Giovanni Ascione, Nanni Copè (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Lists for the best wines of the year are usually compiled in December or early the following year. However, I tasted two red wines from Campania during my visit there last week that will definitely be among the finest of the year when I complete the list in another 8-9 months. In fact, these wines are not only among the best of the year to date, they’re among the single best Italian wines I’ve tried in the last two or three years.
The first is the 2010 Nanni Copè, the only wine made by Giovanni Ascione at his estate in the province of Caserta in northern Campania. Ascione crafts this wine primarily from the indigenous variety Palagrello Rosso; he uses up to 10% Aglianico in the blend as well. The wine is labeled for Ascione’s vineyard named “Vigna Sopra il Bosco” (“vineyard above the forest”) that was planted in 1987 (there is also a small amount of Casavecchia from a 120 year-old vineyard located nearby named “Vigna Scarrupata”). For Ascione, his Sopra il Bosco site is an obsession, as he has divided it into several sections, based on factors such as pruning, foliage management and harvesting approaches.
The wine has been produced from only three vintages to date; 2008, 2009 and 2010. I tasted all three wines with about a dozen other journalists in Campania last week; each offering is first-rate, with gorgeous fruit aromas (raspberry, black cherry) impressive concentration and ideal structure. While the first two releases are singular wines, it is the 2010 that really captured my attention as well as my heart. Deep garnet/crimson with aromas of black raspberry, black plum and a hint of licorice, it is medium-full with excellent concentration. There is outstanding persistence, lively acidity and beautifully polished tannins; the finish is very, very long. This is a wine of perfect balance, one that is seductive. I use a good number of words to describe my favorite wines and believe me, seductive is about as praiseworthy as I get for a red wine, as this gets into sheer pleasure, while at the same time, finesse. While this is simply sensational now, I expect this to be even better in a few years, with peak enjoyment in about 10-12 years.
By the way, when I told Ascione that the wine in my opinion was “molto seductivo,” he said, “that’s enough, no need to translate any further.” It was clear that he had succeeded in his goal of making this a memorable wine and he was happy to hear the praise.
The second brilliant red wine from Campania that I tasted during my stay was the 2008 Contrade di Taurasi Riserva Taurasi “Coste.” Also known as Cantine Lonardo for the family that owns the vineyards and cellar just outside the town of Taurasi, this is one of the area’s most outstanding producers, making their Taurasi in an ultra-traditional style, maturing the wines in large casks.
I’ve enjoyed their regular bottling of Taurasi for years and have had the good fortune to also taste their riserva Taurasi once or twice. For 2008 however, the Lonardos have decided to produce two separate cru bottlings of Taurasi: “Vigne d’Alto” and “Coste.” Both are superb!
The former offers lovely cassis, black raspberry and lavender aromas; medium-full, with a rich mid-palate, the wine has very good acidity and marvelous complexity. I predict this will drink well for 20 years plus.
All of the elegance and richness of the “Vigne d’Alto” are present as well in the “Coste” bottling, but this is an even better wine. The aromas include black cherry, black raspberry, marmalade, plum and a nice floral touch with a hint of violets. There is excellent concentration, while the mid-palate is layered. The tannins are polished, there is finely tuned acidity, outstanding persistence and impeccable balance. The harmony of all the components is really quite something and there is enough stuffing for this wine to be drinking well several years beyond its 20th birthday. It is also a great expression of terroir and a wine of superb varietal purity. In case you’re wondering, this is not an aggressive wine that needs time to settle down, rather it is supple and absolutely delicious! Of course, it will improve for many years, but it is a remarkable bottle of wine that can be enjoyed now. Congratulations to the Lonardo family for their excellent farming and brilliant winemaking.
I have to tell you that these riserve represent many things, above all the strength of the 2008 vintage, one that is not as forward as 2007, but offers far greater depth of fruit with ideal structure for aging. This could be just the thing needed to drive much more attention to this superb red wine from Campania, one that is sadly neglected, compared to its more famous counterparts from the north, such as Amarone and Barolo.
But perhaps – no more?
Final note: Many of the riserva Taurasi from 2008 are not released yet, but will be available in the market within a few months. Keep your eyes open for these wines.
Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines, my first book on Italian wines has been published.
I wrote this book to share my knowledge and insight of Italian wines after more than 50 trips to Italian wine regions over the past 12 years (I returned yesterday from my 56th trip). Too often people have the idea that Italian wine is limited to a few world-famous reds, such as Amarone, Barolo and Brunello. I have certainly included those wines in this book, as they are classics, but the focus of this book is on the great examples of everyday wines that truly represent the Italian wine scene.
Thus, I have written about excellent examples of wines such as Soave, Gavi, Dolcetto, Chianti Classico, Verdicchio and Taurasi to name only a few. I have written about beautiful wines from every region in Italy, ranging from sparkling wine from Valle d’Aosta in the far northwestern reaches of Italy to Passito di Pantelleria, the marvelous dessert wine from a tiny island just south of Sicily.
I’ll keep this post short. If you love Italian wines or need to know more about this subject (who doesn’t?), then I think my book is meant for you.
Tiziano Accordini, Stefano Accordini winery (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
A few weeks ago, I made a quick trip to Verona to attend the annual Amarone Anteprima event. These anteprima tastings, which are held in various wine zones in Italy, are preview tastings for journalists, who are presented with the opportunity to taste new releases several months before the wines are released.
Of course, Amarone is a wine that takes years to display its complexities, so it’s important to remember that when tasting wines that are not yet available in the market. This year, it’s especially important, as the wines we tasted were from the 2009 vintage, a warm, sometimes hot growing season that produced big, forward wines that are not typical for this area.
That’s not to say they’re not good, as I tasted several excellent wines. But keep in mind that 2009 followed 2008, which was a stellar vintage. The 2008s have not only excellent concentration, but also very good acidity and marvelous structure – some of the top examples of 2008 Amarone will be at their peak in 20-25 years, something that I doubt will be the situation with the 2009s.
Also when passing on my judgment of the best wines I tasted during this event, I have to note that some of the finest artisan estates were not participating for various reasons. I do think that given the vary nature of Amarone as a wine that requires patience on the part of the drinker, there are some producers who simply believe that showing their new Amarone in January won’t be of any use, as they would prefer to wait at least six months or longer to taste out their wines with critics and consumers.
That said, 2009 could shape up to be a very nice vintage, though it will probably be one that will be overlooked, especially given the classic style of the 2008s as well as the powerful 2006s, many of which are still on the market.
Here are the best examples of 2009 Amarone I tasted at the anteprima tasting in January:
Stefano Accordini “Acinatico” (always a fine wine with good typicity)
Zecchini (particularly excellent with admirable restraint)
Cantina di Soave “Rocca Sveva” (another fine Amarone from this producer – ripe and tasty)
Corte Sant’Alda (nice structure and impressive complexity)
Cavalchina (lovely freshness; strawberry and cherry fruit)
Monte del Fra (nicely balanced with good typicity)
I Scriani (very impressive balance and persistence)
Novaia ( elegant and delicious with beautiful complexity – a lovely wine!)
Look for these bottlings of 2009 Amarone to appear in the marketplace in the fall of this year.
Ca’ del Bosco winery, Erbusco, Franciacorta (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
It’s time to reveal a partial list of some of the year’s best Italian producers in my opinion. In this post, I’ll include a mix of estates from various regions, producing an array of wines from sparkling to white to red. The complete list of the year’s best Italian producers and wines will be published in the Spring issue of my Guide to Italian Wines, which will be sent to paid subscribers at the end of March.
CA’ DEL BOSCO – This esteemed producer, under the guidance of Maurizio Zanella, has been among the very finest Franciacorta houses for many years. 2012 and early 2013 saw the release of the 2008 vintage-dated wines; the Satén is first-rate and among the most complex examples of this wine I have ever tasted. This past year also saw the second release of the Anna Maria Clementi Rosé – this from the 2004 vintage, which spent seven years on its yeasts! This is an explosive wine, one of the world’s greatest sparkling rosés. (US importer, Banville and Jones)
FERGHETTINA – Managed by the Gatti family, this is another accomplished Franciacorta producer. Their Extra Brut – 2006 is the current vintage – has become their most celebrated wine; a blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Nero that was aged for six years before release, is full-bodied and very dry with a long, flavorful finish and beautiful structure. As good or perhaps even better is their 2004 Pas Dosé (meaning no dosage) “Riserva 33″, so named as it is a blend of one-third of their Satén, one-third Milledi (a 100% Chardonnay sparkler from older vineyards) and one-third Extra Brut. This blend, aged for seven years on its yeasts, is a lovely wine of outstanding quality. In case you haven’t noticed, Franciacorta producers such as Ferghettina and Ca’ del Bosco – as well as several dozen others – have been refining their offerings each year, crafting products that are among the finest sparkling wines in the world. (US importer, Empson, USA)
Elena Walch (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
ELENA WALCH – Actually, the way it’s been going as of late, I could name the Elena Walch estate in Tramin, Alto Adige as one of the best producers every year in Italy. This year saw the release of her 2011 estate whites and they are all lovely. Especially notable this year are the Sauvignon “Castel Ringberg” with its spot-on notes of spearmint, rosemary and basil; the Pinot Grigio “Castel Ringberg” with its luscious fresh apple and dried yellow flower notes and the Gewurztraminer “Kastelaz,” always one of the best of its type in Italy. (Various US importers)
VILLA RAIANO - This Campanian estate has reinvented itself over the past two years and the results are extremely impressive! The regular examples of Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino from 2011 are nicely balanced with notable varietal purity, while the selezioni versions of these wines are first-rate, especially the 2010 and 2011 “Contrada Marotta” Greco di Tufo, which is one of the top ten examples of this wine, in my opinion. The 2008 Taurasi, produced in a traditional manner to emphasize the gorgeous Aglianico fruit, is a 5-star (outstanding) wine! (US importer, Siena Imports)
Alessandro Castellani, Ca’ La Bionda (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
CA’ LA BIONDA- Quite simply, this is one of the premier producers in the Valpolicella district. The Castellani family crafts wines in a traditional manner - maturing in large casks – that render wines that display the true anima of this territory – these are wines that offer a sense of place. Two outstanding releases over the past fifteen months are prime evidence of the greatness of this producer: the 2001 “Casal Vegri” Valpolicella Superiore and the 2005 Amarone Riserva “Ravazzol.” The latter is a sumptuous, remarkably elegant Amarone with tremendous finesse as well as impressive depth of fruit, while the former is a Valpolicella that was aged for 10 years before release; this wine shows the true potential of Valpolicella, a wine type that too often gets lost next to Amarone. Both wines are outstanding. (Various US Importers, including Connoisseur, Niles, IL)
If you’re a lover of Barolo, you are certainly familiar with great cru offerings from some of the most celebrated producers; these include wines such as Briccco Rocche from Ceretto, Bricco Boschis from Cavallotto, Rocche from Renato Ratti or any one of several from Roberto Voerzio (Brunate, Cerequio, La Serra, et al). There are dozens of other great cru Barolos from many other renowned estates, but one I’m certain most people haven’t heard of is the Bussia Soprana “Vigna Mondoca” from Oddero.
Located in Santa Maria, a frazione of La Morra, in the heart of the Barolo zone, this distinguished family firm under the direction of Mariacristina and Mariavittoria Oddero has quietly become one of the most consistent and most highly regarded of all Barolo houses. The quality level is routinely excellent and has been steadily improving for the past decade.
Oddero produces as many as six different examples of Barolo per year, including one blended from La Morra and Castiglione grapes along with several cru bottlings, including Villero from Castiglione Falletto, Vigna Rionda from Serralunga d’Alba and Rocche di Castiglione from Castiglione Falletto. These vineyards are quite famous; other producers also craft single vineyard wines from these sites.
But it is the Bussia Soprana “Vigna Mondoca” that may just be the finest Barolo produced by Oddero, although it is nowhere as famous as their other wines. The vineyard itself is quite unique, comprised of white/grey marls and yellow sands with more limestone than clay. At the top of the hill (1180 feet above sea level), the soils are almost completely white, leading Mariacristina Oddero to comment that it looks “like lunar soil.”
Mariacristina Oddero (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Oddero acquired their section of this vineyard in 1970 and has never replanted, so the vines are at least 40-45 years old. Typical of a Barolo from the commune of Monforte d’Alba, this is a wine with firm, abundant tannins, so much so that the proprietors have made the decision to hold on to this wine one extra year before releasing it in the market. So while the current release of the other Barolos from Oddero, such as Villero, is 2008 (these were released a few months ago in 2012), the new release for the “Vigna Mondoca” is the 2007 – the 2008 will not be released until the fall of 2013.
I’ve recently tasted the 2007 and 2006 versions of this wine and I rated both as 5-star (outstanding) wines. The 2007 is much more intense and powerful than the typical 2007 Barolo, as this vintage produced many forward wines with medium-weight tannins. But the Oddero “Vigna Mondoca” from 2007 is a wine that needs a lot of time to shed its youthful tannins and settle down; in my notes, I have estimated that peak drinking for this wine will be in 20-25 years.
As for the 2006, this wine really displays its breeding and class along with the intensity and rich concentration of that wonderful vintage. Offering marvelous aromas of currant, dried cherry, balsamic, orange peel and cedar, this is a tightly wrapped wine that is an superb representation of this site; it is intense, yet beautifully balanced, so the wine should be in excellent condition when it peaks in 25-20 years.
The proprietors mature this wine each vintage in 40, 60 and 75 hectoliter (4000, 6000 and 7500 liter) Slavonian and Austrian oak casks for 30 months; this allows for beautiful expression of terroir, as the large casks let the Nebbiolo fruit characteristics emerge without being overwhelmed by too many wood notes. This gives the wine a unique identity, something that is a shared trait with other great examples of Barolo or many other superb red wines of Italy and the rest of the world.
Compliments to the Oddero family on such a superb wine each vintage. As with anything that is truly great, this is not easy to find (only about 30,000 bottles are produced in a year), but the search will undeniably be worth it!
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!