Camilla Lunelli, Ferrari (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
My most recent trip to Italy was a wild ride – six regions in 18 days, most of it during the beginning of harvest in several wine zones. From Campania in the south to Marche and then Umbria in the middle and then Piemonte, Alto Adige, Trentino and Veneto in the north, I enjoyed numerous excellent meals and dozens of first-rate wines, so let’s get right to them.
In case you aren’t that familiar, there are some excellent, even outstanding sparkling wines made in northern Italy. Of course, Franciacorta has been one of the reference points for Italian sparkling wine the past four decades and the wines as a whole have improved dramatically over the past five to ten years. I didn’t get to visit this area during this trip, but I did enjoy the Bellavista Satèn Gran Cuvée a 100% Chardonnay that is one of the finest of this type (Satèn is under less pressure than other examples of Franciacorta; the name refers to “satin” or “silky” for its ultra smooth finish) I have ever tasted. Quite rich with delicious fresh pear and green apple flavors, this is rich with marvelous complexity and a great example of finesse in a sparkling wine.
Another area that has come on in recent years for its sparkling wines is the Alta Langa district of Piemonte; as the name suggests, the vineyards are planted at high (alta) elevations to ensure good acidity and structure. While this is a category that is small (less than 20 producers) and while the consistency is not quite where it should be, there have been some excellent examples, none more so than the Enrico Serafino “Zero” 2006. A blend of 85% Pinot Nero and 15% Chardonnay, this is a metodo classico product (as with Franciacorta) that is ultra smooth and irresistibly delicious. The Zero designation refers to the dosage, so this is quite dry, yet it is not austere, as the acidity is nicely balanced without being exceedingly high. The wine spent more than five years on its yeasts, rendering a product of marvelous complexity; there is a light yeastiness in the aromas and the perlage is very persistent. This is a beautifully balanced wine, one that is just a pleasure to drink with a large variety of foods, from lighter seafoods to veal or poultry.
Roberta and Antonio Stelzer, Maso Martis (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
If there is an area that challenges (and perhaps surpasses) Franciacorta for the quality of its metodo classico wines, it is Trento DOC, situated in and around the town of Trento in Trentino-Alto Adige. Generally speaking, this is a cooler area than Franciacorta, so the wines as a rule have excellent acidity and notable structure.
One of the very best producers here is Maso Martis; the proprietors are Roberta and Antonio Stelzer, a truly lovely and gracious couple. These are wines of great precision, ones where structure means almost everything to the wine; there is plenty of fruit, but ripeness does not come as the cost of overall balance. Every wine I tasted here during my visit was excellent; if I have to select one it would be the Brut Riserva Millesimato 2007. A blend of 70% Pinot Nero and 30% Chardonnay, the wine spent between 52-60 months on the lees and was aged in 2nd and 3rd passage barriques. Offering very good to excellent concentration, with expressive aromas of dried pear, yeast and dried yellow flowers, this is a rich, very dry sparkling wine with excellent persistence and beautiful purity. It is an absolute must for food, be it raw fish or roast pork. This will improve with some time; my estimate is that will show its best in 5-7 years. (A big thank you to my friend Aurora Endrici, a local publicist and journalist, for introducing me to this couple and their remarkable wines.)
Of course, the most famous producer of Trento DOC is the great firm of Ferrari, owned by the Lunelli family. I was able to meet with the three siblings who are most responsible for the current production: Camilla along with her brothers, Alessandro and Matteo, who also serves as winemaker. There has been so much written about this house and the quality of its wines; there is little I can add, except that this family is remarkably generous with their time, as they are very interested in one’s opinion. They also take their responsibility as ambassadors for their wines and those of Trento DOC very seriously; this is a company that is run with great professionalism.
It’s a difficult challenge to select only one wine from Ferrari as my favorite (but I’m up to the task!). I tried eight different cuvées, ranging from the delicious 2007 Perlé Rosé to the 2001 Riserva Giulio Ferrari, a wine that is truly exceptional in its breeding, complexity and finesse. However, my choice (at least for this trip) is the Perlé Nero 2006, a 100% Pinot Nero that was aged for six years on the yeasts. If the Riserva Giulio Ferrari is the most sublime of all the Ferrari wines, the Perlé Nero is the most powerful. Deep yellow with a very fine perlage, this displays explosive aromas of coffee, dried lemon peel and hyacinth (very distinctive!) and is full-bodied with excellent depth of fruit. There is vibrant acidity, outstanding persistence and notable complexity. This is a bambino, as they say in Italy, as the wine is in its infancy; this will will improve for quite some time, at least seven to ten years. This is so wonderful by itself, but it is an absolute brilliant match for roast veal or lamb. (I noted that this is the cuvée from Ferrari that most resembles Champagne in its power and yeastiness, yet I don’t want to give the impression that the other wines from the producer are not of the quality of Champagne, as they certainly are; they are merely a more subdued, fruit-driven style that has elevated this house to the top of the sparkling wine pyramid in Italy).
My final thought on this Perlé Nero 2006 is simply this; it is among the four or five best Italian sparkling wines I have tasted in the last five years.
My next post will feature many of the finest whites wines – most of them being from the outstanding 2012 vintage – I tasted during my trip in September.
My next post will feature the best wines I tasted during my recent 18-day trip to Italy that covered six regions. I will write about several outstanding 2012 whites from Campania, Alto Adige and Marche as well as some notable examples of Dogliani along with an excellent Alta Langa as well as several other wines.
But for this post, I am singling out the very best wine I tasted during my trip, the 2010 Cantina Tramin Gewürztraminer Late Harvest “Terminum.” The reason I am writing about this wine separately is simple – this is a wine that is perfect in every respect. I say that with all seriousness, as I don’t like to use the word “great” very often, as it is overused these days. So you can imagine how rarely I use the word “perfect” to describe a wine. But this wine clearly earns that praise!
Cantina Tramin is a cooperative winery in Alto Adige, arguably the finest; for me, I know of virtually no other producer in all of Italy that has as varied a lineup of wines with such high quality. Of course, their “Nussbaumer” Gewürztraminer is one of Italy’s greatest whites every year, as is their blended white “Stoan” (a melange of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Bianco), but I also give extremely high marks to their “Unterebner” Pinot Grigio (about as good as this variety gets in Italy), “Maglen” Pinot Nero, “Urban” Lagrein and even their “Fresinger” Schiava; this last wine a must-try, as you won’t believe a Schiava can be so delicious!
Gewürztraminer grapes in Solva that will be used by Cantina Tramin (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
The grapes used for this wine are at elevations between 1300 and 1700 feet above sea level in the frazione of Solva, high above the town of Tramin. This is a late harvest wine; clusters are picked in mid-December, while the wine is fermented and aged in French oak barrels. 2010 was an excellent vintage in this area, not too warm (as with several recent vintages), so the grapes maintained their natural acidity and the resulting wine has expressive aromatics.
My tasting notes: Deep golden yellow/amber; aromas of apricot, honey, golden poppies and a hint of custard. Medium-full with excellent concentration, this is lush with a rich mid-palate, while the finish with quite long with a touch of sweetness, which is tempered by the excellent acidity. There is outstanding persistence, beautiful complexity and amazing varietal purity. The finish just goes on forever- this is a great, great wine! Best in 7-10 years.
As I sampled this wine with a colleague from Alto Adige as well as winemaker Willi Stürz, my friend and I looked at each other at the same moment we tasted our first sip. We each had a look in our eyes and without saying anything, we knew what the look meant – we had found perfection!
You must do what you can to find a bottle, as this is an unforgettable wine! (Imported by Winebow)
Mauro Sebaste and his daughter Sylla (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Let me start with an analogy. Many of us love dreaming about flashy sports cars, but the truth is that most of us will never own one; they’re too expensive and they really don’t fit our lifestyle. The same holds true for watches that cost several thousand dollars or mansions that run into the millions.
The same thinking often comes to being with wine; people love to read about the most expensive, longest-lived red wines, ones of great breeding and class. The editors at the most influential wine publications know that, which is why the 100-point scale is in use these days. Hey, wouldn’t you prefer a 95 or 97-point wine as compared to a 91 or 92-point wine? The editors are betting you will – as are the producers that receive the higher scores.
But let’s wait a bit. What do those scores really mean? I could go off on this at great length, but basically, this is a case of “bigger being better.” Whatever you think about a particular wine or group of wines, you have to admit there’s not right or wrong at play. If you like a bigger wine, fine. But there are many of us that would rather have a more delicate wine, especially if we are trying to find the ideal match with food.
All of this brings me to the wines of Mauro Sebaste in Piemonte. I first met him in Chicago more than a decade ago and recently visited him at his winery near Alba, in the heart of the Barolo zone. I find him to be a gentleman, one who goes about his business in a professional, thoughtful and relatively quiet manner. It’s a bit of a cliché, I suppose, but he prefers that the wines speak for themselves.
It’s the same understated qualities of the man that are on display in his wines. These are not powerhouse, showy wines meant to “wow” you, but rather, they are beautifully balanced wines that display excellent varietal character; for me, that’s what I seek and I think it’s what a lot of wine drinkers prefer.
In their 2013 Guide, Gambero Rosso, the Bible of Italian wine publications, mentions that these wines “are not overly extracted and faithfully reflect the character of their individual terroirs.” This is a valuable assessment of Sebaste’s wines and it’s that first part of the sentence I want to focus on, as those wines that get the high point ratings I referred to earlier are generally deeply extracted to obtain the deepest colors and get every fruit essence they can from the grapes. The results are often like jam, not wine; if that’s what you like, fine. But upon further examination, the best wines are about balance and expression of the site where the grapes are grown. That’s what Sebaste brings to all his wines.
Briefly then, don’t look for the highest scores or the most precious descriptors for the wines of Mauro Sebaste. But be prepared for elegant, flavorful wines that are well made and a pleasure at the dinner table. Here are notes on wines I tried with Mauro earlier this year at his winery:
2012 Roero Arneis - Appealing Anjou pear and melon aromas; medium-bodied, very appealing, with excellent varietal character. Very good acidity, this is sleek and beautifully balanced. This would be a wonderful partner with a vegetable risotto. (Very good to excellent)
2011 Barbera d’Alba “Santa Rosalia” – Bright purple; black cherry and black plum aromas. Medium-bodied, good acidity with a slightly tart finish. Nicely balanced with very light tannins and notable varietal character. A bit of an old-fashioned Barbera, one that’s not over-oaked or tricked up, but nicely made for food, be it pizza or roast veal. (Very good)
2009 Barolo Prapò – This is from the famed cru in Serralunga d’Alba. Lovely delicate garnet color (again, not overextracted); expressive aromas of cedar, dried cherry, orange peel, rose petals and a hint of tar – just lovely! Medium-full with elegant tannins, good acidity and a clean finish of good length. While not as complex as recent vintages (especially the 2008), this is a well made wine and a notable example of the understated style of the Mauro Sebaste Barolos. Best in 12-15 years. (Very good to excellent)
Incidentally, I wrote about this wine, the Mauro Sebaste Barolo Prapò, in my book, Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distincitve Wines. Here is an excerpt from that text:
“This is a classy Barolo that expresses its terroir in a graceful manner. It’s made in a style that offers approachability upon release, as it’s not a tightly wrapped wine, yet it will clearly offer greater complexity at twelve years of age and older; the best vintages will drink well for as long as 25 years.”
(Clearly, I enjoyed writing about this wine almost as much as I loved drinking it! I always wish to find wines like this – ones that are true to their variety as well as heritage.)
2007 Barolo “Brunate” Riserva – The Brunate cru, situated in La Morra, is one of the famous in the entire Barolo zone. Deep garnet; aromas of dried cherry, dried currant, orange peel and a note of tobacco. Medium-full with a generous mid-palate. Long finish, excellent persistence, good acidity and nicely balanced tannins. Best in 12-15 years – perhaps a bit longer. (Excellent to outstanding)
Montalcino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
I will be conducting a memorable Brunello di Montalcino dinner at Vivere Restaurant at The Italian Village in Chicago on Wednesday, September 11. There will be a total of 10 wines, ranging from the current 2008 vintage of Poggio di Sotto to the monumental 1997 Biondi-Santi Riserva. Details follow.
Seating is extremely limited, so if you would like to attend, please contact me right away!
Brunello di Montalcino is of course, one of Italy’s longest-lived and most iconic red wines. Produced in a limited area in southern Tuscany, Brunello di Montalcino is produced exclusively from the Sangiovese grape; aged for several years, the wine is only released into the market in its fifth year.
Alex Pilas, Executive Chef, Eataly, New York City
In mid-July, I was honored to co-teach an Italian wine and food class at Eataly in New York City with Dan Amatuzzi, wine educator for the store. The experience was great and I want to thank everyone at Eataly that assisted in this class.
That’s about all I want to write about myself, as this post is about learning about Italian wine and food the right way. At least that’s my opinion. What do I mean by the right way? I’m referring to enjoying a variety of Italian wines from numerous regions with traditional Italian foods.
Just look at the wines we tried in the class: the special cuvée “Rabochon” (2005 vintage) from the Franciacorta producer Monte Rossa; Vespa Bianco 2011 from Bastianich; Friulano 2007 “Vignecinquant’anni” from Le Vigne di Zamo; Morellino di Scansano 2010 “Le Perazzi” from La Mozza; Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba “La Lepre” 2008 from Fonatanafredda and the Langhe Nebbiolo 2009 from Borgogno.
If you think this wasn’t the typical array of Italian wines you’re likely to taste at a class, you’re right. The wines were chosen for a few reasons, one being that they are all given a writeup in my recently published book Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines. In this book, I have endeavored to give the reader a portrait of the true Italian wine scene and not just coverage of the most famous wines from the country.
So notice that there wasn’t a single example of Barolo, Brunello or Amarone, but rather wines that you might come across everyday in Italy. Combine that with some marvelous foods prepared by Eataly’s executive chef Alex Pilas and you have a setting that in some ways brings Italy home. I told the students at the class that they were learning about Italian wine as the Italians do – in a relaxed setting, enjoying a glass of wine with local food.
Pesce crudo (raw fish) was served with the sparkling wine and the two whites; the acidity of these wines were an ideal match for the fish. Various styles of salumi (prosciutto di parma, soppressata) accompanied the Morellino di Scansano and the Dolcetto, while the final course was a mushroom ravioli that was paired with the Langhe Nebbiolo. I absolutely loved this match – and given the comments by the students, so did they – as the earthiness of the mushrooms were in tandem with the similar qualities of the Langhe Nebbiolo, which also happens to offer subtle notes of porcini in the aromas. You just don’t get a pairing that works as beautifully as that one did every day, so complimenti to chef Pilas!
Another note about the Borgogno Langhe Nebbiolo. I wanted to feature this offering, as this is the exact type of Italian wine that does not get the attention it deserves in the well-known consumer wine publications. Yet it is excellent and offers a sense of place – you can tell instantly that this is from Piemonte. What I love about this wine is that this is 100% Nebbiolo – the same as the much more expensive Barolo and has a lot in common with that more famous wine. Indeed, Borgogno produces this wine with Nebbiolo fruit sourced from five local vineyards that are also used by the produced for its various bottlings of Barolo. This is the type of Italian wine that everyone needs to know more about, not only because it displays lovely varietal purity and beautifully represents the land, but it is also a very reasonable alternative, pricewise, to Barolo. You’d be surprised how many of these wines exist in Italy, from Langhe Nebbiolo and Nebbiolo d’Alba in Piemonte to Aglianico in Campania in the south.
Generally, Italian wine classes are often about what I call “trophy” wines; the bottles that are the longest-lived and most renowned wines from the country. I love them, but more often, I seek out the best examples of everyday wines crafted by producers throughout Italy. That’s something I think every wine lover should do, as this will be an exercise in tradition and heritage and not merely a search for the highest scores. The best wines of Italy are meant for consumption with food; they play up to the food and when it’s done right, the total is far more than the sum of the parts.
So I was thrilled to have this experience co-teaching this class to consumers who were eager to learn about pairing Italian wines and foods the right way. Oscar Farinetti, who created Eataly in Torino about a decade ago, as well as Lidia and Joseph Bastianich and Mario Batali, co-proprietors of the New York Eataly, are creating an atmosphere of helping the consumer learn about the pleasures of Italian wine and food in a relaxing, no-nonsense way. Here’s to each of them for their work and here’s to their staff for involving me in this environment.
I can’t wait for Eataly to open up in Chicago later this year, where I hope to be part of more education about Italian wine and food!
Collio Vineyards of Livon looking towards Slovenia (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
During my recent visit to the Collio district of Friuli Venezia Giulia, I was able to taste several recently released white wines from the 2012 vintage. 2012 was a warm vintage, but unlike 2011, which was also quite hot, growers received a break with rain in late summer, which allowed longer ripening on the vine, giving the wines better acidity and structure. The 2011 Collio whites are very nice, but different, as they are very rich on the palate, while the 2012s are a bit more delicate, but have better balance overall and the potential to drink well for a few additional years.
Of course, Collio is a marvelous growing district, especially for white grapes, as there are temperate influences with both breezes from the nearby Adriatic Sea and well as winds from the Julian Alps, situated not too far away. Combine that with beautifully sited vineyards (Collio means “hill” in Italian) and you have a perfect home for distinctive white wines. The best examples here are what I like to call vibrant, as they excite your palate; how nice to find white wines that aren’t simple or on the other hand, burdensome. Be it monovarietal, such as Friulano, Sauvignon or Ribolla Gialla or several others or a wonderfully crafted blend of several varieties, the white wines from Collio are among the finest and most distinctive in the world.
Here are brief notes on some of my favorite 2012 Collio whites to date:
Villa Russiz Pinot Grigio – Yes, Pinot Grigio has become a commodity and unfortunately, there are too many insipid versions from Italy. But when it is made from grapes in a cool climate from hillside vineyards, the results are often wonderful. Villa Russiz has been producing one of Italy’s finest examples for some time now; this 2012 has a slight copper color (the color of the grape is actually a mix of copper, gray and gold) with fragrant aromas of Bosc pear, apple peel and magnolia. Medium-full, this is refreshing with very good acidity and a long finish. Simply put, it is delicious and beautifully made!
Villa Russiz Malvasia – Malvasia (or Malvasia Istriana, as it is sometimes known in Friuli) is a beautiful variety with amazing aromatics and striking acidity. I love it and I hope that more producers will work with this variety and export it to the United States and other countries, so more consumers can experience the exotic pleasures of this wine. The 2012 Malvasia from Villa Russiz is excellent with gorgeous perfumes of papaya and hyacinth (how’s that for unique fragrances?), lovely acidity and impressive persistence. This is one of the best examples of Malvasia I’ve had, as this has a bit more depth of fruit than many versions that are “pretty,” yet lack concentration. Perfectly balanced, this has marvelous texture and could work with any number of foods, from Thai and Oriental cuisine to roast chicken with lemon and tarragon. Enjoy this now or over the next 2-3 years. Another beautiful examples of the strength and wide array of Collio whites!
Livon “Solarco” – This is a lovely blend of Ribolla Gialla and Friulano that Livon has perfected. Offering beautiful aromas of green apple, spearmint and lilacs, this is medium-bodied with very good acidity and balance. Refreshing and quite complex, this is a lovely wine at lunch with lighter seafood or pastas.
Livon “Soluna” – This is a Malvasia from Livon that displays excellent varietal character, especially with its lovely floral aromatics, with notes of quince and Anjou pear along with a distinctive notes of cinnamon. Medium-full, this has very good acidity and persistence and is simply delicious! Enjoy this over the next 2-3 years with Oriental cuisine.
Muzic Malvasia – Muzic is a small, but notable producer in Collio; this Malvasia is an excellent example of the quality at this estate. Aromas of yellow peaches, lemon rind and acacia flowers, this is a lovely wine with lively acidity and ideal ripeness.
Humar Friulano – Friulano, formerly known as Tocai Friulano, is a signature grape of Collio. This is a version that offers lovely aromas of Anjou pear and lilacs with impressive weight on the palate, very good acidity and impressive persistence. This can accompany many white meats as well as risotto or many vegetable dishes.
Russiz Superiore Pinot Grigio - There’s no great mystery to this wine; it’s just a well made PInot Grigio with rich concentration, ideal acidity and notes of white spice in the finish that give this wine added complexity. What a lovely wine for just sitting down and enjoying with good friends at an outdoor enoteca or garden, much as I did with Marco Felluga, proprietor of this estate, who is an energetic 86 years young. Here’s to many more great wines, Marco!
Livio Felluga Sauvignon – The Livio Felluga estate (Livio is the older brother of Marco; he is 99 years of age) produces wines from both Collio and the Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC zones. This 2012 Sauvignon is typical of the rich fruit and lively acidity one sees from this variety in Collio. Offering aromas of spearmint and white flowers along with just a hint of fresh hay, this is medium-full with lovely texture, good acidity and notable persistence. Beautifully balanced, this is a perfect partner with most shellfish; enjoy over the next 3-5 years.
The author pictured with the other four recipients of the 2013 Premio Collio
I’ve been a fortunate individual to have traveled to Italy so often and to have tasted so many great wines and more importantly, meet so many gracious, warm people. Each one of my 59 trips has been special, but perhaps none as memorable as the most recent to Collio, where I received the Premio Collio.
This award is given out each year by the Collio Consorzio to a few select journalists and wine professionals who have done the most to promote the wines of this beautiful district in the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia. Collio is situated in the southeastern portion of Friuli, in the province of Gorizia and shares part of its border with Slovenia. This area is blessed with rolling hills (the word collio means “hill” in Italian) and is a marvelous climate for grape growing, as there are breezes from the nearby Adriatic Sea as well as winds from the Julian Alps that help moderate temperatures, ensuring a slow, even ripening that results in wines with excellent natural acidity, pronounced aromatics and ideal structure. The cool climate here is ideal for vibrant white wines, although there are also some excellent red wines from Collio as well.
I was given the award for the section on the wines of Collio in my recently published book Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines. I wrote about selected wines from more than 20 producers in Collio; these included famed estates such as Marco Felluga, Schiopetto and Radikon. Individual wines included some very famous offerings such as the Edi Keber Collio (Bianco, though he chooses not to label it that way) and Villa Russiz Sauvignon “De la Tour” along with underrated bottlings such as the Gradis’ciutta “Bratinis” and the Primosic “Klin.”
I decided that I would give my acceptance speech in Italian, as I thought that was the proper thing to do. After more than fifty trips to Italy, I have a good foundation in Italian, though I am certainly not fluent in the language. I’m sure if I lived there for an extended period of time, that would be different, but for now, I can understand and speak Italian, relatively well.
Giving my acceptance speech in Italian for the Premio Collio. Tania Princic, who helped me with the translation, is to my right.
I speak often in seminars to the trade and public about Italian wines, but this night was very different, as I would be speaking to 125 locals in the wine business, so needless to say, I was a bit nervous. Prior speaking helped me overcome my nerves to a large degree, but it will still a unique experience that I hadn’t done before. Thankfully, Tania Princic, who works with the public relations group for Collio helped me to translate my speech into Italian just a short while before the event.
Now combine that with the fact that I had to wait more than an hour and a half and you can imagine that I was getting a little more nervous by the moment. But I made it through without too many mistakes (I did mess up a word or two) and the audience gave me a warm reception. I’m sure they appreciated my gesture of speaking in Italian and I’m glad I did as well, as it will help me prepare for the next time I need to give another speech in Italy.
I thought I’d close with the last paragraph of my speech, first in Italian and then translated into English.
“Non ho ancora visitato il Collio quanto mi sarebbe piaciuto, ma grazie alla ospitalita e la qualita dei vostri vini, vi guarantisco che ritorno molto presto.”
“I have not visited Collio as often as I would have liked, but thanks to your hospitality as well as the quality of your wines, I guarantee I will return very soon.”
Thank you very much to the producers of Collio for giving me this award. I am honored and I will certainly not only visit again soon, but will also continue to promote these wonderful wines any way I can! A special thank you also to Alessandra Gruppi and Veronica Brumat for their help organizing my trip.