Posts tagged ‘monte del fra’

Custoza – One of the Best Italian Whites you probably don’t know


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Silvio Piona, Az. Agr. Albino Piona (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

So many excellent whites from Italy, so little time…

Recently, I was in the western reaches of the Veneto region near Lake Garda, tasting new releases of Bardolino. A bonus of this event was an additional tasting of a lovely white from the area known as Custoza, named for the small local town. I had tasted a handful of these wines over the years and had enjoyed them, but had never studied the wine in great detail. I’m glad I’ve had this experience, as Custoza is a white that offers beautiful complexity, is ageworthy and has become one of my favorite Italian whites; this is a wine that certainly deserves to better known.

Custoza is also known as Bianco di Custoza, but you don’t see that designation much anymore, as the producers most certainly wished to make the name of this town and wine forefront. It’s a blend of a few grapes, as few as three, as many as six or seven. The principal variety (as much as 40%) is Garganega, which is the same grape that is the backbone of Soave, another beautiful Venetian white. Other varieties include Trebbiano Toscano, Trebbianello (a local clone of Tai or Friulano), Bianca Fernanda (a new one for me, I must admit; this is a local clone of Cortese, the same grape used in the production of Gavi from Piemonte); there are also small amounts of Chardonnay, Malvasia, Pinot Bianco, Incrocio Manzoni and Riesling Italico allowed in the blend. With a makeup like that, you can imagine how varied the styles of Custoza are from the area’s producers.

Most examples see only steel aging; this of course, helps preserve the engaging perfumes of Garganega as well as Malvasia and some of the other varieties. While Garganega helps give this wine its charm, it is the other varieties such as Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia that are important as far as acidity, which assures aging potential.

Custoza is rarely a “big” wine, so perhaps that’s why it isn’t more familiar to wine lovers; it’s also a bit in the shadow of Soave, which is quite well known. Add the fact that it is a blended white, a type most consumers have not yet embraced and you see the problem with marketing this wine.

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Marico Bonomo, Monte del Fra (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

One of the premier producers of Custoza is Marica Bonomo at Monte del Fra, in the town of Custoza. She sources her grapes from her own estate and makes two versions, the signature bottling called Ca’ del Magro, which is one of the most famous – as well as most highly rated – examples of Custoza. I’ve tried both the 2011 and 2012 versions in the area and loved both wines. Offering perfumes of lemon zest, mangnolia and chamomile, this has very good acidity along with notable persistence. Again, this is not a powerful wine, but what a charming wine, one with ideal balance and a nice sense of finesse. It’s especially lovely at the table and I love it with tortellini, risotto and more delicate seafood. Both wines will drink well for another 3-5 years, with the 2012 a candidate for an extra two to three years.

Another top Custoza estate is Albino Piona, where Silvio Piona performs winemaking duties. A pleasant, subdued individual, he clearly fits the bill of someone who lets his wines do the talking. His 2013 classic Custoza is excellent, offering lovely floral (peony) and fruit (melon) aromas backed by very good concentration, excellent persistence and beautiful structure. Enjoy this over the next 3-5 years.

Piona also produces a special bottling called “Campo del Selese”; a truly excellent wine. Here there are subtle differences in respect to the classic bottling, as the Selese has a bit more richness in the mid-palate as well as a longer finish. The Custoza I really enjoyed from Piona that week however, was his 2008 classic bottling. Deep yellow with aromas of lemon peel, grapefruit rind and dried apples, this was quite rich with excellent complexity. A beautiful wine, one that is quite stylish from the excellent 2008 vintage (a sorely underrated year for whites and reds in Veneto and many other Italian regions), this was drinking beautifully after five plus years and should offer pleasure for another three to five years. Tasted at lunch after my visit to the cellars, this was particularly wonderful with tortellini stuffed with pumpkin, a classic dish at Ristorante alla Borsa in the town of Valeggio. (Note – this is tortellini heaven – you must have lunch or dinner at this restaurant – I guarantee you will love it!)

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Luciano Piona, Cavalchina (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

A few other examples of Custoza I thoroughly enjoyed were from Cantina di CustozaLe Vigne di San Pietro and Enzo Faccioli; this last one, particularly well done with its attractive floral perfumes, bright fruit and excellent persistence. One final wine I wanted to single out is the marvelous 2012 Custoza Superiore “Amadeo” from Cavalchina. This is a textbook Custoza, with engaging aromas of pineapple, golden apple, spearmint and lillies. Medium-full, this has excellent persistence and complexity and is truly a lovely wine! This is just now being released and should drink well for 5-7 years, given its ideal structure and balance. I’d love this with risotto primavera, while it’s rich enough to stand up to tuna.

An added bonus regarding Custoza is the price, as you can find classic bottlings from the best estates on retail shelves in America for $12 or so, with the special bottlings coming in around $16-$20, which are excellent values. So what are you waiting for?

April 23, 2014 at 9:31 am Leave a comment

Bardolino – Variety, Value and Charm

_IGP3437Silvio Piona, Az. Agr. Albino Piona (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I wonder how many Italian wine lovers pay much attention to Bardolino. I know I don’t try as much of it as I’d like to. There isn’t much attention paid to this wine and that’s a shame, as it’s quite charming as well as being very affordable, but it’s also a wine that can age for 5-7 years or even longer when it comes to the best producers and the finest vintages.

I recently attended an anteprima (preview) tasting in Bardolino; the purpose here was for journalists to sample the soon-to-be-released bottlings from the 2013 vintage. I am fortunate enough to attend several of these tastings each year in Italy, but it’s usually for a more powerful red wine, such as Barolo, Brunello, Taurasi or Amarone, so I looked forward to trying more of a medium-bodied red; I also wanted to discover the various styles of Bardolino available, as I was only familiar with a handful of the area’s producers.

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Along with Bardolino, the tasting also featured two other wines made in the zone: Bardolino Chiaretto, the famous local rosato, and Bardolino Chiaretto spumante, the sparkling version of the rosato. (This tasting also featured the 2013 versions of Custoza, a local white also made by many Bardolino producers. I will deal with this in another post quite soon).

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I’ll start with the Bardolino Chiaretto spumante. I had literally only tasted fewer than a half-dozen examples before this event, so as I am a sparkling wine lover, I wanted to get a grasp on this wine. Any Bardolino is primarily made from two grapes, Corvina and Rondinella, while a small percentage of Molinara is also part of the blend from some producers (these are the same grapes used in the Valpolicella district to the east). So the Chiaretto spumante is the sparkling rosato version of Bardolino; the wines vary in color from bright pink to deep copper and sweetness levels range from off-dry to medium-sweet.

Maybe it was the warm weather in the beautiful town of Lasize where this tasting was held, but I enjoyed these wines very much. Actually, I would have loved these wines even if the day was cold and rainy – the wines were quite enjoyable. I just love being able to sample such fun wines such as this! You don’t think about Bardolino Chiaretto Spumante – you just drink it! How nice is that, given how serious many of us get at times when we rhapsodize about the wines we come across?

While there were a few examples that were a little too sweet for me, I was impressed by the majority of these spumanti. Most were quite good and there were a few examples that had a bit more depth of fruit and complexity and were drier than the standard version. The finest for me were the bottlings from Corte Gioliare, Monte del Fra “La Picia” and especially the Le Tende “Volutte” (pictured above). This last wine is absolutely delicious and it’s also dry with excellent complexity and persistence. While most of these wines are meant for consumption within 12-15 months, the Le Tende version actually has the structure to drink well for as long as two years from now. Maybe it’s the fact that proprietor Mauro Fortuna has a friend in the Valdobbiadene area in northern Veneto where the finest examples of Prosecco are from, produce this wine. Whatever the case, this is a marvelous wine to be enjoyed on its own before dinner or with an outdoors lunch or even with sushi, tuna or salumi.

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Now on to the traditional Bardolino Chiaretto, the non-sparkling wine. This has long been a calling card for the area’s producers, as this rosato is one of the most well-known in all of Italy. Delicate and fruit-filled, this is a delight with a wide range of foods such as risotto, tortellini and pizza.

I did like some of these Chiaretti - I’ll mention those in a bit – but I was somewhat disappointed in the overall quality of the wines I tasted that day. Too many were candied in nature, while a few were a bit cloyingly sweet; I compared some of these examples to white zinfandel, a wine I largely dislike, so that’s not a good thing.

The best were from top producers such as Le FragheLe TendeAlbino Piona and Costadoro. Here were rosati that were medium-bodied with pleasing perfumes of strawberry, cherry, pear and red poppies. These were dry or off-dry and were nicely balanced with good acidity. These were a pleasure to taste; I just wish there were more examples like these.

_IGP3410Carlo Nerozzi, Le Vigne di San Pietro (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

As for Bardolino itself, I was pleased with the overall quality of the wines. While you may think most examples of Bardolino are pretty much the same, given its image as a lighter red, that’s not the case. There are some meant for immediate consumption over the first 12-15 months, but there are many others that are much better with two to three – or even five – years down the road.

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Matilde Poggi, Le Fraghe (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

The finest examples of 2013 Bardolino I tasted at this event were from Le Tende (this producer is certainly one of Bardolino’s shining stars), Le Fraghe (proprietor Matilde Poggi never fails at crafting a lovely Bardolino of great typicity), Le Vigne di San Pietro and Albino Piona (as with the above names, the Piona estate is on the short list of the area’s finest producers).

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Giovanna Tantini (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I would also like to make an important point about aging Bardolino; while you may think it’s meant for lunch or dinner tonight, it does drink well after a few years. The 2009 bottling from Albino Piona is a delight at present, while the 2009 from Giovanna Tantini is also quite impressive. The Piona bottling is so delightful, with its dried cherry and rose petal notes (along with a hint of pepper); there is excellent complexity and the acidity is quite good, giving this wine a lovely balance. When I speak of Bardolino being a charming wine, here is a textbook example.

The Tantini has more tannins; her style of crafting Bardolino is to let these wines age for 3-5 years (or longer) to let the tannins subside, while the wine gains in complexity, both in the nose and on the palate. This wine at almost five years old, still displays a lovely youthful garnet color and has enticing aromas of a freshly baked cherry pie. This is a lovely wine, one with the stuffing and structure to age for another 5-7 years. That’s not what you expect from Bardolino, so take note – Bardolino can age well. Brava, Giovanna!

March 23, 2014 at 11:50 am 2 comments

Alcuni dei miei personaggi preferiti dall’Italia

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Milena Pepe, Tenuta Cavalier Pepe (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

For my first post of 2014, I was all set to list my favorite Italian wines of 2013, but before I do that, I thought I’d tell you a bit about a few of the people that make these wines. They’re among my favorite people in Italy and they have always treated me graciously, especially during my trips – six in all – during the calendar year of 2013. So here are images – and a few words – about some of my favorite people in the wine industry in Italy.

Milena Pepe, proprietor, Tenuta Cavalier Pepe, Sant’Angelo all’Esca, Campania – Milena is a beautiful woman and also one of the most positive, outgoing people I’ve ever met anywhere in the world. I don’t care how bad a mood you’re in – if you spend ten minutes with this woman, you’ll come out with a smile on your face. Try her 2012 Greco di Tufo “Nestor” and you’ll admire the wines she oversees here as well.

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Alessandro Locatelli, Rocche Costamagna (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Alessandro Locatelli, proprietor/winemaker, Rocche Costamagna, La Morra – I’ve known Alessandro about ten years and in all that time, he’s always remained down-to-earth; his success hasn’t changed him. He is a workaholic and takes a lot upon himself, but he knows he has to work hard if he is to succeed in his business, so he never complains. He’s been so helpful to me with my knowledge of the area – as well as with my Italian! His wines are beautiful, not only his top-of-the-line Barolo “Bricco Francesco”, but also his bottlings of Dolcetto d’Alba (especially his “Rubis”, which is one of my favorites of this wine type).

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Roberta Giuraiali Stelzer and Antonio Stelzer, Maso Martis (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Roberta and Antonio Stelzer, Maso Martis, Trento – I met this couple for the first time in September (thanks to the help of my friend Aurora Endrici) and was won over by their genuine warmth – you get what you see with these two. Their metodo classico Trento DOC sparkling wines are first-rate across the board. It’s impossible for me to select one as my favorite, but their 2012 Brut and Madame Martis 2003 are outstanding wines, sparklers that are vibrant and delicious!

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Camilla Lunelli, Ferrari (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Camilla Lunelli, Ferrari, Trento – Camilla and her siblings – Marcello, Matteo and Alessandro are outstanding ambassadors for not only their amazing sparkling wines, but in reality, for the region of Trento as well as Italy in general. They know how to treat people – with grace, courtesy and class! So many great wines from Ferrari, especially the Perlé Nero (100% Pinot Nero and very Champagne-like) and the Riserva Giulio Ferrari, a stunning wine that is among the three or four finest sparkling wines of Italy.

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Orlando Pecchenino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Orlando Pecchenino, proprietor/winemaker, Pecchenino, Dogliani - A gentleman farmer, Pecchenino produces beautiful examples of Dolcetto from his immaculate vineyards in Dogliani. His hard work has paid off in the market and the media, but he prefers to let the wines do the talking. He’s very relaxed and confident and it’s always a pleasure spending time with him, whether tasting his latest releases in his cellars or enjoying his wines at a casual lunch. While he is most famous for his “Bricco Botti” Dogliani (a classic), his Barolo “San Giuseppe” from a cru in Monforte is a marvelous wine that is relatively unknown. This is a shame, as it’s a gem (it’s one of the very few 2009 Barolos that I thoroughly enjoyed).

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Ilaria Petitto, Donnachiara (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Ilaria Petitto, proprietor, Donnachiara, Montefalcione, Campania – A friend of mine in Campania jokes with me whenever I talk about the wines of Donnachiara; “I know the real reason you go there,” she says. Ok, let’s be honest, Ilaria Petitto is a strikingly attractive woman, but it’s also her graciousness and warmth – as well as her marvelous wines that make my visits to Donnachiara a true pleasure. Beautiful Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino (especially the new releases from 2012) and now she has introduced special bottlings of these two wines  – “Esoterico” Fiano and “Ostinato” Greco – that are totally different than the classic versions, but just as memorable.

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Marica Bonomo, Monte del Fra (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Marica Bonomo, proprietor, Monte del Fra, Sommacampagna, Veneto – Marica is such a nice person, so it’s so wonderful to see so much success come her way. She produces beautiful versions of Valpolicella and Amarone, but it’s her lovely white wine “Ca del Magro”, a Custoza Superiore blended from several varieties that is her shining star. It’s always a pleasure to meet her and talk about her business.

January 6, 2014 at 2:41 pm Leave a comment

2009 Amarone – a Preview

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Tiziano Accordini, Stefano Accordini winery (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

A few weeks ago, I made a quick trip to Verona to attend the annual Amarone Anteprima event. These  anteprima tastings, which are held in various wine zones in Italy, are preview tastings for journalists, who are presented with the opportunity to taste new releases several months before the wines are released.

Of course, Amarone is a wine that takes years to display its complexities, so it’s important to remember that when tasting wines that are not yet available in the market. This year, it’s especially important, as the wines we tasted were from the 2009 vintage, a warm, sometimes hot growing season that produced big, forward wines that are not typical for this area.

That’s not to say they’re not good, as I tasted several excellent wines. But keep in mind that 2009 followed 2008, which was a stellar vintage. The 2008s have not only excellent concentration, but also very good acidity and marvelous structure – some of the top examples of 2008 Amarone will be at their peak in 20-25 years, something that I doubt will be the situation with the 2009s.

Also when passing on my judgment of the best wines I tasted during this event, I have to note that some of the finest artisan estates were not participating for various reasons. I do think that given the vary nature of Amarone as a wine that requires patience on the part of the drinker, there are some producers who simply believe that showing their new Amarone in January won’t be of any use, as they would prefer to wait at least six months or longer to taste out their wines with critics and consumers.

That said, 2009 could shape up to be a very nice vintage, though it will probably be one that will be overlooked, especially given the classic style of the 2008s as well as the powerful 2006s, many of which are still on the market.

Here are the best examples of 2009 Amarone I tasted at the anteprima tasting in January:

Stefano Accordini “Acinatico” (always a fine wine with good typicity)

Zecchini (particularly excellent with admirable restraint)

Cantina di Soave “Rocca Sveva” (another fine Amarone from this producer – ripe and tasty)

Corte Sant’Alda (nice structure and impressive complexity)

Cavalchina (lovely freshness; strawberry and cherry fruit)

Monte del Fra (nicely balanced with good typicity)

I Scriani (very impressive balance and persistence)

Novaia ( elegant and delicious with beautiful complexity – a lovely wine!)

Look for these bottlings of 2009 Amarone to appear in the marketplace in the fall of this year.

February 10, 2013 at 10:52 am Leave a comment


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