Posts tagged ‘villa raiano’

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.

Verdicchio

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!

Sabino Loffredo

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!

Sabino Loffredo

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

The Year’s Best Producers (Part One)

Ca' del Bosco

Ca’ del Bosco winery, Erbusco, Franciacorta (Photo ©Tom Hyland)


It’s time to reveal a partial list of some of the year’s best Italian producers in my opinion. In this post, I’ll include a mix of estates from various regions, producing an array of wines from sparkling to white to red. The complete list of the year’s best Italian producers and wines will be published in the Spring issue of my Guide to Italian Wines, which will be sent to paid subscribers at the end of March.

CA’ DEL BOSCO – This esteemed producer, under the guidance of Maurizio Zanella, has been among the very finest Franciacorta houses for many years. 2012 and early 2013 saw the release of the 2008 vintage-dated wines; the Satén is first-rate and among the most complex examples of this wine I have ever tasted. This past year also saw the second release of the Anna Maria Clementi Rosé – this from the 2004 vintage, which spent seven years on its yeasts! This is an explosive wine, one of the world’s greatest sparkling rosés. (US importer, Banville and Jones)

FERGHETTINA – Managed by the Gatti family, this is another accomplished Franciacorta producer. Their Extra Brut – 2006 is the current vintage – has become their most celebrated wine; a blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Nero that was aged for six years before release, is full-bodied and very dry with a long, flavorful finish and beautiful structure. As good or perhaps even better is their 2004 Pas Dosé (meaning no dosage) “Riserva 33″, so named as it is a blend of one-third of their Satén, one-third Milledi (a 100% Chardonnay sparkler from older vineyards) and one-third Extra Brut. This blend, aged for seven years on its yeasts, is a lovely wine of outstanding quality. In case you haven’t noticed, Franciacorta producers such as Ferghettina and Ca’ del Bosco – as well as several dozen others – have been refining their offerings each year, crafting products that are among the finest sparkling wines in the world. (US importer, Empson, USA)

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Elena Walch (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

ELENA WALCH – Actually, the way it’s been going as of late, I could name the Elena Walch estate in Tramin, Alto Adige as one of the best producers every year in Italy. This year saw the release of her 2011 estate whites and they are all lovely. Especially notable this year are the Sauvignon “Castel Ringberg” with its spot-on notes of spearmint, rosemary and basil; the Pinot Grigio “Castel Ringberg” with its luscious fresh apple and dried yellow flower notes and the Gewurztraminer “Kastelaz,” always one of the best of its type in Italy. (Various US importers)

VILLA RAIANO - This Campanian estate has reinvented itself over the past two years and the results are extremely impressive! The regular examples of Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino from 2011 are nicely balanced with notable varietal purity, while the selezioni versions of these wines are first-rate, especially the 2010 and 2011 “Contrada Marotta” Greco di Tufo, which is one of the top ten examples of this wine, in my opinion. The 2008 Taurasi, produced in a traditional manner to emphasize the gorgeous Aglianico fruit, is a 5-star (outstanding) wine! (US importer, Siena Imports)

Alessandro Castellani

Alessandro Castellani, Ca’ La Bionda (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

CA’ LA BIONDA- Quite simply, this is one of the premier producers in the Valpolicella district. The Castellani family crafts wines in a traditional manner  – maturing in large casks – that render wines that display the true anima of this territory – these are wines that offer a sense of place. Two outstanding releases over the past fifteen months are prime evidence of the greatness of this producer: the 2001 “Casal Vegri” Valpolicella Superiore and the 2005 Amarone Riserva “Ravazzol.” The latter is a sumptuous, remarkably elegant Amarone with tremendous finesse as well as impressive depth of fruit, while the former is a Valpolicella that was aged for 10 years before release; this wine shows the true potential of Valpolicella, a wine type that too often gets lost next to Amarone. Both wines are outstanding. (Various US Importers, including Connoisseur, Niles, IL)

February 7, 2013 at 9:35 am Leave a comment

Campania’s Vibrant Whites

Villa Raiano Cork

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

Passerina with Spiedino di Capesante, anyone?

Learning how to pair distinctive Italian wine and food with a chef and wine director at Vivere, Chicago

I’ve moderated numerous seminars and taught many classes on Italian wines over the past decade and one question that always comes to the forefront is “what foods should I pair with this wine?.” It’s a great question, not only given the relationship of food and wine in general, but especially given the nature of Italian wine and its link to a specific sense of place and the local foods that pair effortlessly with these wines.

It’s a subject that has many right answers (and very few wrong ones) and it’s one that I never tire of studying. Given that there are hundreds of indigenous varieties used throughout Italy, which are used to produce thousands of wines, well you can just imagine the endless array of flavors – as well as textures and acidity levels – in these wines. A medium-bodied red such as Dolcetto with its fruit forward nature is going to need an entirely different food than a Barolo with its firm tannins. And these are two wines that are often produced from vineyards only a few miles apart in Piemonte! Now think about the red wines from southern Italy, such as Puglia or Campania and you have a whole new set of variables. As I said, this is an endless journey; but it’s also one that brings a great deal of pleasure into one’s life.

Ian Louisignau, Wine Director, The Italian Village, Chicago (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

So to learn more about the subject of pairing Italian wines and food, I went to see my friend Ian Louisignau, wine director at The Italian Village Restaurants in the heart of the Loop in downtown Chicago. Ian took over this job last year and has continued the stellar tradition of an exceptional wine program at this long-time family owned restaurant.

So I brought four Italian wines – two whites and two reds – that were not sold at the restaurant and asked him to pair them with something off the menu at Vivere, the upscale dining room at The Italian Village (there are also two less formal dining rooms at The Italian Village: La Cantina and The Village.) I thought that by bringing in wines Ian had not tasted, he would have to come up with an original pairing – this wouldn’t be a wine and food match that he makes all the time. I loved doing this and I believe Ian did as well, so here are his thoughts on what to match with each wine.

2011 Le Caniette Passerina “Lucrezia” (the label of this wine is pictured at the beginning of this post) – I thought this would be a great, slightly offbeat way to begin, by tasting out this relatively rare white indigenous variety from southern Marche. This is an excellent example of this wine; medium-full with aromas of dried pear, orange blossom and biscuit, this has lovely texture and a rich finish with a note of honey. Aged only in steel tanks, this has very good acidity and offers a great deal of character for its moderate pricing (about $12 retail, a steal!).

Ian (and his chef Robert Reynaud, who was with us for a few minutes), suggested the Spiedino di Capesante, rosemary skewered scallops with lime braised fennel, crisp romaine and yellow tomato purée (my mouth waters even as I write about this!). As the Passerina is not a big wine, scallops are ideal for a dry white such as this and certainly the aromatics of the wine are nicely complemented by the lime braised fennel. A nice start and an intriguing match! 

2010 Villa Raiano Fiano di Avellino “Alimata” – Here is one of two cru offerings of Fiano di Avellino from this excellent Irpinian producer; this wine was awarded the coveted Tre Bicchieri ranking from Gambero Rosso in their 2012 guide. This is a very impressive Fiano with flavors of lemon and Bosc pear and a very, very long, satisfying finish with notes of honey and minerality; it is drinking beautifully now and will be enjoyable for another 3-5 years. To pair with this wine, Ian selected Granchio e Astice Freddo – jumbo lump crabmeat and Maine lobster with a tarragon emulsion, toasted brioche and micro arugula. I think this is a great pairing, as not only are the flavors of the crab and lobster ideally suited for Fiano, but you also have the slight earthiness of the wine’s finish that is picked up by the bitterness of the arugula.

2005 Falalone Primitivo Riserva – This wine from the Gioia del Colle zone, one of the great growing areas for the Primitivo grape in Puglia is a robust (15% alcohol) red with plenty of character as well as a slight rustic edge. It’s a big, gutsy wine, but it’s elegant with subtle wood and balanced tannins. For this wine, Ian suggested two different options. The first was Pappardelle with wild boar ragu; the second, Cannelloni di Vitello, crepes filled with braised veal breast, fava beans and pickled red onions. Two excellent choices here, given the power of this wine as well as its hearty character; the wild boar is a natural for the assertive flavors of Primitivo.

2006 Batasiolo Barolo “Vigneto Boscareto” – The final wine was a cru Barolo from the commune of Serralunga d’Alba from Batasiolo, a consistent producer with an impressive track record for single vineyard Barolo. This is from the classic 2006 vintage, a year that resulted in very rich Barolos that are tightly wrapped and need several years to reveal greater complexity. This Boscareto from Batasiolo is not as intense as some 2006s, but it is a big wine with plum, cherry, myrtle and tar flavors with medium-weight tannins; while it will be at its best in another 12-15 years, it is balanced enough to pair now with the proper foods.

For this wine, Ian opted for Maiale con Speck, pork tenderloin wrapped in speck, potato carrot purée, brussel spout leaves and a balsamic glaze. This is a lovely match, a dish that has the richness of the pork tenderloin to stand up to the fullness of this wine along with the earthiness of the carrots and brussel sprouts that pick up on the tannins and render them more elegant (carrots and turnips are great to serve with a young, tannic red as they make the wine seem less tannic- this, a tip I picked up from a winery chef years ago).

So there you go, class dismissed. I hope you learned a few things about pairing particular Italian wines with Italian foods. If you’re ever in Chicago, dine at The Italian Village and you’ll have a wonderful experience learning about this subject. Hopefully Ian will be there to answer your questions – you’ll learn a lot!

September 10, 2012 at 9:11 am Leave a comment


tom hyland

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