Posts tagged ‘vermentino’

Uniquely Italian – Part Two

Back in April, I wrote a post about a few examples of Italian wines that I loved, if for no other reason than they were unique – uniquely Italian, that is. Given that producers in all 20 regions of Italy- from the cool mountain territories of Alto Adige and Friuli – to the warm sectors of Basilicata and Sicily – craft products made from any number of varieties, Italian wines offer an endless glimpse into the viticultural landscape. No country works with as many indigenous varieties as there are in Italy; thus there are more distinctive and individualistic wines from Italy than any other country in the world.

With that in mind, here are a few more examples of distinctive Italian wines I have tasted lately:

2010 Argiolas “Iselis Bianco” – Here is one of my new favorite whites from Italy – and I have a lot of them! This is from one of Sardinia’s best producers and it’s a blend of Nardo along with a lesser percentage of Vermentino. Nardo is a rare variety that’s normally used to produce dessert wines, but it’s also excellent when vinified dry. This has a bright golden yellow color and beautiful aromas of jasmine, banana and apricot. Medium-full, this has lively acidity (as you would expect) and a rich finish with notes of dried yellow fruit and a distinct minerality. First and foremost, this is a delicious wine that’s very rich with impeccable balance, but it’s also a lovely food wine, especially paired with vegetable risotto, roast chicken or many Greek dishes. ($20, excellent value) – Imported by Winebow, Montvale, NJ.

Grotta del Sole Aspirinio di Aversa Spumante NV - Italians love – make that adore sparkling wines. Several of the finest Champagne houses sell more of their product to Italy than any other export market. Then of course, Italians produce some excellent bubblies; Franciacorta and Prosecco are the most famous, but there are also notable sparkling wines known as Alta Langa in Piemonte, while there are assorted producers such as Feudi di San Gregorio in Campania that work with Champagne producers as partners with their sparkling wine project.

There are also more humble everyday spumanti made all over Italy, from Friuli in the north to Sicilia in the south. One of the more unique is Aspirinio di Aversa from the northern Campanian province of Caserta. Aspirinio is a high acid white, so that while it is often made as a dry white, is is also ideal for a sparkling wine.

I’ve just tried the non-vintage Asprinio di Aversa spumante from Grotta del Sole, a wonderful producer based in the Campi Flegrei area just north of Naples. This bottling is made according to the charmat method, the same used to make Prosecco; the producer also has a sparkling Aspirinio made according to the classic method (as with Franciacorta).

The wine has attractive melon, lemon and peony aromas, a good stream of bubbles and a clean, dry finish with good acidity. This is not a sparkling wine to age, but rather one to enjoy on a summer of fall day by itself or with lighter antipasti. – ($16.99 – Imported by Downey Selections, Lorton, VA)

2008 Didier Gerbelle Torrette Superieur “Vigna Tsancognein” – Ask yourself- when is the last time you tasted a wine from Valle d’Aosta? It’s probably been some time and for some of you reading this, the answer may be “never.” Clearly this region in far northwestern Italy is the least publicized of any wine region in the country (except perhaps for Molise); while that’s easy to understand based on the limited production as well as the unusual varieties planted here, the flip side is that these wines are among the most distinctive in all of Italy. Torrette is a red wine produced near Amayvilles in the center of the region that is made primarily from the Petit Rouge grape (70% minimum); this bottling also has smaller percentages of local varieties Cornalin, Premetta and Fumin. Didier Gerbelle, who graduated from the enology school in Alba and has returned to work his family’s vineyards, has made a lovely version of this wine, which has blackberry, mulberry and charred meat aromas. Medium-full, this has medium-weight tannins, subtle wood notes (it was aged partly in large oak casks and partly in steel tanks) and a rich, flavorful finish with notes of ripe plum. It’s a little bit like a Dolcetto, but racier and a bit heartier in nature. Enjoy this over the next 3-5 years with a variety of foods, from tajarin pasta with tartufi to pork medallions. ($32.99 – Imported by Oliver McCrum Wines, Oakland, CA)

2007 Villa Dora Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso “Gelsonero” – Many tourists to Napoli and the Amalfi Coast have enjoyed a glass of Lacryma Christi del Bianco at a local trattoria, but they may not realize there is also a red Lacryma Christi (as well as a rosato). This version from Villa Dora is easily one of the finest I’ve tried. This producer, whose organically-farmed vineyards are situated on the lower slopes of Mount Vesuvius, has made a Lacryma Christi rosso that is a bit more serious than most other examples, as this has 20% Aglianico in the blend along with 80% Piedirosso. This is significant, as many examples of this red are pure Piedirosso, which delivers a fruit-driven, charming red with very light tannins; as this wine has Aglianico in the blend, it makes for a wine that can stand up to richer foods and can also age for several years. This has sensual black plum, black raspberry and tar aromas, is medium-bodied and is quite delicious; the acidity is very good and the tannins are round and not obtrusive; in short, this is one of the most stylish examples of this wine you can find. Still offering very good freshness, this is drinking well now and will be enjoyable for another 3-5 years, especially paired with lighter pastas. ($24.99 – Imported by Oliver McCrum Wines, Oakland, CA)

July 26, 2012 at 12:04 pm 2 comments

Little Known Gems from Grosseto

Marco Salustri (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

There are countless treasures out there, if you only know where to look. This is true in many aspects of life; it’s especially valid when it comes to the subject of Italian wines. My most recent trip in mid-late May was an eye-opener, especially during my stay in the province of Grosseto.

Grosseto is located in the far southwestern reaches of Toscana; it reaches from the Tyrrhenian Sea east to its boundaries abutting the southwestern part of the province of Siena. There are numerous DOC and DOCG wine zones in Grosseto and many of them are a mystery to even the most avid Italian wine fan. These include Monteregio di Massa MarittimaBianco di PitiglianoParrina (with only one producer!), Sovana and Morellino di Scansano; this last is the most famous of the wine zones, yet even this is hardly a household name.

For five days, I learned a tremendous amount about this territory, truly one of the most beautiful wine areas anywhere in Italy. I spent two days in the Morellino di Scansano area, visiting several estates with Giacomo Pondin, director of the local consorzio, who took me to a few vantage points with splendid panoramas, situated at an elevation of 1000-1200 feet where we could look out past the gorgeous vineyards on rolling hills all the way to the sea. If heaven looks half this lovely, I’ll be a happy man!

I also tasted a vast array of wines – white, red and rosé – from Grosseto province at Maremma Wine Food Shire, a fair that focused on local wines along with some lovely olive oils, salumi, cheeses and even some excellent local beer. This was a great opportunity for me to meet with some of the area’s finest producers, taste their wines and get to better understand what the viticultural scene of Grosseto is all about.

I’ll write only about a few highlights in this post. Most impressive were two examples of Montecucco from Tenuta Salustri. The Montecucco zone, planted primarily to Sangiovese – as are all red wines zones in the province – is situated between Morellino di Scansano and Montalcino. I tasted several examples at the fair, but the Salustri wines were in a league of their own. The “Santa Marta” offering, made exclusively from Sangiovese has very good varietal purity, excellent persistence and fine tannins; aged for two years in grandi botti, this is a lovely wine with ideal balance. The 2009 I sampled is drinking nicely now, but will improve for another 5-7 years.

The “Grotte Rosse” bottling, also 100% Sangiovese, takes things up a notch. Produced from 70 year-old vineyards with the Salustri clone that features very small berries, this is medium-full with excellent concentration. The aromas are simply wonderful, with perfumes of morel cherry, red roses and strawberry preserves; also aged for two years in large casks, the wood notes are subdued, while the finish is very long and pleasing with excellent persistence. The 2008 was the version I tried and I rated this as outstanding, a wine that should be at peak in 10-12 years. I’d match this up with 90% of the examples of Chianti Classicos out there; this is not only a wine that is of equal or better quality as compared with the top Chiantis, it also much less expensive.

 Vineyard near Magliano in Toscana, Morellino di Scansano zone (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Regarding Morellino di Scansano, there are numerous styles of this wine, which must contain a minimum of 85% Sangivovese. One of my favorite wines made in a fresh, charming style with moderate tannins and supple, tasty morel cherry fruit is the Fattoria Mantellasi “Mentore”; the 2011, aged solely in steel tanks is a delight with a hint of tobacco in the nose to accompany the appealing cherry notes. Medium-bodied, this has typical tart acidity and modest tannins you expect from a young wine made from Sangiovese; enjoy this over the next two years.

Fattoria Le Pupille, one of the most celebrated estates in the zone, brought back a lovely version of their Morellino di Scansano Riserva; the 2009, which contains 10% Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend has complex aromas of cherry, marjoram and clove and has excellent concentration. The entry on the palate is elegant, there is impressive persistence and very good acidity, which rounds out the wine and gives it ideal balance. This is a first-rate wine that will drink well for 7-10 years.

Other examples of Morellino that impressed were the Moris Farms Riserva 2009, a wine of ideal harmony and complexity that will drink well for 5-7 years; the 2008 Riserva Massi di Mandorlaia, a lighter-styled riserva that is a lovely food wine and the 2008 Riserva “Primo” from Provveditore. This small estate is one of the most consistent in the area and I love all their wines! Even their regular Morellino di Scansano displays wonderful character and balance (the 2011 is the current release), while the riserva combines richness, complexity, ideal acidity and impressive persistence just beautifully; this is a wine with every component in perfect harmony. Drink the regular bottling now and give the riserva another 7-10 years to round out and display its finest qualities. This is a wine of impeccable breeding, one that combines great focus and varietal purity with beautiful expression of terroir.

I’ll deal with the white wines that impressed me (especially the 2011 Fattoria di Magliano Vermentino) and a few other reds (including an amazing Ciliegiolo from Gianpaolo Paglia at Poggio Argentiera) in a future post. Just too many special wines for one post!

June 13, 2012 at 5:59 pm Leave a comment

The Best Italian White You’ve Never Tried

I love the style and scope of Italian white wines, especially the gorgeous aromatics of the best bottlings from Friuli, Alto Adige and Campania. These are the best known whites in the country, but there are some gems I love that are produced in small quantities, so their fame is minimal. I’m thinking here of Pecorino from Marche and Abruzzo as well as Erbaluce from Piemonte or the occasional Fiano from Sicily (Planeta) or Falanghina from Puglia (Alberto Longo).

A few years ago on a visit to Bolgheri, along Tuscany’s west coast, I discovered the white wine from Guado al Melo, an excellent small estate in this famous red wine district. Like several properties here, the winery grows Vermentino, a white variety that is seen along the coast, both here and on the island of Sardinia. Most examples are made without any oak aging, so as to preserve the pine and pear aromas; the perfumes are a trademark of this wine along with its vibrant acidity. Most are fairly straightforward in their approach, with an appealing freshness along with a bite of saltiness in the finish, no doubt a result of the plantings near the sea.

Of the examples of Vermentino from Bolgheri, the most intriguing for me is the Bianco from Guado al Melo. The trick here is the addition of a variety rarely seen in Italy, Petit Manseng. Grown primarily in southwestern France, Petit Manseng is a white mutation of Manseng Noir; thus it is also known as Manseng Blanc. The aromatics of this variety – quince and apricot – are among the reasons that owner Michele Scienza planted this variety. Son of famed Italian viticultural historian Attilio Scienza, Michele has more than 30 varieties planted at his Guado al Melo estate.

Michele Scienza, Guado al Melo (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

The blend for the Guado al Melo Bianco is usually around 90% Vermentino and 10% Petit Manseng; the latter variety adds complexity and a bit of texture and rounds out the palate. It is very appealing in its youth, but thanks to the excellent acidity of the Vermentino, it ages well. I recently tasted the 2002 vintage (actually a fine vintage in Bolgheri, despite being below average in most of Tuscany) and it displayed lovely freshness and complexity. This may be an exotic white, but there is a nice earthiness in the older bottlings. In its youth, I’d recommend it with Asian cuisine, but as it ages, it becomes a more appropriate partner with veal or lighter game – it’s a serious white wine and proof of the ongoing need by the country’s finest producers to craft new styles and new wines.

July 28, 2010 at 1:52 pm 4 comments

Italian Varieties – T to Z


Guado al Tasso, Bolgheri, a leading producer of Vermentino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Guado al Tasso, Bolgheri, a leading producer of Vermentino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)




Red variety of Friuli with harsh tannins that inspired its unique name, translated as “cutting the tongue.”


Red variety of Trentino with deep color, ripe berrry fruit and good acidity. 


High acid white variety of Piemonte. Often used in the production of grappa, though a few producers – most notably Massa – make an excellent dry version.


White variety planted throughout much of Italy; generally a blender with modest aromatics and high acidity. Trebbiano di Soave is one of the most highly regarded subvarieties.



Uva di Troia

Also known as Nero di Troia. Excellent red variety found in northern Puglia. Moderate tannins, good acidity and cherry, berry fruit. The principal red variety of Castel del Monte DOC.


Uva di Troia vineyards near Castel del Monte (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Uva di Troia vineyards near Castel del Monte (Photo ©Tom Hyland)




White variety of Marche. Generally aged in stainless steel, though a few producers age in oak. Many versions are light with pleasant pear and apple fruit; there are some excellent bottlings that offer more fruit intensity and spice.

Verduzzo Friulano

White variety of Friuli, primarily in the Colli Orientali DOC. Used to produce a dry white, but also a famous sweet white named Ramondolo. Apricot and pear flavors with lively acidity.


White variety grown in Sardegna, Liguria and the coast of Tuscany (especially in Bolgheri). Very high acidity with flavors of pear, lime and pine and often notes of sea salt with a distinct minerality. 


Two distinct examples: Vernaccia di San Gimignano is a refreshing, dry white wiht moderate acidity made as a light, dry white. Vernaccia di Oristano is a sweeter white from Sardegna that is sherry-like.


White from Veneto made as a lush, apricot and honeyed dessert wine called Torcolato.




Name for Moscato in Sicilia; the word is Arabic for “raisin.” Used in the production of Passito di Pantelleria. Honey, apricot and marzipan flavors.


August 21, 2009 at 1:02 pm 1 comment

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