Posts tagged ‘mastroberardino’

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 Three- Mastroberardino)

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Opening the 1961 Mastroberardino Taurasi (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

In my previous two posts (here and here), I wrote about marvelous vertical tastings of Taurasi from two first-rate producers: Feudi di San Gregorio and Luigi Tecce. As Taurasi is a significant red that does not receive the attention it deserves, it’s a pleasure experiencing the beautiful work that these two producers – as well as another few dozen estates – have accomplished over the past 10-15 years; perhaps now Taurasi will be a more important part of the discussion about Italy’s greatest red wines.

But if you have to single out one producer who has carried the torch for Taurasi for more than 70 years, it is clearly Mastroberardino. Indeed, this family estate, situated in the small town of Atripalda in the province of Avellino, is indeed synonymous with this wine. Anyone who knows even a little bit about Taurasi has probably read about some journalist’s amazing experience with the 1968 bottling, a wine that has become a watershed for Taurasi. I am one of those lucky souls who has tasted this wine ; that one occasion being at VinItaly in Verona about six or seven years ago with Piero Mastroberardino, the managing director of the winery. I was pleased to note at the time that this legendary wine – almost forty years of age when I sampled it that day – deserved its celebrated status. It seemed to me that the wine had plenty of life ahead of it – I estimated that it would still be in fine shape in 2016-2020, meaning it would be a pleasure to drink even at 50 years of age! I recall that I tasted the 1971 as well that day and told Piero that while I believed that wine was outstanding, it was the 1968 that was fresher. Piero’s sheepish reply was, “well, 1968 was a better vintage.”

So it was a great pleasure to be invited along with a small group of international journalists in March to a tasting of six decades of Mastroberardino Taurasi at the winery. Piero and his team – along with his father Antonio, who guided the firm through many of its greatest successes since the 1940s – selected one wine from each decade, starting with the 1952 and continuing up to the 2006 bottling. Piero gave a brief talk about how his ancestors started selling their Taurasi around Italy; he then let us taste the wines in silence, without any additional words about each bottle.

Here are my notes on the six wines:

1952- Pale garnet; still lovely fruit aromas with notes of strawberry along with balsamic, oregano, thyme and cedar. Medium-full, with a beautifully elegant entry on the palate, this is a remarkably fresh wine, one of stunning grace and harmony. There is notable acidity along with a very subtle spiciness. Absolutely amazing now, this wine has at least another 10-12 years ahead of it, but I will admit that this is an educated guess; who knows, perhaps this will will be in fine shape some 20-25 years from now, as the balance is that impressive. A great, great wine.

1961 Riserva - Deep garnet; aromas of dried currant, dried cherry, sage and balsamic. Medium-full with excellent concentration; generous mid-palate. Outstanding freshness and balance; amazing persistence – the finish goes on and on. As flavorful and rich as this wine is, it is undeniably light as a feather. A sublime wine, one of great pleasure that will be drinking well for another 15-20 years, perhaps even longer. A great, great wine.

1970 Riserva – Deep garnet; aromas of truffle, balsamic, dried currant, oregano and cedar. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Long, long finish with very fine tannins. Outstanding complexity, very good acidity and remarkable freshness. What a wine – one of great typicity, balance, freshness and harmony. This has at least 15-20 years of life ahead of it. Another great, great wine and the one that I selected as my favorite, although I admit that if I could taste these wines together again, my choice as the favorite – an incredibly difficult selection – might be either the 1952 or the 1961, as they are all of immeasurable quality, class and breeding.

(At this point, I need to let you know that I did not spit any of these first three wines. Of course at any tasting, you spit or else you wouldn’t be able to walk straight after a few minutes. But how could I spit the 1952, 1961 or 1970? Not only were they amazing to taste, who knows if I’ll ever get a chance to try them again? During this first part of the tasting, I turned to my colleague Tom Maresca from New York City, who confirmed to me that he wasn’t spitting any of these either!)

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(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

1985 - Deep garnet; aromas of fresh red cherry, hint of orange peel, balsamic, truffle and cedar. Very good persistence, very good acidity, round tannins. Impressive persistence and notable length in the finish. Excellent complexity and wonderful varietal character. Best in 10-12 years, although it will undoubtedly drink well for another 7-10 years after that. Excellent.

1996 Riserva “Radici” Radici means “roots,” an appropriate designation for a Campanian firm that has been producing their own wines since 1878; the “Radici” project for Mastroberardino Taurasi was initiated with the 1986 vintage. Lovely deep garnet; aromas of fresh red cherry, strawberry, cedar and a hint of brown spice. Medium-full with very good concentration. Elegant mid-palate, very good acidity, very fine tannins and impressive length. Very harmonious with beautiful typicity. Best in 12-15 years. Excellent.

2006 Riserva “Radici” - Bright, deep ruby red; aromas of black cherry, along with hints of tar and dark chocolate. Generous mid-palate; very good acidity, rich, balanced tannins, excellent persistence and typicity. Notes of black spice in the finish that add to the complexity of this wine. A lovely, somewhat powerful wine, albeit one with beautiful charm. Best in 15-20 years. Outstanding.

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Anotnio and Piero Mastroberardino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Just as we were finishing the tasting, Antonio Mastroberardino, patriarch of the firm, entered the room – what a pleasure to see this man again! I had met him about eight or nine years ago at the winery, but had only seen him briefly one time since. I always made it a point to ask Piero how his father was doing over the past few years and he replied that he was just fine. I had heard that he was slowing down a bit recently and perhaps not in the best health, but here he was, some 84 years young, looking just great! He must be drinking a good amount of Taurasi!

Antonio, along with Piero, then told us brief remembrances of their work in the vineyards and cellars over the past six decades. “There was no technological revolution in the 1950s,” Antonio said, reminding us that these great wines were the result of hard work as well as good fortune in any particular growing season. Wines as special as we enjoyed this day are truly one-of-a-kind bottles, ones that are unique and have their own identity. In that respect, they were just like this tasting!

My heartfelt thanks to Piero and Antonio Mastroberardino and the entire team at the winery for inviting me to this once-in-a-lifetime event.

April 6, 2013 at 1:15 pm Leave a comment

Campania’s Vibrant Whites

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Cork of Villa Raiano, one of Campania’s finest wine estates (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I love the white wines of Campania, so it was a great pleasure to be invited to Bianchirpinia 2012, which was held in Avellino recently. This event, centered around anteprima tastings of the new releases of the 2011 vintage of Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino, along with producers visits and dinners, showed both the quality and variety of these lovely wines and reaffirmed in my mind that these are among Italy’s finest whites.

While there were also a few other wines – such as Coda di Volpe and a few examples of Falanghina – tasted those days, Greco and Fiano were the primary focus. These two wines, produced from vines that are comprised of mixed soils – including volcanic deposits – are wines that beautifully display a sense of place. As most producers opt not to mature these wines in wood, the aromatic profiles of each stand out, with Greco delivering more lemon and pear aromatics (along with a pleasing note of almond in the nose and the finish), while Fiano is more identified (for me, at least) by more exotic fruits such as kiwi and mango along with lime and ripe pear (these notes of tropical fruit were more common in a warmer year such as 2011).

Another difference is with aging potential, as Greco tends to drink best within five years of the vintage date, while that increases to seven or more with Fiano. Indeed Fiano is a bit fatter on the palate with a more lush finish, while Greco tends to be more reserved with slightly higher acidity (in some cases) as well as having a bit more minerality. These estimates about aging are general of course and it’s always a treat to learn about a Greco or Fiano that shows well more than a decade out, such as the time earlier this year when I tasted the 1994 Greco di Tufo with owner Raffaelle Troisi at Vadiaperti at his cellars in Montefredane. Light yellow in appearance, here was a beautifully balanced wine with great freshness – I thought I was drinking a five year old wine, not one that was eighteen years old!

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As for the particular qualities of the 2011s, this is a successful vintage with expressive fruit and very good concentration. If there is a criticism one can make of this vintage, it’s that the wines as a rule don’t have the acidity of the best vintages, such as 2010, 2009 or 2008. Sabino Loffredo, proprietor/winemaker at Pietracupa in Montefredane, explained to me that there wasn’t the usual rain in September in 2011, so grapes ripened more quickly. 2011 also has the misfortune of following 2010 which in Loffredo’s words, “is one of the finest vintages for Greco and Fiano of the last twenty years.”

So while I couldn’t give 2011 a 5-star rating, it is a solid 4-star (excellent) vintage for the best producers. Here is a short list of my favorite examples of Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino from 2011:

Greco di Tufo

  • Benito Ferrara
  • Terrredora “Loggia della Serra”
  • Pietracupa
  • Bambinuto “Picoli”
  • Mastroberardino “Nova Serra”
  • Villa Raiano “Contrada Marotta” (5 stars – ottimo!)
  • Sella delle Spine
  • Vadiaperti
  • Feudi di San Gregorio “Cutizzi”

Fiano di Avellino

  • Pietracupa
  • Terredora “Terre di Dora”
  • Villa Raiano “Ventidue”

Generally, I was more impressed with the examples of Greco di Tufo from 2011 than the versions of Fiano di Avellino, but perhaps the Fianos will show much better with another year or two in the bottle.

A few examples of Fiano from 2010 and 2009 were also tasted out; these wines showed beautifully, especially the 2010 Urciuolo (enticing aromas of peony, chamomile and lemon rind) and the Villa Diamante “Vigna della Congregazione”, which has been among my top two or three examples of Fiano every year, as this is routinely a great wine, with a lush, oily feel and outstanding persistence.

Also from 2009, the Joaquin “Vino della Stella” displayed excellent ripeness with aromatics of apricot, papaya, golden apple and saffron, while the Mastroberardino “More Maiorum” matured in wood, is a superb wine, with intriguing beeswax, lemon oil and bosc pear aromas backed by excellent persistence and ideal structure.

Regarding the recent 2012 harvest, Sabino Loffredo told me that while the year started off on a question mark, things improved during the growing season; in his words, 2012 could be quite a pleasant surprise. If Sabino says so, you know it’s true, so I’m excited about trying this new vintage when the wines are released in 2013.

It is vitally important for an event such as Bianchirpinia to continue, as it is an excellent showcase for Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino, which in my mind are most certainly among the upper ranks of Italy’s finest white wines. Given that more artisan producers have started to make these wines over the past decade, the overall quality has never been higher. Great news for lovers of Italian white wine!

Thank you to Diana Cataldo of Miriade and Partners for the invitation to this event and for organizing an excellent two days in Irpinia.

December 3, 2012 at 10:31 am 2 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)

Per leggere questo articolo in italiano, clicca qui

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

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