Posts tagged ‘italian white wine’

Best Wines of the Year – Italian Whites

Marisa Cuomo and her husband/winemaker Andrea Ferraioli (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Without further ado, here is a partial list of my choices as the best Italian whites wines of the year. A full list (along with the best reds of the year and a list of the best producers) can be found in the next issue of my Guide to Italian Wines. For subscription information, click here.

2008 CANTINA TRAMIN STOAN

This cooperative is one of Alto Adige’s finest producers, with excellent quality from the most simple whites to the most full-bodied bottlings. Stoan, named for the local stony soil, is a marvelous blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon (Blanc) and Gewurztraminer that displays gorgeous aromatics, rich concentration and vibrant acidity along with great structure and backbone. This was my favorite white wine of the year (from anywhere, not just Italy) and it is a perfect partner for a variety of foods, especially cracked crab.

2008 LIVIO FELLUGA TERRE ALTE

It begins to sound like a broken record, but each year this blend of  Friulano, Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon from this esteemed Friulian producer is among the finest Italian whites. The 2008 is not as full-bodied as in some vintages (2007, e.g.), but it more than makes up for that with its gorgeous perfumes of chamomile, pear, almond and rose petals. This should offer drinking enjoyment for 7-10 years and perhaps longer.

2009 EDI KEBER COLLIO BIANCO

This blend of Friulano, Malvasia and Ribolla Gialla has in just a few short years, become one of the benchmark whites of Friuli. This is not as powerful as the Felluga wine above, but it offers as much complexity and varietal character. The vibrant acidity gives this wine backbone and structure – enjoy over the next 5-7 years, especially with shellfish.

2009 ZUANI COLLIO BIANCO “VIGNE”

Here is another gorgeous Collio blend, this comprising 25% each of Friulano, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon. The aromas jump out of the glass and the wine is all about pleasure and finesse. Try this over the next 3-5 years with a wide ranges of dishes, from risotto to shellfish.

2008 BASTIANICH VESPA BIANCO

This blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Picolit has been a favorite for years, not only for its complexity, but also its longevity, as ten-year old bottlings shine. The 2008 is not as rich as some vintages, but it is still quite lush and features gorgeous aromatics and vibrant acidity, which should preserve the wonderful freshness of this wine for many years.

2009 COLLI DI LAPIO FIANO DI AVELLINO

There’s really no mystery as to why this wine is among the finest in Campania every year; it’s a simple matter of excellent terroir combined with careful farming and winemaking. Medium-full, this has a big finish with lively acidity and a big streak of minerality. Look for this 2009 to drink well for at least 3-5 years, perhaps longer.

2009 MARISA CUOMO FIORDUVA

This Amalfi Coast white has become legendary over the past decade. A blend of the local varieties Ripoli, Fenile and Ginestra, this is a more powerful white than the typical offering from Campania. Fermented and aged in small oak barrels, the wine has pronounced aromatics of fruit (grapefruit, mango) and herb (fennel, chamomile) and a generous mid-palate with a beautifully structured finish. This should drink welll for 5-7 years and is big enough for veal or poultry, though I love it with lobster or swordfish.

December 24, 2010 at 11:50 am 6 comments

Adriatic Pleasures

Every industry needs new ideas – this is true no matter how large or small a business we are talking about. The wine industry welcomes new wines from emerging markets all the time, yet many of these wines are their country’s vintners’ take on recognized varieties seen around the world.

I recently tasted three wines from a project that is not only new, but one that is creative and very welcome in the wine world. The wines are three whites produced by Joseph Bastianich, who worked with several growers and producers in Istria, Slovenia and Friuli to craft these delightful aromatic wines. As the represented wine regions are all near the Adriatic Sea, Bastianich has given this project the name of Adriatico.

My tasting notes are below, but a few general notes on the three wines. They represent this area very well, each focusing on a different variety: Malvasia (from Istria), Ribolla (from Slovenia) and Friulano (from the Colli Orientali del Friuli zone of Friuli). They are from the excellent 2009 vintage and feature bright, tasty fruit and lively acidity, are beautiful food wines and are delicious. Best of all, each wine retails for $15! There are some gorgeous wines in these areas that retail for two to three times that and as some of those wines have received tremendous critical acclaim, it’s great that Bastianich and his friends in these areas have combined to give consumers such lovely wine values, which can only help focus more attention on these wine zones.

Here are brief notes on the Adriatico wines:


2009 MALVASIA (Istria)

Winemakers: Matosevic, Degrassi, Kozlovic

Bright yellow with a light effervescence. Yellow peach, pear and honey aromas – just lovely. Medium-bodied with good concentration. Lively acidity, good persistence in the finish and subtle notes of yellow spice. Very refined and delicate – enjoy over the next 1-2 years. Fine for lighter Oriental cuisine.

2009 RIBOLLA (Brda, Slovenia)

Estate bottled by Marian Cimcic, Ceglo, Slovenia

This variety is often identified as Ribolla Gialla; Bastianich is using the variety name as it is most often known in Slovenia. Straw-light yellow with lovely aromatics of spiced pear, jasmine and cinnamon. Medium-full with very good concentration. Rich entry on the palate and a lengthy, beautifully structured finish with vibrant acidity and notes of ginger and white spice. Gorgeous wine- enjoy over the next 2-3 years. (35-40 year old vines- stainless steel fermentation and aging).

2009 FRIULANO (Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC)

Ripe Anjou pear, cinnamon and mango aromas – just lovely. Medium-full with very good depth of fruit, very well defined texture, vibrant acidity and very good persistence in the finish along with a distinct streak of minerality. Perfect winemaking, excellent complexity and an outstanding value for $15. This wine is all about varietal purity, balance, complexity and best of all, pleasure! Enjoy this over the next 2-3 years. This is the richest wine of the three and offers the greatest complexity. This can stand up to most rich seafood and it would also work well with vegetable risotto or lighter poultry dishes.

As I wrote at the beginning of this post, every industry needs new ideas. The Adriatico wines at a $15 retail tag are especially welcome in this economy, but this is a concept that goes well beyond value. It’s also a project that sheds some light on a wonderful area of the wine world that receives much too little attention from the major wine publications. Congratulations to Joseph Bastianich and his team for their outstanding work on this initiative, from the beautiful label design and packaging to the remarkable quality of the wines!

December 6, 2010 at 5:45 pm Leave a comment

A Brilliant White from Alto Adige

Whenever the topic of the finest Italian white wines comes up, the regions of Friuli and Alto Adige almost always come immediately to the forefront. I’d also add Campania to the list, as the finest examples from this southern region display beautiful complexity, minerality and ageworthiness.

But for now, let’s talk about the two neighboring regions of Friuli and Alto Adige. There are dozens of producers in the former that craft multi-layered blends, consisting of several varieties such as Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Picolit, Sauvignon and Chardonnay. For some critics, the argument of which region produces the most renowned whites from Italy ends with Friuli.

I’d like to offer some evidence from Alto Adige as well. Most of the wines here are monovarietal – everything from Pinot Bianco (the region’s most widely planted grape) to Pinot Grigio, Moscato Giallo, Sauvignon and of course, Gewurztraminer. The best examples of these wines – from small estates to large cooperative producers – are laser-focused in their varietal purity and display gorgeous aromatics as well as beautiful structure.

But there are also a handful of blended whites from Alto Adige that rival the most famous counterparts from Friuli. One of the finest I’ve tried in some time is the 2008 Cantina Tramin Stoan. This is a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 22% Sauvignon, 11% Pinot Bianco and 7% Gewurztraminer. My notes on this wine characterize the layers of flavor in this wine – the mid-palate is very impressive – as well as the striking aromatics with notes of chamomile, lilacs and mango – this last emerging, no doubt from the Gewurztraminer.

Winemaker Willi Sturz, who has previously been awarded the title of the year’s best winemaker from Gambero Rosso, the Italian wine bible, ages the wine in large wooden casks of 4000 liters, most of which are anywhere from 2-8 years old. The size of the barrels as well as their age mean minimal wood interference, allowing the aromatics and varietal character to emerge, while also adding a bit of texture to the wine. (For comparison, the small oak barrels known as barriques are 225 liters in size, meaning their wood influence is quite strong, especially with white wines).

What I love about the wines from Cantina Tramin are their varietal character, cleanliness and immaculate balance. Sturz is a genius at taking the finest fruit from more than 275 growers who are members of this cooperative (this is a common practice in the region) and crafting wines that are immediately drinkable upon release, yet often improve after 3-5 years in the bottle. While the Stoan as well as the Nussbaumer Gewurztraminer (arguably the finest in Italy over the past decade) are the most famous, you sense the care Sturz takes in even the basic bottlings of Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco and Gewurztraminer (as well as a few lovely red wines).

2008 was a lovely vintage in Alto Adige (and throughout much of Italy, especially for white wines). This was cooler than the highly rated 2007 vintage, so the wines are not as fat on the palate, yet as this was a long growing season, the wines ripened beautifully. The aromatics as well as the vibrant acidity are the keys to the 2008 whites from Alto Adige. Look for this wine to drink well for another 3-5 years. Best of all, this wine has the complexity and structure to accompany a wide variety of foods, from Oriental cuisine (chicken or pork) to veal to lighter game. While it wouldn’t necessarily be my first choice with most seafood, as it would probably out muscle the fish, I do think that it works well with some lightly aged cheeses such as Nostrano, Lagundo or Puzzone di Moena, all made from cow’s milk.

The price for this wine is $33, which I feel is quite fair, especially with other top Italian blended whites selling in the $45-$75 price range. This wine can truly stand with the best of them! I’ve tasted this wine from previous vintages and by now it’s become one of my top ten whites from Italy; when you consider how great the best Italian whites are – and how much I love these wines – that’s saying something on my part.

The national importer is Winebow.

August 8, 2010 at 12:48 pm 2 comments

The Best Italian White You’ve Never Tried

I love the style and scope of Italian white wines, especially the gorgeous aromatics of the best bottlings from Friuli, Alto Adige and Campania. These are the best known whites in the country, but there are some gems I love that are produced in small quantities, so their fame is minimal. I’m thinking here of Pecorino from Marche and Abruzzo as well as Erbaluce from Piemonte or the occasional Fiano from Sicily (Planeta) or Falanghina from Puglia (Alberto Longo).

A few years ago on a visit to Bolgheri, along Tuscany’s west coast, I discovered the white wine from Guado al Melo, an excellent small estate in this famous red wine district. Like several properties here, the winery grows Vermentino, a white variety that is seen along the coast, both here and on the island of Sardinia. Most examples are made without any oak aging, so as to preserve the pine and pear aromas; the perfumes are a trademark of this wine along with its vibrant acidity. Most are fairly straightforward in their approach, with an appealing freshness along with a bite of saltiness in the finish, no doubt a result of the plantings near the sea.

Of the examples of Vermentino from Bolgheri, the most intriguing for me is the Bianco from Guado al Melo. The trick here is the addition of a variety rarely seen in Italy, Petit Manseng. Grown primarily in southwestern France, Petit Manseng is a white mutation of Manseng Noir; thus it is also known as Manseng Blanc. The aromatics of this variety – quince and apricot – are among the reasons that owner Michele Scienza planted this variety. Son of famed Italian viticultural historian Attilio Scienza, Michele has more than 30 varieties planted at his Guado al Melo estate.

Michele Scienza, Guado al Melo (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

The blend for the Guado al Melo Bianco is usually around 90% Vermentino and 10% Petit Manseng; the latter variety adds complexity and a bit of texture and rounds out the palate. It is very appealing in its youth, but thanks to the excellent acidity of the Vermentino, it ages well. I recently tasted the 2002 vintage (actually a fine vintage in Bolgheri, despite being below average in most of Tuscany) and it displayed lovely freshness and complexity. This may be an exotic white, but there is a nice earthiness in the older bottlings. In its youth, I’d recommend it with Asian cuisine, but as it ages, it becomes a more appropriate partner with veal or lighter game – it’s a serious white wine and proof of the ongoing need by the country’s finest producers to craft new styles and new wines.

July 28, 2010 at 1:52 pm 4 comments

Friuli – The Great Whites of Collio and Colli Orientali

Located in the far northeastern reaches of Italy, Friuli is one of the country’s most distinctive wine regions. Though some intriguing reds and a few remarkable dessert wines are made here, it is the singular white wines that give this region its strongest viticultural identity.

There are nine different DOC districts in Friuli; the most famous are two that border with Slovenia: Collio and Colli Orientali del Friuli. These zones are dominated by hillside plantings that limit yields; combine that with cool breezes from the nearby Adriatic Sea and the Giulian Alps and you have a recipe for wines of beautiful structure thanks to the long, cool growing seasons.

White wines are the stars of these zones, produced from a mixture of indigenous varieties such as Friulano and Ribolla Gialla and others such as Sauvignon, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio. These white wines – most of them without any oak aging – represent the soul of the vintners in these two zones. Robert Princic, owner of the Gradis’ciutta estate in Collio, produces a brilliant Sauvignon typical of this area with its bright pear and spearmint fruit, light herbal notes, vibrant acidity and impressive structure. For Princic, Sauvignon from Collio, “is always elegant, at times discreet. at times intense, never coarse.” While he understands that there are many styles of Sauvignon from around the world, he finds that some of these wines are a bit aggressive, unlike the bottlings from Collio. “One should discover the pleasure that is the strength of Sauvignon from Collio.”

Robert Princic, Gradis’ciutta (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Here is a brief list of some of the finest producers of Sauvignon in the Collio and Colli Orientali districts:

  • Gradis’ciutta
  • Russiz Superiore
  • Villa Russiz
  • Venica & Venica
  • Ronchi di Manzano
  • Primosic

The local variety Friulano is another that deeply reflects the character of this region and its’ winemakers. Fermented dry and usually aged only in stainless steel (a few producers do experiment with older oak barrels), Friulano offers a variety of aromas, depending on the local terroir; in fact, I have yet to find a variety that displays as wide an aromatic profile as this. One example will feature pear and chamomile aromas while another offers notes of mandarin orange, kiwi and grapefruit. When you have as many pleasing aromatics as you do with Friulano, why cover it up with oak?

One other advantage Friulano has is its ability to age. Even the basic examples are often fine three years after the harvest with most drinking well from five to seven years from the vintage date with a few lasting as long as 10-15 years. At the I Clivi estate, owner Ferdinando Zanusso is now selling his 1999 and 1996 bottlings of Friulano; the wines have beautiful color and excellent freshness; these two wines, if properly stored, should drink well for another 5-7 years.

Here is a brief list of some of the best producers of Friulano from the Collio and Colli Orientali districts:

  • Bastianich
  • I Clivi
  • Livio Felluga
  • Russiz Superiore
  • Villa Russiz
  • La Castellada
  • Le Vigne di Zamo
  • Isidoro Polencic
  • Livon

Many vintners in these two zones also produce a high-end white – sometimes referred to as a Super Friulian – blended from several varieties. Arguably the most famous is Terre Alte from Livio Felluga, a blend of Friulano, Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon. Quite rich on the palate with aromatics of chamomile, pear, grapfruit and hawthorn, this is one of Italy’s finest wines and one of its longest-lived whites; bottlings from the late 1980s and most of the 1990s are drinking beautifully now.

Other producers also make a similar white. Livon is well known for its Braide Alte bottling, a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Picolit and Moscato Giallo, the last two varieties used for increasing the aromatic profile. This wine spends more time in oak than the Felluga Terre Alte, so the flavor profiles vary, yet it too enjoys a long life; I tasted the 1996 at VinItaly this past April and was impressed by its power and balance.

Here is a brief list of the most famous blended whites from Collio and Colli Orientali:

  • Bastianich “Vespa”
  • Livio Felluga “Terre Alte”
  • Livon “Braide Alte”
  • Russiz Superiore “Col Disore”
  • La Tunella “Biancosesto”
  • Gradis’ciutta “Bratinis”
  • Marco Felluga “Molamatta”

These blended whites – as well as the monovarietal whites – are striking examples of the quality of the whites wines from Friuli in particular and Italy in general. Here’s hoping that these wines are given more widespread visibility so the world can experience the glories of the Collio and Colli Orientali districts!

July 20, 2010 at 10:17 am 4 comments


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