One Italian white wine, one red- one famous, one unknown – both great.
Today’s lesson on the joys and wonders of Italian wine has to do with the pleasure of discovering greatness in different places. I’m going to focus on two wines – one of which is famous and one of which is not. Both are remarkable wines.
The white wine – the one that’s not well known outside of its immediate zone – is the 2010 Terre del Principe Pallagrello Bianco. This small producer (less than 5000 cases per year) specializes in indigenous varieties in their territory, the province of Caserta in Campania. Now I love Campanian whites, but most of the examples I try are either Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino from the province of Irpinia (aka Avellino) or a wine made from Falanghina, which is planted in all five provinces of Campania. These wines are the calling cards for Campanian whites and they are enjoyed the world over.
But when it comes to Pallagrello Bianco (there is also a Rosso), this wine is rarely seen outside of its native surroundings. It’s suffered from a mistaken identity, as for years it was thought to be Coda di Volpe, a variety commonly used in Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Bianco, a charming, if ultimately a rather undistinguished white wine from vineyards not far from Vesuvius. Pallagrello yields a white wine of much greater complexity and Peppe Mancini and Manuela Piancastelli do a superb job in capturing all the glories of this variety. My notes for this 2010 – aged solely in steel tanks – list the inviting aromatics of lemon zest, grapefruit and orange poppies. This has excellent depth of fruit, beautiful texture and a long, very flavorful finish with lively acidity. This is elegant and quite delicious and it’s going to be quite a pleasure over the next 2-3 years, especially with lighter seafood. This is quite a vibrant white that has widespread appeal – I’d love to try this with Thai or other Oriental cuisine as well. (Suggested retail price of $34. Imported by Vias Wines, New York, NY).
As far as a red wine that every Italian wine lover knows, Brunello di Montalcino is at or near the top of the charts. This illustrious wine, produced exclusively from Sangiovese, is a world-class red that can age for decades. Col d’Orcia, under the leadership of Francesco Marone Cinzano, is one of the most renowned estates in Montalcino, crafting examples of Brunello of uncommon class and elegance.
The Poggio al Vento Riserva bottling is from a single vineyard planted in 1974; situated some 1150 feet above sea level, the soil here is primarily limestone with a strong presence of gravel. The wine is aged in large casks (botti grandi) of Slavonian as well as French oak for four years. It is then bottled and rests two years in the cellars before being released.
This long period of aging certainly helps refine the wine and give it a lengthy mid-palate with deep fruit flavors that coat every corner of your mouth. The 2004 bottling, just being released, is another exceptional example of this wine, one that is produced only from the finest vintages (the three previous releases were 2001, 1999 and 1998). There are textbook aromas of red cherry and cedar along with a hint of fennel; overall, the wine is beautifully structured with very good acidity, subtle wood notes and outstanding complexity. This should reach peak maturity in 20-25 years, although I may be a bit conservative in the guess, especially based on previous releases of this wine. It is a sublime example of what a great Brunello di Montalcino is all about.
The 2004 Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino Riserva “Poggio al Vento” has a suggested retail price of $150. Given the limited production (about 2000 cases for the entire world) as well as the fact that it is not produced every year along with the tremendous breeding and class of this wine, this price is undoubtedly just (there’s also the happy situation of this 2004 riserva just being released, while most producers are now offering their 2006s as their riserva). Imported by Palm Bay, Boca Raton, FL.