Here is part two of my lists of the Best Italian Wines of 2011. My last post dealt with white wines and my next few will be about the red wines (I’ll need more than one post for that). This post will focus on the finest sparkling and dessert wines from last year.
Please note that this is a partial list – there are other wines that made the list (see end of post for more information).
2005 Bellavista Gran Cuvée “Pas Opere” (DOCG Franciacorta)– Bellavista is one of the largest houses in Franciacorta and has been among the very best for more than three decades. Their line of Gran Cuvée wines are selections of the best grapes from older vineyards, most of them planted more than 25 years ago. The Pas Operé is a blend of 62% Chardonnay and 38% Pinot Nero, the majority of which is fermented in oak barrels. The wine spends some six years on its own yeasts before release and the finished product is amazingly powerful, yet graceful and elegant, displaying aromas of lime, yeast and red apple with a pale mousse and persistent stream of fine bubbles. The finish is quite long and round with hints of citrus fruits. Drink now or over the next 5-7 years. Suggested retail price: $80
2007 Le Marchesine Franciacorta Rosé (DOCG Franciacorta) – Quality is extremely high at this medium-sized Franciacorta estate, managed by the Biatta family. Their Secolo Nuovo (“new century”) lines represent their finest; this past year however, I was very impressed with their 2005 Rosé Brut Millesimato. A blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Nero, this wine spent three years on its yeasts before bottling. The color is deep copper/light strawberry with aromas of cherry and currant. Quite rich on the palate, this has excellent persistence and very high acidity – the style of this wine is quite austere. This will drink beautifully for the next 3-5 years and perhaps longer. This is among the three of four best examples of Franciacorta Rosé I have had enjoyed! (Not imported in the United States at the present time.)
2003 Ca’del Bosco “Cuvée Annamaria Clementi” (DOCG Franciacorta) – This wine, named for the mother of Ca’ del Bosco owner Maurizio Zanella, is one of the benchmarks of Franciacorta. This is a blend of 55% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Bianco and 20% Pinot Nero; the grapes were sourced from 16 different vineyards, with an average age of 39 years. One of the secrets to complexity in a Franciacorta (or any great sparkling wine) is the length of time the wine spends on its own yeasts; for many of the best cuvées in Franciacorta, that time is as long as 50-60 months. However for this wine, that period was 78 months, a full six and one-half years! Full-bodied, with aromas of dried pear, peach and yellow flowers, this has explosive fruit and a long, well-structured finish. This should drink well for another 5-7 years, at least. $75
2001 Ferrari “Riserva del Fondatore Giulio Ferrari” (DOC Trento) – Those who point to the Trento zone as being the home of Italy’s finest bubblies use this wine as evidence. Ferrari has been one of the quintessential sparkling producers – using the metodo classico (classical method) – since the first decade of the 20th century. The Giulio Ferrari bottling is 100% Chardonnay, with the grapes coming from vineyards some 1650 to 2000 feet above sea level. The wine spends 10 years(!) on its own yeasts (specially cultivated from Ferrari’s own cultures); the result is sublime. The aromas are intense, offering notes of honey, dried pear, caramel and vanilla and the wine has a generous mid-palate and a long, beautifully structured finish with vibrant acidity. The bubbles are very small and there is outstanding persistence. I would expect this wine to drink well for at least ten years. Amazing complexity and class! $90
2006 Brigaldara Recioto della Valpolicella (DOC)– While Amarone is quite popular around the world today, Recioto is not. This is more than a bit ironic, as Amarone is a fairly recent innovation, first made in the 1950s, while Recioto is the wine that has been made in cellars in the Valpolicella zone for over a thousand years. Both wines are produced according to the appassimento method, in which the grapes are dried on mats or in plastic boxes for several months. Amarone is of course, fermented dry, while Recioto finishes fermentation with some residual sugar, so given the difficulty in selling dessert wines these days, it is not a surprise that Recioto is not that much in demand. However, a great example, such as the current release from Brigaldara, should convert many wine lovers. Deep purple with tantalizing aromas of black raspberry and black plum, the wine is quite rich with only moderate sweetness, as there is good balancing acidity. This is a great example of how elegant Recioto della Valpolicella can be. Absolutely delicious now, this will drink well over the next 5-7 years. $30 per 375 ml bottle
2009 Coffele Recioto di Soave “Le Sponde” (DOCG) – Recioto di Soave is a remarkable dessert wine, produced from Garganega grapes that are dried naturally on mats – or hung on hooks – in special temperature and humidity controlled rooms. Coffele produces one of the finest examples; with an amber golden color and lovely aromas of apricot, golden raisins, honey and pear, this is a wine with heavenly perfumes; it is also a delight to taste with its lush fruit and a light nuttiness in the finish. Medium sweet, this has very good acidity to balance the wine so it is not overly sweet. Enjoy this over the next 5-7 years. $25 per 375 ml
2007 Pieropan Recioto di Soave “Le Colombare”(DOCG) – Leonildo Pieropan has been considered one of the benchmark producers of Soave Classico for more than thirty years. His cru bottlings are superb examples of how complex and ageworthy Soave can be, while his Recioto di Soave is among the finest each year. There are excellent examples of Recioto di Soave in many styles; while some are quite lush and sweet, the Pieropan bottling is subdued with only a trace of sweetness. Light amber gold, the sensual aromas are of apricot, lemon oil, mango and almond while the finish is quite long with lively acidity. Offering beautiful complexity and balance, this wine oozes class and breeding! Enjoy over the next 7-10 years. $50 per 500 ml
This is a partial list of the best Italian sparkling and dessert wines of the year. The complete list will be in the Spring issue of my Guide to Italian Wines, which will be sent to paid subscribers. If you are interested in subscribing to my publication – currently in its 11th year – email me at email@example.com.