Southern Italy…interesting wines

SouthernItalianThe wines of Southern Italy tend to be a little more fruit forward, higher in alcohol, and slightly lower in acid, when compared to the Northern regions. This is predominately due to the warmer climate and extra days of sunshine which produces riper grapes and therefore higher sugar for fermentation. When selecting wines for my Southern Italy class I wanted to select some unique wines. These two perfectly demonstrate what the South is capable of producing, interesting, yet very drinkable wines that consumers should be seeking out.

Wine #1-

Calabretta IGT Nerello Mascalese Vigne Vecchie [Etna Rosso] 2005- $25.

This wine is pre-aged before release, and can still be found in retail although it has 10 years of age. The aging helps to let the tannins soften as well as tame the grapes naturally high acidity. It is produced with “Vigne Vecchie” or old vines, (some plants over 100 years old) on the black volcanic ash slopes of Mt. Etna. Predominately Nerello Mascalese grapes but also some Nerello Cappuccio. Nerello wines have a crunchy minerality, along with some complex spice and earthy components. This wine is traditionally aged in large Slavonian oak casts resulting in a wine of structure but yet it is also very elegant, think Burgundy/Barolo.

The Calabretta portfolio of wines is very interesting and the wine descriptions will make you smile.

COSWine #2-

COS Nero di Lupo (Nero d’Avola)- 2013-$30

Notice the shorter squat bottle, that is more common for wines from Sicilia (Sicily). This wine is produced in the Vittoria region- home to the only DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria (always a blend of Frappato and Nero d’Avola). Most Nero d’Avola is riper and more concentrated but this 100% beauty is aged in cement which produces a lighter Pinot Noir-like  wine. COS is A biodynamic winery that uses no chemical products, the wines of COS are clean and so easy to drink…


Central Italy- the top 2 grapes


The two most widely grown red grapes of Italy are:

#1 Sangiovese– mostly grown  in central Italy (Tuscany, Emilia Romania).

#2 Montepulciano– mostly grown on the Adriatic Coast (Abruzzo, Apulia, Marche).

The wines selected to showcase their differences, similarites:

2010 Scopone L’Olivare – This wine is a bit on the modern side (produced in smaller barrels with shorter maceration which produces an earlier drinking wine).

Sangiovese is a high acid grape with what some call “gravely” tannins. The name translates to “blood of Jove” and many believe it’s highest expression comes from the specific Brunello clone isolated by Clemente Santi (Biondi Santi ancestor).

It has red fruit flavors along with distinctive flavors of orange peel, tomato leaf and balsamic. The more “serious” Sangiovese wines that are made for aging have pronounced earthy qualities as well.

Brunello di Montalcino, by law is 100% Sangiovese. 2010 is a phenomenal vintage and prices are reasonable but they will need some time to develop. If you want to drink now decant for a few hours beforehand.

2009 Umanchi Ronchi, Cumaro, Rosso Conero– Umani Ronch is a fairly new winery owned by the a Bianchi-Bernetti since 1959 and Cumaro’s first vintage was 1985. This is 100% Montepulciano fermented with natural yeasts and hand picked.

Montepulciano has some riper red and black fruit flavors like plum and (sour) cherry. The wines can also have a boysenberry flavor which I happily associate with childhood camping trips.

Lower in acidity than Sangiovese the wines are also a little softer and easier to drink, especially Montepulciano d’Abruzzo which I often suggest to the closet Merlot drinkers.





Things wine people say…the Grandi Marchi

DelPostoSpecial invitation to a guided tasting with many top Italian wine producers hosted by Del Posto restaurant. The food and service at this restaurant are impeccable. A perfect venue for an extraordinary event.

The Institute of Fine Italian Wines – The Grandi Marchi is a who’s who of the Italian winemaking world.

If you are in a restaurant or retail shop and need a no-fail recommendation, simply select one of these 19 member wines:

Alois Lageder, Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari Tenute, Antinori, Argiolas, Biondi Santi, Ca’ del Bosco, Carpenè Malvolti, Donnafugata, Gaja, Jermann, Lungarotti, Masi, Mastroberardino, Michele Chiarlo, Pio Cesare, Rivera, Tasca d’Almerita, Tenuta San Guido, Umani Ronchi.

GM_panelParaphrasing the President of the organization, Piero Mastroberardino describing the Grandi Marchi member organization:

“these are not just good wines…this is a synergy of friendship…of these family brands and their terriors. (They are) defenders of their terroir.

Moderator Gloria Maroti Frazee described this tasting as the ultimate insiders guide of where to go (visit) in Italy. D’ACCORDO! (agreed in italian)

Although I was tempted to post tasting notes for each wine, I found the colorful commentary of the wine presenters much more interesting so I will share that with you.

lineup_laterThe wine order:

  • Ca del Bosco – Cuvée Annamaria Clementi, Franciacorta Riserva D.O.C.G.

Maurizio Zanella explained the difference between La Franciacorta (the girl) which describes the region and Il Franciacorta (the boy) which describes the wine.

  • Gaja – Ca’ Marcanda Vistamare, Toscana I.G.T. 2014

Seema Parthasarathy shared the story of the naming of the wine which I had read before. The name Ca’ Marcanda is a contraction of the word ca’ (casa), meaning “house,” and marcanda, meaning “long negotiations.”. It took them over 10 years of meetings to obtain the property.

Vistamare is a pun on the term “ocean view” which many small hotels advertise to lure guests. The vineyard, and it’s wines have noticeable ocean influence.

Seema also described their use of neutral oak as “a pat of butter” (on rye toast) to indicate the subtle but helpful influence of barrel aging for this wine.

  • Umani Ronchi – Vecchie Vigne, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore D.O.C. 2013

belardinoDavid Di Belardino explained that the he appreciated how the owner is able to “keep his heart in the past but focus on the future.”

Interesting fact:  In Le Marche (the region where their wine is grown) residents consume the most wine in Europe, and, they have the longest life expectancy.

  • Tenuta San Guido – Sassicaia, Bolgheri Sassicaia D.O.C. 2012

IncisaRochettaPiero Incisa della Rochetta described Bolgheri (the area that his ancestors chose to plant wine) as “forgotten by man and God…only known by pirates”.

The vineyards of Sassicaia are planted higher than most in the region and on well drained soils because “plants are like us…they don’t like to get their feet wet.”

He also shared that he often says that Tenuta San Guido makes “the most Pinot of Cabernets” because they aim to make them less concentrated with well integrated, finer tannins. This produces a lighter, delicate, expression of a grape that can sometimes be overpowering and unapproachable when young.

  • Michele Chiarlo – Cerequio, Barolo D.O.C.G. 2011

Luca De Marco explained that it is the heavy minerals (magnesium and others) that allow Barolo in their terroir to produce so many unique and interesting flavors like balsamic, mint and rose leaves.

  • Pio Cesare – Barolo D.O.C.G 2011

pioboffaPio Boffa shared their philosophy “..we do not depend on the skill of the winemaker but rather of Mother Nature,” to explain their non interventionalist style of winemaking.

Pio Cesare is 4th generation- making wine since 1881. As Pio explained “we only put Barolo on the label (nothing more)…we think that is enough.”

  • Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari Tenute – Cabreo Il Borgo, Toscana I.G.T. 2012

Claudio Andreani‘s definition of a “well integrated” for a Super Tuscan, is when you can distinctly taste each component of the wine (Sangiovese, Cabernet, etc.)

  • Antinori – Pian Delle Vigne, Brunello di Montalcino D.O.C.G 2010 presented by Niccolo Maltinti.

The vineyards in Montalcino are closer to the ocean (dotted-line) than the vineyards of Chianti or Montepulcino so they believe they have a coastal influence. They shared that they don’t feel that Sangiovese grown outside of Italy lives up to their standards even though specific clones from Poggio di Sotto where brought into the U.S., and planted on what they believed was the best location (Atlas Peak).

  • Argiolas – Turriga, Isola Dei Nuraghi I.G.T 2011 presented by Antonio Agriolas
  • Tasca d’Almerita – Rosso del Conte, Contea di Sclafani D.O.C. 2011

Alberto Tasca related that this wine translates to “red of the Count”, which means “I am making this wine for the Count (me), no one else”. He also called this wine a “Super Tascan” wine which drew laughs from the crown.

  • Mostraberardino – Radici Taurasi D.O.C.G. 2009 presented by Piero Mastroberaradino
  • Rivera, Il Falcone, Castel del Monte Riserva D.O.C. 2009 presented by Sebastiano de Corato

Historically the blend of this wine was dictated by the planting of 2 rows of Nero di Troia for every 1 row of Montepulciano, this became a blend of 70%/30%.

  • Lungarotti – Torgiano Rosso Riserva Rubesco Vigna Monticchio D.O.C.G 2008 

Annamaria Palomba described Umbria as “the Green Heart of Italy.”

  • Masi – Riserva Di Costasera Amarone Classico D.O.C. 2009

 The traditional blend for Amarone is predominately Corvina, with Rondinella and Molinara. This one also uses 10% Oseleta which has small berries and thick skins which adds tannin and structure which is usually the part played by the Rondinella.

Raffaele Boscaini believes that Amarone should be put away for awhile before drinking. He described the 15-18 year window, after vintage, as “the teenage years…better to leave them (the wines) in their room and wait until they mature.”

  • Donnafugata – Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria D.O.C. 2008 Limited Edition presented by Antonio Rallo. The name comes from the Arabic term “Son of the Wind.” A typical bottle of this wine needs 4kg of grapes to produce. This results in concentrated sugar as well as acidity which produces 27 proof (14.5%) alcohol.

Northern Italian Reds


Dolcetto_NizzaWines of the Week

wines chosen for the 2nd Italian Wine Professional class: The red wines of Northern Italy

starting in the North East the best known grapes are:


• Barbera

premiere regions: Barbera d’Asti DOCG, Barbera d’Alba DOC, Nizza DOCG.

• Nebbiolo

premiere regions: Barolo DOCG, Barbaresco DOCG, Roero DOCG, Ghemme DOCG, Gattinara DOCG (Piedmont), Valtellina Superiore DOCG (Lombardy).

To discover less expensive regions click here…

• Dolcetto

premiere regions: Dogliani DOCG, Ovada DOCG, Diano d’Alba DOCG, Dolcetto D’Alba DOC, Dolcetto d’Asti DOC, Dolcetto d’Acqui DOC.

The wines:

PioCesare_DolcettoDolcetto means little sweet one but the wines are not sweet. Dolcetto is the least “serious” of the Piedmont wines and is the everyday wine in this region. You drink Dolcetto while your Barolos and Barbaresco’s are aging. This wine from traditional producer Pio Cesare- 2012 Dolcetto d’Alba is stainless steel fermented and aged. It is an elegant wine and like all of the other Dolcetto denominations it is 100% Dolcetto (not a blend).

Prunotto_NizzaBarbera is the most widely grown grape in Piedmont. It can be used to produce various styles of wine depending on the wine maker. The 2009 Prunotto Costamiole Nizza is pretty spectacular on it’s own but is even better with food. The Nizza denomination was a sub zone of Barbera d’Asti until 2014 now Nizza is the only denomination that requires 100% Barbera (also not a blend).


Excellent Value “Barolo”

1982BriccoAsiliI have often told people looking for value Barolo or Barbaresco to buy one now (and wait 10-20 years), or look elsewhere. Sorry but many believe this expression of Nebbiolo is built for aging and needs much time to soften.



However…if you like the Nebbiolo grape here are some lesser known (less expensive) varietal alternatives:

Roero DOCG- Minimum 95% Nebbiolo

Gattinara DOCG– Minimum 90% Nebbiolo (locally Spanna); maximum 10% Uva Rara; maximum 4% Vespolina

Ghemme DOCGMinimum 85% Nebbiolo (locally Spanna); maximum 15% Uva Rara and/or Vespolina.

Some other Piedmont regions to look for on the label:

*Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC100% Nebbiolo (best pure Nebbiolo value)

Langhe DOC– Nebbiolo labeled- Minimum 85% Nebbiolo

Alba DOC–  70–85% Nebbiolo; 15–30% Barbera; maximum 5% other reds

Some others from Lombardy:

Valtellina Superiore DOCG– Minimum 90% Nebbiolo

Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG– Minimum 90% Nebbiolo

best value for drinking now- Valtellina Rosso/Rosso di Valtellina DOC- Minimum 90% Nebbiolo

2013VilladeiLadri 2013VilladeiLadri_backHere is a beauty of the Langhe that I discovered at the Wine Cellar, visiting a friend in Red Bank, NJ- Villa die Ladri (House of Thieves)- 80% Nebbiolo and 20% Barbera.


More reading:

A great article on Alto Piemonte which is another source of value for Nebbiolo based wines.

Excellent maps of Barolo

Itunes download

How to buy the best Barolo

WTF…Montepulciano grape, or region?

Another installment of what IS this wine

2010Contucci_VNdMVino Nobile di Montepulciano is produced in Tuscany, around the town of Montepulciano. The wine name translates into “Noble wine of Montepulciano”.  Since the most noble red grape in this region is Sangiovese (called Prunolo Gentile here) the wines are a traditional blend of mostly Sangiovese. The grapes must make up at least 60–80 percent of the final wine, and may be complemented by Canaiolo (10–20 percent) and other local varieties permitted in the province of Siena, including the rare, violet-scented Mammolo (Sciacarello). This wine is 80% Prugnolo Gentile, 10% Canaiolo Nero, 10% Colorino. Purchased on WTSO for $20.

Some have described Vino Nobile as having the perfume of Chianti Classico’s with the richness of Brunello di Montalcino. This is a great description for this wine.

Montepulciano is also the name of a grape which is primarily grown on the eastern shore of Italy in Abruzzo (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOCG) and Marche (Conero, Rosso Conero, Offida).

Both Montepulciano and Sangiovese make excellent wines but they are very different.

Further information:

proper pronunciation for Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

a thorough article on the Montepulciano grape.


Italian International Wines

Wine(s) of the Week

The theme of this week’s Italian wines class was regions that have International influence. The following regions in Italy border other countries:

Liguria- France

Piedmont- France/Switzerland

Valle d’Aosta- France/Switzerland

Lombardy- Switzerland

Trentino- Alto Adige- Switzerland/Austria

Veneto- Austria

Friuli-Venezia Giulia- Austria/Slovenia

Wines chosen:

SanMichele_ai_Pianoni2003 San Michele al Pianoni Profondo di San Michele Riserva Oltrepo Pavese– $30

A beautiful wine with earthy, rusty elements but also great acidity and fresh red fruit flavors. An excellent, aged wine for the money– From Lombardy


GrosJean_Gamay2013 Grosjean Gamay Valle d’Aosta – $18

An interesting producer that uses French varietalswhere else are you going to find “Beaujolais” in Italy. Very nice cranberry, tea flavors. Good value compared to Cru Beaujolais. Notice the different spelling of the region “Valée d’Aoste.”