Posts tagged ‘feudi di san gregorio’

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.

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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!

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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

Campania Whites – Best Wines from my recent trip (Part Two)

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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).

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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.)

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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November 18, 2013 at 9:48 am 10 comments

Taurasi – Three Marvelous Verticals (Part One – Feudi di San Gregorio)

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

My recent trip to Campania focused on red wines from this lovely region. This was a welcome opportunity, as I’ve always been entranced by the delightful whites from here, most notably Greco di Tufo, Fiano di Avellino and Falanghina; the best examples of these wines are evidence that not all great Italian whites are from Alto Adige or Friuli. So it was nice to further my education of the first-rate reds wines from Campania, wines that in my opinion do not receive the attention they deserve.

In my last post, I wrote about a superb red wine made primarily from the Palagrello Rosso grape, an indigenous variety of the Caserta province in northern Campania. I also tasted several first-rate examples of wines made entirely or primarily from Piedirosso, which varied from charming versions of Lacryma Christi rosso, produced from vineyards near Mount Vesuvius to more complex, ageworthy wines from the Benevento province. Given the nature of viticulture in this region, where there are so many small hills that create so many microclimates, it was fascinating to taste such varied and delicious wines.

But in all reality, when we’re discussing red wines of Campania, it’s the Aglianico grape that is most famously recognized. This includes blends (often with Piedirosso) from a number of provinces and while there are many superb wines from the Taburno zone in the province of Benevento, made solely from Aglianico, it is Taurasi, made from a small zone in the province of Irpinia that is the region’s most celebrated red wine.

I mentioned the Lonardo Taurasi “Coste” 2008 as one of the year’s best Italian wines in my last post and I also tasted several outstanding examples from producers such as Villa Raiano, Antonio Caggiano and San Paolo; truly the 2008 Taurasi – both normale and riserve  – are something special and I’ll write more about these wines soon.

By now, you’ve probably noticed that I love Taurasi and why not? It’s a wine that when it’s at its best, can compete with the greatest red wines of the world. It’s a wine that can age 25 years from outstanding vintages and in some special instances, it even shows well after forty and fifty years – evidence of that will be noted later on in these posts.

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Anotonio Capaldo, Feudi di San Gregorio (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

So while being able to sample so many examples of Taurasi during the Vendemmia Taurasi event in Avellino was a very special happening for me, imagine how I felt when I was able to attend vertical tastings of Taurasi from three celebrated producers: Feudi di San GregorioLuigi Tecce and Mastroberardino. I really was in heaven for a few days!

There were two verticals in one at Feudi; the first focused on the regular bottling of Taurasi, with the second dealing exclusively with their finest cru, Piano di Montevergine. The regular bottling has gone through numerous changes; one of the most important is the enologist that made the various wines. The oldest wines in this vertical were the 1998 and 1999, made by Luigi Moio, one of Campania’s finest consulting winemakers. The 1998 was in fine shape, with very good acidity and persistence; I noted that the wine would drink well for another 3-5 years. The 1999 was a step up, offering dried cherry, dried brown herb and cedar aromas with beautifully integrated wood notes, subtle spice in the finish, polished tannins and very good acidity. This is showing well now and will drink well for another 7-10 years. Both the 1998 and 1999 offer excellent varietal character and were made in a style that treasured overall harmony, rather than extreme ripeness or power.

The 2001, made by Riccardo Cotarella, is a wine with deeper extract that pushes the fruit to the forefront. It’s a different style that than of Moio, but given the beauty of the 2001 growing season, this is a highly successful wine, one with very good acidity and an elegant finish. There’s more of the dark chocolate notes that are common with Aglianico in this bottling as well as a touch of anise in the perfumes. Overall, it’s a very elegant wine that will be at its best in another 7-10 years.

The more recent vintages – namely 2007, 2008 and 2009 – were all impressive, with the 2007 and 2008 as 4-star wines (excellent) in my opinion, with the 2009 just a notch below that. Aromas of black cherry, black raspberry, plum and chocolate are common to each wine, with the 2008 offering slightly higher acidity than the other two examples. The 2007 has the stuffing to age the longest – perhaps another 7-10 years, but the 2008 has beautiful structure and may be in peak shape at the same time frame. Capaldo and his current director of winemaking Pier Paolo Sirch, have decided to cut back on small oak maturation of this wine, aiming for a greater percentage of large wooden casks, as Capalado believes small oak does not really show off the varietal character of Aglianico as well as the bigger barrels.

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The second vertical of Feudi di San Gregorio Taurasi dealt with the Piano di Montevergine cru, located near the town of Taurasi. There were seven wines, from the oldest, 1996 to the youngest, the 2008, which will be released in the market later this year. This is a rich, full-bodied Taurasi that shows impeccable balance throughout, even in lesser years (I loved the 2002 version of this wine, which I had tasted a few years ago; this from a subpar growing season that offered lovely richness o the palate and sleek tannins).

Again the older wines – 1996 and 1998 – were made by Luigi Moio and are beautifully complete and complex. The 1996 in particular had advanced to another level, where tertiary aromas had developed with precise notes of truffle and dried cherry being accompanied by notes of thyme. Offering very good persistence, this was a wine nearing peak, which should arrive in another 5-7 years.

The 1998 was a bit fresher with very good acidity and beautiful structure; there were aromas of dried cherry along with a hint of mocha and the lovely ruby red color made this wine seem younger than fifteen years of age. Offering excellent persistence and a long, elegant finish, this is a wine of great breeding, finesse and varietal character; it is a remarkable wine with a definite sense of place. This has at least another 10-12 years of life ahead of it; I found it outstanding!

The 2001 is a solid wine with big weight on the palate as well as very good ripeness and good freshness. I rated this as excellent, estimating that peak drinking will be in another 10-12 years. The 2004 is deeply colored with very good ripeness as well as impressive acidity. The tannins are big, but not overpowering and overall the balance is excellent. Give this 15-20 years of cellaring before it reaches peak condition.

The youngest wines – 2007 and 2008 – are quite impressive; the former has expressive aromas of milk chocolate and purple iris flowers backed by big extraction and rich, young tannins. There is perhaps a touch too much wood in this wine, at least for my tastes, yet overall the balance is first-rate. This definitely needs time to settle down and should peak in 12-15 years.

Finally the 2008 is a remarkable wine and for me, the finest version of Piano di Montevergine Taurasi since the 1998. Displaying aromas of black cherry, milk chocolate and a hint of raspberry, this is a sensual wine that is a bit more subdued and less forward than the 2007. The tradeoff, however, is that the 2008 has ideal structure with very good acidity and excellent grip in the finish. The wood notes are beautifully integrated and the tannins are quite elegant. This is certainly great evidence of where the new direction of Feudi di San Gregorio under the leadership of Capaldo and Sirch is headed, as this is a textbook Taurasi that offers a lovely expression of terroir, all the while maintaining its focus on harmony – this is a wine definitely meant for the dinner table, although high scores are certain to follow (if that means anything to you). The 2008 Piano di Montevergine is one of the winery’s best offerings of the past five years; an outstanding wine, it will drink beautifully for at least another 15-20 years.

My thanks to Antonio Capaldo and his team at Feudi di San Gregorio for organizing this wonderful tasting!

March 31, 2013 at 5:53 pm 8 comments

Year’s Best from Italy – To Date

Come learn Italian wines by tasting some!

 Francesco Carfagna, Az. Agr. Altura, Isola del Giglio (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

As we turn the calendar from June to July, we come to the half way point of 2012. So I’d like to share a few thoughts on the best Italian wines I’ve tried this year, both from my three trips (Verona, Montalcino and Grosseto/Campania) as well as a few wines I’ve tried at home, while working on a special project. It’s been a great year so far with plenty of highlights!

Best Sparkling Bellussi DOCG Superiore di Valdobbiadene Prosecco Ferghettina Extra Brut 2005

The Bellussi Prosecco (green label) is everything I look for in a Prosecco: excellent freshness, very good acidity and a richness on the mid-palate. This has excellent complexity. The Ferghettina is a multi-layered Franciacorta with tantalizing notes of caramel and honey that you rarely find in this wine type. It is an outstanding sparkling wine.

Best Whites – Several examples from Campania

I tasted so many first-rate whites during my visit to Irpinia in May; this is a tribute to the work of the producers as well as the quality of the fruit. A few highlights include the 2009 Villa Diamante Fiano di Avellino; 2011 Donnachiara Fiano di Avellino2011 Mastroberardino Fiano di Avellino “Radici”2011 Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo “Cutizzi”; 2010 Pietracupa Greco di Tufo and the 2010 Vadiaperti Greco di Tufo “Tornante“. All of these wines show wonderful varietal purity, perfect balance and a vibrancy that keeps these wines fresh and gives them longevity. I’ve been a fan of Campanian whites – especially Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino – for many years and based upon the examples I’ve tasted over the past two or three years, I have to rank these whites as among the very best in all of Italy!

Wild papaveri amidst the vineyards in Montalcino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Best Reds – 2007 Brunello/ 2006 Brunello Riserva/ 2008 Barolo

So many great wines to choose from here; let’s start with the newly released examples of Brunello di Montalcino. Both 2007 and 2006 have been rated as 5-star (outstanding) vintages by the local consorzio with 2007 being more forward while 2006 is a more classic, tightly wound vintage that will need more time. I don’t have room to list all the great wines here, so a few highlights from the 2007 Brunello normale: Poggio di SottoLisiniFuligniSesta di Sopra and Sassodisole. For the 2006 Brunello riserva highlights include Biondi-SantiLe ChiuseIl Poggione “Vigna Paganelli”Tassi “Franci”Talenti and Citille di Sopra. As you can see from the photo above, Montalcino in May was the most beautiful viticultural area I have visited this year!

As for 2008 Barolos, this is shaping up to be a classic vintage, as temperatures that growing season were relatively normal, cooler than several recent years where conditions were quite warm. The 2008s have beautiful aromatics and acidity and display a sense of place in a far more direct way than the hotter vintages. I have only tasted about 20 examples so far, with several dozen to go, so my list is partial. But at this point, here are my favorite 2008 Barolos: Renato Ratti “Marcenasco”Mauro Sebaste “Prapo”Conterno-Fantino “Sori Ginestra”Marcarini “La Serra” and Einaudi “Costa Grimaldi.”

I also have to tell you about a fabulous red wine I tasted at a wine fair near Grosseto back in May. I met Franecsco Carfagna, who with his family, farm a few acres on the island of Giglio in the Tyrrenhian Sea. His winery is called Altura and his estate red is called Rosso Saverio; it is a blend of about 15-18 varieties, both red and white, some of them well-known, such as Sangiovese and Canaiolo, others rather rare, such as Empolo, Biancone Giallo and Pizzutello (!). The result is a totally original wine, one that has aromas like a white wine (yellow peaches) at first, but then quickly reveals more typical red wine aromas, such as strawberry, dried cherry and notes of milk chocolate. Medium-full, this has amazing complexity as well as a velvety feel on the palate. The current vintage is the 2010, which is drinking beautifully now and should be in fine shape for the next 3-5 years. This is not a powerhouse Italian red, but one that shows what a dedicated producer with a vision can do. As I taste so many wines in my trips to Italy, it takes something special to get me excited – well, this is the wine! (Note: this wine is imported in the US in limited quantities by Louis Dressner.)

Best Older White – 1994 Vadiaperti Fiano di Avellino

Not only did I taste so many wonderful new white wines from Irpinia, there were also a few beautiful older versions as well. None was more eye-opening than the 1994 Fiano di Avellino from Vadiaperti. Proprietor Raffaelle Troisi was kind enough to open this wine for my friend and I at his estate and I am forever grateful for that decision! Light yellow in color, this looked like it might be four or five years old, not eighteen. The aromas were lovely – Anjou pear, honey, mango and magnolia blossoms and the wine tasted as fresh as it smelled. The finish was quite long with impressive persistence and distinct minerality. What a gorgeous wine – one that shows how wonderfully Campanian white wines can age!

Best Older Reds – Several at the Frederick Wildman Italian Portfolio Tasting

National importer Frederick Wildman held a tasting of their Italian producers in several cities across the US back in May and made a stellar decision to have the producers pour an older wine. They made it clear that these wines were not available any more, but how nice is it that they took this approach so one could witness first hand how wines such as Amarone, Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo and other wines age. Also, isn’t it great to be able to try these older wines, especially with the producers present? There were several outstanding wines, my favorites being the 1985 Le Ragose Amarone ( a stunning wine), the 1974 Barolo  from Marchesi di Barol0 (a true classic) and the 2001 and 1995 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva from Le Chiuse (marvelous wines of grace, finesse and complexity – seamless wines that are perfectly balanced.) Thank you to these producers for showing these wines and thank you to the people at Frederick Wildman for offering this opportunity. Here’s hoping that more importers offer tastings such as this one!

July 2, 2012 at 11:36 am 6 comments

Campania Whites – 2010 and 2011 (Part One)

Browse these premium French wines.


Fiano Vineyard at Montefalcione (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

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I recently returned from a two-week trip to Italy that included three days in Campania. As the majority of my trip was in red wines zones of Tuscany (Montalcino and Scansano), I needed to head to a region that produces great whites, so I squeezed in some time in one of my favorite wine territories, the province of Avellino, also known as Irpinia.

Avellino is most famous for two white wines: Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino. The wines are quite different with Greco tending to be lighter and a bit more reserved, with slightly higher acidity. Fiano on the other hand, tends to be most lush and ripe, being a bit more approachable upon release, while the finest examples of Greco tend to need a year or two after release before showing their best. Generally, Fiano, as it is a bigger wine, tends to age longer.

There is a third white grape planted in Avellino called Falanghina that is also planted throughout the Campanian region. Falanghina has vibrant acidity that is a trademark of the variety. It is an ancient variety that was almost forgotten over the last 30 years, but several producers in the region have made an effort to craft notable offerings from this grape. Many of the best examples come from the Sannio district in the province of Benevento, situated north of Avellino.

Ilaria Petito, Donnachiara (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

A small producer that has become one of the most critically acclaimed for its whites is Donnachiara, headed by the engaging Ilaria Petito. Her first vintage for this project was only in 2006, so for her to gain as much attention as she has to date tells you the qualilty of the fruit she is working with along with the care in the cellars. For her new releases, it is the 2011 Fiano di Avellino that is a standout, with pear and quince aromas alongside those of toasted almond and hay. Medium-full, the wine has excellent ripeness and a lengthy finish with lively acidity. This should offer optimum drinking for 3-5 years, perhaps longer.

A quick word here about 2010 and 2011 in Campania. 2010 offered wines that were beautifully balanced with very good acidity; while not a powerful vintage, the wines offer very good typicity and are excellent representations of their types. 2011 was a warmer vintage and the wines are definitely richer on the palate and more forward. Yet this is not a flash in the pan vintage, but one that yielded excellent wines from many producers. Of course, some of the best estates have not yet released their 2011s, but based on what I’ve tasted so far, 2011 is clearly a successful vintage for white wines in Campania, with impressive depth of fruit as well as overall balance.

Cutizzi Vineyard of Feudi di San Gregorio, planted to Greco (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

One of my favorite estates – not just in Campania – but in all of Italy – is Feudi di San Gregorio, situated near the town of Sorbo Serpico. Proprietor Antonio Capaldo has done a marvelous job at this winery, producing offerings that lead the way for the region’s wine stature. One of my favorite wines from Feudi each year is the Greco di Tufo from the Cutizzi vineyard in Santa Paolina in the heart of the DOCG zone. The 2011 is medium-full with excellent concentration with aromas of pear, melon and kiwi. The wine is a bit plump on the palate and there is a lengthy finish with excellent persistence and very good acidity. This is a Greco di Tufo that reveals greater complexities with time, so look for this wine to be at its best in another five years.

The 2011 Falanghina “Serrocielo” is one of the best releases to date of this wine. This is a single vineyard Falanghina, something you don’t see to often; this planting is situated in the Benevento province. The aromas on this wine – stone fruit (peach and pear) along with notes of honey – are delightful and there is excellent weight on the palate and a nicely structured finish. This is a pleasure for current consumption and will improve for another 3-5 years.

The finest white from Feudi I tasted this trip was the 2010 Campanaro, a blend of Fiano and Greco. This wine is always released one year after the other Greco and Fiano bottlings, a wise choice, as the wine needs time to come together and show its finest characteristics. The 2010 has beautiful floral aromas (geranium, magnolia) to go along with its notes of Bosc pear, melon and lemon; medium-full, the wine offers excellent complexity. This is an outstanding wine that will drink well for 7-10 years.

I’ve always enjoyed visiting Matroberardino, the grand patriarch of all Campanian producers. My first visits, some ten years ago were with Antonio Mastroberardino; today I meet with his son Piero, a thoughtful individual who caries on his father’s work with great tact and skill. His new 2011 whites are beautifully made, from the simple, refreshing Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio – made entirely from the Coda di Volpe variety – to the single vineyard and selezione wines. The 2011 Greco di Tufo “Nova Serra” has yellow flower and lemon peel aromas, impressive weight on the palate and a beautifully defined mid-palate and a lengthy finish with distinct minerality; in short, this is a Greco di Tufo of excellent typicity.

As for Fiano di Avellino, I am very impressed with the Radici offering (radici meaning “roots”),  which has expressive aromas of quince, Bosc pear, yellow flowers and chamomile. There is a rich mid-palate and excellent persistence and the wine is very clean and flavorful. There is excellent complexity and this year, a bit more ripeness, which only adds to the wine’s appeal. This is delicious and a great example of how beautiful the whites wines of Campania are for food, be it shellfish (especially with Greco di Tufo) or lighter poultry, veal and pork dishes, which are best paired with Fiano di Avellino.

In Part Two of this study of 2010 and 2011 Campanian whites, I will discuss the wines from some of the finest small estates of Avellino, including Villa Diamante, Vadiaperti and Pietracupa.

May 31, 2012 at 9:23 am 2 comments

La Vendemmia- 2011

Fiano Vines at Santo Stefano, province of Avellino, Campania (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Harvest is on going throughout Italy. I asked a few producers to give me their thoughts on the 2011 growing season and harvest. Here are their comments.

__________

Piero Mastroberardino – Director – Mastroberardino, Atripalda, Campania

Winter was long and cold with less rain than normal. The vegetative resumption was delayed due to the cold winter. In the first stages of blooming, we had a lot of rain that enriched the acquiferous layers of the earth. In May, June and the first part of July, we had a good climatic state, with rains of little intensity that were spread out, bringing back the vegetative state to normal again.

The third week of July with the coolest temperatures and a little rain, predisposed the vines to the water stress of August. In August, especially in the second and third week, we enjoyed very good thermal inversion between the days and nights. The rains of the final days contributed notably to a lowering of overall temperatures.

The actual climatic conditions along with the important thermal inversions and the good vegetative/productive conditions of the vines, have led us to a harvest of excellent quality.

________________

Antonio Capaldo – Owner/Director – Feudi di San Gregorio, Sorbo Serpico, Campania

The harvest is overall very good in quality but with a strong reduction in quantity (30-40%) which is bringing a lot of pressure on us all.

Falanghina started a few days ago and is very beautiful.

Fiano and Greco appear on a similar condition but it is still too soon to say as it is starting raining after an incredible heat. For Aglianico it is definitely too soon but overall indication on lower quantity/higher quality appear to work here as well.

We are about 10 days in advance compared to average.

__________________

Alessandro Locatelli – owner/winemaker – Rocche Costamagna, La Morra, Piedmont

Another great harvest in Piedmont !

This was a very particular season that started 2 weeks early; the harvest also arrived 2 weeks before normal.

Great quality, perfect ripening, but very low production: 20% less.

We are happy and next week we will start the Nebbiolo harvest.

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Andrea Felluga – winemaker – Livio Felluga, Brazzano di Cormons, Friuli

The harvest is going well. We have had sufficient flowering and a very balanced season… extremely hot at the end of August that came together well for a well-timed picking of the grapes. In the hottest days, we picked only in the morning, so as not to scorch the grapes. The whites and Merlot are now finished. We have also to pick the Cabernet, Refosco, Pignolo and Picolit, obviously. We are in a most delicate enological phase for the white wines: at the end of alcoholic fermentation, management of the lees and malolactic, but I am very optimistic for the quality of the wines.

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Maddalena Pasqua di Bisceglie, Musella (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Maddalena Paqua di Bisceglie – proprietor – Musella, San Martino, Veneto

I’m particularly happy this year to give you some notes about the Harvest 2011. A great vintage!

First of all, I have to say I was lucky to be helped and encouraged by the weather in our first year of Biodynamic and this is important…my enthusiasm for what could be considered a dream of a life is now even more intense after the first and incredibly evident results!

The weather in 2011 was not regular, considering a very advanced hot Spring and the cool July and beginning of August. These inverted conditions created a particular course of maturation. We had an advanced development of blooms, leaves and grapes, we arrived in June with at least a couple or even three of weeks of advance. In that period the weather changed and we suffered three long weeks of intense rains.

Around the third week of August it was extraordinarly hot week (40 C°!!) that gave a kick to the maturations and in only a few days we had the unusual condition to have almost all varieties ready to be picked!

Honestly we saved the quality with some water in form of irrigation we could gave during this week. It was more than a month we had not any rain and the vines started to take the water from the grapes and to stop the maturation! So, giving small quantity of water we interrupted this process.

Around the end of August in a weekend we had an amazing quantity of rain (60 mm), the entire Valpolicella area had an important relief and the grapes started to mature again everywhere here.

We never harvested Corvina before the first week of September and this year we did it in August…amazing and new for us, but that’s a part of the beauty of my job: it is never the same and could be very surprising, teaching us something new every year.

The first vinifications were perfect and even if we were worried for the first Biodynamic experience, we are very happy with it and even quite surprised how we already can taste more crunchy fruit in it.

The colors are very rich, the acidity not particularly high, but we will manage it with the malolactics. The general conditions gave us not a big quantity, but for sure a very important quality!

September 21, 2011 at 11:39 am 2 comments

Best Italian Wines and Producers -2010

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

The 2009 Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo “Cutizzi”was among the best Italian wines of 2010

 

You might be wondering why in the first week of April I’m writing about the best wines and producers of 2010. The reason is timing – I’ve just published the Spring issue of my Guide to Italian Wines, which is my annual issue of the previous year’s best Italian wines and producers.

Subscribers received this issue last week and I am offering this issue to readers of this blog for $10 (see below for details). There are dozens of wines from various regions of Italy that I listed as among the finest of 2010, including the 2009 Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo “Cutizzi” mentioned above. Here are a few others that made the list:

  • Bellavista Gran Cuvée “Pas Opere” 2004
  • Elena Walch Gewurztraminer “Kastelaz” 2009
  • Livon “Braide Alte” 2008
  • Planeta “Cometa” 2009
  • Pieropan Soave Classico “La Rocca” 2008
  • Produttori del Barbaresco “Rio Sordo” 2005
  • Renato Ratti Barolo “Rocche” 2006
  • Il Palazzone Brunello di Montalcino 2005
  • Abraxas Passito di Pantelleria 2008

In total, there are 90 wines that made the list. Of these, there are:

  • 12 whites from Friuli
  • 16 wines (white and red) from Campania
  • 4 bottlings of 2005 Brunello di Montalcino (and three bottlings of 2004 Brunello Riserva)
  • 3 Bolgheri Superiore from 2007
  • 10 Barolo from 2006
  • 6 Barbaresco from 2007
  • 2 examples of Aglianico del Vulture

 

Sergio Germano, Az. Agr. Ettore Germano, Serralunga d’Alba (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

 

In this issue, I have also listed my choices as the Top 12 Italian Producers of 2010. One of the few rules I have is that I do not list a producer in consecutive years; however they can be producers that were selected in the past.

Ettore Germano is among the best Italian producers of 2010 as is Ca’Rugate from the Veneto. There are 10 other producers that made the list. To learn the names of the other producers as well as the wines that were selected as the best of 2010, this issue is available (via email in pdf format) for $10. If you’d like, you can also start a yearly subscription for $30. Email me (info here) for information on how to subscribe.

April 4, 2011 at 10:12 am 1 comment

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