Some Favorite Wines from Piemonte not named Barolo or Barbaresco

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Lucrezia Carrega, Malabaila di Canale (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I’ve just returned from eleven busy days in Piemonte and as usual, enjoyed a great time. The food was especially awesome this time, being able to dine at so many special places (Felicin in Monforte, Tota Virginia in Serralunga and Trattoria La Libera in Alba – this last one twice). Of course, there were a good number of excellent wines as well – is there a better red wine region in Italy than Piemonte?

Barolo and Barbaresco were the primary reasons I was there and I’ll report on the new vintages – 2009 for the former and 2010 for the latter – soon. But for this post, I’d like to note some other Piemontese wines I enjoyed this visit that were excellent.

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I’ll bet you don’t think about sparkling wines when you consider Piemonte, but there are some excellent examples and I’m not referring to Asti Spumante. No, I’m talking about a category of sparkling wines known as Alta Langa. As the name suggests, the vineyard used for these wines are located at a higher elevation than most in the region, making them ideal for sparking wines, which require higher acidity for proper structure and balance.

What’s nice about Alta Langa is the purity of flavors in these wines. I’m not about to write that these are better sparkling wines than those coming from Franciacorta – both are metodo classico, by the way – as the Franciacorta wines tend to offer greater complexity as well as richness in the mouth. But what the Alta Langa wines lack in power, they more than make up for in finesse and varietal character. The best examples – I’ve tasted some lovely bottles from both Fontanafredda and Ettore Germano – are clean, ideally balanced and charming. Not a bad combination!

But now on this trip, I enjoyed the crowning achievement in Alta Langa to date – not only for my tastes, but also for many other Italian wine authorities. That wine is the Enrico Serafino Alta Langa “Zero” – in this case, the 2005 vintage. This is a wine that spent six years on the yeasts before disgorgement and that extra aging time has given this wine some added dimensions you don’t find in most examples of Alta Langa. There is a light touch of yeastiness in the aromas, although this is not a toasty, biscuity style in the mode of many similarly aged Champagnes. Rather, there are lovely pear and fig flavors, a rich mid-palate and an ultra-long, round, clean finish with excellent acidity. This wine really cleans your mouth and is especially marvelous paired with seafood.

By the way, I mentioned that other Italian wine authorities have also raved about this wine. Primary evidence of that is Gambero Rosso, the Italian wine bible, having awarded this 2005 its highest rating of tre bicchieri; they did the same for the 2006 bottling, which I have yet to try, but certainly will. Here’s hoping that Palm Bay, the US importer for Serafino, will start to bring in at least a small amount of this wine soon so that American consumers won’t have to travel to Piemonte to taste this enchanting sparkler.

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As for white wines, there are a surprising number of excellent types made in Piemonte, such as Gavi, Timorasso and Favorita and of course, Arneis. This last wine, the most famous of which are from the Roero district, situated across from the Langhe on the opposite side of the Tanaro River, has become a great success not only in Italy and throughout much of Europe, but also in the United States, both by the bottle and the glass. Most examples are tank fermented and aged to highlight the lovely fruit aromas and flavors, but there are few examples that are aged for a short time in wood.

I enjoyed two excellent Arneis from the beautiful, but underrated Roero estate, Malabaila di Canale. situated in that charming town. Both were from the 2012 vintage, a warm year that yielded forward, but more complex wines than in 2011. The entry level bottling has those beautiful pear and melon flavors so typical of the variety and is very refreshing, with impressive richness. The “Pradvaj” offering, from a lovely sloping hillside planting at the winery, is an outstanding Arneis, with a touch of honey in the aromas to accompany the classic varietal flavors; the mid-palate is quite generous and the finish is very long. This is a first-rate white wine that I’d prefer to pair with white meats (even veal) as well as most seafood. These wines are imported in the US, as they are Marc de Grazia selections and there are various distributors, such as Skurnik in the New York/New Jersey area as well as Robert Houde in Chicago. (The retail price on the Pradvaj is betwen $20 and $22 in the US; to me, the wine is worth every penny.)

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Finally, a few lovely reds. First there was the Cappellano Barbera d’Alba “Gabutti” 2008. My companion and I had been through the ringer tasting so many examples of Barolo and Barbaresco, so for dinner we wanted a red with very modest tannins. Barbera was the perfect choice and with this offering from Cappellano, we found the ideal Barbera. Teobaldo Cappellano, who passed away a few years ago, was a strict traditionalist with all his wines and made some celebrated examples of Barolo over the past few decades. What you had to admire about him – and this is stated in Italian on the back label – is that he did not want his wines to be rated with numerical scores, preferring that any particular journalist or critic merely write about the wine itself, its special flavors and its pleasure. What a great man and what a wonderful philosophy. Wouldn’t it be nice if this attitude were more in the norm of what wine would be about today?

Anyway, this Barbera, proved that Cappellano cared a lot about all his wines, not just the famous ones (Note: Teobaldo’s son Augusto now makes the wines and has continued his father’s memorable work). This wine, from the Gabutti cru in Serralunga, was steel aged with fresh blackberry and myrtle flavors, backed by good richness on the palate and a juicy, flavorful, very elegant finish with a clean, round note. What an ideal wine for just about any food, from simple pasta to sautéed duck breast or lumache (snails). This is imported in the US by Rosenthal Wine Merchants.

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Finally, a few words about a marvelous Dolcetto, the Chionetti Dogliani “San Luigi” 2011. I love Dolcetto and as I hadn’t tasted a single example during my trip as of the final evening in Alba, I was eager to taste one. This one was everything I expected. Chionetti, established in 1912, has been one of the standard bearers for Dolcetto in the lovely town of Dogliani, a little bit south of the town of Barolo. The producers here pride themselves on the power and complexity of their offerings of Dolcetto, believing that other versions, such as those labeled as Dolcetto d’Alba or Diano d’Alba, are relatively minor league by comparison (this is their opinion, not necessarily mine).

Given that, some offerings of Dolcetto from Dogliani (the DOCG versions are now identified simply as Dogliani – the grape name is omitted from the label), can be a bit overdone, sometimes in ripeness, other times in terms of cellar work to attempt to produce a more powerful wine. Thankfully, that was not a problem with this single vineyard offering from Chionetti (San Luigi is one of the producer’s best and most consistent offerings). This newly released 2011 – appropriate as this wine has only modest tannins – is a sheer delight with black plum and raspberry flavors, very good acidity and an elegant, supple finish. This is a textbook example of Dogliani and if more examples were made in this fashion, perhaps Dolcetto from Dogliani – as well as other examples of the variety – would enjoy greater sales success.

It was a perfect accompaniment to the dish of seppie nere (“black” octopus, if you will) I enjoyed at Trattoria La Libera. I’d also love to pair it with rabbit, lighter game birds and delicate pastas. The wine in imported in the US by Vinifera Imports.

So there you have it, a selection of wonderful Piemontese wines, all meant for the dinner table and not a single one named Barolo or Barbaresco. Sometimes, the greatest pleasures are indeed the simplest!

May 21, 2013 at 1:46 pm 1 comment

Roberto Voerzio – Memorable Wines and Words

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Roberto Voerzio (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Roberto Voerzio was in Chicago yesterday. That may not seem like a earth-shattering statement, but when you consider that this celebrated Barolo producer was making his first visit to Chicago during only his second-ever trip to the United States, then you realize this was a very special day.

There are several famous wine personalities from Italy that regularly travel to the US and other countries around the world to promote their wines; Piero Antinori has been doing it for decades, whlie Angelo Gaja makes it a point to visit America often (and he has the suntan to prove it!). But Voerzio isn’t someone that does this sort of thing much, so needless to say when I was invited to join a few of Chicago’s top sommeliers for lunch at Spiaggia Ristorante to taste a selection of his Barolos – plus one Barbera – I said yes in a second.

If you know much about Voerzio, you might think that he hardly needs to do much along the lines of promotion for his wines; he was, after all, one of the first producers to receive 100 points from both The Wine Advocate and The Wine Spectator, for his various offerings of Barolo from the late 1990s and early 2000s. You can imagine the clamor for his wines at that point and his wines are just as famous and about as highly regarded today.

I met him once before at his winery in La Morra and the experience was quite remarkable. For someone as famous as he is, he doesn’t act like someone who’s in great demand. He had his vineyard manager give me a tour of his plantings throughout La Morra and then welcomed me back in his cellars with a tasting of his current releases of Barolo – he produces as many as seven different cru bottlings in a single year. He answered all of my questions in great detail and was in a wonderful mood, posing for numerous photos. After trying for years to meet him, I realized that here was an individual who was being pushed in many directions, as journalists from all over the world wanted a piece of his time. Yet here he was, a gracoius host, more than happy to talk with me and get my thoughts on his wines. How nice that Voerzio is such a down to earth person!

That same generosity and humility was on display yesterday at lunch. Voerzio talked about his roots in La Morra, as his ancestors have been grape growers for 200 years in this commune. It was in 1970 that his brother Gianni and he decided to produce Barolo from the grapes they grew and then in 1986, the two brothers went their separate ways, releasing wines under their own labels (Gianni produces a beautiful Barolo from the La Serra cru as well as deeply concentrated examples of Arneis, Barbera and Nebbiolo d’Alba, while Roberto has stayed with Barolo and a small amount of Barbera).

Voerzio spoke about his farming and how he green harvests at least twice during the summer to come in with incredibly small yields, at 50 quintals per hectare, about half of the limit allowed in Barolo. The final cuts in the Nebbiolo vineyards trim half the amount of grapes on the vine at the time, reslulsting in miniscule yields. This of course means less wines produced and of course, higher production costs, but the finished wines show tremendous intensity and weight on the palate.

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Yet despite their obvious power, the wines are supremely elegant. Voerzio has been labeled a “modernist” among Barolo producers, yet he scoffs at that characterization and clearly wanted us to know that the modernity of his work has much to do with temperature control in the cellar; this technology has allowed him to make more elegant wines, so in this case, modern is a good thing.

When asked by a sommelier at the lunch about his being a modern producer, he replied that when comparing traditional Barolo versus the modern style, the differences have a great deal to do with the aging vessels. “Traditional Barolos are aged in botti, while modern Barolos are aged in barrique; the truth lies somewhere in between,” was his answer.

He emphasized that while he does produce two examples of Barolo that are aged solely in barrique – namely the Sarmassa and the Capalot e Brunate “Vecchie Vigne” – most of his wines are aged in a combination of large and small oak for a period of two years. After that, the wines are then returned to large stainless steel tanks before bottling, so as not to let the wood notes dominate the fruit characteristics.

Having tasted a very few examples of Robeto Voerzio Barolos previously, I can attest to the fact that his newest releases from 2008 and 2009 display less obvious wood notes than before, while maintaining remarkable concentration. These wines, especially the 2009 Brunate and 2008 Rocche Annunziata/Torriglione Barolo – the latter, a particuarly, sublime, outstanding effort – are elegant wines with very fine tannins and marvelous persistence; they are wines that indeed display superb varietal character as well as a sense of place.  These are wines that are rightly celebrated as among the very finest in the entire Barolo landscape and upon tasting them, you don’t think of these as modern wines, but rather ones that captivate you with their excellence and honesty.

In an interview after lunch, Voerzio told me that he is proud to have been born in La Morra and clearly his affection for his commune shines through in his wines. High density planting and a perfectionist attitude in his farming and in the cellar are keys to the success of his wines, but after meeting with Roberto Voerzio and listening to him talk about his land, maybe it’s romance that’s the most important ingredient in his offerings of Barolo. If you believe that’s a bit much, well, see what you think when you taste one of his Barolos –it’s bound to be love at first sip!

My thanks to Marilyn Krieger and Maria Megna of Winebow for their assistance with this event.

April 26, 2013 at 11:31 am 4 comments

Little-Known Italian Wine Surprises

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Numerous people have asked me how I selected the specific wines for my book Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines. I think some of them want to know if these wines received a particular high rating or award in a certain wine publication; the easy answer is that the book is my guide to the amazing variety of Italian wines. Some of these bottles may have found favor with other reviewers, but this is my selection and mine alone, as I write in the introduction.

The bottom line as to why I included a wine can be found in the title of the book – this is a look at Italy’s most distinctive wines. That means wines that have something to say, wines that reveal lovely varietal character, charm and harmony, ones that ultimately display a sense of place. That’s what I’m looking for with Italian wines, be it an expensive Amarone, Barolo or Brunello or a lesser-known, more humble (but no less excellent) wine such as Soave, Dolcetto, Verdicchio, Fiano di Avellino or Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, just to name a few.

Here then are a few words on some of the more unique and distinctive wines I selected for my book:

DACAPO Ruchè di Castagnole di Monferrato “Majoli” - Piemonte is known for its full-bodied red wines with the Nebbiolo-based Barolo and Barbaresco being the most renowned. Yet there are many other lighter reds that deliver a great deal of character; this Ruchè from DaCapo, named for the hill where the vineyards are planted, is a great example. Aged only in stainless steel tanks, this has intriguing aromas of rhubarb, strawberry and nutmeg; medium-bodied, this is quite elegant, although the tannins sneak up on you in the finish. This is meant for consumption within two to five years of the vintage and would be lovely with a local pasta such as agnolotti al plin. (Imported in the US by A.I. Selections)

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FONTANAFREDDA Dolcetto Diano d’Alba “La Lepre” – I love Dolcetto, one of the big three red varieties of the Langhe (Nebbiolo and Barbera being the other two), so I’ve included several examples in the book. But while Dolcetto di Dogliani (referred to simply as Dogliani for the DOCG versions) is more highly praised and Dolcetto d’Alba is more widely available, Dolcetto from the small village of Diano d’Alba, not far from Serralunga d’Alba, is not well known. This version from Fontanafredda, named for the wild hare that runs through the vineyards, is a real delight. Made from old vines that give this wine a bit more body and character, this has an appealing dark purple color and intense aromas of black raspberry and black cherry preserves along with notes of licorice. Medium-full, it’s approachable at an early age (one to two years), but there are some medium weight tannins that give this wine some ageability. But for  me, the best thing about this wine is that you don’t have to think about it too much – just pour yourself a glass and enjoy as it’s absolutely delicious! (Imported in the US by Palm Bay)

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LO TRIOLET Pinot Gris - There are hundreds of ordinary examples of Pinot Grigio (sometimes labeled as Pinot Gris) produced throughout Italy. Then there are a few dozen examples from cool climate regions in the north such as Alto Adige and Friuli that have vitality and complexity. Then there is this wine, from a small estate in Valle d’Aosta, in the far northwestern reaches of Italy, that may be the finest version of this variety in the entire country. As with any distinctive wine, the grape source is often the key; here proprietor Marco Martin is dealing with 15-25 year old vines situated some 2900 feet above sea level! (this may be the highest PInot Gris vineyard in the world). At this elevation, temperatures are quite cool, ensuring a long hang time for the grapes so they can accumulate proper ripeness as well as dazzling aromatics. This is a vibrant white of outstanding complexity, a Pinot Gris that is completely dry, one with excellent depth of fruit and a distinct minerality. While it’s not meant for long term cellaring, it is ideal at three to four years of age and it’s rich enough to accompany river fish or lighter poultry. (Imported by Michael Skurnik Wines)

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ETTORE GERMANO Riesling “Hérzu”- Think Piemonte and you think red wine. So what a pleasant surprise to discover such a lovely dry Riesling from this region, as this Hérzu from Ettore Germano. Proprietor/winemaker Sergio Germano produces a very rich version from his vineyards not far from Dogliani; the oldest plantings date back to 1995. This has beautiful aromas of apricots and peaches as you would expect, so your world won’t be turned upside down by enjoying this sleek, beautifully balanced Riesling. I love this wine when it is between five and seven years of age, although the examples from the finest vintages drink for as long as a decade. (Various US importers including Oliver McCrum Wines and Beivuma Distributors).

Here is the link for ordering my book.

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April 12, 2013 at 9:18 am 2 comments

Franco Biondi Santi, R.I.P.

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Franco Biondi Santi (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Franco Biondi-Santi, proprietor of his family’s world-renowned Brunello estate, passed away today at the age of 91. Grandson of Ferruccio Biondi Santi, who is credited with “inventing” Brunello di Montalcino in the 1870s, Franco devoted his life to maintaning the traditions of his grandfather and father Tancredi, by producing traditional Brunello in the strictest sense. His wines over the past six decades were sublime, heralded as among the world’s finest.

I met Franco for the first time a little more than ten years ago, as I was with a group of international journalists visiting a number of estates in Montalcino. We were all impressed to be able to tour this “temple” of Brunello and even more excited to briefly meet Franco. He displayed his playful side, as he took a business card from each of us, held them in his hand and then spread them out like a deck of cards. I suppose you had to be there to fully appreciate it, but it was nice to see someone so famous who didn’t take himself too seriously.

I met him again about six years later at a wine fair and how nice that he remembered me; after all, here was a man who rubbed shoulders with many famous people, so for him to take time to say hello and invite me to a tasting later that day was very gracious of him.

But my most memorable meeting with Franco was last May at the Tenuta Greppo estate, situated just outside the town of Montalcino. I sat down with an employee who assisted me with my interview; afterwards the three of us sat down in the cellars to taste the new releases. It’s a pretty special occasion to merely sample Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino, but to be able to do it at the estate with Franco Biondi Santi was a day I’ll never forget. It was especially nice to hear the proud tone of his voice as he told me the story of his family and their wines. It was also quite a treat to see him standing next to some of the botti in the cellars and talking about these casks used to mature the Brunello; a few of these had been in operation for over 100 years!

In my book Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines, I wrote the following about the Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva:

“This is one of the few wines from Montalcino – or anywhere in the world – that I would call ethereal.”

The Merriam-Webster dictionary has several definitions for the word “ethereal,” among them “heavenly,” “intangible,” “marked by unusual delicacy or refinement” and finally, “suggesting the heavens or heaven.” We don’t usually refer to a person as ethereal, but it’s clear that the reference to heaven is fitting for Franco Biondi Santi; surely he is there now, looking down on his beloved estate.

April 7, 2013 at 2:29 pm 4 comments

Taurasi – Three Marvelous Verticals – (Part Three- Mastroberardino)

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Opening the 1961 Mastroberardino Taurasi (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

In my previous two posts (here and here), I wrote about marvelous vertical tastings of Taurasi from two first-rate producers: Feudi di San Gregorio and Luigi Tecce. As Taurasi is a significant red that does not receive the attention it deserves, it’s a pleasure experiencing the beautiful work that these two producers – as well as another few dozen estates – have accomplished over the past 10-15 years; perhaps now Taurasi will be a more important part of the discussion about Italy’s greatest red wines.

But if you have to single out one producer who has carried the torch for Taurasi for more than 70 years, it is clearly Mastroberardino. Indeed, this family estate, situated in the small town of Atripalda in the province of Avellino, is indeed synonymous with this wine. Anyone who knows even a little bit about Taurasi has probably read about some journalist’s amazing experience with the 1968 bottling, a wine that has become a watershed for Taurasi. I am one of those lucky souls who has tasted this wine ; that one occasion being at VinItaly in Verona about six or seven years ago with Piero Mastroberardino, the managing director of the winery. I was pleased to note at the time that this legendary wine – almost forty years of age when I sampled it that day – deserved its celebrated status. It seemed to me that the wine had plenty of life ahead of it – I estimated that it would still be in fine shape in 2016-2020, meaning it would be a pleasure to drink even at 50 years of age! I recall that I tasted the 1971 as well that day and told Piero that while I believed that wine was outstanding, it was the 1968 that was fresher. Piero’s sheepish reply was, “well, 1968 was a better vintage.”

So it was a great pleasure to be invited along with a small group of international journalists in March to a tasting of six decades of Mastroberardino Taurasi at the winery. Piero and his team – along with his father Antonio, who guided the firm through many of its greatest successes since the 1940s – selected one wine from each decade, starting with the 1952 and continuing up to the 2006 bottling. Piero gave a brief talk about how his ancestors started selling their Taurasi around Italy; he then let us taste the wines in silence, without any additional words about each bottle.

Here are my notes on the six wines:

1952- Pale garnet; still lovely fruit aromas with notes of strawberry along with balsamic, oregano, thyme and cedar. Medium-full, with a beautifully elegant entry on the palate, this is a remarkably fresh wine, one of stunning grace and harmony. There is notable acidity along with a very subtle spiciness. Absolutely amazing now, this wine has at least another 10-12 years ahead of it, but I will admit that this is an educated guess; who knows, perhaps this will will be in fine shape some 20-25 years from now, as the balance is that impressive. A great, great wine.

1961 Riserva - Deep garnet; aromas of dried currant, dried cherry, sage and balsamic. Medium-full with excellent concentration; generous mid-palate. Outstanding freshness and balance; amazing persistence – the finish goes on and on. As flavorful and rich as this wine is, it is undeniably light as a feather. A sublime wine, one of great pleasure that will be drinking well for another 15-20 years, perhaps even longer. A great, great wine.

1970 Riserva – Deep garnet; aromas of truffle, balsamic, dried currant, oregano and cedar. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Long, long finish with very fine tannins. Outstanding complexity, very good acidity and remarkable freshness. What a wine – one of great typicity, balance, freshness and harmony. This has at least 15-20 years of life ahead of it. Another great, great wine and the one that I selected as my favorite, although I admit that if I could taste these wines together again, my choice as the favorite – an incredibly difficult selection – might be either the 1952 or the 1961, as they are all of immeasurable quality, class and breeding.

(At this point, I need to let you know that I did not spit any of these first three wines. Of course at any tasting, you spit or else you wouldn’t be able to walk straight after a few minutes. But how could I spit the 1952, 1961 or 1970? Not only were they amazing to taste, who knows if I’ll ever get a chance to try them again? During this first part of the tasting, I turned to my colleague Tom Maresca from New York City, who confirmed to me that he wasn’t spitting any of these either!)

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(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

1985 - Deep garnet; aromas of fresh red cherry, hint of orange peel, balsamic, truffle and cedar. Very good persistence, very good acidity, round tannins. Impressive persistence and notable length in the finish. Excellent complexity and wonderful varietal character. Best in 10-12 years, although it will undoubtedly drink well for another 7-10 years after that. Excellent.

1996 Riserva “Radici” Radici means “roots,” an appropriate designation for a Campanian firm that has been producing their own wines since 1878; the “Radici” project for Mastroberardino Taurasi was initiated with the 1986 vintage. Lovely deep garnet; aromas of fresh red cherry, strawberry, cedar and a hint of brown spice. Medium-full with very good concentration. Elegant mid-palate, very good acidity, very fine tannins and impressive length. Very harmonious with beautiful typicity. Best in 12-15 years. Excellent.

2006 Riserva “Radici” - Bright, deep ruby red; aromas of black cherry, along with hints of tar and dark chocolate. Generous mid-palate; very good acidity, rich, balanced tannins, excellent persistence and typicity. Notes of black spice in the finish that add to the complexity of this wine. A lovely, somewhat powerful wine, albeit one with beautiful charm. Best in 15-20 years. Outstanding.

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Anotnio and Piero Mastroberardino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Just as we were finishing the tasting, Antonio Mastroberardino, patriarch of the firm, entered the room – what a pleasure to see this man again! I had met him about eight or nine years ago at the winery, but had only seen him briefly one time since. I always made it a point to ask Piero how his father was doing over the past few years and he replied that he was just fine. I had heard that he was slowing down a bit recently and perhaps not in the best health, but here he was, some 84 years young, looking just great! He must be drinking a good amount of Taurasi!

Antonio, along with Piero, then told us brief remembrances of their work in the vineyards and cellars over the past six decades. “There was no technological revolution in the 1950s,” Antonio said, reminding us that these great wines were the result of hard work as well as good fortune in any particular growing season. Wines as special as we enjoyed this day are truly one-of-a-kind bottles, ones that are unique and have their own identity. In that respect, they were just like this tasting!

My heartfelt thanks to Piero and Antonio Mastroberardino and the entire team at the winery for inviting me to this once-in-a-lifetime event.

April 6, 2013 at 1:15 pm Leave a comment

Taurasi- Three Marvelous Verticals (Part Two – Luigi Tecce)

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Luigi Tecce (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

There are producers that should best be described as specialists, just as with surgeons. Luigi Tecce is a specialist’s specialist when it comes to Taurasi, a fact I discovered when I was fortunate enough to taste a vertical of his “Poliphemo” Taurasi, a wine that truly is among the four or five best examples of its type.

Tecce’s small estate is located in the town of Paternopoli, in the southeastern section of the Taurasi zone. He sources grapes from vineyards at his estate here as well as in Castelfranci, situated a bit farther south. These are the traditional pergola vines – known here as pergola avellinese – and have quite a bit of age; some of the vines at his Paternopoli holdings date back to 1930.

Certtainly, these old vines provide a great deal of insight into why Tecce’s examples of Taurasi are so special. But it’s also his minimal, traditionalist style of winemaking that is a key. He ferments his Taurasi in large chestnut casks, followed by maturation in mid-size casks (tonneaux) before being transferred to large oak casks (botti) for twelve months. Finally, the wines are bottled and released about a year later. Needless to say, the wood notes are in the background here, as the lovely dark cherry and chocolate notes of the Aglianico variety shine through.

This long period of aging in mid-size and large casks also results in wines that have a rich, beautifully defined mid-palate. For me, whether we are talking about Taurasi, Brunello, Barolo or any great Italian red wine, a well-defined mid-palate greatly adds to a wine’s complexity and length, rounding it out and rendering it as a more complete wine.

Here are notes on the “Poliphemo” Taurasi of Luigi Tecce:

 

2009 - Deep ruby red; marvelous array of aromas – black cherry, menthol, tar and black plum and tobacco. Full-bodied with excellent concentration. Rich, layered mid-palate; beautifully balanced wine with nicely integrated wood notes, very good acidity and outstanding persistence. Complete and complex, this has a lengthy finish. Just a gorgeous wine, one of beautiful typicity and finesse and one that offers a distinct sense of place. Best in 20 years plus.

2008 – Lovely garnet color; aromas of dried cherry, currant, thyme and cedar. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Very good acidity (a signature of this vintage), elegant, polished tannins and very good persistence. Lovely, graceful wine. Not a powerhouse, but a wine of finesse. Peak in 12-15 years – although I may be a bit conservative with this estimate.

2007 – Deep garnet; aromas of bing cherry, dark chocolate and thyme. Medium-full with very good to excellent concentration. Rich mid-palate, excellent persistence, very good acidity. Best in 12-15 years.

2006 - Lovely garnet color; aromas of Queen Anne cherry, currant, tea leaf and a hint of strawberry. Medium-fulll with very good concentration. Very good acidity (once more!), lovely overall balance with beautifully polished tannins. A sublime wine, supple and elegant. Best in 15-20 years. Tecce noted that in 2006, it rained throughout August, resulting in a very late harvest (November 26!). How the difficulties of that growing season resulted in such a wonderful result!

2005 – Deep garnet; floral aromas (carnation) and hints of bing cherry and mulberry. Medium-full; the oak is quite subtle; soft tannins and lovely balance. This lacks the persistence and grip of the other wines, but again, it is a wine of supreme harmony. Best in 7-10 years, perhaps a bit longer.

2003 - Labeled as Irpinia IGT, but in all reality, a Taurasi. Deep garnet; aromas of dried cherry, hints of sage, dried currant and cedar. Medium-bodied; the tannins are a bit rough (relatively speaking, though other 2003 Taurasis have this same problem), balanced acidity, with excellent fruit persistence. Peak in 7-10 years.

2001 – Labeled not as Taurasi, but as “Omaggio a Varenne.” Deep garnet; lovely aromas of bing cherry and red roses. Medium-full with very good to excellent concentration. Silky tannins, precise acidity and a lengthy finish with outstanding persistence. A joy to taste, this is elegant with great finesse and is a great wine! Drinking beautifully now, this will be at peak in another 10-12 years.

These examples of Luigi Tecce “Poliphemo” Taurasi do not scream at you. Rather they are reminders that greatness in red wine, is above all, about elegance, finesse and drinkability. Bigger does not make better in my opinion and there are several noted producers of Taurasi that make more deeply colored and extracted wines. If you prefer that style, that’s fine. But for me, I will take the subtleties, intricacies and overall complexity of Luigi Tecce’s wines any day.

Annual production of the “Poliphemo” Taurasi is only about 5000 bottles; Tecce also makes approximately the same amount of another 100% Aglianico called “Satyricon” that is a Campi Taurasini DOC (basically a younger version of Taurasi that has not been aged for the minimum three years as dictated by the disciplinare). So while these wines may be difficult to locate, they are a must-try for any serious lover of Taurasi.

My thanks to Luigi Tecce for presenting these wines and to his friend Sabino Loffredo of Pietracupa for his help in organizing this tasting.

April 4, 2013 at 9:29 am Leave a comment

Taurasi – Three Marvelous Verticals (Part One – Feudi di San Gregorio)

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Taurasi Vineyard of Feudi di San Gregorio (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

My recent trip to Campania focused on red wines from this lovely region. This was a welcome opportunity, as I’ve always been entranced by the delightful whites from here, most notably Greco di Tufo, Fiano di Avellino and Falanghina; the best examples of these wines are evidence that not all great Italian whites are from Alto Adige or Friuli. So it was nice to further my education of the first-rate reds wines from Campania, wines that in my opinion do not receive the attention they deserve.

In my last post, I wrote about a superb red wine made primarily from the Palagrello Rosso grape, an indigenous variety of the Caserta province in northern Campania. I also tasted several first-rate examples of wines made entirely or primarily from Piedirosso, which varied from charming versions of Lacryma Christi rosso, produced from vineyards near Mount Vesuvius to more complex, ageworthy wines from the Benevento province. Given the nature of viticulture in this region, where there are so many small hills that create so many microclimates, it was fascinating to taste such varied and delicious wines.

But in all reality, when we’re discussing red wines of Campania, it’s the Aglianico grape that is most famously recognized. This includes blends (often with Piedirosso) from a number of provinces and while there are many superb wines from the Taburno zone in the province of Benevento, made solely from Aglianico, it is Taurasi, made from a small zone in the province of Irpinia that is the region’s most celebrated red wine.

I mentioned the Lonardo Taurasi “Coste” 2008 as one of the year’s best Italian wines in my last post and I also tasted several outstanding examples from producers such as Villa Raiano, Antonio Caggiano and San Paolo; truly the 2008 Taurasi – both normale and riserve  - are something special and I’ll write more about these wines soon.

By now, you’ve probably noticed that I love Taurasi and why not? It’s a wine that when it’s at its best, can compete with the greatest red wines of the world. It’s a wine that can age 25 years from outstanding vintages and in some special instances, it even shows well after forty and fifty years – evidence of that will be noted later on in these posts.

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Anotonio Capaldo, Feudi di San Gregorio (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

So while being able to sample so many examples of Taurasi during the Vendemmia Taurasi event in Avellino was a very special happening for me, imagine how I felt when I was able to attend vertical tastings of Taurasi from three celebrated producers: Feudi di San GregorioLuigi Tecce and Mastroberardino. I really was in heaven for a few days!

There were two verticals in one at Feudi; the first focused on the regular bottling of Taurasi, with the second dealing exclusively with their finest cru, Piano di Montevergine. The regular bottling has gone through numerous changes; one of the most important is the enologist that made the various wines. The oldest wines in this vertical were the 1998 and 1999, made by Luigi Moio, one of Campania’s finest consulting winemakers. The 1998 was in fine shape, with very good acidity and persistence; I noted that the wine would drink well for another 3-5 years. The 1999 was a step up, offering dried cherry, dried brown herb and cedar aromas with beautifully integrated wood notes, subtle spice in the finish, polished tannins and very good acidity. This is showing well now and will drink well for another 7-10 years. Both the 1998 and 1999 offer excellent varietal character and were made in a style that treasured overall harmony, rather than extreme ripeness or power.

The 2001, made by Riccardo Cotarella, is a wine with deeper extract that pushes the fruit to the forefront. It’s a different style that than of Moio, but given the beauty of the 2001 growing season, this is a highly successful wine, one with very good acidity and an elegant finish. There’s more of the dark chocolate notes that are common with Aglianico in this bottling as well as a touch of anise in the perfumes. Overall, it’s a very elegant wine that will be at its best in another 7-10 years.

The more recent vintages – namely 2007, 2008 and 2009 – were all impressive, with the 2007 and 2008 as 4-star wines (excellent) in my opinion, with the 2009 just a notch below that. Aromas of black cherry, black raspberry, plum and chocolate are common to each wine, with the 2008 offering slightly higher acidity than the other two examples. The 2007 has the stuffing to age the longest – perhaps another 7-10 years, but the 2008 has beautiful structure and may be in peak shape at the same time frame. Capaldo and his current director of winemaking Pier Paolo Sirch, have decided to cut back on small oak maturation of this wine, aiming for a greater percentage of large wooden casks, as Capalado believes small oak does not really show off the varietal character of Aglianico as well as the bigger barrels.

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The second vertical of Feudi di San Gregorio Taurasi dealt with the Piano di Montevergine cru, located near the town of Taurasi. There were seven wines, from the oldest, 1996 to the youngest, the 2008, which will be released in the market later this year. This is a rich, full-bodied Taurasi that shows impeccable balance throughout, even in lesser years (I loved the 2002 version of this wine, which I had tasted a few years ago; this from a subpar growing season that offered lovely richness o the palate and sleek tannins).

Again the older wines – 1996 and 1998 – were made by Luigi Moio and are beautifully complete and complex. The 1996 in particular had advanced to another level, where tertiary aromas had developed with precise notes of truffle and dried cherry being accompanied by notes of thyme. Offering very good persistence, this was a wine nearing peak, which should arrive in another 5-7 years.

The 1998 was a bit fresher with very good acidity and beautiful structure; there were aromas of dried cherry along with a hint of mocha and the lovely ruby red color made this wine seem younger than fifteen years of age. Offering excellent persistence and a long, elegant finish, this is a wine of great breeding, finesse and varietal character; it is a remarkable wine with a definite sense of place. This has at least another 10-12 years of life ahead of it; I found it outstanding!

The 2001 is a solid wine with big weight on the palate as well as very good ripeness and good freshness. I rated this as excellent, estimating that peak drinking will be in another 10-12 years. The 2004 is deeply colored with very good ripeness as well as impressive acidity. The tannins are big, but not overpowering and overall the balance is excellent. Give this 15-20 years of cellaring before it reaches peak condition.

The youngest wines – 2007 and 2008 – are quite impressive; the former has expressive aromas of milk chocolate and purple iris flowers backed by big extraction and rich, young tannins. There is perhaps a touch too much wood in this wine, at least for my tastes, yet overall the balance is first-rate. This definitely needs time to settle down and should peak in 12-15 years.

Finally the 2008 is a remarkable wine and for me, the finest version of Piano di Montevergine Taurasi since the 1998. Displaying aromas of black cherry, milk chocolate and a hint of raspberry, this is a sensual wine that is a bit more subdued and less forward than the 2007. The tradeoff, however, is that the 2008 has ideal structure with very good acidity and excellent grip in the finish. The wood notes are beautifully integrated and the tannins are quite elegant. This is certainly great evidence of where the new direction of Feudi di San Gregorio under the leadership of Capaldo and Sirch is headed, as this is a textbook Taurasi that offers a lovely expression of terroir, all the while maintaining its focus on harmony – this is a wine definitely meant for the dinner table, although high scores are certain to follow (if that means anything to you). The 2008 Piano di Montevergine is one of the winery’s best offerings of the past five years; an outstanding wine, it will drink beautifully for at least another 15-20 years.

My thanks to Antonio Capaldo and his team at Feudi di San Gregorio for organizing this wonderful tasting!

March 31, 2013 at 5:53 pm 8 comments

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