La Dolce Italia
It seems like every visitor to Italy's Piemonte area
falls in love with the fresh, fragrant, mildly fizzy, low alcohol wines which bear the denominazione
of "Moscato d'Asti." For years, our government did not recognize these
5.5% alcohol beverages as "wine", as the legal definition required a 7% alcohol
Muscat grapes are cultivated from the Asti area south into the Barbaresco zone.
Winemakers crush and press the juice, holding it in its unfermented state under
refrigeration. As orders come in, they will ferment, partially, this juice to the
5.5% alcohol level, leaving the wine with a fair bit of sweetness. This insures the
freshness of the wine throughout the year.
For some reason, it seems the best Muscat makes its way into these lightly fizzy wines.
The more bubbly "Asti Spumante" are rarely as fine.
- Currently in stock:
SARACCO $ 14.99 Paolo
Saracco is one everyone's short list of TOP Moscato d'Asti producers.
His wine is delicious and arrives here, most importantly, in good
condition. Fresh. Lively. Fizzy and youthful. We
have the 2011. Wonderful wine!!
CASCINETTA $15.99 This brand is
made by a fellow name Soria and marketed here by Vietti. It is always quite good.
On a recent visit, I was buying some wines to drag back to Germany for Norbert
& Gaby. I called to ask if they wanted the new "half bottles" which
were available. Gaby's reply was something like, "No! FULL-BOTTLES!
Norbert & I can easily polish off a whole bottle. Half bottles are for
G.D. VAJRA $19.99 It's relatively
recently that this producer of elegant and very refined Barolo (and
Riesling, Pinot Noir and Freisa) has been making Moscato d'Asti. And
they do a fabulous job! Very fine, intensely "Muscat" and
thoroughly delicious. The 2010 is currently in stock.
CASCINA CASTLE'T MOSCATO D'ASTI $12.99 (750ml)
curiously labeled bottle depicts an insect atop the rim of a wine glass or
cup, drinking the wine through a straw.
I can recall a harvest season at a Piemontese winery...the little boy
arrived home, ran into the kitchen and had a serious "glug, glug"
right out of the bottle of their Moscato! Who needs a straw?
Anyway, Maria Borio makes this lovely little fizzy and it's sweet and
delicious. Tropical fruit notes along with the classic Muscat
fragrances and flavors...yum.
La Montecchia is a producer in the Veneto whose
owners can trace their history back hundreds of years. Maybe even a
The property is located near Padova and you'd only be 40 kilometers from Venice
here...an hour by car and you're in Verona!
There's a rather fancy villa on the property and
tourists can rent one of the three small agriturismo rental units.
If you're a golfer or swimmer, those options are open to visitors as well.
But we are more concerned with wine and happily this estate produces a really
It's made from the Orange Muscat grape and carries the name "Fior d'Arancio."
What a dangerously delicious wine! Here's a remarkably aromatic and fruity
bubbly. Sweet, but not heavy or syrupy.
Currently in stock: LA MONTECCHIA "Fior
WACKY: MAROTTI CAMPI "XYRIS" $17.99
From Italy's Marche region comes this unique, delightful and new bubbly.
It's made by the Marotti Campi folks, a winery famed for a wonderfully aromatic
red wine called Lacrima di Moro d'Alba.
This confuses many Italian wine aficionados, as they think d'Alba refers to the
wines of Piemonte's Langhe region.
Not this time.
It's the name of a grape variety from the town of Moro d'Alba.
Lacrima di Moro d'Alba.
The color is dark purple. The aromas of the non-fizzy wine are hugely
fragrant, with notes more reminiscent of Gewurztraminer: rose petals and
The sparkling wine isn't quite as fragrant, though, but the flavors shine
brightly...lots of raspberries and a touch of citrus with a faint suggestion of
Bob said the flavors reminded him exactly of a sorbet I made recently using the
dry table wine called Rubico from Marotti Campi.
You'll simply have to taste this to know...
Most Vin Santo comes from Tuscany, though we do have one from a
famous winery in neighboring Umbria. Typically the wine is made from Trebbiano and
Malvasia, though, apparently, other grapes are permitted.
The fruit is laid out on straw mats (or hung in the house or attic of the winery) where it
dries and shrivels. Once in its raisined state, the juice is then pressed and
fermented. Aging takes place in small barrels which are stoppered with a cement
covering over the bung. The wine is then matured for 3-5 years, sometimes longer.
This little cask of Vin Santo was thoroughly sealed with a
bung coated in wax...and this producer will not bottle this wine until 2013 or
A taste of a homemade Vin Santo at a Tuscan trattoria was outstanding. The wine was,
obviously, not very old so it had retained a wonderful grapey, fresh fruit quality.
The more traditional Vin Santo has a "nutty" character, not unlike a Sherry.
They also tend to be between 14-16% alcohol.
Some of the really top Vin Santo wines are quite pricey. They can be extraordinary!
However, most customers are merely looking for a wine in which to dip biscotti
(also known as croccanti, spacccadenti, ricciarelli and cantucci).
Currently in the Shop:
- Isole e Olena (375ml) (list
$60) SALE $51.99
- Outstanding! Very fine. Very
serious Vin Santo, traditionally made.
MONTELLORI 1998 Sold Out Presently
a dear old friend who's making some fine wines in Fucecchio, not far from
Lucca, we have a well-aged, beautifully balanced, sweet, nutty Vin
Santo. Highly recommended!
FELSINA $39.99 (375ml)
Quite good, nutty, well-aged...long finish.
Avignonesi Vin Santo di Montepulciano
("Normale") Sold Out (375ml)
Avignonesi Vin Santo "Occhio di Pernice" $219.99
winery makes probably the finest, most sweet Vin Santo. Made from
Grechetto, Malvasia Toscana and Trebbiano Toscano, the wine is matured in
tiny barrels of 13 gallon capacity for 10 years. It is incredibly rich
and sweet. I have tasted this periodically and recall that each time
it was so sweet, it made by teeth hurt! It's the Château d'Yquem of
Vin Santo wines. Quite rare, too.
Even more rare is their special bottling called "Occhio di Pernice."
This is made not of white grapes, but of the Prugnolo Gentile (Sangiovese in
English)...even more intense and deep...mind boggling...nectar.
A small barrel of the 2001 Occhio di Pernice...aging patiently in the
cellar of Avignonesi.
PIAZZANO VIN SANTO SALE $29.99 (375ml)
Vin Santo comes from a little estate not too far from Pisa...
We had mostly been interested in their Chianti wines, but it seems they
have a delightful recipe for Vin Santo, too.
Trebbiano, Malvasia and Sancolombano comprise the blend...nicely nutty and
BADIA A COLTIBUONO VIN SANTO SALE $37.99
(375ml) Last bottles
large estate has dozens of vineyard sites (something like 180 parcels!)
and more than three dozen olive groves.
Their Chianti wines gained a certain measure of prominence in the 1970s
and 1980s. These days they're certainly viewed as a 'reliable'
producer of Tuscan wines.
Vin Santo is made of a 50/50 blend of Trebbiano and Malvasia and it's
matured for about 4 years in wood. The resulting wine is sweet and
soft, showing some candied orange notes and a bit of a nutty, oxidized
sort of quality.
- OTHER ITALIAN DESSERT WINES
Antinori "Muffato della Sala"
Originally this was a dessert wine made from a blend similar
to that of Umbria's Orvieto. Over the years they've refined the blend and today it
is an excellent (and a relatively secret) blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Grechetto, Traminer
and Riesling. At least some of the grapes are affected with botrytis, as this is
wonderfully honeyed and rich. It is even matured in French oak for several months!
Coppo Brachetto Sold Out
We understand the Coppo family is no
longer producing this wine...a bit like Kodak no longer making film, or
Hewlett-Packard no longer making computers and printers.
How can that be?
- Banfi Brachetto d'Acqui $19.99 (750ml) We view this as an after dinner beverage, but I know some Piemontese who
enjoy this sort of fizzy, slightly sweet red as a mid-afternoon wine. They also pair
it with some home-cured prosciutto and homemade salame.
I'd consider this with raspberry truffles or some sort of chocolate and
raspberry dessert of grand decadence.
Angelo, His Sister and Mrs. Angelo.
ROSSA "BIRBET" $21.99 (750ml)
Just a short drive from beautiful downtown
Canale is the winery of Angelo Ferrio, one of the most charismatic
characters in Piemonte!
He's a giant of a winemaker, though he's a short fellow with a deep voice,
perfect for radio and yet he laughs like a little kid (hee hee hee!).
They make some "serious" red wines at Cascina Ca' Rossa (the
'house' is sort of red...more pink as you can see in the photo above), but
there's also a delightfully frivolous Brachetto which is vinified to around
5% alcohol, leaving a nicely sweet, fizzy red wine. It's thoroughly
delicious and tastes like summer.
There's a nice touch of rose petals and raspberries to the flavor of this
- CASCINA GILLI
- Italy has
an amazing array of sweet wines and virtually every region offers something
particular to that locality.
Above, of course, we've posted notes on Vin Santo wines from Tuscany and
Moscato d'Asti bottlings from Piemonte.
There's a town near Asti that is well-regarded for a particular sweet wine
and the leading practitioner of the "art" of fizzy Malvasia is
Cascina Gilli in the environs of Castelnuovo Don Bosco.
- The wine is much appreciated by "those who know," and
it's been five years since we've been able to offer this amazing wine.
The previous importer was distracted by hugely expensive Barolo's and
ignored this little treasure. We've stayed in touch with the folks
at Cascina Gilli and, finally, have access to their Malvasia.
The wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in reinforced stainless steel
tanks and bottled with the carbon dioxide, so the wine is mildly
bubbly. The color this vintage is fairly deep and the aromas are
wild: sweet strawberries, ripe raspberries and hints of floral notes
in the background.
It's not high in alcohol, so this is dangerously drinkable, especially
with fruit desserts.
It's, essentially, "summer in a bottle."
Chill a bottle for your next dinner festa and you'll soon hear the
"oohs" and "aahs."
Currently in stock: CASCINA GILLI "MALVASIA" $17.99
Vineyards at Cascina Gilli
The Allegrini family, "the" leading family in Valpolicella, makes a
small amount of a wonder "Recioto." The grapes are dried for several
months and the wine is aged for more than a year in oak. Some people will tell you
this is the "sweet" version of Amarone. The producers in the Veneto
say this is incorrect. "Amarone is the dry version of a Recioto."
It's quite rare. Some liken it to Port, given that the wine is very berryish and
fruity, though lower in alcohol. Chocolate, dried fruits or biscotti call for this
Available in 500ml bottles: $51.99
Colosi name is highly regarded for its Malvasia delle Lipari wines.
Now in its third generation, the winery has about 7 hectares of vines on the
tiny island of Salina north of places like Palermo and Messina.
We have a couple of wines from Colosi. Piero Colosi's 1999 Malvasia
delle Lipari is blended with 5% Corinto Nero and has a floral, slightly
nutty character. It's sweet, of course, with lots of honeyed and
apricot notes. Also available is Colosi's "Passito di
Pantelleria," a wine of similar blend but made of grapes that have been
dried or raisined. The resulting wine is quite intense, with candied
orange and nut-like aromas and flavors. As only a few people
know these wines, we usually have but a bottle or two in stock (but can
usually order more rather quickly).
Currently in stock: Malvasia
delle Lipari $31.99 (375ml)
Passito di Pantelleria $36.99 (500ml)
- We have a
wonderful example of Moscato made as a Passito wine from the Pellegrino
winery. Pantelleria is the home of this wine, some 80 miles south of
where Marsala is made in Sicilia.
The island of Pantelleria is a bit isolated and many vineyards used to be
shielded from the sea breezes by rock walls.
This is fairly sweet, with a mildly raisin-like note.
Pellegrino Passito $24.99 (750ml)
Pellegrino Passito $15.99 (375ml)
Pellegrino Moscato Sold Out
is a wine made by the Rallo family, a familiar name to those who know some
of the names associated with Marsala wines.
Donnafugata is a "new" project for the Rallo family, having been
started in 1983.
We like their exceptional sweet wine from the island of Pantelleria, called
Ben Rye. This is produced from the local Zibibbo grape (known
elsewhere as Moscato d'Alessandria) and the vines produce a small crop--less
than two tons per acre! The grapes are usually harvest in August and
left to dry until mid to late September when the juice is
vinified. The resulting wine, which is costly to produce, offers an
amazing fragrance of apricots, baked peach, caramel and toasted nuts.
Some people enjoy this with Foie Gras, but it's exceptionally fine with
coffee or mocha-flavored desserts. Very fine. Very rare.
Currently in stock: BEN RYE Passito di Pantelleria $37.99
- Friuli is
the home of some amazing wines and very fine cooking. I was amused
when a proud Friulana woman told me that some Italian regions have good food
and some have good wine, but Friuli (in northeastern Italy) is the only
region when you can find both!
(I'm sure she'd hear arguments from friends in Tuscany, Piemonte,
Emilia-Romagna and just about everywhere else in Italy!).
La Roncaia is a small cellar near the town of Nimis, owned by the Fantinel
winery family. Fantinel was started by a hotel and restaurant
guy. In fact, the current generation of Fantinels has opened a chain
of wine bars around Italy (Rome, Milano, Cortina d'Ampezzo, Venice, etc.) to
show off its Friulano wines and local specialties such as San Daniele
While the Fantinel wines are sound, simple wines, the La Roncaia project is
their higher quality level winery. They have vineyards in Ramandolo, a
name most closely associated with the rare Picolit grape. This grape
was, at one time, viewed as producing wines of similar quality to that of Chteau
d'Yquem. The Picolit vine tends to produce a small crop and then they
dry the fruit for about 8 weeks to further concentrate the sugar. The
juice is fermented in stainless steel and small oak, with the resulting wine
showing lots of apricot and raisined notes. We view this as a
wine for fruit desserts, but I know friends in Friuli like it as an
accompaniment to certain local cheeses.
- Currently in stock: LA RONCAIA 2002 Picolit $55.99 (375ml)
- Though not always a "dessert wine," Marsala is one of Italy's most famous
exports. It comes from the provinces of Palermo, Trapani and Agrigento in Sicily.
The grape varieties found here include Catarratto, Grillo and sometimes Inzolia.
You'll find both dry and sweet versions, dry typically being used for chicken and
We often receive telephone calls inquiring if Sherry can be substituted for Marsala, since
virtually none of the home chefs in the region think of stocking the cupboard with
Marsala. In fact, the wines are not terribly similar, as Marsala is made from
concentrated grapes. Its minimum aging period for those designated "fine"
is but four months, while those noted as "superiore" are a degree
higher in alcohol and aged 2 years. Those matured for five years can be called
Watch out for those labeled "speciali"
as these are typically flavored with coffee or eggs. We usually have some bottles of
"VOV," a Marsala with eggs which is basically liquid "zabaglione."
There's not much of a market for especially fine Marsala. We had a special bottling
from the house of Florio at one time. The distributor no longer offers this due to
the lack of interest.
But recently (2013) we've had access to some seriously good Marsala.
MARCO DE BARTOLI
de Bartoli took over his mother's farm in the 1970s and although he could
have made 'simple' Marsala wines, he took another direction and became a
world famous winemaker.
In fact, De Bartoli had two wine businesses, one making wine in the region
famed for Marsala and a second cellar on Pantelleria where he made a wine
De Bartoli passed away and today his sons runs the business, making some
We have some bottles of the Vigna La Miccia, a "Marsala
Superiore," a wine made entirely of the Grillo grape and matured for 4
years in French oak. It's not a solera-type Marsala but comes under
the heading of "Conciato." It's an extraordinary wine,
fairly sweet but with a fine balance so it's not syrupy or
We like the notes of dried apricots and the mildly nutty character
here...nothing like it and if you want to show guests something they've
probably not tasted previously, put a bottle of this on the table with some
Gorgonzola at the end of a meal...or an Apple Crisp with a rich Vanilla Ice
- Currently in stock: DE BARTOLI "VIGNA LA MICCIA"
MARSALA SUPERIORE ORO Sale $39.99 (500ml bottle)
- VITO CURATOLO ARINI
claim to be the oldest family-operated winery making Marsala and their
story goes back to 1875 when young Vito Curatolo decided to build a winery
and start producing Marsala.
He added his mother's maiden name, Arini, to his to further distinguish
himself from other producers.
They make a single vintage Marsala which attracted our attention.
It's a 1988 vintage and is a blend of Grillo and Cataratto grapes.
As the wine is fermenting, they arrest the fermentation by adding "mistella,"
a mix of fresh juice and high-proof alcohol. And then they blend in
some "Mosto Cotto," or "cooked" grape juice.
The wine then is put into neutral wood such as Slavonian oak and it spends
a couple of decades maturing. The 1988 was bottled just before the
harvest of 2011!
The wine is deep amber in color and the nose shows notes of dried apricots
and brown spices. It's fairly sweet, so pairing it with a sweet
dessert is ideal...baked apples with honey and walnuts...desserts with
maple, perhaps...an Apricot Tart...you get the idea.
Currently in stock: VITO CURATOLO ARINI 1988
Riserva Storica MARSALA $24.99 (750ml)
is the most famous label in the US market for Marsala wines. Though
they do make some special bottlings, these are neglected by the importer
and distributor as they're too much "trouble" (work, in other
words) to sell.
You have to explain the wines to sommeliers and store owners and even with
that, scarcely anyone comes in to a restaurant or shop looking for Marsala
to put on the table.
Usually the request is for "cooking wine" that's Marsala and
even $12 is viewed by many home chefs as too costly.
But if you are preparing a recipe that calls for Marsala,
please splurge for the twelve-buck bottles of this and don't wimp out and
buy some California knock-off because it's five bucks.
We carry Florio's Sweet and Dry Marsala...Sweet for desserts and if you're
making some savory dish, you'll usually want the dry.
FLORIO DRY MARSALA "Fine" $11.99
- FLORIO SWEET MARSALA "Fine"
I VINI "MACULANI"
- The Maculan family tends vineyards in Italy's Veneto region. They're
located in the village of Breganze and make a tremendous variety of wines. While
they make good Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet, their dessert wines merit special
attention. There are three very fine sweet wines coming from the
"Dindarello" is an Orange Muscat, the grape being "Moscato Fior
d'Arancio" in Italian. This is relatively low in alcohol (typically below 12%)
and is perfect for berry and citrus desserts.
Bigger and richer is the wine called
"Torcolato," a blend of Vespaiolo, Garganega and Tocai. The fruit is left
to dry and is processed in January. It is usually matured in French oak, about
one-third of the barrels being new. This can be cellared for as long as a decade, if
The biggest, richest wine of the trio is called "Acininobili,"
made from the same varieties as Torcolato, but this fruit is affected with botrytis
cinerea. Maculan then ages this for two years in wood
and another in bottle. This is the smallest production of the trio, accounting for
something less than 200 cases annually. Like the Torcolato, this may be cellared for
a decade or so.
Photo Taken by Gerald Weisl
Fausto Maculan with my traveling companion that trip, a fellow named
Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyards. Fausto is showing Randall the bunches of
grapes in their warehouse which are next to a small stream (which provides humidity to
encourage the growth of botrytis cinerea).
- Currently in stock: 2005 Dindarello $18.99 (375ml)
- 2003 Torcolato $35.99 (375ml)
its many holdings around Tuscany and Umbria, Antinori bought a property near
Pitigliano in southwestern Toscana. If you know where Grosseto is
located, you're pretty close to the Aldobrandesca estate of Antinori.
They grow a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon here, but the main item of interest is
The first vintage from this property was made in 1997, though I know
Antinori had been offering Aleatico for many years. I was at some
friend's place in Italy and found a very ancient bottle of Antinori Aleatico
in their collection of bottles!
The wine has a marvelous perfume, being redolent of rose petals and it's
moderately sweet without being syrup.
It's a bit of a rarity as I don't think any of the Antinori reps in our area
even know this wine exists.
- Currently in stock: Antinori Aleatico $31.99 (500ml bottle)
Antinori has a new US importer and Aleatico
is not presently part of their portfolio.
- The new importer seems to think this
wine is simply not sufficiently important to be of interest, so they are not
bringing it in presently. We do have (usually), though, a nice
Aleatico from the Falesco winery...
the Antinori importer is not presently offering Aleatico, we've looked
elsewhere and found a really nice alternative. It's from the Falesco
winery in Lazio (not too far from Rome and virtually on the border of
The winery is owned by the Cotarella brothers. Riccardo is a famous
consulting winemaker and his brother Renzo works for the Antinori family.
This comes from a small 2 hectare parcel in Lazio. The wine is made
entirely of Aleatico and it's given a cold "soak" with the skins
to capture more aromas and flavors of this fragrant grape variety.
The wine is bottled young and fresh...a perfect partner with cherry pie,
berry cobbler or pears with a raspberry sauce...you get the idea.
Sweet but not sticky sweet, this is a delicious dessert wine.
Currently in stock: FALESCO "POMELE" Aleatico $27.99 (375ml)
don't injure yourself trying to say "Scacciadiavoli."
This is a winery owned by the Pambuffetti family, another nice-sounding name
if you can manage to pronounce it.
"Scacciadiavoli" refers to some sort of devil-banishing or
exorcism that took place in this Umbrian locale.
The grape for this amazing wine is the Sagrantino variety, a specialty of
the Montefalco area in Umbria. This is a deep, dark, powerful red
grape, making a wine which makes some Cabernets appear tame.
For decades the "traditional" wine made of Sagrantino was this
sweet, dessert wine. The residual sugar balanced the fierce tannins
and the wine was highly-prized and served at special occasions.
Today, of course, winemakers know how to manage the tannins and the
popularity of Sagrantino as a dry red table wine has skyrocketed. In
fact, it's catapulted Montefalco into a bit of an eno-tourist area.
The production of dessert wine is, today, much smaller than that of the red
Sagrantino table wine.
Scacciadiavoli is one of our favorite estates in the region and we find
their red wines to be of really good quality. So, I suppose, it
shouldn't be a surprise that they make a stellar example of Passito.
We have the 2003 vintage in store presently. Delicious with chocolate
desserts, particularly a flourless chocolate cake...chocolate with a
Currently in stock: 2003 SCACCIADIAVOLI Montefalco
"Passito di Sagrantino" $47.99 (375ml)
- If you have any special requests, please send me an e-mail and we'll see if your
favorite is available. firstname.lastname@example.org
WE ALSO HAVE ABOUT 40 DIFFERENT KINDS OF GRAPPA IN STOCK, PLUS ITALIAN BEER
And there's Barolo Chinato, various "Amaro" bottles and more...