Posts tagged ‘felsina’

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

Chianti Classico – Restoring Some Luster

felsina

I’ve addressed this situation in the past, but it bears repeating. Chianti Classico has lost a lot of luster and that’s a shame, as there are some outstanding examples. But the truth is that the consumer thinks of Chianti Classico as an ordinary wine, one that’s overpriced and too often, merely a red wine meant for quaffing or for the most basic food pairings.

I write this as I tasted a brilliant example of Chianti Classico the other day, the Felsina “Vigneto Rancia” Riserva 2008. In my recently published book Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines I wrote this about the wine:

“This estate has become one of the unmistakable reference points for Chianti Classico… It is with the single vineyard “Rancia” Chianti Classico that Felsina displays its best winemaking… this is a wine of outstanding complexity and breeding. When you find a young vintage, lay it away for a few years in the cellar, as peak consumption is generally at age 10-12.”

The 2008 release of this wine certainly fits this description, as there is excellent depth of fruit, notable persistence, lively acidity and outstanding structure. 2008 was an excellent year in Chianti Classico (and throughout most of Italy, for that matter), as this was a growing season that yielded wines that were classic (no pun attended) in nature, with excellent structure and a sense of place; brilliant producers such as Felsina made stunning wines from 2008. (Of course what makes Felsina so great is that even in years that aren’t considered classic, they still craft marvelous wines.)

Felsina of course, is not the only great producer in Chianti Classico. Fontodi is another as is Querciabella and there are another six to eight estates such as La Porta di VertineRocca di Montegrossi, Castello di Volpaia and Villa Calcinaia that routinely produce excellent wines. Producers such as these make wines that show the rest of the world what Chianti Classico can and should be. But there are not enough examples.

The problem is a big one and there are many reasons; yes, Sangiovese is a grape that has a high yield, so there are still too many producers that do not oversee the proper work in the vineyard, resulting in wines that are thin with modest fruit and high acidity. Certainly the producers of today do take more care in the vineyards than those of 30 or 40 years ago (generally speaking), but there are still too many examples of ordinary wines and the disciplinare allows vintners to make wines such as these.

But a bigger problem is that Chianti Classico is a rather large area, basically from Florence to Siena and given as vast a territory as this, not every vineyard is sited in the best spot. So while we hear all about the beauty of Tuscany and Chianti Classico, it doesn’t always translate into special wines.

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Vineyard in Panzano, one of the most prized sites of Chianti Classico (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

So how to fix this? Well there’s a logical solution, but it’s one that I truly think will never come about (I know that you’re never supposed to say never, but in this case, I believe I’m safe). The answer is zonation – allowing labels to list their zone of origin. This would mean that Felsina can list Castelnuovo Berandenga not just as the winery’s address in small print, but in larger print as a denomination of origin. The same would be true for Fontodi, as their estate vineyards are situated in Panzano, also known as the Conca d’Oro (“the golden hill”); other fine estates located here, such as Panzanello and Il Molino di Grace could also label their wines as being from Panzano grapes. As Panzano is recognized by everyone who is familiar with Chianti Classico as one of its very best sub-zones, listing this geographical name on a label would certainly add a dimension of prestige to the wine, which would help sales of those specific wines and perhaps Chianti Classico in general.

There are several sub-zones in Chianti Classico, from Greve to Castellina in Chianti to Radda and Gaiole; the wines vary in terms of aromatics, weight and acidity, as you might imagine; after all these areas are micro-climates. When speaking about Barolo in Piemonte, dozens of crus (single vineyards) have been officially recognized and we talk about the differences in wines from La Morra with their floral perfumes and gentle tannins as opposed to the more muscular style of Barolo from Monforte d’Alba or Serralunga d’Alba.

So why not in Chianti Classico? Well maybe it’s a Tuscan mentality; the same problem exists with Brunello di Montalcino, as has been documented by Kerin O’Keefe in her excellent book about this wine. Maybe it’s a larger problem, especially when you consider the old joke about getting more than five Italians to agree on anything. But kidding aside, it’s politics, plain and simple, as least as it seems to me. Tuscany, unlike Piemonte, is represented by both farmers and wealthy businessmen, many of whom made their fortunes in other businesses, often in foreign countries. There’s nothing wrong with these people owning estates in Chianti Classico and other wine districts of Tuscany, especially as new blood can infuse a tired corpse, but in reality, do these people have the same sense of pride about their land as farmers in Piemonte whose families have been working their land for more than 100 years in many cases?

Then you have the problem of Chianti Classico being a victim of its own success. This is such a recognizable name around the world – indeed it may be the world’s most beloved and recognizable red wine – so that producers do all they can to attract as many new drinkers as possible around the globe. This means producing an international wine – really, was it a smart decision to allow producers to include Cabernet Sauvignon in Chianti Classico? – one that too often loses its expression of local terroir. If it’s a success in Italy and the United States and Scandanvia, why change? Let’s try and make it appealing to everyone, from Russia and China to Japan and Hong Kong. Try and please everyone and you wind up pleasing no one.

This problem does not exist only in Chianti Classico; there are international wines made in other part of Italy as well. But few wines are as well known as Chianti Classico and few have lost as much market share (at least in the United States, a very important market, without question) as this wine. Price has something to do with this and it’s not the fault of the local producers that the US dollar isn’t as strong against the Euro as it used to be (although admittedly, it’s better today than four or five years ago). But for a wine that was routinely $14 on retail shelves about five or six years ago, it’s now $18-$20 and that’s for the basic Chianti Classico, not riserva. For $14, tens and hundreds of thousands of American wine drinkers are purchasing Malbec from Argentina. What does this have to do with Italy? Nothing of course, but these consumers are looking for a wine they like at a price that they’re comfortable with. If Chianti Classico can’t come in at that price, so be it, Malbec can.

Back to Felsina and Fontodi and a few dozen Chianti Classico estates that really deliver the goods. As I wrote above, these producers show the world that Chianti Classico can be a very special wine. It’s just that too many producers in Chianti Classico take the easy way out, cashing in on the success of the Chianti Classico marque. The bottom line is average quality, which drags down the overall image of this wine. As it stands now, Felsina and Fontodi will sell every bottle of wine they make, as they continue to push themselves to make the best wines possible and enough people realize that. It’s a shame that too many Chianti Classico producers don’t make similar efforts. Resting on your laurels – if one can call it that – is never a good thing and Chianti Classico sales – and the image of this wine  – are taking a beating.

June 8, 2013 at 6:19 pm 10 comments

Best Italian Red Wines of the Year – Part Two

In my last post, I listed a few of my choices as the Best Italian Red Wines of 2011, focusing on Amarone as well as Barolo and Barbaresco. In part two, I will look at some other wines from Piemonte as well as several from Tuscany. Again, this is a partial list; for more information about all my selections, see the end of this post.

2008 Elio Grasso Barbera d’Alba “Vigna Martina” - While this great estate in Monforte d’Alba is best known for their cru Barolo, this selection, named for Elio’s wife, has become one of the finest examples of Barbera d’Alba. Light purple with inviting aromas of black plum, blackberry and violets, the wine is matured in half-new French barriques, but unlike too many examples of Barbera these days, the oak sensation here does not overwhelm. The 2008 bottling is especially accomplished with lively acidity and excellent persistence; it’s also quite delicious. This is fine now, but it will be better in a year when it settles down and should drink well for another 3-5 years. $30

2009 Vietti Barbera d’Alba “Scarrone Vigna Vecchia” – This is arguably the most famous version of Barbera d’Alba; it’s also one of the most famous red wines in all of Italy. Vietti owns this vineyard, planted on a steep hillside in Castiglione Falletto and prodcues two wines from here. The regular Scarrone Barbera is from the section of the vineyard that averages 60-65 years of vine age. That’s pretty impressive, but this “Vigna Vecchia” (old vine) bottling is sourced from the vines on this hill that are aproximately 85 years old! Now imagine how small the yields are and how concentrated the wine must be and you have some idea of how spectacular this wine truly is! Deep ruby red-light purple with aromas of boysenberry and black plum, this has excellent concentration and a generous mid-palate with layers of fruit. The acidity, though not as high as a more traditional Barbera is still very good and there is a powerful finish with excellent persistence. This is, in a word, hedonistic. A modern Barbera that is as captivating and as well made as any on the market, this is a beautifully made, exquisitely balanced wine that will impress you like few red wines made from any variety. If you haven’t had this wine in the past, you owe it to yourself to find a bottle of this wine, as the 2009 is a memorable a version as any in some time. This is so appealing now, but this will improve and drink well for another 7-10 years. $75

E. Mirafiore Dolcetto d’Alba 2009 – The Mirafiore line of wines, produced at the venerable estate of Fontanafredda in Serralunga d’Alba is a special set of wines that harkens back to the origins of this firm in the late-1800s, when it was known as Mirafiore. Made from grapes grown in Serralunga, the wine was aged in medium and large-sized oak casks for two months, resulting in a wine of beautiful variety purity. Displaying aromas and flavors of cranberry, black raspberry and violets, this is medium-ful with moderate tannins and a lengthy, satisfying finish. What a lovely Dolcetto on its own or served with duck, rabbit or pork tonight or over the next 2-3 years. A lot of character here for only $20.

2007 Selvapiana Chianti Rufina Riserva “Vigneto Bucerchiale” - Under the guidance of Francesco Giuntini A. Masseti, this estate has risen to the top of a very small group of the finest wine estates in Tuscany. This wine is produced from a single vineyard on the property that was planted back in 1968. The lovely aromas of wild strawberry, bing cherry and rose petals are simply intoxicating and there is beautiful texture and structure with medium-weight tannins, ideal acidity and excellent persistence. An outstanding offering – this is what great Chianti should taste like! Appealing now, this will drink well for 10-12 years. $35 (and worth every penny.)

2009 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico – You can never go wrong with a wine from this estate, one of the most consistent in Tuscany for more than 40 years. The 2009 Chianti Classico offers aromas of red cherry, thyme and red roses with very good depth of fruit, a beautifully defined mid-palate and excellent structure; the oak is subtle and there is very good acidity. Beautifully balanced and such a lovely food wine, enjoy this over the next 5-7 years. $20

2009 Felsina Chianti Classico- Here is another great producer that produces first-rate wines across the board. While probably best known for their Riserva bottlings (both a regular and the exquisite “Vigneto Rancia” offerings), their Chianti Classico normale is noteworthy as well. 100% Sangiovese, aged in medium-sized Slavonian oak casks, the wine offers textbook varietal aromas of red cherry along with notes of red roses and thyme and has a beautifully defined mid-palate, lively acidity and excellent persistence. Approachable now, but at its best in 5-7 years. $20

2008 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico “Castello di Brolio” - This is the famous Brolio estate where the recipe for Chianti Classico was formulated back in the 19th century. Today Francesco Ricasoli oversees production at this magnificent site, which features one of Tuscany’s most splendid castelli. While this is labeled simply as a Chianti Classico, it could be designated as a Chianti Classico Riserva. But Ricasoli does not use that term; indeed, this is the finest wine of his estate each year and wants the consumer to know the wine simply as Castello di Brolio, much like Lafite or Latour and other top chateaux in Bordeaux. A blend of 80% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot matured for 18 months in tonneaux and barriques. Offering excellent concentration and perfectly tuned acidity and beautifully integrated oak to go along with the sumptuous red cherry and black currant fruit, this is an accomplished Chianti Classico – one of great breeding and class! This 2008 version- from a very underrated vintage in Chianti Classico – is one of the best; it will be at its peak in10-12 years and may drink well for several years after that. At $50, this stands up to the finest of all Tuscan reds.

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This is a partial list of my selections for the best Italian red wines of 2011. In my next post, I will focus on Brunello di Montalcino along with several choices from Campania, Sicily and Puglia.

January 24, 2012 at 10:50 am 5 comments


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