We’ve turned the page on the calendar, moving from 2017 to 2018. Here are my thoughts on a few wines – or wine types – from Italy that impressed me during 2017. This is not a list of the year’s best wines, but rather a cross section of wines that deserve special note.
2016 Elena Walch Gewürztraminer – I love Gewürztraminer from Alto Adige, especially those from the village and surrounding areas of Tramin, which lends its name to the wine. The firm of Elena Walch, managed by Elena, her husband and their daughters, is one of those special estates in Tramin that craft highly distinctive examples of Gewürztraminer. Their most famous example is the single vineyard “Kastelaz,”, but for this article, I am highlighting their classic offering of Gewürztraminer. Often producers in this area make a truly special vineyard bottling, and present us with a somewhat underwhelming entry level version. Not so with Walch. The 2016 has classic aromas of lychee and grapefruit along with a hint of yellow roses, while there is good acidity, impressive persistence and that signature note of spice in the finish. All in all, this is a classic Alto Adige Gewürztraminer that is also a notable value.
2014 Albino Rocca Barbaresco “Montersino” – As loyal readers are aware, I am a lover of all things from Piemonte; of course that includes Barolo and Barbaresco, two great wines produced exclusively from Nebbiolo. While the 2013 Barolos (see below), released in 2017, were rightly praised as examples of an outstanding vintage, the new offerings of Barbaresco from 2014 were reviewed with more of a ho-hum attitude.
Now to be honest, 2014 was a challenging vintage in Piemonte, one that was cool and rainy (unlike just about every other growing season of the last six to eight years). So 2014 is not a powerful vintage, meaning many consumers will take a pass on these wines. I’d recommend that you look into the 2014 Barbarescos, as this area of Piemonte was not as badly affected by rains, as compared to Barolo.
One of the finest I’ve tasted is this “Montersino” from Albino Rocca. Medium-full with textbook Nebbiolo aromas, this displays the elegance and finesse that this producer is known for. I tasted this wine out in my Nebbiolo seminar at SommCon in San Diego this past November and the attendees were notably pleased with this wine. Rich and complex, with elegant tannins and very good acidity, this is quite charming at present, and will drink well for at least another 5-7 years.
Vineyards at Verduno in the Barolo zone (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
2013 Barolos – In case you didn’t read anything about Italian wine over the past year, the Barolos from 2013, released in 2017, are outstanding wines. Rich, with excellent depth of fruit, and offering wonderful complexity, these are structured for the long haul (25 years plus), yet many examples display a fine sense of finesse; Barolo, when made by the best producers in the finest years, truly can be labeled as a feminine wine.
There are countless examples, so I’ll only mention a few producers that excelled with their 2013 cru offerings: Vietti; Ceretto; Massolino; Elio Grasso; Francesco Rinaldi; Poderi Oddero; Roberto Voerzio and Ettore Germano. But it would be difficult to go wrong with any 2013 Barolo, a truly memorable vintage.
2013 Gini Soave Classico “Contrada Salvarenza – Vecchie Vigne” – While some of the wines profiled in this article may have been a bit of a surprise, this wine was certainly not one of them. I always look forward to sampling this wine; somehow it had been four or five years since I had done so – the 2013 did not disappoint. This is sourced from vineyards that are more than 80 years old, giving this wine impressive weight on the palate; there is very good acidity, which is a signature of the 2013 vintage. This is as complex and as powerful a Soave as you may ever encounter, as well as one of the most harmonious. While I traditionally prefer Soave that has not been oak aged, this wine has plenty of fruit to balance the wood, resulting in a layered, sublime wine. While this is appealing now, this should be even better in another 3-7 years. Truly a great Soave!
2013 Frescobaldi Chianti Rufina Nipozzano “Vecchie Viti” – One can certainly depend on this historic Tuscan producer to please, and that is especially true with this offering. The Nipozzano Chianti Rufina has been a staple from this firm for decades, and recently the company introduced this old vine version. Combine the old Sangiovese vines along with small percentages of Colorino, Canaiolo and Malvasia Nera – these three are indigenous Tuscan varieties that have been included in Chianti blends for years, but are now less frequently used – age them for 24 months in botti grandi, and you have the recipe for excellence. When the wine is from the outstanding 2013 vintage, greatness can be reached; this is a marvelous Chianti, one that is so delicious and appealing, and made in a traditional fashion. A true pleasure!
2012 Brunello di Montalcino – 2012 was the vintage of Brunello di Montalcino released in 2017, and while it did not garner that much publicity, the wines are lovely. This is a very good to excellent vintage, far better than 2011, which featured ripe, sometimes overripe, often heavy wines. The 2012s on the other hand, are elegant with beautiful Sangiovese character and notable acidity. While these will probably be overlooked in light of the 2013s that will be released this coming year (the 2013s should be quite a formidable vintage for Brunello), there are a few dozen examples of 2012 Brunello that deserve your attention. My favorites include Sestadisopra; Salvioni; Fuligni; Uccelliera, Silvio Nardi “Poggio Doria” (particularly lovely, with exquisite harmony) and the sublime and superb Il Marroneto “Madonna delle Grazie.”
2016 Paolo Sacavino Dolcetto d’Alba – I love, absolutely love, a well made Dolcetto – I just wish more wine buyers and sommeliers in America would as well, as you just don’t find the wine often on restaurant lists, or even in many retail stores. Perhaps if more people tasted this 2016 version from Paolo Scavino, they might start a love affair with Dolcetto as well. I tasted this at the winery before I tried the various 2013 Barolos from Scavino, and I have to tell you that this wine was one of the highlights of that tasting. Offering tantalizing black raspberry fruit with notes of clove and anise, this has excellent concentration and a long, satisfying finish with medium-weight tannins. While this will drink well for another 3-5 years, I doubt many of us would be able to wait that long, given the simple charms and appealing nature of this wine. The Dolcetto grapes used in this wine are from the Bricco Ambrogio cru in Roddi, where Scavino also produces a single vineyard Barolo. Given this wine, I can only imagine how good that 2016 Barolo will be when it is released in 2020!
2014 Luigi Tecce Campi Taurasini “Satyircon” – Taurasi from the Irpinia province of Campania is one of Italy’s finest red wines; numerous examples over the years have proven that fact, as the finest versions drink well for more than 40 or 50 years. Luigi Tecce, a quiet, charming individual, is one of the very best craftsmen of Taurasi, as his wines, made from 100 year-old plus vines, are powerful, with distinct minerality and outstanding complexity.
Tecce also produces a Campi Taurasini, which is from a similar zone as Taurasi and is also 100% Aglianico, but has less stringent aging regulations, making this a DOC and not DOCG wine, as with Taurasi. His 2014 is an amazing wine, one that grabs you from the start with its heady, exotic aromas of bitter chocolate, black plum and orchid. Medium-full with a rich, layered mid-palate, excellent persistence and very good acidity, this is a more complex and powerful wine than many examples of Taurasi. The combination of old vines and traditional, minimalist winemaking is a winning combination here, and while you’ll probably have to go to Campania to experience this wine, the journey would be worth it, believe me! This is approachable now, but will offer greater complexity in another 5-7 years, but should be at peak for many years after that. Da non perdere.