Recently I attended a seminar with the Italian group Grandi Marchi (Istituto del Vino Italiano di Qualità) - an organization of seventeen wineries who have banded together to help promote development of high-quality Italian wines as well as foster educational opportunities concerning Italian wines all over the world.
If you wonder why such a group is needed, consider this: the finest Italian wines are usually cited as a global afterthought to the finest French and American wines. Consider this too: there are twenty winemaking regions in Italy which cover the entire country and the island of Sicily. Also, an extraordinary number of grapes used in making wine in these regions are completely indigenous and nearly unheard of outside of Italy. And finally, consider the fact that many people around the world have yet to conceptually shake the history of sub-quality wines that Italy has produced in the past, and think of Italian wines merely as an accompaniment to pizza or pasta.
Ahh, the obstacles and confusion start to pile up, don't they? No wonder that the normally individualistic, self-sufficient Italians are coming together to stake a collective claim in the world wine market!
The seminar was a fascinating tour of Italy. Seven members of the Grandi Marchi spoke of their regions, the climate, terroir and grapes with passion and enthusiasm. Later, the discussion turned to the difficulties they faced in sharing their amazing products with the world. Finally, we were able to taste many of their wines, as well as a number of other offerings from wineries pouring at the Simply Italian Great Wines U.S. Tour 2010.
The following tasting notes were compiled with the best possible accurate information, and are roughly grouped by region from north to south. Prices where available based on notes from www.wine-searcher.com. Starred entries were personal favorites.
Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio 2009 (Alto Adige) Fermented in 90% stainless steel, very pale color, nice tropical fruit notes, very light and enjoyable. ~$14
Alois Lageder Pinot Bianco Haberle 2008 (Alto Adige) Superbly quaffable with prominent notes of white peach. Nice value! ~$12
Ca' del Bosco Franciacorta Brut NV (Lombardy) Straw and a hint of barnyard with good lemon/lime citrus. ~ $30
Ca' del Bosco Cuvee Prestige NV (Lombardy) Lovely lemon curd, dried herbs, great mousse, nicely acidic, good body. ~ $38
Pio Cesare Barolo 2006 (Piedmont) Somewhat muted nose, good translucent color. Big, dusty and rich with suitable tannins, dried leaves, earthy and subtle fruit. ~ $48
*Pio Cesare Barbera d'Alba 2008 (Piedmont) Black fruits, pepper, smokiness, integrated tannins, nice silky mouthfeel. Luscious, great value. ~$19
Michele Chiarlo Barolo DOCG 2006 (Piedmont) A Barolo of traditional style, great fruit, elegant and powerful with nice tannins. ~$40
Tenuta Carretta Roero Arneis Cayega DOCG 2009 (Piedmont) Aged in 100% stainless steel, this is very clean with a nice minerality and good acidity. ~$15
Tenuta Carretta Roero Arneis Canorei DOCG 2008 (Piedmont) Aged in 50% stainless steel and 50% oak. Interesting roasted meat smoky nose, with light acidity. $N/A
Piera Martellozzo Ribolla Gialla Perle di Piera IGT 2009 (Venezia) The yellow-tinted bottle is a bit cutesy for my taste, but this sparkler is pleasantly citrusy and bright. ~$15
Piera Martellozzo Rose Perle di Piera IGT 2009 (Venezia) Strawberry and rose petals. Very light character. ~$15
*Piera Martellozzo Muller Thurgau IGT 2009 (Venezia) Lovely notes of litchi and yellow apple. Very nice! ~$14
Antonutti Prosecco Collevento Extra Dry DOC NV (Friuli Venezia Giulia) Pleasant, hint of sweetness, white peach, good acidity, nice mousse, clean with a touch of soapiness. ~$15
Antonutti Vis Terrae Traminer DOC 2008 (Friuli Grave) Very unusual character. Sweet dirty sock nose, angular (this wine provoked polarizing reactions, some loved it, some were turned off - interesting!) ~$14
*Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2006 (Veneto) Nose is earthy in a very terroir-specific way, but loads of fruit on the palate. Interesting and drinkable with light acidity personified in crunchy red fruit on the finish. ~$50
*Fattoria Fibbiano Chianti Superiore Casalini DOCG 2009 (Tuscany) 80% Sangiovese, 20& Canaiolo Nero. Very bright nose! Velvety, super lush. Tangy red fruit, exceptionally bright, appealing, good tannins. Not yet available in the U.S., which is a travesty. (Hello, importers?!)
Azienda Agricola La Cignozza Chianti DOCG Riserva 2007 (Tuscany) Earthy, with brick dust and a hint of mocha. ~$30
Azienda Agricola La Cignozza Chianti DOCG Riserva 2003 (Tuscany) Nose almost off-puttingly earthy! But loads of blackberry liqueur on the palate combines nicely. ~$29
Antinori Tignanello Toscana IGT 2007 (Tuscany) Earthy, dried red cherries, very tannic with tangy red cherry slicing through. ~ $75
Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2003 (Tuscany) Super earthy, lots of terroir, bit of barnyard. Extremely tannic yet has a nice elegance. ~$150
Tenuta san Guido Guidalberto Toscana IGT 2008 (Tuscany) Very spicy and light with nice fruit. ~$40
*Tenuta san Guido Sassicaia Bolgheri DOC 2007 (Tuscany) Barnyard nose, smoke. Lush and crunchy red fruit, smooth, heady. A wine to get lost in. ~$160
Lungarotti Rubesco "Vigna Monticchio" Torgiano Rosso Riserva 2005 (Umbria) This single-vineyard blend of 70% Sangiovese and 30% Canaiolo Nero is super dry, but nice and approachable with good red fruit. ~$50
*Umani Ronchi Cumaro Conero Riserva DOCG 2006 (Marche) Dusty with sweet violets, eucalyptus, nice fruit and balanced tannins. Strong but elegant. ~$41
Mastroberardino Radici Taurasi Riserva DOCG 2004 (Campania) Perfumey nose, light and elegant, good structure - violets, plums. ~$43
Rivera Il Falcone Castel Del Monte Riserva DOC 2005 (Apulia) Blend of Montepulciano and the rare Nero di Troia grape. Bright, fruit-forward. Interesting and zippy. The Montepulciano adds a nice softness to the finish. ~$29
*Edoardo Miroglio EM Brut 2006 (Thracian Valley, Bulgaria) Hey, what's a bubbly from Bulgaria doing here? The Miroglio family and EM's oenologist are connected with Tenuta Carretta in Piedmont. That's enough for me - I love this! Yeasty, toasted brioche, great character. Not currently available in the US, alas. $N/A
Edoardo Miroglio EM Brut Rose 2006 (Thracian Valley, Bulgaria) Another winner, light, nice character, great acidity, huge mousse. $N/A
Edoardo Miroglio EM Chardonnay Reserve 2007 (Thracian Valley, Bulgaria) Side note: my interest in Bulgarian wine is peaked! This has a super 'merde'y, dirty sock nose, but is light in character with notes of lemon peel. $N/A (Some availability in Italy and Canada)
Tasca d'Almerita Rosso del Conte 2005 (Sicily) Huge barnyard nose! Lots of robust fruit, good tannins. Very appealing and enjoyable. ~$55
*Donnafugata Passito di Pantelleria Ben Rye' DOC 2008 (Sicily) A blend of dried and ripe fruit, with the dried berries laid out on racks for 20-30 days in the sun and wind of the island. Honey-caramel color, peach and apricot and herbs, honey and raisin notes, very unusual! Not too sweet, has a lot of personality. ~$32/.375ml
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All in all, a wide-ranging and delicious experience! Hopefully this tour of Italy has whetted more appetites for Italian wine, mine included. Although the amount and variety of information regarding wines from Italy may seem intimidating, it is completely worth the undertaking. Bravo, Italia!