Posts tagged ‘italian red wine’
As there are hundreds (or is it thousands) of grape varieties planted throughout Italy today, it is no surprise how many unique wines are produced in the twenty regions of the country.
For this post, I’d like to discuss one of Sicily’s most distinctive reds, Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Produced from grapes grown in a district near the town of Vittoria in the southeastern province of Ragusa, Cerasuolo di Vittoria is a blend of two grapes: Nero d’Avola and Frappato.
Nero d’Avola (see previous post) is Sicily’s most widely planted red variety and gives Cerasuolo its body and richness, while Frappato adds aromatics (usually fresh cherry – the word Cerasuolo means cherry) and acidity to the final blend.
For years while Cerasuolo was a DOC wine, the mix was almost always 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato. As of the 2005 vintage, the wine was recognized with DOCG status and with this classification, there is more blending freedom for winemakers. Some blends are now 70% Nero d’Avola and 30% Frappato, while others are just the opposite, while there are also 50/50 blends. Producers may bottle a DOCG version or a DOC version or both.
Cerasuolo di Vittoria is a medium-bodied wine that can be aged in various ways. Some producers use large oak casks, while others prefer small oak barrels (barriques). Then there is Giusto Occhipinti and his partner Giambattista Cilia at COS, who ferment and age their bottlings in amphorae, the ancient vessels made from terra cotta that are modeled after the same pots used by the Greeks more than 2000 years ago.
Generally, most bottlings of Cerasuolo di Vittoria express ripe cherry fruit, medium weight on the palate and a finish with moderate tannins and lively acidity. Most versions are meant for consumption within 5-7 years of the vintage, although a few exceptional bottlings, such as the “Pithos” from Cos can drink well for 20 plus years.
Here is a short list of the best producers of Cerasuolo di Vittoria:
- Valle dell’Acate
- Terre di Giurfo
- Santa Tresa
As Cerasuolo di Vittora has excellent levels of natural acidity, it is a wonderful food wine. Pair the wines with a variety of dishes, from couscous with vegetables, risotto with a Cerasuolo sauce, grilled mackerel, chicken with herbs or simple arancini (rice balls).
Sicily, the lovely, rugged island at the southern tip of Sicily, has a wine discipline that is not hampered by the strict regulations found in other Italian wine regions. Given that, you might expect a wide variety of wines to emerge from this land, but in truth the climate – it can be torridly hot during the summer – means that certain cool climate varieties such as Riesling and Pinot Noir are not suited for this area.
Thus only a few varieties here have emerged as critical and clearly the most important red variety is an idigenous one, Nero d’Avola. This variety has much in common with Syrah, as it is deeply colored (often bright purple) with only moderate tannins. The fruit aromas and flavors are primarily of marascino cherry, a opinion shared by many, including Attilio Scienza, one of Italy’s most renowned authorities on viticulture (I heard Scienza give his thoughts in a typically compelling speech in Sicily a few years ago). There are also notes of tobacco in some versions as well as spice notes, though some of this emerges from aging in small oak barrels. As for tannins, while most bottlings have only moderate levels, there are some premium offerings that have enough tannin to ensure aging for as long as 7-10 years.
Throughout the 1970s and early ’80s, Nero d’Avola was usually blended with other varieties throughout Sicily, including Nerello Mascalese and Pignatello. In 1984, history was made when the producer Duca di Salaparuta (best-known at that time for its well-made, moderately priced wines Corvo Bianco and Rosso) produced the first premium 100% Nero d’Avola; the wine was named Duca Enrico and was crafted by Carlo Casavecchia. He decided for Nero d’Avola as he believed this variety showed the most promise of the winery’s selections planted near the town of Gela, near Noto in the southeastern zone of the island; those other varieties included Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Casavecchia continues to make this wine and today, it is rightfully celebrated as one of the country’s most glorious reds.
For years, growers planted Nero d’Avola in several areas throughout Sicily; some of the best plantings were located near the western reaches of the island, near Menfi or Palermo. Today, though more and more producers are looking to the southeastern areas of Sicily for the finest plantings of this variety; indeed the grape is named for the town of Avola, not far from Noto.
There are several producers today who make excellent signature bottlings of Nero d’Avola; among the best is a bottling from Planeta called Santa Cecilia. During a recent visit to their estate near Noto, I was treated – along with a few dozen other journalists – to a vertical tasting of this wine. Winemaker Alessio Planeta told us how the early bottlings (such as 1997) were from Menfi, while the 1999 was a blend of grapes from both Menfi and Noto. The early bottlings, while quite good, were more rustic in nature as compared to the newer releases, which are blessed with abundant black fruit and lovely structure. Today, Santa Cecilia is always 100% Nero d’Avola from Noto and it has become one of Sicily’s finest wines (interestingly, the 1997 Santa Cecilia not only originated from Menfi, it also contained 15% Syrah in the blend).
Below is a list of several of the finest bottlings of Nero d’Avola:
- Duca di Salaparuta “Duca Enrico”
- Planeta “Santa Cecilia”
- Donnafugata “Mille e una Notte”
- Cusumano “Sagana”
- Morgante “Don Antonio”
- Tasca d’Almerita “Rosso del Conte”
- Baglio di Pianetto “Cembali”
Note that the Baglio di Pianetto bottling is produced from grapes grown at their estate a little south of Palermo, in the western part of Sicily. This particular wine is quite rich, but subdued with wonderful finesse. It is proof that not all great bottlings of Nero d’Avola come from the areas near Noto and Gela.
Finally, it is important to note that Nero d’Avola works well as a blending grape and just as it was blended with other varieties some 30 years ago, the same is true today, as some excellent wines that are primarily Nero d’Avola will often contain as much as 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah. However, the real character of Nero d’Avola emerges in wines that are almost always exclusively made from this variety alone; these are the bottlings that I believe are among the finest from Sicily.
Along with some superb whites made from Greco, Fiano, Falanghina and a few other indigenous varieties, there are also some remarkable red wines produced in Campania. Without question, Aglianico is the principal variety of these bottlings.
The most famous Aglianico-based wine in Campania is Taurasi, produced from grapes grown in a small zone in the province of Avellino (two great whites – Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino – are also produced in this province; see previous post). Taurasi must contain at least 85% Aglianico and must be aged for a minimum of three years, with one of those years in wood. (While most producers do make their Taurasi exclusively from Aglianico, some blend in small amounts of Piedirosso, a red variety with higher acidity and softer tannins.)
Taurasi features the black cherry fruit and bitter chocolate notes of Aglianico along with its firm tannins. Most examples of Taurasi need a few years to settle down and round out to shed some youthful bitterness. Most examples from average to good vintages are at their best 5-7 years after the vintage date, while the best bottlings from the finest producers in the best years age anywhere from 12-20 years. A few exceptional bottlings, such as the 1968 from Mastroberardino, are still drinking well. This longevity has earned Taurasi the nickname, “Barolo of the South.”
Among the finest producers of Taurasi are the following:
- Feudi di San Gregorio
- Antonio Caggiano
- Cantine Lonardo (Contrade de Taurasi)
Most bottlings of Taurasi are in the $35-$45 price range, which puts them well below the best bottlings of more famous Italian reds such as Brunello di Montalcino or Barolo. If you are looking for a lesser expensive example of Aglianico, look for a bottling simply listed as Aglianico Campania or Irpinia Aglianico which will be priced between $18 to $25. Basically, these are examples of Aglianico that have not been aged long enough to be called Taurasi, so they must be labeled differently. These wines are often from younger vines and while they will not age as long as a Taurasi, they still drink well for anywhere from three to seven years, and are much more approachable upon release. Look for these bottlings from Mastroberardino, Feudi di San Gregorio (Rubrato) and Vinosia, among others.
AGLIANICO DEL TABURNO
Another great example of Aglianico is Aglianico del Taburno from the province of Benevento to the north of Avellino. This DOC is home to some excellent wines; with less acidity than Taurasi, a typical Aglianico del Taburno will not age as long as that wine, but it has the same flavors and richness and is an impressive wine. Look for examples from producers such as:
- Cantina del Taburno
A change in style
As with many famous red wines throughout Italy, Taurasi has undergone some changes over the past decade. Most bottlings up until the mid 1980s or early 1990s were aged in large oak casks known as botti grandi; a few producers even aged their wines in chestnut barrels.
Today, however most producers use barriques for aging their Taurasi, which has changed the style of the wine, as there is more wood influence (vanilla, toast, spice) from these small barrels. Mastroberardino, for example, starts the aging in barriques (only one-third new) and then finishes it in large casks, so their Taurasi has just a touch of modernity; though different from the older bottlings, their newer examples of Taurasi are still subdued when it comes to oak.
Yet other producers use only barriques for aging; several of these wines have been awarded top ratings from certain wine publications, so it’s easy to see why more producers are using small barrels to age their Taurasi. But the question remains if these new examples will age as long as the classically produced bottlings from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Time will tell, I guess.
All text on Learn Italian Wines is ©Tom Hyland
Brunello di Montalcino is one of the most famous red wines produced anywhere in the world. Made entirely from Sangiovese – known as Brunello in the Montalcino area – Brunello is one of the longest-lived red wines of Italy, with most bottlings drinking well fro 12-15 years, while the finest examples from the best estates in the top vintages lasting as long as 25-30 years.
Brunello di Montalcino – and the lighter, more approachable Rosso di Montalcino – are the only Tuscan reds that are regulated as being produced solely with Sangiovese. A Brunello must be aged for a minimum of two years in oak barrels, though the size of the barrel is not mentioned. This gives winemakers freedom; some use the traditional botti grandi, large casks that hold anywhere between 2000 to 6000 liters, while other producers prefer barriques, small barrels that hold 225 liters (other still, prefer tonneau, 500-liter casks).
This means a wide variety of styles of Brunello, with the traditional wines aged in large casks offering flavors of red cherry, currant , cinnamon and cedar, while the more modern bottlings focus on black cherry, vanilla and spice. Traditional producers include Biondi-Santi, Il Poggione and Talenti, while the modern producers include Fanti, Valdicava and Donatella Cinelli Colombini.
As this is a famous red that can age for decades, prices are not inexpensive. Expect to pay between $60-$80 for most current bottlings of Brunello. The price is fair when you consider that a Brunello di Montalcino cannnot be released in the market place until the fifth year after the harvest; thus the 2004 bottlings are now being released in 2009.
The Consorzio of Brunello producers rates each vintage on its quality, from one star (poor) to five stars (exceptional). 2004 is a five-star vintage; others include 1997, 1995 and 1990. The 2007 vintage has also been rated five stars; these wines however will not be released until 2012.
Given the fame of this wine, many new estates have been established over the past 10-15 years. In the 1970s, there were fewer than 40; today the number exceeds 140. Many are quite small, owning only 2-3 acres of vineyards and producing less than 5000 bottles of Brunello per vintage.
Given the number of producers making Brunello today, here is a short list of some of the finest:
- Il Poggione
- Le Chiuse
- Sesta di Sopra
- Il Palazzone
- Casanuova delle Cerbaie
In 2008, investigations into an alleged scandal looked into the question of whether certain producers have or had been introducing varieties other than Sangiovese into the wine. Some members of the media have said this has been going on for years and point to the softer acidity of the wines as well as deeper color. As Sangiovese has lively acidity for a red variety and the color is generally garnet, these critics point to the deep ruby red color as well as soft acidity that a grape such as Merlot or possibly Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon was added to certain wines.
To date, a few dozen producers have been investigated and a few estates declassified their Brunellos in 2003, a sign to some that that particular wine was not 100% Sangiovese. Yet nothing has really been proven.
It seems safe to say that while this may be happening, it is not the practice of the majority. It seems also safe to say that what makes Brunello di Montalcino so distinct is its requirement of 100% Sangiovese. It seems unlikely that there will be any changes to this law anytime soon. In my opinion, there certainly does not need ot be any change regarding Brunello as a wine made purely from Sangiovese.
As for a Rosso di Montalcino, there are no requirements for wood aging; the wine can be released as soon as one year after the vintage. A few producers also make a Reserva bottling of Brunello di Montalcino; these wines cannot be released in the market before the sixth year following the vintage.
Read more about some of the best producers of Brunello di Montalcino at my website
BUYING GUIDE TO TUSCAN WINES
I have just put together a collection of my reviews of the latest wines from Tuscany. These reviews can be found in a special Tuscan issue of my newsletter, Guide to Italian Wines; this is a 30-page pdf document. This issue contains reviews of 50 different Brunellos from the 2004 vintage, as well as reviews of wines from six different estates in Bolgheri (including three vintages of Sassicaia), as well as 40 new bottlings of Chianti Classico, a dozen examples of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and even a couple newly released bottlings of Vin Santo.
The price for this special issue is only $10 US. I will email the issue to you upon payment (either check or Paypal), so if you are interested, please email me and I will reply with payment instructions. This is a must for a Tuscan wine lover!
This is part two of my entries on the great Tuscan reds. I began with Chianti and will move on soon to Brunello di Montalcino and then Bolgheri.
VINO NOBILE DI MONTEPULCIANO
The “noble wine” of Montepulciano is one of Italy’s most famous reds; the name came partly from the fact that the nobility owned the land and vineyards in this area in southeastern Tuscany and that the best wines were reserved for their use. Thankfully, today consumers can enjoy this historical red wine as well. (note: Montepulciano in this instance refers to the city of Montepulciano in Tuscany; this has nothing to do with the Montepulciano grape, most commonly found in the region of Abruzzo.)
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is made primarily from the Sangiovese grape, known locally as Prugnolo Gentile. The minimum percentage of Sangiovese in this wine is 70%; while it is allowed to produce a Vino Nobile completely from Sangiovese, this is rare. For blending, some producers favor the traditional local varieties such as Canaiolo or Mammolo, while others opt for international varieties such as Merlot, Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon.
The wine is released two years after the vintage date (at earliest); there is a lighter version called Rosso di Montepulciano that can be sold after one year. As with other Tuscan reds, oak aging can be in large casks known as botti grandi or in smaller barrels known as barriques.
Top producers of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano include:
- Fattoria del Cerro
While Vino Nobile was considered a great wine in the 1800s and the early 1900s, its image had diminished by the mid to late 20th century. Chianti had taken its place as far as popularity and Brunello di Montalcino had surplanted it in terms of quality and renown (this despite the fact that Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was one of the first wines in Italy to be awarded a DOCG designation in 1966.) Over the past 20 years however, local producers have concentrated on making better wines, ones with greater depth of fruit and more refined tannins. Today, while Vino Nobile di Montepulciano still stands in the shadows of other more famous Tuscan reds, the wines are gaining new fame, especially cru bottlings such as “Asinone” from Poliziano, “Antica Chiusina” from Fattoria del Cerro and “Vigneto di Poggio Sant’Enrico” from Carpineto.
Most bottlings of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano are made to be consumed within 5-7 years after the vintage date. The cru bottlings often drink well for 10-12 years, depending on the quality of the vintage. The best recent vintages include 1999, 2001 and 2004, while 2007 looks to be a remarkable vintage as well (the wines from 2007 will be released over the next few years.)
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano pairs well with poultry, game, veal, pork and lighter red meats. It also works well with many types of pastas, especially pici, a broad, hand-rolled pasta, that is a specialty of the local trattorie of the Montepulciano area.