Archive for the ‘Italy’ category

Benanti Etna Bianca Superiore Pietramarina 2004

March 18, 2009

The DOC of Etna is one of Italy’s most exciting in terms of native offerings. Here, on the slopes of this active volcano, Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio can produce stunning red wines of ethereal fragrance and serious structure, its characters somehow reminiscent of Pinot Noir. There is no doubt that the recognition for the wines from this DOC can mainly be attributed to its reds, however, the whites should definitely not be overlooked as shown by this gem from Benanti. Entirely made from 80 year-old, low-yielding Carricante vines, this is the perfect example how the wet, humid and cool conditions on the Etna help to retain nervy, fresh acidity. Knowing the winemaking is pretty basic, including gentle pressing, temperature controlled fermentation in stainless steel tanks, and several months of maturing before bottling, the power of fruit shown in this wine is even more amazing. Light gold in the glass, the nose runs through intense aromas of flowers, apple, pear, lemon, orange peel and other citrus fruit, all recurring on a palate where succulent texture, almost salty acidity and concentrated fruit are impeccable balanced towards a slightly bitter-spicy finish. This is one of the most impressive Italian whites I’ve had recently.

Source: Enoteca Sileno/The Grocer  Price: $75  Drink: Now-2012



Santa Caterina Colli di Luni Vermentino 2007

January 18, 2009

img_52632Vermentino is widely planted in the central part of the Mediterranean, reaching its apogee in the Vermentino di Gallura DOCG of Sardinia. However, on both Corsica and the French and Italian mainland some excellent examples are made, as this wine from the Ligurian DOC of Colli di Luni. Entirely made from organically grown grapes, philosopher turned winemaker Andrea Kihlgren has crafted a wonderfully pure Vermentino. Aromas of white flowers, rosemary, straw, grapefruit and apple introduce the flavours to follow on the palate. Bone-dry, with a lovely chalky mouthfeel, this wine shows a perfect balance between expressive herbaceous fruit and a somewhat restraining core of minerality. Try it with a fresh seafood linguine. Yum!

Source: Enoteca Sileno/The Grocer  Price: $45  Drink: Now

Ceretto revisited

November 30, 2008


The quickest way from Neive to Alba is not the most scenic one as the Strada Statale di Santa Vittoria takes you through the industrialist alluvial plains of the Tanaro river, but leaving the outskirts of Alba behind, the backdrop immediately grows dramatic again. In San Cassiano, between Alba and Grinzane, the impressive La Bernardina estate is hard to miss towering high above its surroundings. On arrival it appears to be in the middle of a huge renovation with the relocation of the barrel room just completed and the construction of what is going to be one of the regions most modern tasting rooms in full swing. Host Roberta Ceretto decides the surroundings of the Bricco Rocche winery in Castiglione Falletto are more inspiring at this stage and a short drive takes us to what is the production centre for the estate’s cru Barolos. On arrival another renovation is being undertaken, this time without Roberta’s knowledge, leaving her rather perplexed as vineyard workers are pulling out some of Bricco Rocche’s oldest vines. An entire block is going to be replanted in order to retain an optimal mix between young, mature and old vines, and when this process is undertaken regularly continuity of production and consistency of quality is guaranteed. Apart from keeping the vineyard healthy this renovation also allows to plant the vines at a much higher density than the current 4,300 per hectare.

The winery itself is a stunning piece of architecture à la Ceretto, modern yet meaningful and integrated in the the natural environment. The glass cube on the photo embodies Barolo, sharp edged when young with a great solid structure and longevity. The production in the cellar was in full swing and as we walked past the filled fermentation vessels the content of small 20 hl tank was just being pumped over. As we were told this was the entire production of 2008’s Cannubi, a cru of which Ceretto has only a tiny 0.4 holding, it felt like watchingthe making of a future collectors item. It might not be the greatest single vineyard in Barolo but it is certainlythe oldest as the label of the Langhe’s most ancient bottle reads “Cannubi 1752”. Roberta admits that with the purchase of the parcel in 2003 the collection of the estate’s crus was finalised. The old vines that have been nurished by the church for nearly a century will be left in the vineyard as opposed to the the ongoing renovation of the others as wewitnessed at Bricco Rocche. However, for those who want to buy the first release of Ceretto’s Cannubi patience is the key word as this wine will only be released as a Riserva after 10 years maturation in cask and bottle. If you can’t wait that long the ones from producers like Giacomo Brezza, E. Pira, Luigi Einaudi or Marchesi di Barolo are worth seeking out.

Back at La Bernardina the tasting of some of Ceretto’s 2004 releases proved to be another highlight. Already lauded as one of the best vintages ever, the wines underscored this once more and to fill your cellar you don’t have to wait as those wines are all released.

The 2004 Barolo Zonchera is Ceretto’s entry-level Barolo named after the Zonchetta area around the town of Barolo. This wine has a deep brick-red colour showing bright aromas of cherry, strawberry, flowers, cedar and spice. The full-bodied palate is lush and round with loads of ripe fruit and a long, smooth lingering finish. Although the wine could be enjoyed in all its youthful glory the tighlty knit structure suggests it will be even better after a few more years in the cellar. Good, drink now-2020.

Made at the Bricco Asili winery in the Barbaresco DOCG, the 2004 Barbaresco Bricco Asili Bernadot shows what a stellar vintage can do with the grapes from the relatively young vines of Ceretto’s vineyard in Treiso. Dark ruby red in the glass the nose shows the perfumed opulance of young Barbaresco with aromas running through red berry fruit, wilted flowers, vanilla and exotic spices. On the palate, it is rich and concentrated with ripe fruit on the foreground nicely balanced against firm tannins and fresh acidity on a long and firm finish. This wine is ready to drink in 2 to 3 years and should maintain style for at least another decade. Very good, drink 2011-2020+.

Over the years it has become clear I love the open and perfumed style of Barolo from around La Morra and at Ceretto this means Brunate. The 2004 Barolo Bricco Rocche Brunate shows a dark red colour that will acquire a brick red tinge with a bit more age. The bouquet is full with complex aromas reminiscent of prunes, plums, red berries, roses, violets, raisin, vanilla and cloves that follow through to a palate with bold fruit, big tannins and balanced acidity. Full and ripe, this wine always remains pretty and elegant and is all about restrained power. This is a must have for every serious cellar. Very impressive, drink 2012-2025.

The last wine shows great Barolo is all about terroir with the 2004 Barolo Bricco Rocche Prapò a showcase for the more robust examples from around Serralunga d’Alba. This wine has a deep red colour and shows aromas of plum, prune, strawberry, cedar, spice and a hint of earthy undergrowth on the nose. The palate offers ample fruit on the front and the middle while big, chewy tannins add even more power towards the finish. The wine will shed off some of its robust character over the next few years and will gain a more velvety elegance with 10 to 20 years of age. Excellent, drink 2011-2025+

Azienda Agricola Cascina Galarin

November 29, 2008


Piedmonte in autumn is simply magic while the region comes alive in all its splendour. Of course there are white truffles, fuelling the annual Fiera del Tartufo Bianco d’Alba from October to November in the gastronomical capital of the Langhe. Fresh Porcini, hazelnuts and chestnuts are more common – and less expensive – while cheeses as Castelmango, Robiola, Toma and Testun are regional treasures that challenge the French hegemony on mouldy, stinky but delicious dairy. Above all, vinous hearts will beat faster as in this time of the year Piedmonte breaths wine. In about every vineyard and village tractors move piles of little red crates filled with grapes, first varieties as Moscato, Chardonnay and Arneis, then mainly Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo. Because of the relatively big time lag between the ripening of each variety the vineyards show a riot of colours. This majestic spectacle is especially noticeable in areas where the full spectrum peacefully co-exists as shown in the above picture taken near the village of Castagnole delle Lanze which is located only a few kilometres from Neive, the eastern outpost of the Barbaresco DOCG. Here the harvest of Nebbiolo was entering its final stage with leave-colours varying from green-yellow to  brown. This in contrast to the higher and hence cooler Barolo area where most of the picking had yet to start, resulting in the majority of its vineyards still covered in vibrant green.

It’s understandable most tourists look for Barolo while touring the region. Of course I had my fair share, however, with my base at Cascina Galarin in Castagnole delle Lanze I found myself in prime Barbera country which led to what proved to be one of the biggest vinous revelations I’ve ever experienced. Often producing just smooth and plummy wines, this grape can show far more complexity and depth if given the right exposure in the vineyard and serious attention in the cellar, especially in the DOC of Asti where the competition with Nebbiolo for the best possible terroir is absent. Most of the production in this area consists of generic Barbera d’Asti although things are really getting interesting with Barbera d’Asti Superiore, made from the best possible fruit that has aged for the minimum required 24 months of which at least 6 in oak. To prove the quality and age worthiness of these wines owner Giuseppe “Beppe” Carosso hosted a memorable tasting with some truly amazing wines made from grapes grown in Bricco Rorisso, a single vineyard with clay and calcareous soils and a perfect South-West exposition. As far as the blend concerns, the Bricco Rorisso consists of approximately 90% Barbera with the balance Cabernet Sauvignon, Freisa and Grignolino. All grapes are handpicked, crushed and fermented for 4 days at around 28-30°C while the juice is kept on the skins for 2 weeks. After a light filtration the wine spends one year in small Allier barriques and an additional one in bottle before release. 

Cascina Galarin Barbera d’Asti DOC Superiore “Bricco Rorisso” 1998

The 1998 Bricco Rorisso has a deep brick red colour in the glass that only slightly reveals its age. The nose still offers plenty of perfumed primary fruit reminiscent of plum and cherry with notes of undergrowth and spice while the palate is shaped by fresh acidity and velvety, grainy tannins. This is an extremely well balanced wine on its peak that could easily be cellared for at least another 5 years.

Cascina Galarin Barbera d’Asti DOC Superiore “Bricco Rorisso” 1997

Deep red with a brown tinge, this wine is the living proof of the ageing capacity of Barbera from extraordinary vintages. With an open nose of lively fresh fruit and a full, round and powerful palate this wine unfolds as if it was made yesterday. According to Beppe the wine has evolved very slowly and will keep doing so as the structure of fruit, firm tannins and fabulous acidity is solid and in perfect balance.

Cascina Galarin Barbera d’Asti DOC Superiore “Bricco Rorisso” 1996

Although this wine has a youthful deep red colour, secondary and tertiary aromas initially dominate the nose. With time in the glass the wine opens up and allows fresher berry fruit to shine through. The palate is full and flavoursome with pronounced acidity and less roundness than the ’98 and ’97 Bricco Rosisso. It’s certainly not as approachable as these wines, however, its character and complexity make this wine absolutely more intriguing.

Cascina Galarin Barbera d’Asti DOC Superiore “Bricco Rorisso” 1990

I must confess that when I first saw the line-up I had my doubts about this wine. I mean a Barbera of this age, it must be a joke. How wrong I proved to be! Brick red in colour the rich nose oozed aromas of plum, cherry and little red berries following through to a smooth and round palate where relatively low acid further enhanced the sweetness of the fruit. This wine reminds me of fresh picked grapes squeezed in a glass. Hors Category, a wine that will be in my memory forever!

Produttori del Barbaresco Asili 1999

September 19, 2008

img_5120When the wines from Barbaresco are discussed a lot of generalisations tend to be made: the grapes ripen earlier than in Barolo and the biggest part of the DOCG’s soil consists of the same calcareous marl that is found around the comunes of Barolo and La Morra, all resulting in lighter structured Nebbiolo performing as humble understudy for the more famous and ageworthy examples from Barolo. How inaccurate such generalisations can be is beautifully described in Edward Steinberg’s ‘The vines of San Lorenzo’, an in depth exploration on the superstar of Nebbiolo Angelo Gaja and the making of his famous cru Sorì San Lorenzo. Through conversations with viticulturist Frederico Curtaz aspects as for example exposition, the position of the vines on the slope and methods of planting are lined up in order to unravel the mysteries of terroir, a concept that stresses the uniqueness of a specific site opposed to common characters of a whole region.

When the qualities of certain vineyards in Barbaresco are considered it’s not surprising their wines are more baroleggiano than one might suspect. Montefico, Rabajà, Montestefano and Asili are notable examples, the latter known for its subtle wines, ultimately shown in the 1999 Produttori del Barbaresco. Deep ruby red in the glass, intense, highly aromatic aromas of cherries, red berries, violets, roses, exotic spices and a hint of tar are the prelude to a full-bodied palate where sheer power and great finesse are marvelously balanced with smooth tannins, ample acidity and a long, persistent finish. This is benchmark Barbaresco that rightly deserves a place in any serious cellar.

Source: Enoteca Sileno/The Grocer  Price: $145  Drink: Now-2020+

Produttori del Barbaresco Rio Sordo 2001

September 16, 2008

The Produttori del Barbaresco is a phenomenon. The fact that it is a cooperation is nothing special, there are quite a few on the peninsula, what makes The Produttori really stand out is the consistently high quality of all its wines. When you add to this the fact that it crafts wines from no less than nine different crus, it is not hard to realize The Produttori is something truly unique, an excellent producer to be considered amongst the best of the Barbaresco DOCG.

The Produttori’s flagship wines are all released as Riserva, having spend 36 months in large Slavonian botti and an additional 18 months in the bottle. But before that, the grapes from the 4.6 hectares of Rio Sordo are slowly fermented on the skins for about 21 days at no less than 30°C in order to leach out plenty of colour and tannins. Despite the softening of the latter due to the mandatory ageing before release, the structure of the wine is of such a high standard that even at 7 years of age its life has just begun. Purple red with orange reflections the nose suggests a more developed complexity straight away with cherries, red berries, dried rose, leather, earth, mocha and spices following through to a rather austere palate with a tightly knit tannic structure, ample acidity and a long, elegant finish. This is absolute class that will last for at least another 15 years.

Source: Enoteca Sileno/ The Grocer  Price: $140  Drink: 2010-2020+


Vietti Barolo Castiglione 2004

September 4, 2008

This is Luca Currado’s and Mario Cordero’s entry-level Barolo, a wine mainly made from grapes from Bricco Fiasco vineyard in Castiglione Falletto, Bussia and La Coste in Monforte d’Alba, Fossati in Barolo and Ravera in Novello. Average yields are around 40 hl/ha – yields for the crus are typically 30 hl/ha – so the quality of the fruit is of what can be expected of Vietti. However, with growing conditions as exceptional as in 2004 the fruit has gained a concentration and richness not often seen at this level. Deep red in colour its nose reveals plums, blackberries, cherries, violets and exotic spices following through to a masculine and tightly knit palate where complexity is locked in sturdy fruit, fine yet powerful tannins and fresh acidity. It’s big, macho, shows class and should be left alone for at least 2-3 years before its more delicate and emotional side will be shown. 92 points  

Source: Red + White  Price: $125  Drink: 2010-2020