Posts tagged ‘berlucchi’

Favorite Italian Wines of the Year – 2014

 

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Franco Massolino produced one of the year’s best wines with his 2010 “Parussi” Barolo (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

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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….

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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:

Sparkling

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.)

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Whites

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:

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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!

Reds

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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.)

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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).

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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”

Bartolo Mascarello

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”

Umberto Fracassi

Elvio Cogno “Ravera”

Mario Marengo “Bricco delle Viole”

and for value in 2010 Barolo (see earlier post):

Batasiolo

Giovanni Viberti “Al Buon Padre”

Fontanafredda “Comune di Serralunga d’Alba”

March 1, 2015 at 1:25 pm 4 comments

Thoughts on Tre Bicchieri 2015

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The Tre Bicchieri awards of Gambero Rosso have been announced for 2015 and as usual, there are many familiar names on the list along with some welcome new ones. It’s a well thought out list, one that honors Italy’s most famous wine types such as Barolo, Brunello and Amarone along with many excellent wines that normally don’t get the attention they deserve, be it a Muller Thurgau from Trentino or a Falanghina from Campania.

There are now as many as eight major wine guides in Italy and while all of them have their particular merits, Gambero Rosso is still considered the so-called Bible of these. There’s been a lot of discussion about the guide, especially with some internal changes a few years ago, but the tasting panel at the publication continues to do an excellent job. Change is inevitable and sometimes change angers certain people, but the goal of discovering the best Italian wines of the year is still that of Gambero Rosso and their results are always newsworthy and valuable.

 

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Once again, the Enrico Serafino Alta Langa “Zero” is a Tre Bicchieri winner (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

 

Piemonte is the region that leads this year’s results with a total of 79 Tre Bicchieri-winning wines; Toscana follows with 72 and then Veneto with 36, Alto Adige with 28, Friuli with 27, Lombardia with 23, and then Campania with 20. Every region has at least two wines on the list; as you might expect, Molise, the smallest Italian region, has the fewest winners (2).

Piemonte is a deserved number one on the list; of course Barolo and Barbaresco lead the list, but there are also some beautiful whites as well as one excellent sparkling wine. That is the 2008 Enrico Serafino Alta Langa “Sboccatura Tardiva” (late disgorged) Cantina Maestra “Brut Zero.” I’ve had this wine for the last several vintages and have always been impressed with its purity, balance, acidity and complexity; it’s a marvelous Brut, very dry with a long, satisfying finish; it’s also got a lot of finesse. It’s a great example of how good Alta Langa can be and while it’s a shame that there isn’t at least one more Alta Langa on this year’s list, it’s nice to see this wine awarded with the highest honors again (in last year’s guide, it was named the sparking wine of the year).

 

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Mariacristina Oddero (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

 Of course, numerous examples of Barolo were on this year’s list; this was not unexpected, given the quality of Barolo from today’s finest producers, but this year the new releases were from the outstanding 2010 vintage. Such examples from 2010 as the Bartolo Mascarello, Michele Chiarlo “Cerequio” and the Aldo Conterno “Romirasco” are brilliant, world-class wines, one that exemplify the amazing quality in this territory.

It was also nice to see a few examples from the great 2008 vintage on the list. 2008 is a classic Piemontese vintage, one that resulted in wines of ideal structure; this was not a vintage for flashy wines, but instead wines that have impressive balance as well as offering their terroirs in great fashion; look for the best 2008 Barolos to drink well for 20-25 years, with a few able to cellar for as long as 35-40 years. Among three of the finest 2008 Barolos that received Tre Bicchieri in the 2015 guide are the Paolo Scavino Rocche dell’Annunziata “Riserva” from La Morra, the Ettore Germano Lazzarito “Riserva” from Serralunga and the Poderi e Cantine Oddero Bussia Vigna Mondoca Riserva. The Scavino has become a classic and the 2008 is an outstanding wine – a well deserved Tre Bicchieri winner. The Germano is a relatively new release for this producer and the wine displays the characteristic spice from this noted Serralunga vineyard – this is also a notable Barolo. The Oddero “Vigna Mondoca” has been on the top of my list of underrated Barolos for years; this has typical Monforte weight and tannins, yet it is not as forceful as many other Barolos from this commune. The 2008 is particularly elegant with the grip and weight to age well for 25 years or more.

 

IMGP1162 Landscape of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi zone (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I was thrilled to read that 11 examples of Verdicchio were awarded Tre Bicchieri this year. Eleven! I would have expected perhaps five or six, so it’s a positive sign that the tasting panel found so many exemplary example of this marvelous white wines from Marche this year. Famed estates such as BucciGarofoli and Umani Ronchi were once again awarded top honors, but it was also nice to see artisan producers such as Collestefano (Verdicchio di Matelica) and Andrea Felici also receive such recognition. The latter estate was honored for its 2011 Riserva, named “Il Cantico della Figura.” It’s an amazing Verdicchio with superb focus and stunning varietal character. It was one of the three or four finest Italian white wines I tasted this year!

Other estates that received Tre Bicchieri for their Verdicchio included a few that I am not familiar with, such as Tenuta di Tavignano and La Marca di San Michele (Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi) and Borgo Paglianetto (Verdicchio di Matelica), so I will have to get busy and try and acquire these wines. Bravo to the tasting panel at Gambero Rosso  for recognizing the amazing quality of Verdicchio – no other white wine type in Italy received as many Tre Bicchieri awards this year!

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I could go on about how many different wines were honored this year, but there isn’t enough room for all my thoughts. Let me say however, that it’s nice to see Gambero Rosso (as well as other Italian wine guides) honor the beautiful sparkling and white wines from across the country. Yes, Italy is known for its big reds and while they grab a lot of international attention, the sparkling and white wines from the country are just as notable in terms of qualiyt and distinctiveness. Sparkling wines that won top honors this year include several examples of Franciacorta (Bellavista “Cuvée Alma”, Ca’ del Bosco “Annamaria Clementi” Rosé, Ferghettina “Pas Dosé 33″  and Guido Berlucchi “Palazzo della Lana” Satén – a superb wine!). From Trentino, there were also several examples of Trento DOC, including Letrari “Riserva”, Dorigati “Methius Riserva”  and to no one’s surprise, the Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore, always one of Italy’s finest sparkling wines, one that is world class!

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I was particularly delighted to see that the 2013 La Vis Müller Thurgau “Vigna delle Forche” was awarded a Tre Bicchieri rating. Here is a wine that so defines what Italian viticulture is all about – a distinctive wine of excellent quality produced from a variety that works beautifully in a limited area. Think about Müller Thurgau elsewhere in the world- it’s clearly a third rate grape in Germany (at least in terms of respect – there are some fine versions from Germany) and in New Zealand, they’re ripping out as much as possible to plant more Sauvignon Blanc. Yet in the Cembra Valley of Trentino, a few growers and producers have found this small zone to be an ideal spot for exemplary Müller Thurgau; my friend Fabio Piccoli, an Italian journalist, believes this small valley may be the finest place in the world to grow this variety.

2013 was an outstanding vintage, as it was cool, resulting in wines of striking aromatics, lively acidity and beautiful structure. This is not a big wine – enjoy this by its fifth birthday, but what a marvelous wine with dazzling aromatics of elderflowers, white peach and jasmine! I love this wine with Thai food and how wonderful that the panel at Gambero Rosso can give a wine such as this the same rating as a great Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino or Amarone! (For the record, another Müller-Thurgau, the 2012 “Feldmarschall” from Tiefenbrunner, an excellent Alto Adige producer, also received a Tre Bicchieri rating this year.)

I’ll comment a bit more on a few of the Tre Bicchieri wines in a future post.

November 24, 2014 at 2:11 pm 5 comments

Franciacorta

You might be surprised to learn how much Italians love sparkling wine. Italy is one of the biggest export markets for Champagne and throughout the country, local producers make unique sparkling wines, from Erbaluce di Caluso in Piemonte to Aspirinio di Aversa in Campania; I’ve even tasted a bollicine from Toscana. Then of course, there are the wildly popular sparkling wines from Asti and Prosecco.

So it should come as no surprise that there is an area where local vintners have decided to focus on producing the finest sparkling wines, using the best varieties and sparing no cost with production methods. This sparkling wine is Franciacorta.

The Franciacorta zone is comprised of nineteen communes in the province of Brescia in eastern central Lombardia. Viticulture among the gentle rolling hills of this area date back more than five hundred years, but it was not until the 1960s that local producers transformed Franciacorta into an important territory for sparkling wines. Awarded DOC recognition in 1967, Franciacorta was elevated to DOCG status in 1995. Today there are over 75 producers of Franciacorta, ranging in size from small (100,000 bottles per year) to large (about one million bottles per year).

Only three varieties are allowed in the production of Franciacorta: Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay for white and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) for red. Aging is for several years and the final product cannot be released until 25 months after the vintage of the youngest wine in the cuvée (as with Champagne, the most common bottlings of Franciacorta are non-vintage – or multi-vintage, if you will – Brut.) While most producers age their wines solely in stainless steel, there are a few notable producers such as Bellavista and Enrico Gatti that age at least part of their cuvées in oak barrels.

Along with non-vintage Brut, there are bottlings of Rosé, which must contain a minimum of 15% Pinot Nero, although the finest examples are produced with 50% to 75% of this variety. There is also a type of Franciacorta known as Satèn that can be produced from only white varieties (originally Satèn was 100% Chardonnay, but today, Pinot Bianco is allowed in the cuvée; a few producers such as Bellavista with their Gran Cuvée Satèn still use only Chardonnay for this type of wine.) Also as with Champagne, there are special cuvées that represent the finest sparkling wine a producer can craft. Made from the best vineyards and aged longer on their own yeasts, these bottlings are released later then the regular Brut and other cuvées and can generally age longer than those wines. A few examples include the “Annamaria Clementi” from Ca’ del Bosco, the “Gran Cuvée Pas Operé” from Bellavista and the “Brut Cabochon” from Monte Rossa.

Among the finest producers of Franciacorta are:

  • Bellavista
  • Fratelli Berlucchi
  • Guido Berlucchi
  • Ca’ del Bosco
  • Contadi Castaldi
  • Ferghettina
  • Enrico Gatti
  • Il  Mosnel
  • La Montina
  • Lantieri
  • Le Marchesine
  • Mirabella
  • Monte Rossa
  • Quadra
  • Ricci Curbastro
  • Uberti

Perhaps the most important thing that should be noted about Franciacorta is the outstanding quality. The wines are made according to the classic (or Champagne) method, where the wines are aged on their own yeasts in the bottle before being disgorged after a lengthy aging period. This is a costly and time-consuming method, but it is a vital step in assuring complexity and quality. Clearly, the finest examples of Franciacorta can stand alongside the most famous bottlings of Champagne in terms of excellence.

One final note: Many producers of Franciacorta also make red and white table wines, produced from a number of varieties, including Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, Barbera and Cabernet Franc. These still wines are labeled with the Curtefranca designation.

December 14, 2009 at 1:50 pm 1 comment


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