vaglie,” which is highly aromatic (lilacs, Anjou pear, jasmine), with beautiful varietal focus and is absolutely delicious! For an Verdicchio that runs about $15 retail in the States, this is a steal!
The 2011 Riserva, is richer on the palate and has some oak influence, although there is so much fruit, you might not even notice the wood. The mid-palate is quite lush and there is outstanding persistence; although 2011 was not as acclaimed a vintage as 2010 or 2012, here is proof that the producer is always more important than the vintage. This is beautiful now, but if you can wait another year or two, it will greatly improve and it should peak in 7-10 years – an outstanding wine!
One of the most consistent producers of Verdicchio is Umani-Ronchi; they have received the Tre Bicchieri award from Gambero Rosso on several occasions and their 2009 “Casal di Serra Vecchie Vigne” was named Italy’s Best White Wine of 2012 from this same publication. I tasted te 2010 version of this wine and it is rock-solid with appealing golden apple and spearmint aromas backed by excellent depth of fruit. The wine that really impressed me was the 2009 Verdicchio Riserva “Plenio”; produced from a single vineyard. The name comes from the Latin word for “full,” an apt descriptor for this wine, which is partly aged in steel tanks and partly in large barrels; about 10%-15% of the wine undergoes malolactic fermentation. What a wine this is! Medium-full with excellent concentration and a rich mid-palate, there are aromas of spiced apple and golden flowers along with very good acidity and excellent complexity. 2009 was a marvelous vintage for Verdicchio as the wines are quite rich – in some cases, such as this one, almost fat on the palate – and there is also a distinct minerality to this wine. This was an eye-opener for me; Umani-Ronchi is a large producer, but give enough attention to your wines and source grapes from the finest sites and you can produce great wines; this 2009 Plenio is an example of that; this should peak in 5-7 years, although I may be a bit conservative with that estimate.
A few other examples of Verdicchio of note that I tasted this past September in the area. Sartarelli is a notable producer; their entry level Verdicchio is quite good. Most impressive is the 2010 Balciana, made from late harvest grapes; offering exotic aromas and excellent persistence, this will drink well for another 5-7 years.
From Garofoli, headed by the gracious and always smiling Daria Garofoli, the 2011 “Podium” and the 2006 Gioacchino Garofoli Selezione” are both excellent; the former a first-rate example of Verdiccchio with a rich mid-palate and the latter, a marvelous wine with cinnamon and spice flavors from oak aging; this will drink well for another 5-7 years.
Finally, a shout out to Colonnara, an excellent cooperative producer in Cupramontana, one of the most historic sites for Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, a thank you for a marvelous vertical tasting of their Cuprese bottling. The current 2012 release offers lovely jasmine and lemon zest aromas along with very good depth of fruit and lively acidity; look for this wine to drink well for several years.
I also tasted this wine from the 2010, 2001 and 1991 vintages- each was quite special. The 1991 Riserva – now some 22 years old – was in great condition, with notes of honey and orange blossom in the aromas; displaying marvelous texture and excellent complexity along with vibrant acidity, this is a great wine! It’s also exhibit number one, in my opinion, of how well Verdicchio ages.
Piero Mastroberardino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
My recent 18-day trip to Italy was filled with so many great wines; this is part two of my report, focusing on the best whites I tried from Campania.
One important thing that the newly released 2012 whites from Campania and other great white wine regions such as Marche and Alto Adige (I’ll review these whites in my next post) have is their amazing quality, as 2012 is an excellent, even outstanding vintage for white wines not only in these areas, but all throughout Italy. I’ll write a post about this vintage soon; it really is amazing, but I’ve had 2012 whites from Piemonte and Umbria – regions better known for red wines – that are first rate and among the best I’ve tasted in recent years from these areas.
So imagine how good the 2012 whites are from zones such as Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino in Campania. Ironically, it didn’t seem as though 2012 was going to be much of a year at all for distinctive whites, especially early on, as the warm temperatures rushed ripening a bit. But according to several producers I spoke with there, rains in September slowed things down and allowed more hangtime, thus resulting in wines of more pronounced aromatics and better natural acidity, as compared to 2011, a very nice, but not great vintage (the 2011 whites are rich and slightly more alcoholic, so they grab your attention, but as a rule they will not age as long as they are not as well structured).
Now on to the wines. I have just written an article on Campanian whites for the 2014 Italian supplement to Decanter magazine in England, so you will be able to read a more detailed analysis of some of these wines when my text is published in February. For now, I will offer a few brief thoughts on a few of the best I tasted, starting with the 2012 Greco di Tufo from Feudi di San Gregorio. There has been a lot of excitement at this esteemed firm over the past several years, as proprietor Antonio Capaldo has been investing in a great deal of research in vineyard and cellar work, bringing in Pier Paolo Sirch to ideintify the finest lots of Greco, Fiano and Falanghina (I tasted one single vineyard offering of Falanghina – a wine that will not be released on the market – and was excited to taste such a distinctive wine, one with great persistence and ideal harmony with this variety. Falanghina has been a very successful wine in many markets over the past few years; I think we are on the forefront of greatness with this wine).
The 2012 Serrocielo Falanghina from Feudi is a solid 4-star (excellent) wine, displaying distinct aromas of green tea and chamomile along with notes of lime and melon. The Pietracalda Fiano from 2012 offers inviting perfumes of lemon peel and pineapple; there is also distinct minerality and a lengthy finish. The Cutizzi Greco di Tufo, which I have reviewed in the Decanter article is one of the finest produced to date, but the real surprise here is the classic Greco di Tufo from 2012. Capaldo has begun a new program of single vineyard offerings, beginning with the 2012 vintage. He decided to start with Fiano, while the best sites for Greco were blended into one wine. This is as good an entry level Greco di Tufo as you will find, with lemon zest, Anjou pear and lemon zest aromas along with a touch of almond. Offering a rich mid-palate and notable persistence, this is a delightful wine for clams or other shellfish and is a wonderful value, given the $22 retail price (approximate) on American shelves (the wine is just coming into the market, so it may be another month or so before you find it. Palm Bay is the importer).
Mastroberardino, is of course, the most historic winery in Campania and the one that made today’s explosion of Greco and Fiano possible, thanks in great part to the work of Antonio Mastroberardino in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when his work in the vineyards helped save the varieties. His son Piero, current managing director of the firm, has respected his father’s efforts and has expanded upon them; the lineup of white wines from Mastroberardino these days is outstanding.
Please take note of that last sentence; yes, the white wines from Mastroberardino are first-rate. Everyone knows that the winery has become world-famous for its magnificent Taurasi, a version that one would have to designate as the standard bearer for this wine. It’s so famous that their whites are routinely overlooked; one could understand that ten or fifteen years ago, as the Mastroberardino whites back then were well made with good varietal character, but over the last decade or so, the wines have taken a noticeable leap in quality. Much of this is due, as Piero has told me numerous times, to the acquisition of new vineyards in various zones along with implementation of planting the best clones at these sites.
Briefly, the Mastroberardino 2012 whites are flawless, most notably the elegantly styled Greco di Tufo “Nova Serra” and the tantalizing Fiano di Avellino “Radici” (the favorite white of Piero from this vintage). Both wines have gorgeous varietal purity and the overall harmony is just beautiful. But I also need to mention the absolutely delicious Falanghina “Morabianca” from 2012; this is a relatively new project for the winery, as Piero and his team have planted this variety in Irpinia and not in Benevento, which is where many local producers source their Falanghina. This has an added richness in the mid-palate and a lengthy finish that give this wine its special character; this wine is also better than previous efforts due to additional vine age, so combine that with the excellence of the 2012 vintage and you have a very special wine! (Note: this wine is imported in the US by Winebow. You may not yet find the 2012 bottling, but it will arrive soon, if it hasn’t already. Now if the importer could only be convinced to bring in the “Radici” Fiano and the “Nova Serra” Greco.)
Milena Pepe, Tenuta Cavalier Pepe (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
From Tenuta Cavalier Pepe, under the direction of the effervescent Milena Pepe, the 2012 whites that stand out are the Coda di Volpe “Bianco di Bellona” and the Greco di Tufo “Nestor.” The latter has been a favorite of mine or some time now and is profiled in my book Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines; the 2012 is beautifully made. But it is the Coda di Volpe that really surprised me here, as this tends to be a variety that is not given the same care or respect as Greco or Fiano; indeed it is often used as a blending grape in Greco di Tufo or is the principal variety in Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Bianco, a wine that is too often categorized as a summer sipper. But here was an example of Coda di Volpe with inviting aromas of lemon zest and magnolia flowers along with lively acidity, good persistence and a light touch of minerality. It’s a lovely wine, one with simple charms and when I told the enologist how much I loved the wine, he did a little dance!
Other impressive 2012 whites from Campania I tasted were the Villa Raiano Fiano di Avellino “Alimata” and the Greco di Tufo “Contrada Marotta” (the latter is profiled in my Decanter article; this has become one of the best examples of its type over the past three vintages- the 2010 tasted during this trip was the finest Campanian white I tried; if you have a bottle, savor it, as it will be in fine shape for another 3-5 years). Also keep an eye on the classic level offerings of Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino from Villa Raiano from 2012; they are lovely wines, just a bit lighter than the cru offerings, with the Greco being especially noteworthy.
At Donnachiara, proprietor Ilaria Petitto was thrilled to have me taste her two new wines from 2012, the Fiano “Esoterico” and the Greco “Ostinato” that are limited production wines made from late harvest grapes picked in early November. The Fiano is an exotic wine, one that offers perfumes of honey, golden apple, mango and saffron and has excellent depth of fruit and is lush, almost oily on the palate. While her traditional Fiano di Avellino is treated only in stainless steel, this version is 20% barrique-fermented and then aged in barrique for 20 months. It’s quite a statement. (Incidentally, this is not labeled as Fiano di Avellino, as it was not tasted with the commission that approves wines to be labeled as DOCG).
As for the Greco “Ostinato” (some of the grapes are from outside the approved Greco di Tufo zone, so it cannot be labeled as such), it is produced in a similar manner as the Fiano (the fermentation here is extremely cold and lasts 12 months); the wine displays exquisite aromas of orange zest, pineapple and a touch of honeysuckle. Medium-full, there is excellent concentration, beautiful acidity and a light nuttiness in the lengthy finish (the persistence is outstanding). This is a wine of marvelous complexity, one that is exotic and distinct; I give the wine a 5-star (outstanding) rating and estimate that it will peak in 10-12 years. These two new wines from Donnachiara are prime evidence of the new direction being undertaken by the producers of Campania – brava, Ilaria!
Sabino Loffredo, Pietracupa (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
A few final thoughts. As expected, the 2012 Pietracupa Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino are outstanding wines; the Greco with its gorgeous aromas of jasmine, lemon zest and magnolia flowers and beautiful ripeness, is especially memorable. Winemaker/proprietor Sabino Loffredo is among Italy’s most accomplished vintners and these wines serve as reference points for their category. Every wine he produces is a true statement of typicity, displaying great varietal purity along with a true sense of place. Also two examples of Fiano di Avellino from 2011, the Ciro Picariello and the Villa Diamante “Vigna della Congregazione” are powerful styles of this wine (especially the latter) and are evidence that 2011 was an excellent year that has been overlooked, sandwiched between the outstanding 2010 and 2012 vintages.
Maiori, Costa d’Amalfi (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Finally, I tasted an example of Biancolella that was arguably the finest I have ever come across. It’s from Raffaelle Palma and it’s called Pietracroce. This is a DOC Costa d’Amalfi wine from Palma’s stunning estate in the small seaside town of Maiori. Brilliant light yellow in color with a hint of copper, this has striking aromas of kiwi, honeysuckle and pineapple and offers vibrant acidity along with a lengthy finish with notes of green tea. Beautifully balanced and quite delicious, this is another accomplished wine from Vincenzio Mercurio, one of Campania’s most highly regarded enologists. This lovely wine is from the 2011 vintage, incidentally; I can’t wait to taste the 2012 offering!
Camilla Lunelli, Ferrari (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
My most recent trip to Italy was a wild ride – six regions in 18 days, most of it during the beginning of harvest in several wine zones. From Campania in the south to Marche and then Umbria in the middle and then Piemonte, Alto Adige, Trentino and Veneto in the north, I enjoyed numerous excellent meals and dozens of first-rate wines, so let’s get right to them.
In case you aren’t that familiar, there are some excellent, even outstanding sparkling wines made in northern Italy. Of course, Franciacorta has been one of the reference points for Italian sparkling wine the past four decades and the wines as a whole have improved dramatically over the past five to ten years. I didn’t get to visit this area during this trip, but I did enjoy the Bellavista Satèn Gran Cuvée a 100% Chardonnay that is one of the finest of this type (Satèn is under less pressure than other examples of Franciacorta; the name refers to “satin” or “silky” for its ultra smooth finish) I have ever tasted. Quite rich with delicious fresh pear and green apple flavors, this is rich with marvelous complexity and a great example of finesse in a sparkling wine.
Another area that has come on in recent years for its sparkling wines is the Alta Langa district of Piemonte; as the name suggests, the vineyards are planted at high (alta) elevations to ensure good acidity and structure. While this is a category that is small (less than 20 producers) and while the consistency is not quite where it should be, there have been some excellent examples, none more so than the Enrico Serafino “Zero” 2006. A blend of 85% Pinot Nero and 15% Chardonnay, this is a metodo classico product (as with Franciacorta) that is ultra smooth and irresistibly delicious. The Zero designation refers to the dosage, so this is quite dry, yet it is not austere, as the acidity is nicely balanced without being exceedingly high. The wine spent more than five years on its yeasts, rendering a product of marvelous complexity; there is a light yeastiness in the aromas and the perlage is very persistent. This is a beautifully balanced wine, one that is just a pleasure to drink with a large variety of foods, from lighter seafoods to veal or poultry.
Roberta and Antonio Stelzer, Maso Martis (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
If there is an area that challenges (and perhaps surpasses) Franciacorta for the quality of its metodo classico wines, it is Trento DOC, situated in and around the town of Trento in Trentino-Alto Adige. Generally speaking, this is a cooler area than Franciacorta, so the wines as a rule have excellent acidity and notable structure.
One of the very best producers here is Maso Martis; the proprietors are Roberta and Antonio Stelzer, a truly lovely and gracious couple. These are wines of great precision, ones where structure means almost everything to the wine; there is plenty of fruit, but ripeness does not come as the cost of overall balance. Every wine I tasted here during my visit was excellent; if I have to select one it would be the Brut Riserva Millesimato 2007. A blend of 70% Pinot Nero and 30% Chardonnay, the wine spent between 52-60 months on the lees and was aged in 2nd and 3rd passage barriques. Offering very good to excellent concentration, with expressive aromas of dried pear, yeast and dried yellow flowers, this is a rich, very dry sparkling wine with excellent persistence and beautiful purity. It is an absolute must for food, be it raw fish or roast pork. This will improve with some time; my estimate is that will show its best in 5-7 years. (A big thank you to my friend Aurora Endrici, a local publicist and journalist, for introducing me to this couple and their remarkable wines.)
Of course, the most famous producer of Trento DOC is the great firm of Ferrari, owned by the Lunelli family. I was able to meet with the three siblings who are most responsible for the current production: Camilla along with her brothers, Alessandro and Matteo, who also serves as winemaker. There has been so much written about this house and the quality of its wines; there is little I can add, except that this family is remarkably generous with their time, as they are very interested in one’s opinion. They also take their responsibility as ambassadors for their wines and those of Trento DOC very seriously; this is a company that is run with great professionalism.
It’s a difficult challenge to select only one wine from Ferrari as my favorite (but I’m up to the task!). I tried eight different cuvées, ranging from the delicious 2007 Perlé Rosé to the 2001 Riserva Giulio Ferrari, a wine that is truly exceptional in its breeding, complexity and finesse. However, my choice (at least for this trip) is the Perlé Nero 2006, a 100% Pinot Nero that was aged for six years on the yeasts. If the Riserva Giulio Ferrari is the most sublime of all the Ferrari wines, the Perlé Nero is the most powerful. Deep yellow with a very fine perlage, this displays explosive aromas of coffee, dried lemon peel and hyacinth (very distinctive!) and is full-bodied with excellent depth of fruit. There is vibrant acidity, outstanding persistence and notable complexity. This is a bambino, as they say in Italy, as the wine is in its infancy; this will will improve for quite some time, at least seven to ten years. This is so wonderful by itself, but it is an absolute brilliant match for roast veal or lamb. (I noted that this is the cuvée from Ferrari that most resembles Champagne in its power and yeastiness, yet I don’t want to give the impression that the other wines from the producer are not of the quality of Champagne, as they certainly are; they are merely a more subdued, fruit-driven style that has elevated this house to the top of the sparkling wine pyramid in Italy).
My final thought on this Perlé Nero 2006 is simply this; it is among the four or five best Italian sparkling wines I have tasted in the last five years.
My next post will feature many of the finest whites wines – most of them being from the outstanding 2012 vintage – I tasted during my trip in September.