Franco Massolino produced one of the year’s best wines with his 2010 “Parussi” Barolo (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Note: Early March may seem like a strange time to write about the best wines from last year, but health problems forced me to delay this post for more than a month. I’m at home recovering from heart surgery, so it’s been some time since I had enough energy to write. Hopefully, this will be worth the wait to the readers….
As usual, there were any number of first-rate wines released this year in Italy. I’m calling this list a collection of my favorite wines from Italy in 2014. Maybe they are the best, but the term best often implies a “serious” wine, one with lofty goals (as well as a lofty price tag). I love so many wines, moderately priced, expensive, white, red, sparkling – you get the idea.
Without further ado, let’s get right to this:
Two sparkling wines from italy really stood out for me in 2014. One was the 2008 Enrico Serafino Alta Langa “Brut Zero”, with the other being the 2006 Berlucchi “Palazzo Lana” Extra Brut Riserva. Both of these cuvées are very flavorful and quite dry with the former being extremely elegant and sleek- what a marvelous food wine, especially with seafood.
The latter is a powerful wine, a mouthful. There is a nice touch of yeastiness along with rich, spicy Pinot Noir fruit and a finish with outstanding persistence. The Palazzo Lana line has been an impressive addition to Berlucchi’s portfolio since its introduction a few years ago. This particular bottling is the finest I have tasted and in my mind, joins the ranks of the very best cuvées from Franciacorta. (Note: these two wines are currently not imported in the US market.)
My loyal readers know how much I love Italian white wines. I’ll write about them and defend them for as long as I’m able; to me, the success of these wines, from several different regions throughout the country, is one of the most important stories of the past twenty years in the wine industry.
Let’s start with two whites from Friuli. The first is the 2013 Gradis’ciutta Ribolla Gialla, a dry, sleek wine from proprietor Robert Princic, whose estate is situated in San Floriano in the Collio district, not far from the border with Slovenia. Princic, a quiet, charming man, has turned this estate into one of the most consistent in this celebrated white wine territory and his Ribolla Gialla is quite rich with inviting aromas of fresh apples, quince and a hint of gum. Medium-bodied with very good acidity (a trademark of the excellent 2013 vintage) and a hint of white spice in the finish, this is a delightful wine to pair with lighter shellfish or even a humble chicken salad- enjoy it over the next 2-3 years. (Imported by Wine Emporium, Brooklyn, NY, suggested retail of $22 – a notable value!)
The second white from Friuli that truly impressed me from last year is the 2013 Livio Felluga Friulano. This celebrated estate in Cormons has been producing impressive whites and reds from Friuli since the 1950s with the overall quality today being as good as ever. Friulano is the signature grape of Friuli (as you might imagine, given the name) and takes on its identity, as to its origins as well as the producer’s style; Friulano is truly a bit of a chameleon grape. This version from Livio Felluga offers excellent depth of fruit with beautiful aromas of elderflowers, guava and even a hint of saffron – you don’t even need to taste this wine to know its class! Medium-full, this has excellent acidity and varietal focus with unparalleled balance- some of this is the notable 2013 vintage, some of it derives from the source of the grapes and a bit of it comes from the pristine winemaking done by the Felluga family. Really a gorgeous wine – enjoy on its own or with rich seafood (halibut, tilapia), risotto or roast pork over the next 3-5 years. (Imported by Mionetto, USA – SRP $25 – a superb value!)
A few other whites:
The 2013 Jankara Vermentino di Gallura is a delicious, mouthwatering white that offers the vibrant acidity one expects from this variety as well as ample weight on the mid-palate and excellent persistence in the finish. This small estate, owned by the gracious and delightful couple Renato and Angela Spanu, has been producing notable examples of Vermentino di Gallura (this is the DOCG area for this variety in Sardinia); this 2013 is their finest version to date, with beautiful varietal character of quince, Meyer lemon and yellow flower aromas and marvelous complexity. At a suggested retail of $24 a bottle, this is worth every penny. Pair this with most seafood; it is especially good with crab, mussels and scallops. (Imported by Empson, USA.)
The 2013 Donnachiara Greco di Tufo is a sublime example of how good – and how distinct – this variety can be, when produced from the best sources. Greco di Tufo – named for the Greek colonists who first planted this variety in Campania more than two millennia ago, is a dry white that impresses you not with its intensity, but rather, with its sleek, delicate earthy style. Unoaked, as is the case with most versions of Greco di Tufo, this has textbook pear and lemon peel aromas, excellent ripeness and lively acidity. This has marvelous complexity, as the finish offers both a distinct note of minerality as well as a hint of salinity, making this an ideal partner for the local small clams known as vongole. You should be able to find this for $20 or even a few dollars less at US retail, making this an excellent value!
I previously wrote about a few whites from last year that were exceptional. One is the 2013 La Vis Müller Thurgau “Vigna delle Forche” from Trentino (read post here). Think about it- when’s the last time you read great press about a Müller-Thurgau (when’s the last time you even tasted one)? It’s generally a humble grape, one without much complexity, but here is an example that just shines and has very good acidity and complexity. A marvelous aromatic white.
Another white that stood out in 2014 was the Andrea Felici Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Riserva “Il Cantico della Figura (I wrote about this wine in the same post as the La Vis above). There are so many exceptional examples of Verdicchio from Marche that offer both superb varietal purity as well as excellent aging potential. It’s always been a mystery to me that Verdicchio is not more recognized in the United States and around the world. This particular wine from Felici was – to put it simply – the best white wine I tried from Italy in 2014!
I love Dolcetto, but it never seems to get the attention it deserves. That’s easy to understand, given that is a red from Piemonte, where Barolo and Barbaresco – powerful, long-lived wines – are produced. Meanwhile Dolcetto has a more understated profile, emphasizing inviting black raspberry and cranberry fruit flavors and aromas with a zesty quality to it. The accepted belief is that Dolcetto is a wine to be consumed in its youth, yet some versions have a tannic backbone and actually drink better with a few years of age.
The 2012 Marcarini Dolcetto d’Alba “Boschi di Berri” could certainly be exhibit number one when arguing that Dolcetto can improve with age. The grapes are sourced from a vineyard in La Morra that were planted in the 1800s! These are pre-phylloxera vines, planted on their own rootstocks – believe me, this is a rare sight in Piemonte today.
This is an excellent wine, one with complex aromas of wild strawberry and sour cherry with hints of anise, basil and red rose petals. Medium-full, this is elegantly styled with silky, graceful tannins, subdued wood notes (the wine spent four to six months in large oak casks), good acidity and impressive persistence. This is enjoyable now, but will be much better in 3-5 years; a lovely wine with beautiful varietal purity and a wonderful sense of place. This is a Dolcetto that will make you rethink this variety! (Imported by Empson, USA.)
Carignano is a variety that should be better known, given the appealing flavors and array of wine styles it can yield. The grape is planted primarily in Sardinia with the best versions originating from the Sulcis zone in the southwestern reaches of the island. Cantina Mesa, a privately held company, produces some of the finest examples of Carignano del Sulcis; their 2013 “Buio” (buio is a word in local dialect meaning “dark”) was one of my favorite reds from Italy last year. I love this wine not because it’s the most powerful version of Carginano del Sulcis (the winery’s excellent Buio Buio along with the Cantina Santadi “Terre Brune” are more robust offerings), but because this is the most charming example of this wine type I’ve had to date. Displaying a scarlet/crimson color, this has tasty cranberry and red plum fruit aromas and flavors on the palate with very good acidity, moderate tannins and lovely elegance and freshness. Aged only in steel tanks, this is an ideal introduction to Carignano del Sulcis, especially as it can be paired with a wide array of foods. Are you a vegetarian looking for a red to pair with eggplant? Are you at a seafood restaurant and prefer a red with seared tuna? This is the wine that works perfectly with both. (Imported by Montcalm, New York City – various distributors across the country.)
2009 was not a shining year for Brunello di Montalcino. Yes, some very nice wines were made by the best producers (a truism we should remember more often), but even these examples did not offer the complexities of their efforts from excellent years such as 2006 and 2007. One wine that stood out for me from the vintage was the 2009 Maté Brunello di Montalcino “Campo Alto,” a powerful Brunello (emblematic of the vintage) that has a rich mid-palate, excellent persistence, good acidity and very good harmony (this is 15% alcohol, but you wouldn’t guess that by tasting it). Husband and wife Ferenc and Candace Maté have been improving each year with their Brunello; this is their best effort to date (note: I have not tried their 2010 yet, a wine to be released soon that promises to be something special).
2010 Barolo – 2010 was a remarkable vintage for the Barolo zone, as the wines expressed classic varietal character, beautifully tuned acidity, excellent depth of fruit as well as persistence, along with impressive balance and a sense of place. I’ve tasted more than 100 of the 2010 Barolos and wrote about them in a post (read here) earlier this year.
I won’t mention every wine I think belongs on the list, as there are so many. So here are a few that are well worth the search, as they are classic Barolos that will cellar for another 20-35 years:
Vietti “Rocche di Castiglione” / Vietti “Ravera”/ Vietti “Lazzarito”
Massolino “Parussi” / Massolino “Parafada”
Elio Grasso “Gavarini Chiniera”
Paolo Scavino “Bricco Ambrogio” / Paolo Scavino “Bric del Fiasc”
Renato Ratti “Rocche dell’Annunziata” / Renato Ratti “Conca”
Luigi Einaudi “Terlo Costa Grimaldi”
Francesco Rinaldi “Cannubi”
Elvio Cogno “Ravera”
Mario Marengo “Bricco delle Viole”
and for value in 2010 Barolo (see earlier post):
Giovanni Viberti “Al Buon Padre”
Fontanafredda “Comune di Serralunga d’Alba”