Posts tagged ‘ca’ la bionda’
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)
My list of the top 100 wine estates in Italy contains some very famous names as well as some that deserve to be better known. What all of them have in common is a track record of producing wines that are elegant, display notable varietal character and offer a sense of place. Of course there are other factors in the wines that I look for such as pleasure as well as finesse. On all these counts, Ca’ La Bionda is a Top 100 producer.
Located in Marano in the Valpolicella Classico zone, Ca’ La Bionda is a family-owned estate that was established in 1902; Alessandro Castellani, representing the fourth generation, is the winemaker. The family owns 75 acres of vineyards and produces approximately 10,000 cases per year.
Every wine made at Ca’ La Bionda is made in a traditional style and made with great care. Start with the base Valpolicella Classico and you find a wine displaying fresh red cherry and currant aromas with a hint of red pepper backed by good concentration, round tannins, good acidity and persistence. Aged only in steel, this is a model for what a Valpolicella normale should taste like. It’s a lovely food wine – it is a fine partner for everything from salumi to lighter pastas – and the current 2010 bottling will drink well for 2-3 years.
Move up to the Casal Vegri Valpolicella Superiore and you have a wine with more intensity and complexity, while still maintaining a great deal of elegance. There are more floral aromas here with the 2009 bottling, while the 2008 also has a distinct note of tar in the aromas. By the way, Alessandro is more of a fan of the 2008, which he labels a more “typical” vintage than 2009, which is riper and a bit fatter on the palate. Both wines however have ideal acidity, which maintains freshness and balance. These are wines that should be enjoyed over the next 3-5 years.
When I visted the cellars in January of this year, Alessandro opened the 2001 Casal Vegri Valpolicella that he had recently bottled, as the wine spent 10 years in wood! Named “Decenalle” this is a remarkable project and wine – I have heard of producers keeping their Amarone in casks for an extended time frame, but a Valpolicella? The wine displayed amazing freshness with perfumes of maraschino cherry, myrtle and tar and offered a generous mid-palate, very good acidity and excellent persistence – here is a wine that not only perfectly displays the local terroir, but also a Valpolicella with more character and complexity than some of the more expensive Amarones I have tasted. That a ten-year old Valpolicella, only recently taken out of wood, can be this good is a testament not only to the quality of the vineyards and the farming by the Castellani family (as well as the class of the outstanding 2001 vintage), but also the winemaking philosophy here as well – restraint and minimal interference to let the varietal character shine through. This is a marvelous wine I highly recommend!
Of course, the star at any winery in this area is the Amarone; the current 2005 Amarone “Vigneti di Ravazzol” Riserva is an outstanding wine that as aged for five years – more than the minimum regulated by DOC laws – in large 30HL casks. Displaying aromas of maraschino cherry, currant and clove, this has a generous mid-palate and a long, long finish with excellent persistence. The balance on this wine is marvelous with round tannins, subtle wood notes and very good acidity. This is a great example of how an Amarone can be powerful and graceful all at once; this is quite approachable now, but will display more complexity over the next few years and be at its best in 12-15 years. By the way, for all you who are slaves to vintage charts and read that 2005 was an average vintage – throw out those charts! This is an outstanding offering that proves that when it comes to judging the overall character of a wine, the producer carries a lot more weight than a vintage report.
Finally, there is the Recioto “Le Tordare” from the 2008 vintage. I love Recioto with its rich raspberry and cassis flavors and light sweetness; I only wish more consumers would try this type of wine, as I’m sure they’d love it. Again as with every wine at Ca’ La Bionda, this has excellent freshness, so the wine has a clean finish, tasting less sweet than it actually is. Enjoy this lovely jewel over the next 7-10 years by itself after a meal or with some bitter chocolate.
What I truly admire about the wines of Ca’ La Bionda is the humility of Alessandro Castellani. When he comments about his products, there is never a mention of points, ratings or awards. He simply lets the wines do the talking and what they communicate is winemaking brilliance!
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
I recently joined a group of journalists from around the world who were invited by the Consorzio Valpolicella to take part in the annual Anteprima Amarone event in Verona. This tasting is an opportunity for writers specializing in Italian wines to taste the soon-to-be-released examples of Amarone from several dozen producers; this year the featured vintage was 2008.
As in many wine districts throughout Italy, temperatures have been increasing slightly over the past several years; in the Valpolicella district, just north of Verona, this was certainly the case in 2006 and even more so in 2007. Thus a cool – read more typical – growing season with moderate temperatures that characterized 2008 in this area was a welcome change to most producers. This has resulted in wines that have very good acidity, impressive concentration and beautifully defined perfumes. Stefano Cottini, proprietor of Scriani in Fumane in the Classico zone of Valpolicella, says that 2008 was “a very easy year. Nature gave us a beautiful growing season. All we had to do was wait for the grapes to come in.” Cottini believes that his 2008 Amarone will age longer than many recent vintages thanks to the ideal structure of the wine.
Tasting through more than 40 different examples of 2008 Amarone, I had mixed feelings about the wines. Indeed these wines do have very good acidity and with some of the wines, excellent structure. This is not a vintage for short-term enjoyment such as 2007, but one that demands time in the bottle; I’m guessing that many of the finest Amarone from 2008 will peak in another 12-15 years. This estimate on my part (some wines tasted here were barrel samples) means that 2008 is a middle-weight vintage, not as rich as 2006 or 2001, but one that offers better aging potential than 2007 or 2005.
A few highlights of this tasting. First and foremost are the wines of Antolini, a small estate in Marano, operated by brothers Pier Paolo and Stefano. I first tasted these wines four years ago at the Anterprima event and placed their 2004 Moropio bottling as my top wine; this was also the case this year with their 2008 version – talk about consistency! The 2008 Ca’ Coato Amarone is a beautifully made wine with lovely aromas of red cherry, strawberry and red roses with excellent persistence and very good acidity, while the 2008 Moropio takes things up a notch. This offers similar aromas – there are strong notes of strawberry preserves- along with perfect harmony of all components as well as outstanding complexity. This is already an impressive wine and should turn out to be a great wine!
The Stefano Accordini “Acinatico” displayed its usual excellence; black cherry, myrtle and sage aromas are backed by excellent depth of fruit and persistence. The 2008 Bertani “Villa Arvedi” has lovely fruit and tobacco aromas with very good concentration and impressive persistence with an elegant entry on the palate. Note that this is not the traditional Bertani Amarone – that 2008 version will not be released for another three years.
The Ca’ La Bionda Ravazzol is a first-rate wine with notes of cherry preserves and a hint of chocolate; there is excellent depth of fruit and persistence with very subtle oak and elegantly styled tannins. This traditional producer is one of the most underrated in this zone and after meeting proprietor Alessandro Castellani, it is easy to understand why as he prefers to talk about his land and his wine rather than awards or points. What a refreshing attitude!
Two other excellent wines that are definitely worth seeking out are the 2008 Corte Sant’Alda and the 2008 Massimago. Both wines are from the eastern reaches of the Valpolicella zone near the town of Mezzane, outside of the Classico district and interestingly, both estates are managed by women. Marinella Camerani is the boss at Corte Sant’Alda and has been crafting lovely Amarone for 25 years now; her 2008 has inviting aromas of morel cherry, violets and red plum and has a generous mid-palate, excellent persistence and beautiful structure. Look for this wine to be at its best in another 12-15 years although it will probably drink well for another few years after that. Camerani did not produce a 2007 Amarone, so her selection process is strict and it shows in this wine.
Camilla Rossi Chauvenet, Massimago (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
At Masimago, 27-year old Camilla Rossi Chauvenet has made quite a name for herself in this area, even though she only started producing wines from the 2004 vintage. I was impressed by the roundness and varietal character of her 2007 Amarone, but her 2008 is a better wine, with better integrated oak as well as a longer finish and greater overall complexity. I told Camilla that I thought her 2008 was an improvement on her 2007 and she agreed with me, stating that this is undoubtedly a better Amarone. Keep an eye out for this producer, as her wines will be available in the US very soon.
Finally, high marks as well for the 2008 Amarones from Scriani, a medium-full wine with lovely balance along with the bottlings from Valentina Cubi and Santa Sofia; the former a ripe, forward style of Amarone with elegant tannins while the latter is a more subdued version that is one of the best I’ve tried from this long-standing estate in several years.
One final note on this tasting. There were almost two dozen of the best producers that are members of the Valpolicella Consorzio that did not participate in this event. While each winery had their reasons for not showing their wines (the wines not being “ready” was the most common I heard), it is a shame that this tasting did not represent the majority of the finest producers of Amarone. While I did taste some impressive wines at this event, I hoped for more. Let’s hope this situation can be rectified for next year’s anteprima.
Here is part three of my list of the Top Italian Wine Producers from the first decade of the millennium:
One of the most thoughtful and considerate men I have ever met, Alois Lageder has been producing wines of wonderful varietal purity and clarity for the past two decades. His “Benefizium” Pinot Grigio is one of the two or three finest examples of this variety in Italy, while his “Cor Romigberg” is a stunning cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon. This past decade, Lageder increased his efforts with organically produced wines. Individuals such as Alois Lageder are rare – his wines reflect his thoughtful nature.
Elena Walch and her husband Werner continue to dazzle with their lineup of wines, especially with the “Kastelaz” Gewurztraminer, the “Castel Ringberg” Sauvignon and the superb blended white, “Beyond the Clouds.” Consistent excellence is what this estate is all about!
Winemaker Willi Sturz quietly continues his brilliant work at this great cooperative winery. The “Nussbaumer” Gewurztraminer is one of Italy’s best white wines, while the blended white “Stoan” is another exceptional offering. Also highly recommended are the “Urban” Lagrein and the “Montan” Sauvignon. These wines represent the heart and soul of Alto Adige.
Under the leadership of Sandro Boscaini, this estate continues to be one of the leaders of Amarone. The regular bottling known as “Costasera” is beautifully balanced, while the cru bottlings, “Campolongo di Torbe” and “Mazzano” are more powerful, yet still quite refined.
It’s a bit of a broken record, but Roerto Anselmi continues to dazzle with his Garganega-based whites, especially the simple “San Vicenzo” and the “Capitel Foscarino.” Then there is the gorgeous dessert offering “I Capitelli.” A benchmark producer, to be sure.
Modern style Amarone, but with nicely integrated oak, unlike some of his competitors. The “Acinatico” bottling is first-rate and ages beautifully, while the “Il Fornetto” made in the finest vintages, is a classic. Also look for his superb Recioto della Valpolicella.
How nice to know that Leonildo Pieropan still makes one of the classic bottlings of Soave Classico and prices it for everyday consumption! His top bottlings of Soave, “La Rocca” and “Calvarino” are exotic, deeply concentrated and ageworthy.
Ca’ La Bionda
Pietro and Alessandro Castellani produce traditionally styled, elegant, sumptuous bottlings of Amarone that are a sheer pleasure to consume. The “Ravazzol” bottling is outstanding, while the regular bottling of Amarone is excellent. Also worth seeking out are his bottlings of Valpolicella (no Ripasso here).
Under the winemaking talent of Michele Tessari, Ca’ Rugate has become one of the leading producers of Soave. There’s so much here to love, from the stainless steel-aged “San Michele” (a wonderful value) to the oak-aged “Monte Alto” to the lush; lightly sweet “La Perlara”, one of the finest bottlings of Recioto di Soave, this is a model for other Soave producers. Lately, reds have become a major part of this estates as well including a delicious Valpolicella and a delightful Amarone.
Beautiful, traditionally made bottlings of Sagrantino di Montefalco, a rich, complex red wine that is one of Italy’s finest and unfortuntely, most underrated. The Montefalco Rosso is also worth seeking out, as is the velvety Passito.
Always a very good producer, this has become an excellent one, thanks in part to the winemaking talent of Stefano Chioccoli. Round, ripe and flavorful, these are modern offerings, but maintain the character of the Sagrantino grape. The Passito is delicious!