Stanko Radikon (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Here is a partial list of my selections as the best Italian producers of the year. I’m only including a few in this post, given space limitations, so I have balanced the list according to several factors, including region as well as the notoriety of the wines produced (famous versus famous):
RADIKON • Friuli
Stanko Radikon makes wines with a fierce independent streak and it shows in his whites and reds, such as the marvelous 2005 Ribolla Gialla with its orange color and baked pear flavors and his 1997 Merlot (yes, that’s the current release!), a wine that spent two and one-half months on the skins and was then aged in 5 year old barrels. The wines are singular!
CA RUGATE • Veneto
Ca’ Rugate has been one of the leading producers of Soave Classico for several years now; the fruit from their beautifully managed organic estate is superb. The simple “Monte Fiorentine” bottling is always one of the best values of its type (generally priced about $16 or $17), while the “Monte Alto” bottling takes a different direction, as it is aged in barrique. Also, once again their Recioto di Soave “La Perlara” is among the very finest of this marvelous dessert wine.
Lately winemaker Michele Tessari has been crafting some gorgeous reds as well from the Valpolicella district. For those who think Amarone has to sacrifice fruit aromas at the sake of spice, you need to taste the current 2007 Ca’ Rugate Amarone, a bright, fruit-driven wine with elegant tannins and subtle spice. Tessari also makes a lovely regular Valpolicella (labeled Rio Albo) that is fresh, fruity and delicious! (It’s becoming more and more difficult to find a well-made Valpolicella these days that isn’t in the ripasso style, so look for this bottling.)
CASCINA ROCCALINI • Piemonte
I’ve written several posts about this new producer in Barbaresco; owner Paolo Veglio used to sell his grapes to Dante Scaglione, when he was winemaker at Bruno Giacosa – now the grapes are used for Paolo’s own wines. Amazing 2008 Barbera d’Alba and gorgeous 2008 Dolcetto d’Alba. I’ve tasted the 2009s and they are equally as good – in fact they may even be better! The 2008 Barbaresco, to be released next year, is subllime with lively acidity, rich persistence and a beautiful sense of terroir. The common theme here is minimal influence by the winemaker and no barrique aging – either aging in steel or in botti grandi. These are wines of great structure that communicate a sense of place.
ANTONIO CAGGIANO • Campania
Nino Caggiano continues to produce vibrant wines from Avellino, including Fiano, Greco and of course, his beloved Taurasi. Credit to him for making such a reasonably priced Aglianico in “Tauri”, a nice introduction to this grape and place. His signature “Vigna Macchia dei Goti” Taurasi is always excellent and he made a particularly first-rate bottling from the 2006 vintage, a less than stellar year. Medium-full with excellent persistence, the wine has rich, ripe black cherry and chocoalte flavors with subtle oak and beautifully balanced tannins.
BELLAVISTA • Lombardia
One of the great houses of Franciacorta, Bellavista really delivered the goods this past year. Every example of Franciacorta here is excellent, especially the Gran Cuvée bottlings. The Gran Cuvée Saten, made from 100% Chardonnay, is vibrant, bright, delicious and beautifully structured. The Pas Opere, a blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Nero, takes things up a notch; this has remarkable persistence and richness on the palate.
Most impressive is the “Vittorio Moretti” bottling; named for the winery owner, this is made only in the finest vintages. I tasted the 2002 bottling (only the sixth time this wine had been produced, the first was in 1984) and was in a word, stunned at the quality of this wine. Made from equal part of Chardonnay and Pinot Nero sourced from the finest estate cru, the wine has a brilliant look in the glass with very fine bubbles and a persistent perlage. My original notes refer to the amazing aromas of yeast, lemon rind, dried pear and quince; the finish is extremely long with lively acidity. From start to finish, this offers excellent complexity.
I tried this with winemaker Matteo Vezzola at VinItaly this past April and told him that while I think Franciacorta should stand on its own, I couldn’t help but compare this to Taittinger Blanc de Blancs; he was quite pleased with my assessment! While I am not in the practice of writing that one wine is the “best” of anything, this bottling stands out as one of the most complete and complex offerings of Franciacorta I have ever tried!