Posts tagged ‘campania white wine’

The Best Italian Wines of 2013 – A different view

Orlando Pecchenino

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

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

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.

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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.

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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.

January 22, 2014 at 3:16 pm 2 comments

Simply Sublime

One Italian white wine, one red- one famous, one unknown – both great.

Today’s lesson on the joys and wonders of Italian wine has to do with the pleasure of discovering greatness in different places. I’m going to focus on two wines – one of which is famous and one of which is not. Both are remarkable wines.

The white wine – the one that’s not well known outside of its immediate zone – is the 2010 Terre del Principe Pallagrello Bianco. This small producer (less than 5000 cases per year) specializes in indigenous varieties in their territory, the province of Caserta in Campania. Now I love Campanian whites, but most of the examples I try are either Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino from the province of Irpinia (aka Avellino) or a wine made from Falanghina, which is planted in all five provinces of Campania. These wines are the calling cards for Campanian whites and they are enjoyed the world over.

But when it comes to Pallagrello Bianco (there is also a Rosso), this wine is rarely seen outside of its native surroundings. It’s suffered from a mistaken identity, as for years it was thought to be Coda di Volpe, a variety commonly used in Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Bianco, a charming, if ultimately a rather undistinguished white wine from vineyards not far from Vesuvius. Pallagrello yields a white wine of much greater complexity and Peppe Mancini and Manuela Piancastelli do a superb job in capturing all the glories of this variety. My notes for this 2010 – aged solely in steel tanks – list the inviting aromatics of lemon zest, grapefruit and orange poppies. This has excellent depth of fruit, beautiful texture and a long, very flavorful finish with lively acidity. This is elegant and quite delicious and it’s going to be quite a pleasure over the next 2-3 years, especially with lighter seafood. This is quite a vibrant white that has widespread appeal – I’d love to try this with Thai or other Oriental cuisine as well. (Suggested retail price of $34. Imported by Vias Wines, New York, NY).

As far as a red wine that every Italian wine lover knows, Brunello di Montalcino is at or near the top of the charts. This illustrious wine, produced exclusively from Sangiovese, is a world-class red that can age for decades. Col d’Orcia, under the leadership of Francesco Marone Cinzano, is one of the most renowned estates in Montalcino, crafting examples of Brunello of uncommon class and elegance.

The Poggio al Vento Riserva bottling is from a single vineyard planted in 1974; situated some 1150 feet above sea level, the soil here is primarily limestone with a strong presence of gravel. The wine is aged in large casks (botti grandi) of Slavonian as well as French oak for four years. It is then bottled and rests two years in the cellars before being released.

This long period of aging certainly helps refine the wine and give it a lengthy mid-palate with deep fruit flavors that coat every corner of your mouth. The 2004 bottling, just being released, is another exceptional example of this wine, one that is produced only from the finest vintages (the three previous releases were 2001, 1999 and 1998). There are textbook aromas of red cherry and cedar along with a hint of fennel; overall, the wine is beautifully structured with very good acidity, subtle wood notes and outstanding complexity. This should reach peak maturity in 20-25 years, although I may be a bit conservative in the guess, especially based on previous releases of this wine. It is a sublime example of what a great Brunello di Montalcino is all about.

The 2004 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino Riserva “Poggio al Vento” has a suggested retail price of $150. Given the limited production (about 2000 cases for the entire world) as well as the fact that it is not produced every year along with the tremendous breeding and class of this wine, this price is undoubtedly just (there’s also the happy situation of this 2004 riserva just being released, while most producers are now offering their 2006s as their riserva). Imported by Palm Bay, Boca Raton, FL.

April 25, 2012 at 3:29 pm Leave a comment

Deconstructing Greco and Fiano

Greco Vineyard at Montefusco (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I have just returned from Campania where I toured vineyards in the Avellino province, home to two DOCG whites, Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino. The province is more commonly referred to by vintners and wine writers as Irpinia, its ancient name.

While Irpinia is also home to a famous DOCG red – Taurasi, produced from Aglianico – many believe this province is best suited to white varieties. Much of this has to do with the rainfall, which moderates temperatures, thus providing acidity and structure in the wines. The cool climate also benefits white grapes, assuring a long growing season, which in turn yields wines with more complex aromatics.

There are nine towns approved for vineyards for the production of Greco di Tufo, including Tufo, Santa Paolina and Montefusco. The name of the town of Tufo comes from the tufaceous soil, which is a yellowish clay that is easily broken up. Below is a photo of the Cutizzi vineyard of Feudi di San Gregorio, located in San Paolo, a frazione of Tufo. You can easily see the makeup of the tufo soil in this vineyard, one of the finest in the zone.

Cutizzi Vineyard of Feudi di San Gregorio (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

As for Fiano di Avellino, there are 26 towns where vineyards are permitted for production of this particular white, yet total acreage in this area is less than the nine towns of Greco di Tufo. The major towns for Fiano di Avellino include Montefalcione, Lapio, Sorbo Serpico and Santo Stefano del Sole.

Comparing the wines, Greco tends to be a bit lighter on the palate with notes of almond, while Fiano tends to offer notes of honey in the aromatics or in the finish. Both wines, especially selezioni or those made from a single vineyard (cru) can age well, sometimes as long as 10-15 years. Even in average vintages, both wines from the top producers age for 3-5 years; generally Fiano di Avellino ages longer than Greco di Tufo, though this is not always the case.

Fiano Vineyard of Mastroberardino at dusk, Santo Stefano del Sole (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

There are subtle differences among the wines and where the grapes are grown. For Greco, the town of Montefusco at 707 meters above sea level (about 2300 feet) is the high point of the zone. Grapes ripen later here thanks to the cooler temperatures and the wines are very high in acidity. In an area such as Tufo at a lower elevation, the wines have a more distinct mineral quality. The Cutizzi Greco of Feudi di San Gregorio is a prime example of this style, while the Nova Serra Greco from Mastroberardino is a flavorful and elegant bottling of the Montefusco style.

For Fiano, there are also differences due to origin. Near Sorbo Serpico or Santo Stefano del Sole, the wines are quite aromatic with good structure, while in the towns of Montefalcione and Lapio, the wines offer more mineral notes. The former style is represented by the Pietracalda bottling of Feudi di San Gregorio and the Radici bottling of Mastroberardino, while the latter style is evidenced in wines from Colli di Lapio, Joaquin, San Paolo (Montefredane), Vadiaperti (Aiperti) and Villa Diamante (Vigna della Congregazione).

Raffaelle Pagano, Joaquin, in a Fiano vineyard (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

What’s helpful about touring these vineyards and then tasting these wines is the sense of terroir. Few producers work with much oak for these wines, so the variety is the focal point, meaning the local terroir has a chance to emerge. We don’t often think about terroir for too many white wines, but I can promise you that sampling the best examples of Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino will be an educational and rewarding experience – as well as a most pleasant one!

June 16, 2010 at 12:04 pm 3 comments

2008 Campania Whites

Greco vineyards near Monte Vergine (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

 

In a few weeks, I’ll be at VinItaly, the huge wine fair held in Verona over a period of five days. Besides being able to taste wines from all over Italy, a major benefit of this event is to sample brand new releases, from be it big reds from Toscana or Piemonte or beautifully crafted whites from Alto Adige, Liguria and Friuli.

As readers of my blogs and articles know, I’m a passionate fan of the white wines of Campania. I’m currently working on a print article on these offerings, which has given me the oppportunity to catch up on some wines I first tried almost one year ago. 

The 2008 whites from Campania are in a word, lovely. There have been several impressive vintages for the whites of this region lately, going back to 2004, which produced wines that were quite rich. The wines from 2005 were a bit more subtle, while the 2006s were in-between the 2004s and 2005s in terms of weight. 2007 was a superb vintage with excellent concentration and very good acidity levels. 

Following that wonderful year, the Campania whites of 2008 were not as rich, but offered beautifully defined acidity and outstanding aromatics and in my opinion, are more typical than the bottlings from 2007. When I first tasted these wines, I was delighted with their quality, but now after another 9-12 months in the bottle, they are showing brilliantly. So while trying wines upon release (or even a month or two before the official release) can be eye opening, trying them again after some time passes is a great example of how a little evolution can help define what a wine is all about. (To argue in another way, the snap judgments on wine that dominate coverage these days from the smallest blogs to the most influential international wine publications may be necessary, but we all need to take them with a grain of salt. Time is the ultimate judge of a wine.)

A few of my favorite Campanian whites from 2008 include:

  • Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo “Cutizzi”
  • Mastroberardino Greco di Tufo “Nova Serra”
  • Colli di Lapio Fiano di Avellino
  • Pietracupa Fiano di Avellino
  • Terredora Fiano di Avellino “Terre di Dora”
  • Mastroberardino Falanghina “Morabianca”
  • Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina “Serrocielo”
  • La Sibilla Falanghina (Campi Flegrei)
  • Giuseppe Apicella (Tramonti Bianco)
  • Joaquin “110 Oyster” (Greco/ Falanghina)
  • Luigi Maffini Fiano “Kratos” (IGT Paestum)

Nova Serra Vineyards of Mastroberardino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

 

Each of these wines offers beautiful varietal character, lively acidity and admirable structure; each bottling will drink well for at least another three years, with a few showing their best qualities in as many as five to seven years from today. I would award each of these wines (and there are several more I haven’t listed) as excellent or outstanding. A few of the wines are priced in the low $40 range, but many of them are $25 and under, offering notable value.

So while I’m curious about the 2009 whites, which I’ll report upon soon, I’ll be enjoying the 2008 whites from Campania for some time to come.


March 21, 2010 at 7:18 pm 2 comments


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