Posts tagged ‘italian wine’
I am off to Puglia and Campania today, so a brief post. I’ll resume posts in about 2 weeks.
Here is a list I thought would be of interest to readers. This is a list of wine statistics in Italy that I saw on a poster in the tasting room of Brandini Winery in La Morra.
WINE IN ITALY
700,000 cultivated hectares
0.9 ha – medium size property
400 grapes (only 5% not indigenous)
50 million hectoliters produced
2 Euro medium price per liter
10 billion Euro – total wine business
84% of all Italian bottles in wine shops sell for less than 5 Euro
Planeta Moscato di Noto (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Here is part two of my list of the Best Italian producers of the first decade of the 21st century:
DUCA DI SALAPARUTA
The days when this winery was best known for Corvo white and red are long over. Today, this is one of Italy’s top producers, especially for its glorious red, “Duca Enrico”, which was the first great bottling of Nero d’Avola. The “Triskele” bottling, which is primarily Nero d’Avola with a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, is another excellent wine. Congratulations to winemaker Carlo Casavecchia for his excellent work!
Partners Giambatttista Cilia and Giusto Occhipinti continue to produce beautifully styled wines from indigenous varieties at their winery near Vittoria. Their bottlings of Cerasuolo di Vittoria are so elegant and finesseful, while their offerings of Nero d’Avola and Frappato are so varietally pure. Then there’s the aging process in amphorae – why be a slave to modernity when you can make wines this good in the centuries-old way of tradition?
This is one of the finest producers from the exciting Etna district; this producer is adept with both whites and reds. The top white called “Pietramarina” is made from the Carricante variety – the word Carricante means “consistent”, an apt descriptor for this producer. Several noteworthy reds here as well, especially the “Rovitello” and “Serra della Contessa” Etna Rossos. Never anything less than excellence from Giuseppe Benanti and his sons!
Arguably Sicily’s best-known producer – also one of the best, period. While famous for a lush, tropical-tinged Chardonnay, for me their best white is the non-oak aged Fiano called Cometa, an exceptional wine. I also love the beautifully structured “Santa Cecilia” Nero d’Avola, produced from grapes grown near Noto. The Syrah and the eleganty styled Moscato di Noto dessert wine are also highly recommended. Wonderful work from the Planeta family – they do as much as anyone to spread the good word about the wines of Sicily.
This is the Antinori project in Puglia and one of their best. I love the fact that they are offering not only high-ticket wines, but value bottlings as well; the Neprica, a blended red that sells for about $12 is very good. At the other end, the Bocca di Lupo, a 100% Aglianico, is a first-rate rendition of this variety, bursting with fruit and combining all the components in harmony.
A vastly underrated estate that concntrates not on making the biggest wines, but the most honest. A very good Nero di Troia called “Le Cruste” an even better Falanghina (“Le Fossette”) that is a revelation for white wines from Puglia and best of all, a lovely version of the local DOC red, Cacc’e Mmitte di Lucera, a charming blend of Nero di Troia, Montepulciano and Bombino Bianco. Longo almost singlehandedly kept this DOC from extinction – bravo!
CASTEL DI SALVE
From the far southern reaches of the region, rich, ripe and modern wines, but beautifully balanced, zesty and for the most part, handled without too much oak. My favorites are the “Priante”, a Negroamaro, Montepulciano blend (aged in used French and American oak) and the “Lama del Tenente”, a Primitivo/Montepulciano blend. Then there is a remarkable Aleatico Passito, one of the finest of its kind.
A long-time standout producer in this region; excellent white and reds. The Pinot Grigio is famous; the Friulano and Sauvignon should be – each is subtle with exceptional balance. The “Terre Alte” is one of Italy’s finest and most ageworthy whites. The “Sosso” is a beautifully crafted blend of Refosco, Merlot and Pignolo and is one of this region’s most consistent reds. Finally, the Picolit is a rare and exceptional dessert white.
MARCO FELLUGA/RUSSIZ SUPERIORE
I love the elegance and flavor of these wines and I also love the price, as most are quite reasonable. Best evidence of that is the “Molamatta”, a Pinot Bianco, Friulano, Ribolla Gialla blend that offers one of the best quality/price relationships for a Friulian white. The Russiz Superiore Sauvignon is assertive, flavorful and quite memorable.
This producer gets the award as much for the quality of its wines as for its efforts to popularize the lovely whites from this region. Joseph Bastianich, one of America’s most famous restaurateurs, is becoming as successful in the wine world as he is with Italian food. The regular Friulano is simply delicious, while the blended white “Vespa” (Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Picolit) is a stunning white that also ages well (try this wine at 5-7 years after the vintage – if you can find a bottle). The “Vespa” Rosso (Merlot, Refosco and Cabernet Sauvignon) is another fine bottling.
LE VIGNE DI ZAMO
An exceptional estate that consistently produces some of Friuli’s best whites and reds. My favorites include the “Cinquant’anni” Friulano, the “Ronco delle Acacie” blended white (Chardonnay, Friulano and Pinot Bianco) and the Schiopettino, a spicy specialty red of this region. Hard to go wrong with this producer!
Next post – Part Three of the decade’s Best Italian Wine Producers
Given that all twenty regions in Italy are wine-producing areas, it stands to reason that some of these regions get overlooked when it comes to the quality of their products. You just don’t hear that much about the red wines from Puglia, so I thought I’d address that in this post.
Puglia is the region in the far southeastern reaches of Italy that everyone recognizes as the “heel of the boot.” The fact that more people know that piece of trivia as compared to its wines is a bit sad, but the overall quality of Apulian reds is quite good and improving all the time. Historically, this has been a region of large production, meaning much bulk wine, but thankfully that reality is changing.
The most famous red from Puglia – at least in the United States – is Salice Salentino. This is produced in the southern part of the region in a district north of the town of Lecce and southwest of the major city of Brindisi. Named for the eponymous commune, Salice Salentino is made primarily from a local variety known as Negroamaro, which literally means “black bitter.” The variety has deep color and offers aromas of black cherry and other black fruits; the acidity levels are not too high and the tannins are lightly bitter, but usually not overly aggressive. Salice Salentino must have a minimum of 80% Negroamaro, with the remaining blend often contaning another local variety, Malvasia Nera, which adds acidity and fragrance to the finished wine.
Most examples of Negroamaro are meant to be consumed within 3-7 years of the vintage. Some lighter, fresher examples are priced very reasonably ($12-$14), while the richer, more complex examples that can age for close to a decade are often priced around $25. Among the best examples of a complex, ageworthy Salice Salentino are the “Donna Lisa” bottling from Leone de Castris, the “Armecolo” from Castel di Salve and the “Selvarossa” Riserva offering from Cantine due Palme.
Here is a short list of the best producers of Salice Salentino:
- Agricole Vallone
- Cantine de Falco
- Castel di Salve
- Castello Monaci
- Conti Zecca
- Feudi di Guagnano
- Feudi di San Marzano
- Leone de Castris
- Li Veli
- Tenute al Bano Carrisi
Another well-known red variety in Puglia is Primitivo, used throughout the region, but primarily in the south (many producers that make a Salice Salentino also bottle a Primitivo). Most researchers believe that from DNA evidence, Primitivo is a genetic parent of Zinfandel, the famed red variety of California. Primitivo offers rich spice, zesty tannins, deep color and ripe black fruit flavors (black raspberry, black cherry, black plum).
Most examples of Primitivo focus on the ripeness of the variety and its fruit-forward nature. Generally, most bottlings of Primitivo do not offer the complexity or graceful qualities of a Salice Salentino, but there are examples that are excellent, especially the DOC wines of Primitivo di Manduria. Among those are the “Sessantanni” from Feudi di San Marzano (named for the average age of the vines – 60 years), the “Papale” and “Chicca” bottlings from Vigne e Vini and the “Feudo del Conte” from Antiche Terre del Salento.
CASTEL DEL MONTE
Another excellent wine district is Castel del Monte, in north-central Puglia, located a bit west of Bari, the region’s capital. The primary grape here is Nero di Troia, also known as Uva di Troia. While this has ripe black cherry flavors, there is very good acidity with medium-weight tannins, meaning a well-made wine made from this variety has a nice degree of finesse and elegance to go with its richness.
Other varieties used in a Castel del Monte DOC red (the wine is named for a famous castle in the area) include Montepulciano and Aglianico. There are monovarietal Castel del Monte reds as well; these include Pinot Nero and Bombino Rosso (there are also bottlings of Castel del Monte whites – Bombino Bianco is the principal variety here – and lovely rosés as well, often made from Nero di Troia or Aglianico).
Here is a short list of the best producers of Castel del Monte rosso:
- Tenuta Cocevola
- Torre Vento
One note on a special Castel del Monte red. The “Bocca di Lupo” from Tormaresca is a gorgeous 100% Aglianico with layers of fruit, rich tannins and beautiful complexity. This is reminiscent of some of the finest bottlings of Aglianico from the nearby Basilicata region. Given its seductive black cherry fruit and notes of chocolate, this is so tempting upon release, but this is a wine that is at is best some 7-12 years after the vintage.
As with other Italian regions, producers in Puglia are crafting some beautiful IGT reds. Among the best are the “Graticciaia” from Agricole Vallone, a wonderfully concentrated, beautifully structured 100% Negroamaro; “Duca di Aragona” from Candido, a blend of Negroamaro and Montepulciano that is a graceful blend of spice, tobacco and black cherry fruit; “Priante” from Castel di Salve, a 50/50 blend of Negroamaro and Montepulciano that is quite rich and ripe and shows a more modern approach with these varieties, yet is beautifully balanced and the “Torre Testa” from Tenute Rubino, a powerful offering made from the indigenous variety, Susumaniello.
Finally I have to mention one of the most enjoyable – and at the same time – most rarely seen DOC reds from Puglia. It’s Cacc’e Mmitte di Lucera (pronounced kotch-ay meet-ay dee lew-chair-a) and it’s from a small zone near Foggia in the far northern reaches of the region. Only a handful of producers make this wine; the leading estate is Alberto Longo. This is a medium-weight red made at Longo from Nero di Troia, Montepulciano and Bombino Bianco. This is a delightful wine with moderate tannins and tasty red cherry fruit with distinct spice and earthiness – it has the fruitiness of a Dolcetto with the rustic qualities of a simple French Cotes-du-Rhone. It doesn’t cost much and it’s reminder of the simple charms of traditional Puglian red wine.
Good times or bad times, most of us are constantly looking for values and it’s no different when it comes to Italian wines. Despite a situation where the Euro is much stronger than the US dollar (a situation that’s been this way for several years), there are some excellent values in Italian wines.
Here are a few ways to find some of the best:
Look for lesser-known wines from famous wine zones
Throughout Italy, you have the opportunity to find some wonderful wines that have much in common with their other famous bottlings. For example, in Piemonte, there are two regally bred red wines, Barbaresco and Barolo, that are made exclusively from the Nebbiolo grape. These are wines that are released three or four years after the harvest and are quite powerful; the best offerings from the finest vintages can drink well for 25 years or more. Naturally, wines such as these will cost $50-$125 a bottle upon release.
Yet you can purchase a very good wine made exclusively from Nebbiolo at a fraction of these prices. Look for a Nebbiolo d’Alba (Alba is the city in Piemonte that is very close to the Barbaresco and Barolo vineyards). These wines are made from younger vineyards and are not aged as long, so they are not as powerful, but most still drink well for 3-7 years after the vintage, with most needing a few years after release to round out. Many of the finest producers of Barbaresco and Barolo produce a Nebbiolo d’Alba and prices will depend on the status of the estate, but many can be purchased for $25-$28. A few of my favorite bottlings of Nebbiolo d’Alba are from Fontanafredda, Pio Cesare, Damilano, Renato Ratti, Monti and Brezza.
A few producers in this area produce a wine known as Langhe Nebbiolo, which is also 100% Nebbiolo (Langhe is a large area that encompasses the Barolo and Barbaresco zones). These wines are priced similarly to a Nebbiolo d’Alba, though they may be a few dollars higher. Examples of Langhe Nebbiolo I like come from Elio Grasso, Ca’Viola, Sergio Barale and Marcarini.
Finally, across the Tanaro River in the Roero district, you can find some excellent exmaples of Nebbiolo labeled as Roero Rosso. As the soils here are lighter, these versions of Nebbiolo are relatively soft and are at their best 3-7 years after the vintage. My favorites include those from Matteo Correggia and Malvira.
There is a similar situation in the southern region of Campania, where the most famous red is Taurasi, made from at least 85% Aglianico. This is another long-lived red that can age for 25-40 years in a few instances. This wine is often $40-60 upon release, which makes them less expensive than most bottlings of Barolo or Barbaresco, but for most of us, $40-60 is still a lot of money.
The value solution here is to purchase a simple Aglianico that cannot be labeled as Taurasi, usually as it has not been aged for the minimum of three years. For example, most of these wines on the market in the summer and fall of 2009 are from the 2007 vintage, while most bottlings of Taurasi now for sale are from the 2005 vintage. These bottlings of Aglianico are labeled differently, but all are excellent values, usually priced in the $16-$20 range. These wines have ripe black cherry fruit, flavors of bitter chocolate and notes of spice and tar, so they are fine partners for heartier foods. Look for the Aglianico from Mastroberardino, the Aglianico (Irpinia DOC) from Vinosia and the bottling known as Rubrato (Campania Aglianico IGT) from Feudi di San Gregorio.
I’ll discuss more value wines in a future posts, concentrating on excellent wines from lesser-celebrated wine regions such as Pugila, Abruzzo and Marche. There are plenty of beautiful values out there from Italy, if you only know where to look.
I’ve written quite a bit about specific Italian wines, from Piemonte in the north to Sicilia in the south, but today I thought I’d step back a bit and discuss the unique characteristics of Italian wines in general. I hope you enjoy this post! - TH
What makes Italian wines so fascinating? There are many explanations, but for me the primary reason is the fact that Italian wines are unique, a world apart from the follow-the-leader- wines being produced by so many estates today, eager for consumer acceptance.
The world of wine is becoming homogenized these days. Just look at the most famous offerings from France and California and you’ll discover that they are made from the same six varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay (the chocolate, strawberry and vanilla of the wine world), Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah. I’m not forgetting about Zinfandel from California or Gewurztraminer, Riesling or Pinot Gris from Alsace in northeastern France, but they take a back seat in the press and in retail selections to the previously mentioned six.
Now think about the countries around the world that have become a major force in the wine world over the last decade. Countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and now South Africa. What grapes are their most famous wines made from? You guessed it- the Big Six. You can’t blame the producers in these countries for taking the lead of France and California, as success breeds success. What will a winery in South Africa have a better chance of selling to the American public – Pinotage, which is a local specialty or Cabernet Sauvignon? If you don’t know the answer to that, say hello to Santa Claus for me this Christmas as he comes down your chimney.
That’s what makes Italy so special in the world of wines. Producers in Campania might be able to make a name for themselves if they planted Chardonnay, but they continue to craft lovely white wines from grapes such as Greco, Fiano and Falanghina. The same holds true for the vintners of Abruzzo, who are beginning to see the intricacies of the Montepulciano grape and are creating more complex versions that more consumers want as they move away from quantity and towards quality.
This is not to say that international varieties (such as the Big Six) are not planted in Italy. Tuscany has adopted them in some of their most lavish bottlings (the so-called Super Tuscans often contain Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot in large proportions) and there are thousands of acres of Chardonnay and Merlot in the Veneto that are used for inexpensive bottlings. But international varieties are not what Italy does best; it is the indigenous varietals that represent the heart and soul of Italian viticulture.
Try a Soave made from the Garganega grape planted in vineyards in eastern Veneto. When made by an artisan producer, this is one of the country’s loveliest whites with aromas of honeydew melon, pear and lilies and offering beautiful texture and a light note of minerality in the finish. Or go with a Pecorino (yes, the wine, not the cheese) from Abruzzo or Marche. This grape yields a lovely dry white with flavors of peaches and cream that is lovely for pasta primavera or white meats such as chicken, veal or pork.
One of the most interesting native red varietals in Italy is Dolcetto from Piemonte. While too many wine publications focus on the famous Piemontese red wines made from the Nebbiolo grape (Barolo and Barbaresco), the natives pay a lot of attention to Dolcetto. This is the everyday red wine in the same locales where Barolo is produced and it is a great choice for lighter pastas and meats. The Barbera grape, the most planted grape in this region has plenty of spice with naturally high acidity. Vintners are experimenting with this varietal today, with versions ranging from the traditional, high acid, rustic styles (perfect for salumi) to riper, more oaked, slightly less acidic versions that stand up to roast veal and pork.
The best way to experience these indigenous varietals is with food. The publications that are obsessed with scoring wines on a 100-point system miss the point as their scores represent a bigger-is-better approach. If you truly believe that concept is true, then awarding a wine points might make sense. But as a winemaker once told me, “Bigger isn’t better, it’s different.” Or as a winemaker in Soave told me recently, “There are wines for tasting and there are wines for drinking,” In other words, some wines are just better with food because the winemaker isn’t interested in power or making the wine as rich as possible, but instead is interested in balance and finesse. The better balanced a wine is – white or red – the more foods it can accompany. And isn’t that why we drink wine in the first place? A humble Primitivo from Puglia that sells for $10-12 per bottle may not stand up to prime rib, but drink it with a slice of pizza or spare ribs and you’ve got a great partnership and one that brings pleasure.
There are literally hundreds of indigenous varietals from the entire country – far too may to mention here, even if I knew all of them. Fact of the matter is, no one in Italy knows all of them either; it turns out that varietals thought to be extinct are being discovered in vineyards from Piedmont in the north to Sicily in the south. But that’s the charming thing about Italy and its native varietals; there’s always something new – and different – out there for our pleasure.
White variety from Abruzzo and Marche. Generally aged in stainless steel, though some vinters barrel age it, achieving a creaminess. Pear and apple aromas.
Lovely red variety of Campania, literally meaning “red feet,” a descriptor for the birds that sit on the vines when they eat the ripe berries. High acid, light tannins and charming fruit flavors of raspberry, cranberry and black cherry. Primarily used as a blending varietal; in small percentages (less than 15%), it cuts the aggressive tannic bite of Aglianico in the great Campanian red, Taurasi. It is also the primary variety in the medium-bodied Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso.
One of Liguria’s most important white varieties with flavors of pineapple and pear with notes of herbs (often rosemary).
Red variety of Friuli with big tannins and deep color and flavors of black fruits. Used only by a few producers and often in blends.
The most widely planted white variety in Alto Adige, this has flavors of apples with a touch of spice. Examples vary from light, crisp and refreshing to more serious bottlings with deep fruit concentration and distinct minerality (such as the top examples from producers such as Cantina Terlano, Cantina Tramin and Alois Lageder.)
Wildy popular white variety grown in several regions of Italy, with the finest bottlings coming from the cool northern regions of Alto Adige and Friuli. Flavors of apple, pear and dried flowers with most examples being quite light and simple. A few producers make single vineyard or special selection bottlings that are more complex. (Known as Pinot Gris in France and other countries.)
Known almost everwhere else in the world as Pinot Noir, this is a red variety with moderate tanins, cherry/strawberry fruit and high acidity. A few examples from Piemonte and Tuscany, but the best in Italy are from Alto Adige.
Red variety of Puglia, with deep color, black fruits and plenty of spice. Generally found in southern Pugila and often bottled on its own. DNA related to Zinfandel of California.
White variety from Veneto and Friuli used in the production of the sparkling wine of the same name. Flavors of white peach and lemon, aged in steel tanks.
The name for Sangiovese in the town of Montepulciano (used in the wine Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.)
The complete name of this variety is Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso – or “Refosco with a red stalk.” Yields wines of big spice, red fruit and distinctive tannins.
Charming white variety of Friuli that produces light to medium-bodied wines with high acidity and flavors of pear, lemon, chamomile and dried flowers.
One of the major red varieties of the Valpolicella district with deep color and good fruit (red cherry) intensity and moderate tannins.
Rarely seen red variety grown near Asti in Piemonte that makes a lightly spicy, high acid red.
Red variety of Umbria, grown only in the Montefalco area. Known for its intense tannins, Sagrantino is even more tannic than Nebbiolo. Cherry fruit and distinct spiciness as well. Sagrantino is made in both a dry and sweet (passito) version.
One of Italy’s most famous and widely planted red varieties, this is best known for its use in three famous Tuscan reds: Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino. High acid, garnet color and fresh red cherry fruit along with notes of cedar; today some modernists have tweaked Sangiovese to deepen the color and add spice and vanilla from small oak barrels. Sangiovese is also planted in Umbria, Marche and Emilia Romagna.
Known as Sauvignon Blanc throughout the rest of the world, this white variety is found most famously in Friuli and Alto Adige, where it produces assertive wines with bracing acidity and flavors of asparagus, pea and freshly mown hay. Also grown along the coasts of Tuscany.
Red variety from Friuli that produces lighter reds with cherry, currant fruit, high acidity and light tannins. Also known as Vernatsch.
Red variety of Friuli with big tannins and spice. Only a few producers work with this grape.
Red variety of Campania with lively acidity, dark berry fruit and moderate tannins. Usually a blending variety, but also used to make a lightly sparkling red wine.
Red variety of Puglia with deep purple color and big tannins. Usually part of a blend, but sometimes bottled on its own. Interestingly, the name of the grape is loosely transalted as “the back of a donkey,” perhaps because of its productivity in the vineyard.