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ITALY: Northern Italia

There is an incredible array of wines made in the Northern part of Italy.   Let's define this region narrowly, including the Val d'Aosta, Liguria, Piemonte (we've got a whole separate page for this area), Lombardia, the Veneto, Alto Adige, Trentino and Friuli.

Northern Italy and Major Wine Types

AOSTA Rarely seen in the U.S. as the wines are relatively "minor" in the context of international quality.  If you visit this mountainous area neighboring France, you'll find grapes such as Prie Blanc,  Nebbiolo, Barbera, Gamay, Petit Rouge, Petit Arvine, Moscato, Malvasia, Blanc de Valdigne, Vien de Nus, Syrah, Grenache, Müller-Thurgau, Fumin and perhaps some Dolcetto.
LIGURIA This small coastal area along the Italian Riviera has Genoa as its main city.  Famous for basil (friends swear the basil for their pesto is best grown on some little hill outside Genoa!), the region has relatively modest quality wines. Cinqueterre is a famous white wine, but what we've seen in our market has been rather average in quality.  Two white grapes are of interest, Pigato and Vermentino, while in red there's a Dolcetto-like wine made from what's called "Rossese di Dolceacqua". 
LOMBARDIA Only recently gaining some fame, thanks to a couple of high-profile winemakers, this region between Piemonte and the Veneto has a curious assortment of wines and grape varieties.  Wines of note include:  Buttafuoco, Franciacorta, Grumello, Inferno, Lugana, Oltrepo Pavese, Sassella, Sfursat, Valcalepio and Valtellina.   Grapes here include Pinot Nero, Chardonnay, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Trebbiano (of various clones), Bonarda, Sangiovese, Marzemino, Schiava Gentile, Rondinella, Merlot, Pinot Bianco, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Müller-Thurgau, Riesling, Croatina, Tocai, Pinot Grigio, Brugnola and something called Uva Rara.
TRENTINO This region, north of Verona and south of the Alto-Adige (Sudtirol), produces a wide variety of varietal wines.  Cabernet, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero, Moscato, Riesling, Nosiola, Pinot Grigio, Riesling Italico, Riesling Renano, Lagrein, Marzemino, Merlot, Teroldego, Müller-Thurgau and Traminer are typical varieties. 
ALTO ADIGE -
SUDTIROL
All the villages here have names in German and Italian and many of the wineries offer their wines with both German and Italian names on the labels.     The locals grow up speaking German as their first language and speak of Italians as though they're foreigners!  There is an incredible assortment of wines here.  The Italian names are listed below, with the German name noted parenthetically.
Moscato Giallo (Goldenmuskateller), Pinot Bianco (Weissburgunder), Pinot Grigio (Rülander), Riesling Italico (Welschriesling), Muller-Thurgau,  Riesling Renano (Rheinriesling), Sauvignon, Sylvaner, Traminer Aromatico (Gewürztraminer), Malvasia, Merlot, Cabernet, Lagrein (the rosé being called Rosato, while the "dark" or red is called Scuro in Italian, Dunkel in German), Pinot Nero (Blauburgunder) Schiava (Vernatsch), Moscato Rosa and Tschaggeler. 
VENETO This large region touches a piece of Austria at the north, with land just west of Verona all the way east to Venice.  The most famous wines include Soave (made of Garganega and Trebbiano), Valpolicella (Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara   as its principal varieties), Bardolino (Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara, principally), Prosecco and Bianco di Custoza.  There are other denominazione such as Breganze, Colli Berici, Colli Euganei, Lessini Durello, Lison-Pramaggiore and Piave.   Producers of Valpolicella pride themselves on Amarone and Recioto wines, both made from dried grapes, the former tending to be powerfully dry, while the latter tending   to be strong and in varying degrees of sweetness.  Soave producers also, often, make a dessert wine of dried grapes called Recioto di Soave.  You can find many wines of the region as varietal wines, so there's a lot of Merlot, Cabernet, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Noir, etc. 
FRIULI In Italy's northeast corner, this region has about six sub-regions and wineries here tend to make a range of varietal wines.  Many produce curious proprietary blends.  Frankly, we don't look to this region for "good value" wines.  For example, Sauvignon Blanc wines here cost the importer about the same number of dollar that most California Sauvignons fetch at a retail or consumer level.
The DOC of "Colli Orientali del Friuli" is probably the most prestigious, while "Grave del Friuli" tends to produce less pricey wines.  In addition to the "standard" varieties such as Sauvignon (Blanc), Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Nero, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Riesling, a number of local varieties are noteworthy.  Refosco is a modest red, while Tocai Friulano is a typical white.  Now they can't call it "Tocai Friulano," so you'll see these wines labeled simply as "Friulano."  Schioppettino tends to be a spicy, lightly peppery red.  Pignolo is a rare red wine of interesting quality.  A couple of white grapes make wonderful dessert wines:   Verduzzo (sometimes made into a bubbly or fizzy wine) and Picolit. 

Some Wines We Like:

 

 

POJER & SANDRI
This is a famous, highly-regarded winery located way up in the hills overlooking the Trentino region.

 

We first visited this estate in the early 1980s and they were nearly "cult" figures back then.  Today our European friends, all of whom are fans of this winery, reserve their purchases long before the wines are even bottled!  Happily production has grown a bit and we were able to introduce P&S to a good importer who features artisan and environmentally-friendly wines.

The climate in this area is varied and the list of varieties made here is impressive.  For years Pojer & Sandri were thought of as bianchisti, or white wine producers.  But they even make impressive red wines.  So impressive, in fact, that they were invited a couple of years ago to come to Oregon's famous International Pinot Noir conference!  But they also produce a dynamite red blend featuring Cabernet.

For the most part, the wines come from high-elevation vineyards just north of the city of Trento.  You need an hour and 20 minutes in the car if you're coming from Verona.  And you're 45 minutes south of Bolzano in the Alto Adige.  The village of Faedo is a sleepy little place, apart from this landmark-of-a-winery and a few other small cellars.

Fiorentino Sandri inherited a few hectares of vineyards and he teamed up with his buddy, Mario Pojer to create a little boutique winery in the mid-1970s.  Sandri handles the vineyard work and Pojer is the cellar-master.  

The pair continually strives to make better quality wines.  CLICK HERE to go to a web page on the winery site enumerating their pioneering efforts with respect to various wines and innovations with gizmos and machinery to improve quality.

Over the years we've become almost a family member...the kids have come to California and have "hung out" with their American Zio (uncle).

Mario is one of those brilliant fellows who looks at everything, makes an evaluation and, if he likes a concept, works to perfect it.  He came to our shop and saw how we use a tank of argon in our wine-tasting room.  On a trip to Italy we saw they now have a tank of argon gas in their tasting, but Mario devised a really cool dispensing gizmo to sparge open bottles and preserve them after each pour.

He's worked with a company which builds pumping machines.  The innovation there was aimed at minimizing the potential for oxidation when moving grapes and wine.  This translates to winemaking with less SO2 for example.

They've designed a machine to clean the grapes immediately after harvest and prior to their being crushed.  
 
 
In fact, we visited Ca' del Bosco and saw they employ this machine now as are other wineries.
We found a video showing this grape-washing in action at Ca' del Bosco.  CLICK HERE to have a look at that.


Mario Pojer


Fiorentino Sandri

 

Now that their kids are grown up, it's great to see they have an interest in the family business.  Elisa Sandri has been in charge of sales and administration for a number of years.  Her brother Federico seems to be the winery ambassador and travels around the world to promote their wines.  Meanwhile, Matteo Pojer was sent to Friuli to a winemaking school in 2017.  Now he's speaking German and learning at the famous wine school in Geisenheim.  His sister Marianna is learning about Public Relations and handles some social media projects for the winery.  

 

It's a really wonderful enterprise and if you have not tasted their wines, you should consider exploring these.  The wines are "mountain wines" and you won't find them to be the fruit bombs made in warm-climate California sites.  For some tasters, the wines may be a bit too subtle.  These are usually not extreme in alcohol potency, for one thing.  






MULLER-THURGAU
is a bit of a specialty and it's grown on a hill close to the winery.  Palai is the name of the specific site and the wine takes that name.
It's vinified in  stainless steel and does not see any wood.  It's a rather delicate, crisp dry white and, frankly, oak would do nothing for this wine aside from covering it.
You'll find nice lemon and lime notes on the nose with a faint herbal tone, along the lines of a good Sauvignon Blanc.

It's not a very "big" wine and we enjoy this as a cocktail white or paired with seafood.  It seems to work nicely in tandem with Asian-styled foods, white fish or mildly-season vegetable pastas.

The 2015 has just landed and we've sale-tagged it at $19.99





The Nosiola grape may be an offspring of something from Northwest Italy's Aosta region.  It had been viewed as a table grape until someone made it into a Vin Santo in the early 1800s.  This catapulted the variety to much greater prominence.  It got another boost in the 1930s when the Archbishop of Trento decided to stop using red wine for religious ceremonies and change to white wine.  If he spilled Nosiola on his white vestments, who would notice?  

Nosiola these days is made by a number of wineries in the Trentino area.  We've tasted, amongst others, the wine made by the wine university at the base of the hill near Pojer e Sandri.  The Instituto di San Michele all'Adige bottles and sells its wines and theirs is a perfectly good rendition.  But the 2015 from Pojer e Sandri has more life and character.  Still, it's a light, dry, crisp white wine...think of a French Chablis, for example, but perhaps a tad more quiet and reserved.  We're told this wine can actually age well and so holding it for five years, or more, is not out of the question.
You can pair this with white-sauced pasta dishes, simple risotto, light salads and mildly-seasoned seafood.
 
 
You may note have experienced wine made from the Rotberger grape.
It's a grape that makes a light red, at best. 

The grape is thought, these days, to be a crossing of Trollinger (or Schiava in Italy) and Riesling.  The Geisenheim university brought this grape to life and it's not widely-planted.

Rotberger shines brightly when vinified as a Rosato and we were surprised to find the local importer brought in some Vin dei Molini.

The wine is bottled in the late winter/early spring to retain its mildly berryish, lightly herbal notes.

CLICK HERE to see a little video we shot when they were bottling this wine.
 
The wine is fresh and mildly herbal.  We detect red fruits and a some currants.  It's dry and light...we paired it with lunch at a San Francisco Dim Sum restaurant and it was delicious.  But it can also be matched with a salumi platter, oysters, prawn dishes, mild pasta and risotto or white meats.
 
 
 
Pinot Noir comes from high elevation sites.  One parcel is about 1000 feet above sea level, another is at 1640 feet while the highest is 2300 feet.  In addition to the cooling influences of these mountainous sites, there's the breezes called "Ora" that flow in off the nearby Lago di Garda.

As a result, this is a light and delicate Pinot Noir, but it's not a weak or feeble red wine.
If you're expecting a wine of the depth and weight of a good vintage from the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, why then, yes, you will be in for a disappointment.
But if you understand that it's sort of a picnic wine and intended for lighter fare, served lightly chilled along the lines of a Rosé or Beaujolais, you will be delighted.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Their signature wine for us is called Rosso Faye.  Faye is a reference to their hometown, Faedo, not the name of one of the wives or kids.

We believe the current bottling to be half Cabernet Sauvignon and the other half comprised of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and the wildcard, Lagrein (a local red grape).
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Our dear friend Claus Bonifer treated us to a magnum of a nicely-aged Rosso Faye.  It was a 1996 vintage and served at 20 years of age.  My, oh my, this was a handsome bottle of wine.
 
 
We found it to be reminiscent of well-aged Saint-Julien wines, for example.  It develops more rapidly than those magnificent wines from France's Bordeaux region, but this certainly was a ringer for a wine which might have been a decade, or so, older.

The 2011 is an exceptional wine.  It's got a pretty good backbone, but is drinkable now.  If you pair it with grilled or roasted red meat dishes, you'll be in for a treat.  It's not "Spaghetti Red," so pairing it with a tomato-sauced pasta won't show off the wine to the fullest.  The P&S families suggest Veal Shanks with Polenta, grilled steaks, rack of lamb or cheeses.  They're partial to local cheeses such as Trentigrana or Vezzena.

In addition to their bottle-fermented sparkling wines, they make a curious bubbly called Zero Infinito.

In the nearby Val di Cembra they cultivate a vine called Solaris.  It's a variety born the same year as the Pojer e Sandri winery as a viticulturist in Germany's Freiberg crossed "Merzling" with "Gm 6493."  
The professors doing this work were trying to create a disease-free vine and it seems they are successful.

The lack of vineyard treatments, then, is one Zero.  Its lack of sulphur in the winemaking is another Zero.
Then, as it finishes its fermentation in the bottle, it has no sweetening dosage, yet another Zero.

Some may describe this as a "Pet Nat," a currently popular fizzy wine. 
Others may say it's a Méthode Ancestrale sparkling wine...

The wine is rather cloudy and hazy when it shows up at the shop.  If the bottles are left untouched for a week, the wine becomes clear as the yeast sediments settle to the bottom of the bottle.

There are two ways to serve this.  One is to decant the clear wine off the sediment which yields a more aromatically fruity bubbly.
If you prefer something a bit more rustic, gently agitate the bottle and pour the wine with its sediment.

When you have the clear fizzy Zero Infinito, you'll find fragrances of a fruit bowl.  We've enjoyed the grapefruit-like notes in some bottles.  Others are reminiscent of fresh honeydew melon, pears and peaches.

Every bottle, though, is unique.  






While they're not making large quantities of sparkling wines, they do make an excellent bubbly which is extremely dry.  Like French Champagne, the wine is made of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  The wine is a blend of two vintages, in this instance, it's 1995 and 1996 vintages.  The wine spends about two and a half years on the spent yeast before disgorgement.  No sweetening dosage is added, so the wine is too dry for most people.  
 
 

 
 
 

 


Tasting the current line-up.



CLICK HERE TO SEE SOME PHOTOS.  
Currently in stock: 2011 ROSSO FAYE (List $65)  SALE $49.99
2015 MULLER THURGAU  SALE $19.99 
2015 NOSIOLA  $19.99
2016 VIN DEI MOLINI (Rosato)  $18.99
2015 PINOT NERO  $21.99
ZERO INFINITO SPARKLING WINE  $23.49

Their grappa is currently sold out.



 

Pojer & Sandri from Mauro Fermariello on Vimeo.  It's in Italian, but even non-speakers might comprehend a fair bit of the presentation.


 

 


COLTERENZIO
colterenzio.gif (59478 bytes)I have known the wines from this co-op for many years, having done extensive tastings of the wines from the Alto Adige.  On a recent trip to the area my friend Stoffi scheduled Colterenzio as our final appointment.  Apparently he'd saved the best for last. 

wpe10.jpg (4770 bytes)The winery was run by Luis Raiffer, a serious wine man.  The place, located in the town of Cornaiano (or Girlan in German, if you prefer), was started in 1960.  Today they have more than 370 hectares and the production is large.  While many claim the Produttori del Barbaresco to be Italy's model of a cooperative winery, I would have to say, given the quality of the production here, Colterenzio deserved a piece of that title.
They made a wonderful range of wines.  Raiffer's son Wolfgang took over when his dad retired and they continued to make some good wines.

But in the recent past he's departed to run a winery near Verona if I remember correctly.

 
 
 
They make a good, solid bottling of Pinot Grigio.  It's well-made, clean, fresh and nicely dry.  This is pretty much what people want in a Pinot Grigio:  nothing high alcohol, no oak, no toast, no butter...not at all like Chardonnay.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Then we have a lovely Sauvignon Blanc called "Prail."  This comes from hillside vineyard sites around 400-500 meters.  The wine is vinified in stainless steel for the most part, although there's a portion that goes into klarge wood tanks.  Both lots spend 6 months on the spent yeast sediment and are then blended and bottled.  This displays good varietal fragrances with a touch of tomato leaf and herbal notes.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Their Lagrein is made along the lines of a care-free Dolcetto from Piemonte, though without the tannic edge of some of those wines.  Lots of red fruits, virtually no tannin, mild acidity and it's begging to be served lightly chilled on a warm day.  It's perfect for picnic fare, pizza, lasagna, simple pasta, sausages, roasted chicken, etc.

 
 
 


Currently in stock:  

2015 PINOT GRIGIO 
$12.99
2014 SAUVIGNON BLANC "Prail"  SALE $17.99
2015 LAGREIN  $16.99

 

 




FORADORI
You can't know the Trentino grape called Teroldego without knowing the wines of Elisabetta Foradori.
You can't.

Her wines are the reference point for this wonderful grape, a variety that's particular to the Campo Rotaliano, a small region north of Trento.  There's lots of limestone and granite to the soil here.  Ms. Foradori has worked diligently to plant and re-plant good "clones" of Teroldego, preferring vines which will produce quality fruit, often at the expense of quantity.  The region, actually, had been carpeted with Teroldego from more vigorously-producing clones, so Foradori took cuttings from her family's oldest vines (heirloom Teroldego, if you will) to propagate.  Elisabetta says they have about 17 clones of Teroldego presently.  
 
The Famous Principessa of Teroldego.


In the cellar...


It was a warm morning, so we tasted outside...a "Fuoradori" tasting.


Her basic Teroldego is labeled simply as "Foradori."  It carries the "Rotaliano" D.O.C.    It comes from various vineyard sites from her major holdings in the Rotaliano "region."   The average age of these vines is older than the winemaker, which is a good thing.   The fermentation takes place in stainless steel and the wine is matured in seasoned oak for about a year.  These are routinely delicious and a great alternative to wines such as Chianti Classico, Barbera, etc.  We currently have her 2009 vintage.

"Granato" is a wine that's also made entirely of Teroldego, but though it's the more "special" wine, it has the lesser denominazione of the I.G.T. of Vigneti delle Dolomiti Rosso.  The wine comes from various vineyard sites, all cultivated with more severe pruning in the winter to reduce the yields and maximize the intensity of Teroldego. As we are seeing with many vintners these days, the winemaker's preference is to ferment the juice in wood, rather than the more sterile stainless steel tank.  Ms. Foradori employs a high percentage of new oak barrels, crafting a wine of the same level of quality as a Super-Tuscan, Super Piemontese, Napa Cabernet or fairly prestigious Bordeaux wine. This sees about 50% new oak, the rest split between slightly older cooperage.   We currently have some bottles of the highly-acclaimed 2004, a wine with a wonderful dark fruit quality and sweet oak bouquet.   Lovely example!

A trio of other wines rounds out her portfolio.  A white wine called "Myrto" features Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco and Incrocio Manzoni.  There's a particular red blend featuring Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah, Petit Verdot and 10% of local, "Foradori" varieties.  And, finally, she's been bitten by the Syrah bug, creating a wine called Ailanpa of which she makes about three bottles every few years.  

Elisabetta has recently become enamored with terracotta amphora containers for her wines.  It's too early to really say whether or not these enhance or have an effect on the wines.


Currently in stock:  2009 Foradori Teroldego "Normale" (List $25)  SALE $21.99
2004 Granato $54.99

 


 

 

EDI KANTE


When we try to explain the Carso wine region, most people are befuddled.  They have enough trouble imagining precisely where Friuli is located until we say "an hour's train ride north of Venice."

Trieste is a town many people have heard of but few could point on a map with any confidence and peg its location.  The Carso region is north of Trieste along the sea (the Gulf of Trieste, actually) and it's a region with wines most Italians would consider to be "foreign."

One of the leading winemakers, if not THE leading vintner, is Edi Kante.  His wines are regarded as the benchmark of Carso winemaking.  And one of the curious varieties I'd tasted from some Friuli producers who are located close to or on the border with Slovenia is a wine called Vitovska.  

Kante's is a remarkable bottle of wine.  You can 'taste' or sense the chalky soils where the vines are planted.  Some tasters may find an element or influence of the sea, as you might find a note of salt air in the wine.  I found a definite minerality in the wine, with a touch of apple and pear notes.  The 2006 currently in the shop is a terrific wine to pair with seafood, especially sand dabs or rex sole.  Got oysters?  

We purchased a bottle of Kante's Malvasia and Sauvignon Blanc.  The Sauvignon is nice, but not as compelling as the Vitovska.  

UPDATE:  The Malvasia was a perfectly standard bottle of minerally, stony white wine.  We did not find it floral or fruity, so we don't have it in the shop but can special order it for you.

Currently in stock:  2006 KANTE Carso VITOVSKA  $42.99 (last bottle or two)









 

 

 

CANTINA TRAMIN/TERMENO
This is a 300 member grower's cooperative winery whose Gewürztraminer is amazingly fine!  The winery was started in 1898 and in 1971 it merged with another co-op. They are located in storybook town of Tramin (or Termeno in Italian).  
If you visit this village, you'll immediately notice is does resemble some of the towns in France's Alsace, another bastion of the Gewürztraminer grape.
 

You might think they make loads of industrial-quality wine, but this is an exemplary cellar and they have rather high standards.  The winemaker is Willi Stürz and he's a perfectionist.  It's challenging to manage 300 small parcels owned by people whose idea is to harvest the maximum possible quantity of fruit while your idea as a winemaker is to create something of top quality.  Quantity and quality don't usually pair up in the world of wine, so pick one or the other.

The vineyards of the member growers are situated in the hometown of Tramin, of course, and nearby Ora, Egna and Montagna.   That's Auer, Neumarkt and Montan in German.  Each town has its name in both Italian and German.  

The entire line-up of wines is of good quality and a few of the wines are really exceptional.



 


 
 

Winemaker Willi Stürz
 




The Nussbaumer Gewürztraminer is extraordinary and holds its own with just about any dry Gewürz from France's Alsace region.  The vineyards are in clay and limestone, the exposure being south and south-west.  A portion of the grapes are picked somewhat late, when they're really ripe and intensely aromatic.  The juice is macerated with the grape skins to further intensify the spice notes.  What a wine!  Intense fragrances of lychees, grapefruits and rose petals waft from the glass.  The wine is quite dry, too, with but 7 or 8 grams of sugar per liter, typically.  This balances the slight bitter finish and balances the wine quite handsomely.
During the holiday season a woman visiting us from San Francisco asked about Gewürztraminer, wanting to see our selection of wines from Alsace.  She looked at me sideways when I proudly showed her a bottle of Nussbaumer.  
"How could an Italian Gewürztraminer possibly be any good?" she asked, still looking at me sideways.  
She reluctantly bought a bottle and nearly a year passed before we heard from her again (San Francisco, you see, is so far away!).
There was a call saying "Hello, I came to your store last year and you suggested some Italian Gewürztraminer...by any chance, do you have more of that?"
And she ventured down to Burlingame and bought some more bottles to share with friends and family that holiday season!

We visited the winery one summer and winemaker Willi Stürz opened a 5 year old bottle of the Nussbaumer...amazingly good and still very much alive.  We have bottles from the 2011 harvest, and it's exceptionally intense and very fine.

Their special bottling of a fantastic dry white blend is called Stoan.
This is a wonderful blend and perhaps the 2015 is the best we've ever tasted.

The wine is based on Chardonnay, but don't let that dissuade you.  There's Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc and a small percentage of Gewürztraminer in this blend.  For having such a high amount of Chardonnay, it seems to be more influenced by the Sauvignon Blanc, as there's a nicely citrusy tone.
The Pinot Blanc may give a bit of texture and the tiny drop of Gewürztraminer surely accounts for a bit of the aromatics.  The wine did see a bit of wood, but the oak is well in the background here.

We had a bottle of this opened in our tasting room and damned near everyone who's tasted tStoan has left the shop with a bottle, two or three.  One guy took six.

It's one of those interesting wines where everyone at the table is interested to see the bottle to make a mental note (if they didn't take a snapshot of it).



 

 
Currently in stock: 2011 NUSSBAUMERHOF GEWÜRZTRAMINER $41.99
2015 STOAN White Blend  $35.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

DAL FORNO

This is one of the storied estates in the Veneto making Valpolicella.  (The other is Quintarelli, as if you didn't know...)

A young Romano Dal Forno had met the legendary Giuseppe Quintarelli, as he was starting out in the wine world.  Dal Forno had a passion for the business, which Quintarelli noted, though the family vineyard holdings were located in the Val d'Illasi, a place Giuseppe felt was better suited to cultivating corn than grapes.

In those early days, Dal Forno's family had sold its grapes to the local grower's cooperative winery.  Romano and his wife Loretta were married in 1979 and the notion of wine was a bit of a fantasy...but they found they made a bit of money in selling wine and so this helped convince them that wine was a good idea.

Romano's grandfather had some vineyards as did Loretta's family...and so they embarked on a wine adventure and today Dal Forno's wines are a bit of a enological trophy.  They are expensive, indeed, but the family (their three sons are now involved in the family business) goes to extraordinary lengths to make wine.

They own around 12.5 hectares of vineyards and rent additional vineyards.  They farm, in total, around 27 or 28 hectares, including a modest quantity of an obscure variety called Oseleta.  This is a variety which has thick skins and very little juice.  As a result it was on the verge of extinction.   

Dal Forno bought cuttings of Oseleta and in 1988 started planting it in hopes of improving the quality of his Valpolicella.  Not a fan Molinara grapes, Dal Forno's wine is based upon Corvina and Corvinone which he says are not especially intense in color.  He likes Rondinella for its color and, as we understand it, the Corvina and Corvinone may extract a measure of color when fermented in concert with Oseleta.  Romano also is a fan of the Croatina grape.

His vineyards are densely planted and we have found his wines to have the intensity of Cabernet Sauvignon...very curious for Valpolicella.  But with his regimen of low yields and modern fermentation tanks, drying the fruit to further intensify the wine, perhaps it's possible to make the remarkable nectar offered under the Dal Forno label.
 
The tanks are equipped with special punch-down pistons to help extract color and character from the fruit.



And, of course, the cellar is computerized, allowing them to program each tank.
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They program the computer to routinely "punch down" the cap of the fermenting juice...something like every 90 minutes, which may contribute to the intense, deep color of their wines.

Of course, the tradition in making wine in this region is drying the grapes to intensify the character of the resulting wine.  Dal Forno has designed a special system to facilitate this process and they dry or dehydrate fruit not only for their Amarone, but for their "basic" Valpolicella, as well.

The underground cellar is a work of art.

Romano Dal Forno is a fan of American oak cooperage.  


As we walked through the cellar, Dal Forno, ever the perfectionist, would top off with wine each barrel from which we'd tasted...he'd then clean off the barrel and rinse the glass 'thief' as well as thoroughly cleaning the sink (more like a fountain, actually, as you can see behind wine aficionado Carlo Perini).




Domaine de la Romano Dal Forno.  It looks a bit like a Bordeaux wine cellar or something out of the Napa Valley.

 

Some tasters may fault the Dal Forno wines for being excessively oaky.  I've usually been reminded of the wines of Silver Oak or BV Private Reserve Cabernets of the early 1970s when tasting the young Valpolicella of this estate.  It's darker in color than wines of neighboring properties...perhaps the low yields, particular fermentation tanks, oak regime, etc., all allow the Dal Forno family to produce a wine more reminiscent of Cabernet Sauvignon than of Beaujolais.  

Romano points to the drying of the grapes as a contributing factor to the quality and character of their wines.  "This is a totally different dynamic than working with 'fresh' grapes."

He likes the American oak barrels (many being coopered in the Southwest of France in the Armagnac region).
"Oak for our wine is a bit like a good suit or a haircut for a gentleman.  It makes a good first impression for most people."  And, as with many wines, as the wine matures in the bottle, the oak tends to become less prominent and, eventually, the grape takes over and shows its qualities.

We currently have the 2003 Valpolicella in stock.  It's deep and dark in color and shows a fair bit of wood and dark fruit notes.  This is the "Silver Oak Cabernet of Valpolicella."  It's a very showy wine on its own (Romano often suggests consumers drink it by itself!) and it pairs handsomely with grilled steaks, lamb, prime rib or duck.

We can order the Amarone, if you like.  Be sure there's 'room' on your credit card.

Currently in stock:  2003 DAL FORNO VALPOLICELLA (list $200) SALE $169.99
Amarone by Special Order

 

 

MONTE SANTOCCIO

If you follow baseball, you know that it's rare for a kid to come out of high school or college and make it directly to the Major Leagues.

Typically a kid might get drafted out of high school and head directly to the minor leagues, starting at the bottom.  Or he may attend a college or university and play on the school team for a few years before being drafted and then, typically, he'll go to the minor leagues, starting at the bottom.  Some guys spend a decade waiting for a call to come to The Show.  For some, it's maybe for as cup of coffee, just to get a taste of major league ball and then it's back to the minors.

What's this got to do with Monte Santoccio?  Is he a first baseman for the Verona Romeo's baseball team?  

Well, actually, Santoccio is a little area near the "big city" of Fumane and the winery is the work of a young fellow named Nicola Ferrari.  And his first winemaking "gig" was in the major leagues at the winery of Valpolicella legend, the late Giuseppe Quintarelli!   He didn't spend a decade laboring in a big grower's co-operative or large industrial winery before deciding to make his own...Nope.  

This kid was in the major leagues right away, making him a bona fide "bonus baby."  (I wonder if any young fans have ever heard this term?)

Nicola Ferrari was 26 years of age when he was hired by Quintarelli.  There he saw all sorts of traditional vineyard protocols and winemaking techniques.

We teased him about his having learn what to do and what not to do.  Quintarelli's wines have a lot of personality, to be sure.  And they don't come with a price tag, but instead, there's a ransom note on the bottle.  You'll pay $350+ for a bottle of the "regular" Amarone, for example.  If you want the fancy bottling, that's $1200 a bottle. Happily, Signor Ferrari doesn't apply the Quintarelli pricing policy to his artisan production bottlings.

The family estate now comprises about 5 hectares and they produce about 35,000 bottles annually at the present time.  We've noticed Ferrari started with but three hectares and these day's, it seems, they've grown.
And why not?  The fellow is making some outstanding wines!

They also cultivate some olives.
The vineyards and cellar are approximately at 350 to 400 meters in altitude.  The soils are rather chalky which accounts for good acidity in the wines.  The Monte Santoccio wines are not especially "big," but they're not shy and retiring, either.


No weed killers, but they're not certified as biologico, either.  "My wife and I have two young kids.  We live here.  We don't want to pollute our environment with chemicals."

The cellar was under construction when we visited the first time...by 2017 the place has been completed and it's fully functioning.

Mostly tonneaux in the cellar for aging the wines.  Mostly French wood, thought there's a tiny bit of American oak.  These puncheons are for the Ripasso and Amarone.

Nicola is a thoughtful winemaker.  "You have to have passion to work in wine if you're going to make good wines."

And does he!  We have a 2013 vintage of Ripasso.  This is a serious bottle of wine and it's clearly a level or two above most ripasso wines.  Many large producers make technically sound Ripasso but they rarely have the soul of a wine such as this from Monte Santoccio.

Ferrari has a good blend for the wine.  Typically it's mostly Corvina and Corvinone, with maybe 20-25% of Rondinella the rest being Molinara.  Ferrari leaves the Valpolicella in contact with the Amarone skins for nearly 3 weeks, his "secret" in making a seriously good Ripasso.  The wine then spends about 20-24 months in those puncheons you see in the photo above.  



Monte Santoccio's Amarone is a real show-stopper.  

The fragrances are bright and display red and black fruit.  It's not a rustic, raisiny red wine as are some.  And it's not sweet, usually having but three grams of sugar, below the threshold for most palates (of 5 grams).  The grapes are picked towards the end of September to early/mid October. The grapes are dried until sometime in January when Nicola begins vinifying this masterpiece.  The wine is matured for about 30 months in those puncheons, resulting in a mildly tannic, robust, full, fine red.  

It's a really showy wine. 

We have the 2012 in the shop presently.  It is outstanding.  Ferrari was kind enough to share an older bottle with us and we tasted a 2009 Amarone.  At 7+ years of age we found the wine to be very showy.  Great nose and still fresh.  Nicely woodsy with fine tannins, yet deep fruit.  It seemed to show a hint of sweetness, but still very complex and impressive.

Nicola told us "I'm not big on vini da meditazione but more vini da pasto."  The former are wine for contemplation while the latter are perhaps less complicated and more for sheer hedonistic enjoyment.



Of course, the irony here is Ferrari makes wines worthy of consideration and contemplation so he's modestly under-selling the Monte Santoccio wines.  

We were not fooled, in any case.  

Nicola understands, though, that good wine is meant to be shared with friends and family, not to be put on a pedestal as some museum piece and worshipped.



His wife Laura was a clothing designer and she's quite an artist.  

That's some of her artistry on the label.  
His artistry is in the bottle.  
Both are masterpieces in one form or another.

His Recioto is quite good...not imported yet, but damned good.  The other bottle in that photo is called Viola, a Passito of some sort and named after one of their daughters, Viola.



This is a seriously good producer and the passion and enthusiasm for winemaking is evident in every bottle.

Currently in stock:  2013 MONTE SANTOCCIO VALPOLICELLA Classico Superiore Ripasso  $29.99 
2012 MONTE SANTOCCIO AMARONE della VALPOLICELLA Classico  $74.99

 



 

 






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