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GIROLAMO DORIGO
We've been fans of the Dorigo wines since "discovering" them back in the mid-1980s.  I had attended VinItaly and was scouting for wines two decades ago when I tasted the most remarkable portfolio of this Friulian estate.  

They have been making good wines for many years (Girolamo is the "old timer" on the left, along with his son Alessio and daughter Alessandra).  I recall a magazine article about Dorigo and how he was teased by people calling him "Monsieur" since he was such a fan of good French wine.  He makes a delightful Bordeaux blend and some of his other reds actually resemble nice Bordeaux wines.  Dorigo also produces a Champagne-like spumante as well as nicely-oaked Chardonnay and Pinot Nero.



They have two vineyard sites.  One is called Ronc de Juri, the name Juri referring to the family which owned the place for several generations before Dorigo got there.  The other vineyard is Montsclapade which refers to the "divided" mountain or hill.



Dorigo makes an amazing array of wines.  From bone dry, bottle-fermented bubbly to dry whites to bold reds and golden dessert wines.




We recently found the dry white wine from the Ribolla Gialla grape to be especially interesting and price-worthy.  This grape variety has a very long history in this region and there are references to it going back to the 12th century!  

The grape is typically planted in soil that's known as "ponca," a stratification of marl and sand with a base of lime.   It was, according to the history books, a grand wine and quite popular for hundreds of years.  All sorts of fairly famous characters of the day were offered Ribolla.  Imagine the ocean of pretty ordinary Chardonnay that's made in California as the  white wine that's fashionable today.  Some might claim humanity has taken a step (or two) backward since the days when Ribolla was the wine of kings, dukes and emperors!

The various, famous vintners who practice traditional "Slovenian" vinification are said to produce wines which can age magnificently for decades.  Dorigo makes one that's a delight in its youth, the wine being fermented in stainless steel and left on the spent yeast for several months.  The grape is known for its racy acidity and we suspect that's one reason we enjoy this so much.  It's perfect partnered with seafood, from Asian-styled plates to something as simple as fried calamari.  You'll find a minerality similar to Sauvignon wines from France's Loire Valley or Chardonnays from Chablis.  There's nothing quite like this made locally.


Most Americans are unaware that Friuli produces a considerable amount of Merlot.  Its Bordeaux 'cousins', Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, are also prominent in the region.  (Old vineyards of Cabernet Franc are thought to actually be Carmenere.  Interesting, since in Chile, what they thought was Merlot is actually the Carmenere variety!)  Since we first tasted Dorigo's Cabernet Franc in the late 1980s, they've figured out how to cultivate the grapes to obtain more fruity notes and less vegetal elements.  The 2006 is fermented in stainless steel and then matured for a few months in seasoned barriques.  The wine is a real challenger to Loire Valley Cabernet Franc wines and unusually complex.  We like the red fruit elements and the hint of spice in the wine.  It's medium-bodied and beautifully balanced.  You might even use the word "finesse" to describe this.

 

Dorigo has long been making seriously good sparkling wine.  This is, I believe, made of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero in Italia) with the wine spending a brief period in wood to give it a bit of additional richness.  
Whatever Alessio does, it's a terrific bottle and it arrives here at a very attractive price...try finding this level of complexity in a French Champagne for $24!  

Currently in stock:  2009 DORIGO Ribolla Gialla SALE $18.99
2010 DORIGO Pinot Grigio SALE $18.99
DORIGO Brut Classico  $23.99




Team Dorigo 2008
Alessandra, Girolamo and Alessio



Team Dorigo 2009

**************************************************


You've seen a Swiss Army Knife...
Here's a version they have in Friuli!

***********************************




VENICA & VENICA

We've long been fans of the wines of the Venica family.  When we began exploring Friuli in the 1980s, Venica was one of the leading producers of white wines.  The estate dates back to the 1930s, but it was in the mid-1970s when the two Venica sons took over for their father.  Now, 30 years later, the new generation of the Venica family is involved, though Gianni and Giorgio still hold the reins.

I've found their red wines to be perfectly pleasant, but overshadowed, frankly, by their white wines.  


Giampaolo Venica shows off their well-kept vineyards and terroirs...


"Ponca" is the particular soil type...

The winery is rather modern and very clean...

The wines are well-farmed and well made.  You'll find nice aromatics in the Venica wines and they are dry, balanced and focused on the particular grape varietal.  
 


The winery is probably most famed for its Sauvignon Blanc wines.  

We chose their Ronco del Cero bottling. This wine captures the bright, mildly herbal character of good Sauvignon.  It's dry, but less steely than a crisply-edged Sancerre, for example.  The 2011 is a blend of five different clonal selections of Sauvignon, as Venica seeks to produce as complex a wine as possible.  
The skins are macerated with the juice for about half a day and after the fermentation the wine remains in contact with the spent yeast for perhaps 5 months.
Oak is not the featured element here, but instead, the Sauvignon is in the spotlight.  It's dry and medium-bodied...very fine!  Got Prosciutto?  (San Daniele is terrific alongside a bottle of Venica's Ronco del Cero!)
 
Currently in stock:  2008 VENICA & VENICA Tocai Friulano Currently Sold Out
2012 VENICA & VENICA Sauvignon "Ronco del Cero " $24.99




I CLIVI

This little production is the work of Ferdinando Zanusso, a fellow enamored with the rolling hills of his beloved Friuli.  The name, I Clivi, is a reference to the hilly sites from where this producer's wines are cultivated.

The region has long has vineyards and been a source of wine.  Zanusso was intent on finding a vineyard site to make classic wines which might attract some attention.

He found 8 hectares in the area known as Colli Orientali del Friuli in the town of Corno di Rosazzo.  And he found a 4 hectare site in the Collio area town of Brazzano di Cormons.
These sites are about a mile and a half apart and just a few minutes' drive from the Slovenian border.

Zanusso is assisted by his son, Mario.  They have the idea of producing what they call "transparent wines."  That is, they want the wine to show the grape variety, soil and climate without the winemaker putting his fingerprints all over the wine.

We are shown wines during our buyer's hours and so many wines taste like the marketing department sent a recipe to the enologists and requested wines they feel will attract a mass market audience.  And these are perfectly fine bottles for Bev-Mo and the grocery store to sell to folks who are not looking for anything more than a simple bottle of plonk to put on the dinner table.

We've tasted the I Clivi wines and found them to be soulful and compelling.  We've enjoyed a bottle, here and there, with dinner and the wines have been quite enjoyable and thought-provoking.  They're certainly not going to appeal to the Rombauer Chardonnay enthusiast, that's for sure!

They work with Tocai Friulano, these days known simply as "Friulano."  Also in the vineyards of I Clivi you'll find Verduzzo, Ribolla, Malvasia and an old clone of Merlot.  

We were especially enchanted by I Clivi's Verduzzo.  Years ago most of the Verduzzo we'd taste in Friuli was made as some sort of sweet wine.  Partly this was because the grape tends to produce a wine with a certain bitter finish.  Picking it late, many producers made a somewhat honeyed wine and the sugar masked the bitter notes.  

So the 2012 I Clivi Verduzzo is a bone dry white wine and it does have a touch of that faintly bitter note on the palate.  It's from vines of about 60 years of age and the wine is vinified in stainless steel and then aged in stainless in contact with the spent yeast.  No malolactic fermentation as Zanusso is intent on bottling a wine that is "transparent."  This precludes, then, maturing the wine in oak.  
Some describe Verduzzo as a "white wine for red wine drinkers," since it has a little 'bite' to it.  If you want a dry white for that Porchetta you're roasting or the well-seasoned roasted chicken, this is a good candidate for the dinner table."
And you can probably serve some sautťed baby artichokes on the side and these might eliminate that slightly bitter quality of the wine.  
It's a good bottle for "fish & chips," as the wine cleanses the palate and is a good counterpoint to fried food.
The I Clivi Verduzzo is a "thinking person's wine," which means it's a good thing they don't make much*.  Only 3000 bottles are produced annually, typically.  

The other wine of interest is a real rarity.  

When they picked the grapes, the wine was able to be called "Tocai Friulano," but the law changed some years ago and now producers can label their "Tocai" wines solely as "Friulano."

The fruit for this wine was harvested in 2001 when Silvio Berlusconi was in the early days of his first stint as Prime Minister of Italy.  (George W. Bush was in office for about 10 months in his first term.)

"So what's going on here?" you might be asking.  

Well, this wine spent about 12 years in a stainless steel tank on the spent yeast sediment.  The grapes are from the Brazan vineyard and Collio Goriziano  is the appellation or denominazione.  The resulting wine is remarkable.  It sat in tank for precisely 140 months (as noted on the label) and it did, in that time frame, undergo a secondary, malolactic fermentation.   The wine was bottled on the same day they bottled their 2011 vintage Friulano!
Friulano with 10% Malvasia.  

It's an amazing bottle of wine.  It leans a bit in the direction of French White Burgundy on one hand, while on the other, we detect some fragrances and flavors we encounter in really "fine" Champagne.  But, of course, this is not bubbly, yet you'll certainly find some of those notes.

The wine is nicely dry and a bit austere on the palate.  It's quite flavorful.  And the depth and complexity of this wine are quite profound and memorable.

Currently in stock:  2012 I CLIVI VERDUZZO  $27.99
2001 I CLIVI "BRAZAN" Friulano  $49.99

* Yes, that's a snarky comment.  


JERMANN

Wine grower and winemaker Silvio Jermann is a living legend.

Italy had long been viewed as 'merely' a red wine-producing country, but several decades ago, Jermann was making a name for himself and putting white wine in front of skeptical wine drinkers who were certain Italy only made red wines and, perhaps, some nice, fruity Muscats.  The family traces its roots back to Austria and Silvio's great grandfather who moved to Friuli in 1881.

Silvio studied winemaking at two famous schools.  He graduated from both the Scuola Enologica in Conegliano as well as the Istituto Agrario in San Michele all'Adige.  Obviously the fellow learned something.


Over the years Jermann's little domain has blossomed remarkably.  Today the vineyard holdings amount to nearly 300 acres!  They produce about 900,000 bottles annually, so the place is no longer a small, little "Mom & Pop" winery.   Despite the level of production, overall quality remains high and many view some of the wines produced by Jermann as reference points.

Curiously, though, they're a bit quirky when it comes to opening the doors of their cellar.  We'd attempted to arrange a visit through some friends who are prominent winemakers in Friuli and on a couple of occasions Jermann would not open the doors.  
We took another tack and, as you can see in the photo below, we were allowed to pay Jermann a visit.
 

The new Jermann facility...
 



 
 

Every winery needs a putting green, no?
 
 



We were delighted to finally see the winery and we snapped a few pictures while waiting for our tour guide to show us around.

Then we learned that Jermann requests visitors refrain from taking any photos in the cellar!
Part of the rationale, as we understand it, is they don't want people to see the place is fairly large.
On the other hand, they do reveal the size of their vineyard holdings and the fact that they make close to a million bottles of wine annually, so this is a bit curious.


Or perhaps the architect does not want competitors to steal their secrets in designing such a monument of a winery?

 


The wine called Vintage Tunina is rather a calling card for Jermann.  Its first year of production was 1973.  I understand the name "Tunina" refers to a lover of Casanova's who was of "humble" heritage and a housekeeper for a wealthy Venetian family.  It's also a nickname for "Antonia" and someone of that name is said to have owned the vineyard way back when...
The wine comes from a vineyard called the Ronco del Fortino and it's an interesting and unique blend of grapes.  Jermann incorporates familiar-to-the-world Chardonnay and Sauvignon with some typically 'local,' Friulano grapes:  Malvasia, Ribolla and Picolit.  The wine sees a bit of wood, though it's not a woody or oaky wine...
You'll find this wine on most wine lists in top restaurants around Italy, whether or not the dining establishment is close to Friuli.  
Now most of Jermann's neighbors make a proprietary wine, too, having seen the price for Tunina.  Imitation is, after all, a form of flattery.


Jermann also dabbles in Chardonnay.  The first vintages were labeled "Where Dreams have no end," a bit of poetic license lifted from the musical group U-2 and a tune called "Where the Streets Have No Name."   Then the wine, after a number of years of production, was called "Were Dreams, not it's just wine!"  Today it's being labeled as "W....Dreams........"   I've tasted this from time to time and find the wine to be perfectly nice, but I've not been enthusiastic enough to buy some for the shop.



While 20 years ago, "Soave" was the popular choice for Italian white wine, today it seems Pinot Grigio is the best seller.
Jermann's is quite good.  The wine comes from two vineyard sites and it's fermented in stainless steel tanks to retain its bright fruit.  The juice, as we understand it, gets a bit of skin contact, but not to the exaggerated degree which some artisan producers (these days) find to be so fashionable. 
We like it's freshness, dryness and crispness.  The aromas are bright, appley and the wine is "Granny Smith" tart on the palate.
It had been available in the market with a list price in the $40 neighborhood, but as customers seem to have moved out of that 'town,' the importer has re-assessed and re-priced.  We have a very attractive and sensible price for you.





Jermann has long been cultivating a tiny parcel of a rare grape called Picolit.  He includes a few drops in Vintage Tunina and Capo Martino, but decided to make the traditional sweet wine from Picolit.    This vine produces a rather sparse crop and it's a lot of work to produce and costly, as well.  The late Luigi Veronelli likened Picolit wines to France's top Sauternes, Ch‚teau d'Yquem.  I won't make that comparison, but the Jermann Picolit is delicious and has a peach note and a woodsy tone.  It will pair handsomely with foie gras, but it's wonderful with fruit desserts.

Jermann makes some other interesting proprietary wines:

CAPO MARTINO comes from a vineyard of the same name and it's a blend of Tocai, Pinot Bianco, Malvasia, Picolit and Ribolla Gialla.  This is matured in wood...

VINNAE is a white that's either entirely Ribolla Gialla or based on Ribolla with a drop of Tocai Friulano and Riesling Renano.

MJZZU BLAU & BLAU is a red wine based on Blaufršnkisch and Pinot Nero.  In Friuli, Blaufršnkisch  is known locally as "Franconia."  

RED ANGEL is a Pinot Nero wine...while PIGNACOLUSSE is red made entirely of the Pignolo grape.

Jermann also makes Sauvignon, Riesling and Pinot Bianco.
 

Currently in stock:  2005 JERMANN "Vintage Tunina"  $59.99
2011 JERMANN PINOT GRIGIO (list $40) SALE $24.99
2006 JERMANN VINO DOLCE  $59.99 (375ml)
We can special order other Jermann wines for you...by the bottle, if you like.



They asked me to sign their guest book...a nice honor!

 



MOVIA

One of the top showmen in the wine business is the owner of the Movia winery, Ales Kristancic. 

One of the most thoughtful vintners in the scene is Ales Kristancic.

We suspect the winery is named Movia because Kristancic is always on the move...

The vineyards and winery are located in Slovenia and Italy's Friuli region.  


That tree is in the middle of Movia's vineyard...
Slovenian vines are to the left of the tree, while the vines to the right of the tree are in Italy.

CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE

We've been fans of Movia's Sauvignon Blanc and have tasted some of their other wines...they're a bit expensive, in our view, but we decided we'd go visit and see what all the fuss is about.

Our visit was exceptional and illuminating.  We tasted some very good wines, but I still think, having tasted some other bottles here at home, that the most reliable is the Sauvignon.

We currently have the 2008 and it's a intensely aromatic dry white with herbal notes and some underlying grassy tones.  It's nicely acidic and fuller than, say, a Sancerre or Pouilly Fume.  We like it with Asian foods and various seafood dishes.  And if you need a bottle of wine that's going to please the "naturalists" and yet still be of good quality, this is a fine choice.

 

Currently in stock:  2008 MOVIA Sauvignon Blanc $29.99


 
 
THURNHOF
Andreas Berger is the owner and winemaker at this tiny Bolzano-area estate in the Alto Adige.  He cultivates about 3.5 hectares of vines including Cabernet, Goldmuskateller, Sauvignon Blanc and Lagrein.

The place gets the name "Thurnhof" since there was a tower once upon a time.

Here's an old photo of the place.


The vinification cellar is small, tidy and efficient.

Since he also makes some Cabernet, there's a cellar with small French oak barrels.


Thurnhof is a member of a small group of producers whose aim is "quality."  They have a tasting panel and wines are submitted for the right to have this curious logo incorporated on the bottle.

 

The Lagrein "Merlau" comes from a small parcel which is just south of Bolzano in an area known as Agruzzo.  There's a cooling influence in this site due to the confluence of a couple of rivers.  Berger cultivates both clones of Lagrein and this version, vinified for immediate drinking, is made of "Lagrein a grappolo corto."  Oak is not noticeable here as the wine is matured for a few months in large cooperage and then in small, third passage barriques (so these are rather neutral in terms of wood).  

We like the plummy, violet-like aromas and flavors of this medium-bodied red.  It's the sort of wine which shows nicely at cool cellar temperature.  You can chill it for an hour in the 'fridge and pair this with white meats, pastas or red meat dishes.   Drinking it over the next year or so is ideal.

Thurnhof also produces a dynamite dry white wine made of Muscat.  It's fresh, green, grapey and wonderfully fruity.  I even used it to make a sorbet, adding grated lime zest and some freshly minced cilantro...fantastic!  Pairing this with fresh asparagus is ideal, too.

Currently in stock:  2012 Thurnhof "Lagrein Merlau" $19.99
2009 Thurnhof Goldmuskateller Sold Out
 

Andreas opens another bottle...
 

KUENHOF  (PETER PLIGER)

One of the darlings of Italian wine aficionados is Peter Pliger and his Kuenhof wines.

The property was, at one time, owned by the Church and it was a refuge of sorts for the Bishop of Brixen (or Bressanone, if you prefer).  The Pliger family has owned the place for a couple of hundred years, so they're fairly new to the neighborhood.

Apparently they used to sell the grapes from the estate to the Abbazia di Novacella winery which is run by a religious order, the Order of St. Augustine.  In the early 1990s, Pliger took the plunge and made about 1500 bottles of wine.  And it turned out nicely, so, encouraged by the results, Peter and his wife Brigitte took on the task of renovating and enlarging the cellar at Kuenhof.   From their thousand+ bottles of their first vintage, today they make 25,000 bottles and these are snapped up by groupies around the planet.

I recall tasting the wines some years ago in Italy and finding them to be quite good.  I knew the Pliger wines had been imported by a tremendously greedy importer who jacked up the price to ridiculous levels.  How could someone ask $50 a bottle retail for an Alto Adige Sylvaner or Veltliner, after all?  And I remember the importer telling me "If you want top quality, you have to pay for top quality."  
Except that Pliger did not ask insanely high prices for his wines in those days.  
"How does you wine get so expensive?" I asked him.  
"I'm not certain," he replied.  "Maybe they are wrapped in gold upon arriving in California." Pliger speculated.  And we laughed.

Today there's a far more sane and honest guy importing the Kuenhof wines to California and the prices reflect those asked by the vintner.

The Kuenhof cellars are set up for white wine production on a simple scale with nothing terribly fancy or unusually scientific.  The idea is for the wines to represent the grape variety and the vineyard site.  They're in the Valle Isarco, north of Bolzano, where the wines tend to be light and delicate.  But there's still some weight and intensity to the Kuenhof wines.

Stainless steel tanks for the primary fermentation and cooperage made of acacia wood are found in the cellar.  Pliger's winemaking mentor is/was Ignaz Niedrist, another famous Alto Adige vintner.

We tasted the current line-up and they're all good.  

We especially liked the Riesling.  It's a 2010 and the designation is "Kaiton" and the wine comes from terraced vineyards that Pliger is restoring.  It seems the hills did have grapes planted on them years ago, but people stopped cultivating them since the economic rewards were too small to warrant the effort.  
When you consider what this costs and how difficult it is to maintain these vines...the hand labor...the low yields...this wine actually seems like a good value.  But we'll leave it for you to decide, since your mileage may vary.

Stony, dry, flowery, minerally...all the elements we look for in good Riesling.  It wouldn't surprise me to taste this in 5 or ten years and find it to be even more compelling.

Currently in stock:  2010 KUENHOF RIESLING "Kaiton"  $33.99

 

NARDELLO

Soave isn't exactly the world's most complex white wine.  Back in the 1970s and 1980s, a large factory winery called "Bolla" was hugely successful in promoting its Soave wine.
In fact, they were so successful, many American consumers knew the Soave wine strictly as "Bolla Soave," much like some people view all photocopies as "Xerox" and tissues as "Kleenex."

Yes, Bolla's Soave was the height of sophistication, once upon a time.  It was a thin, light, fairly innocuous wine and if you were drinking Italian white, you were probably drinking Bolla Soave.  
In those days, by the way, Wente Bros. Grey Riesling was a hot ticket and so was Louis Jadot's Pouilly-Fuisse.

Well, the Nardello family doesn't make your father's Soave!

These days, though, there are several good producers of Soave, a wine that comes from vineyards near the fabled city of Verona.   A noted vintner named Robert Anselmi even stopped calling his wine "Soave," as he was so annoyed by the watery plonk bottled by many of the large wine factories in the region.

Today, though, Gini, Pieropan and Inama are all good names associated with Soave.  
We'd like to add the Nardello name to that short list.

The Nardello family has owned vineyards in the Soave area for generations.  These days, Federica and Daniele Nardello run the place, taking care of 14 hectares of vineyards.  They're situated between Monteforte's Monte Zoppega and Soave's Monte Tondo.  The older vineyards are cultivated using the time-honored, crazy vine-training system of the Pergola Veronese.  This encourages over-production and accounts for fairly innocuous wines.
The newer vines planted by the Nardello family are trained using the Guyot system...using wires and certainly pruning the vines for more sensible yields in order to have higher quality wine.

The Monte Zoppega area has particular soils which are of volcanic origins and have more clay than other Soave sites.  The Nardellos credit this terroir with producing wines of greater intensity and aging potential, not that we buy Soave with cellaring in mind.

In fact, we have the wonderfully youthful 2010 vintage of Nardello's Meridies Soave Classico in the shop.  The wine is made entirely of the Garganega grape...they don't water down the wine with Trebbiano, nor do they pump it up with Chardonnay.  The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and then left on the spent yeast sediment until it's bottled in March.

We find this to be a delightfully simple and satisfying, especially with light seafoods, pastas, seafood or vegetable risotto, etc.    

Currently in stock:  2010 NARDELLO SOAVE CLASSICO "Meridies" $14.99



 





VIGNALTA
Colli Euganei are some hills located south west of Padova.  These are the result of volcanic activity which means the soil can be ideal for vineyard cultivation.  Unfortunately, the region hadn't been home to much in the way of "world class" wine.  Most of the stuff made there is what the British call "plonk," perfectly suitable for a spaghetti feed, but hardly of the caliber you'd feel comfortable in setting on the table for special guests.

We drove from Friuli to Verona one summer's day and made a short stop at Vignalta.  They have an enoteca to show off their wines in the town of Luvigliano di Torreglia.  The winery is up in the hills, though, of Arqua Petrarca.  It's quite a drive to the winery, especially since they keep a low profile and have no signs to guide you along the road!

The hills of the Colli Euganei feature two vastly different soil types.  One is volcanic, while the other is limestone.  The property comprises some 50 hectares and they have about 5 major vineyard sites. 
 


The region has been cultivating grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc for many years.  Most vineyards have been cropped for quantity production, so the region had never been esteemed for anything better than standard "vino da tavola." 

Vignalta has a small parcel of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, along with its Bordeaux varieties, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Moscato.  Crop levels are managed to sensible yields to achieve good results.  You'll find a "middle" to most of the wines at this estate.

The name "Vignalta" is certainly appropriate, as the winery is located high up in the hills, but it's quality of wine is certainly a great deal higher than its neighbors, too.  Two friends Franco Zanovello and Lucio Gomiero comprise the Vignalta "team."  They started the winery in 1986 and have gained great attention for the region thanks to their rather showy range of wines.  One of the duo became a big fan of the wines of Bordeaux's Pomerol region and felt it would be possible to make wines of similar quality in this previously unheralded region.  
 
 

Winemaker/Cellar man Michele Montecchio.
"Gemola" is a wine with the "Colli Euganei" appellation. It is predominantly Merlot with about 30% of Cabernet Franc.  The wine is typically matured in a high percentage of new (or recent vintage) oak barrels.  They use primarily French oak, though I read they even have a small percentage of American oak in the mix.  The 2004 is an excellent example of this wine, showing a touch of a tobacco note, as well as the nice character of the Bordeaux varieties without tasting like it's from Bordeaux.   A bottle of Ch‚teau Petrus costs about a thousand bucks.  Gemola costs in the thirties..

Currently in stock:  2004 VIGNALTA "Gemola"  $36.99


 

 

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Photo: Grapes being dried to "intensify" the character.  These will be crushed and made into "Amarone."
This photo was taken in February 2001 of fruit from the 2000 harvest.




AGRICOLA MASI
This is a large, family-owned firm, but with a few special wines of note. They make the full line-up of Veronese wines, Soave, Bardolino and, most importantly, Valpolicella wines. 

Valpolicella is a blend of three varieties, principally Corvina and Rondinella with Molinara playing a supporting role. It is often made as a fresh, rather light and fruity red wine. At the other end of the spectrum are wines called Recioto and Amarone, both made from Valpolicella-grown fruit, but the grapes are dried to concentrate aromas and flavors. Recioto wines typically have 3% residual sugar (or more), while the Amarone wines are basically dry.
 
 


The Boscaini family also manages the vineyards for the (supposed) descendants of Dante Alighieri.  We visited the property a few years ago, Masi having its sales and tasting facility on the property.  Some special wines are offered under the Serego Alighieri label.  We have their 2001 SEREGO ALIGHIERI VAIO ARMARON (sic).  This is said to be the "original" vineyard source of Amarone.  The wine is quite good, in any case.

 

 

 

 
 


Masi uses a special "trick" they devised called "ripasso". They add some of the dried grape skins from the Recioto or Amarone wine to a Valpolicella wine from the Campofiorin area of the Valgatara area, thus, re-initiating the fermentation, boosting color and strength of the wine. They've been doing this since the 1964 vintage and Campofiorin remains the "standard" for ripasso wines.

The Masi winemaker in the 1960s, Nino Franceschetti, was so pleased by the 1964 vintage wines, he added the skins from the Amarone into a tank of Valpolicella.  This was the birth of the Masi Campofiorin wine and an Italian icon was born.

We find it to be more interesting than "frivolous" Valpolicella wines and more versatile than the heavier Amarones.

The 2008 Campofiorin is currently in stock and it's a terrific bottle of wine.  We've tasted other, heavier, bigger ripasso wines and some Valpolicella producers seem intent upon making wines more similar to Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of power and oak.  This one is certainly a good example of Venetian wine and it's a good value at its modest price.

By the way, the Boscaini family trademarked the term "ripasso" and you'll see this used on the labels of numerous wines from neighboring wineries.  However, these competitors have to pay a royalty to Masi to use this designation on their wines!

If some tells you about a "Barolo" from the Veneto, they're probably telling you about a wine called "Brolo di Campofiorin," a new red from Masi.  The word "brolo" is a dialect word referring to what the French call a "Clos."   That is, an enclosed or walled vineyard.  The 1998 is showing nicely now, having developed nice bottle bouquet.


Currently available: 2008 "Campofiorin" (List $17)  SALE $12.99
1998 "Brolo di Campofiorin" Sold Out
Amarone (list $65)  SALE $49.99

2001 Serego Alighieri "Vaio Armaron" (list $85) $74.99

MASI PHOTOS




LE RAGOSE

leragose.jpg (11844 bytes)The Galli family have been making wine in the little town of Negrar since 1969. "Le Ragose" is the name of their site.   

They're a rather highly-regarded producer of Amarone wines, though they produce a standard bottling of Valpolicella.   Cabernet is also grown here and I'm not sure why as it makes rather herbal wine.  But, I suppose the Italians do like bell peppers.

In speaking with Paolo Galli, whose late Mom Marta had been the driving force behind this estate for many years, I sensed a fellow who who's passionate about making traditionally-styled wines.  He spoke about how many vintners are now using machines to concentrate the juice of their grapes and making ever bigger, more powerful wines.  "I'm not saying my wine is better than theirs.  My wine is different from those, however."  

The Le Ragose Amarone is not matured in large, neutral casks of Slavonian oak.  The wood allows the wine to mature slowly and it doesn't impart the fragrances or flavor of oak to the wine.  This is not terribly fashionable these days, as most people prefer wines which smell of vanilla and cedar.  Paolo prefers to highlight the "terroir" of the Le Ragose vineyards in his wines.

In any case, the 2006 Amarone at this house is a big, rich, full-throttle red wine.  The wine is 65% Corvina, 25% Rondinella, 5% Molinara and 5% "other."  You'll find a fragrance reminiscent of jam, tobacco, red fruits and a whiff of a woodsy note.  It is fine for stews or something with a lot of wild mushrooms, perhaps.  It is also the sort of wine which is serviceable after the main plate with a chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Currently available:  2006 Amarone (list $75)  SALE $59.99


 





NIEDRIST

Those who know the wines of Italy's Alto Adige undoubtedly know the name of winemaker Ignaz Niedrist in the little burg of Cornaiano.   
This is on the wine route just southwest of Bolzano and north of the towns of Caldaro and Termeno.

Niedrist has quite a following and not just amongst wine drinkers.  His fans include many of his neighbors and competitors.

Ignaz didn't take over the family farm.  His father, in fact, was involved in a local grower's cooperative winery and the older brother took over the family vineyards.

So Niedrist headed north to Germany where he studied winemaking.  In those days, most Alto Adige vineyards were cultivated with high yields in mind.  The wineries were content to sell their modest quality bottlings to the bus-loads of tourists which arrived at the cellar door from around Europe, especially those from Germany and Austria (since they speak a common language).
 
 



When he returned home after his studies, Niedrist worked as a winemaking consultant for various wineries.  But he had an uncle who had no kids and so Ignaz ended up taking over something like 5 hectares of vineyards.  Mrs. Ignaz, Elizabeth, is also schooled in viticulture and between the two of them, take care of their vines as more of a garden than a farm...and therein lies the secret of the Niedrist wines.

So, his Pop and Uncle were accustomed to cultivating the high-yielding grape variety called Schiava, as were most of the old-timers in those days.  You can imagine they all thought Ignaz had lost his marbles when he replaced the prolific vines with oddball varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero, Riesling and Merlot.  Not only that, he's apparently put a few vines of really "foreign" grapes into the ground:  Aglianico, Fiano and Viognier!
 


Niedrist, you see, is a bit of a visionary and one of the first in the Alto Adige to understand that the future would require quality wines over large production wines...And for that he's recognized by connoisseurs as well as his colleagues.


Their vineyard holdings remain small...today I think they have 6 hectares of vines.  

We were fortunate to taste the Niedrist wines at a wine fair a few years ago...Ignaz was busy showing his wines to an importer from somewhere in Europe and the wines were shown by one of Niedrist's friends...a fellow vintner who makes some great wines of his own.
"He's my teacher," said the other winemaker...who was delighted I was so impressed with the wines.
 
 


Niedrist has 6/10ths of a hectare of Pinot Bianco and the 2010 is remarkably fine.  It's one of those wines that surprises you...the aromas are quite good and you taste it and wonder how someone captures so much character in a bottle of Pinot Bianco!  This grape is, after all, not as "noble" as Riesling or Chardonnay and yet here's a wine that has an amazingly complex fragrance and wonderful flavor.  There are notes hinting at peach and ripe apple, along with a mildly minerally character...I had to buy some bottles, despite the relatively lofty price because the wine is that good.  

Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc are quite good and even the simple Schiava red wine was very pleasant.  In tasting various blended wines from Italy, I can say most seem to be made simply to have a wine that's different and unique.  Few really "fit together".  
But Niedrist makes a wine called Trias...Mostly Chardonnay with Petit Manseng and Viognier!  Each grape shows up and each has something to say.  If you're in the Alto Adige and see this wine on a wine list, do treat yourself.

 

Currently in stock:  NIEDRIST 2010 PINOT BIANCO  $29.99
2011 NIEDRIST SAUVIGNON BLANC  $34.99


 

ALLEGRINI
allegrini.gif (15659 bytes)With about 45 hectares of vineyards, the Allegrini family has been a major force in the Veneto with Amarone and associated wines from the Valpolicella area.  

They're modernists and have made some lovely wines, but these days the prices have escalated and we've lost a bit of interest in the wines, frankly.   It seems they have the "Why pay less" mentality or subscribe to the notion that "If we don't charge you a lot of money, you won't think we make good wines."  

They recently added a Soave to the portfolio and this wine seems to indicate the winery is more about marketing than it is about top quality wine.  We've been shown the wine on a couple of occasions and found the Soave to be perfectly serviceable to tourists sitting on Lake Garda, but not sufficiently interesting for people choosing a bottle of Italian white wine in a shop with dozens of intriguing options.

With a large range of wines being made by Allegrini these days, we now carry only their Amarone.  It's hugely expensive and it is a good wine.  The wine is a modern example of Amarone and it's technically well-made.  The wine is matured in small French oak for about a year and a half and then further developed in large wood tanks.  You'll sense a bit of the barrique, but it's not overwhelmingly oaky.  

They're making a number of proprietary wines, some based on local varieties with some internationally-famous grapes incorporated, while making some totally "foreign" wines such as a Cabernet-Merlot-Syrah blend.

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CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS OF ALLEGRINI.
Currently available:  Valpolicella Special Order
2003 "Giovanni Allegrini" Recioto Special order...around $80
2007 Amarone $89.99

We can special order many of the Allegrini wines for you...


 
 
 
 

 
 


CESARI
cesari.gif (15202 bytes)A family-run winery, these people own a few vineyards, but also buy most of the fruit for their wines.   I have, for years, felt their Amarone, found in many San Francisco Bay Area restaurants, was more distinctive for the frosted black bottle than for the wine inside.   The only reason we carried the wine was because enough people had requested it.   

The current vintage shows Cesari is on a learning curve or, at least, they're improving the quality of their Amarone.  The  wine is not amongst the elite in terms of compelling, big, deep, complex Amarone wines, but if you're  looking for a reasonably-priced bottling, Cesari is your wine.  
Currently in stock:  Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella (List $40)  SALE $35.99

 


TEDESCHI
This is a really old company and they've been located in the Valpolicella-producing area since the 1600s.  Well, 1630, to be precise.  

The Tedeschi name is all over the planet, however...there's a Tedeschi winery in Hawaii and they make spectacular Pineapple Wine.  This ain't them.

There's a Tedeschi Family winery in Napa's Calistoga...they're actually related to the Hawaii winery.  

And there's the Veronese famiglia who are, I've noticed, highly regarded by fellow wine producers and less-well respected, for some reason, by many wine connoisseurs.  Perhaps this is because the "geeks" view Quintarelli as the top dog in the world of Amarone and Valpolicella.  Other geeks highly regard Romano Dal Forno and his family as a great producer.

Perhaps this is because this family doesn't cater to what's currently in fashion, nor do they devote exceptional efforts towards marketing their wines.  Instead, we see they keep their eyes on the vineyards and in the cellar, as first and foremost, they make wines which represent the region and vineyards.

The winery is in Pedemonte, just outside San Pietro in Cariano.  

The estate comprises about 120-some hectares of vineyards and they turn out nearly half a million bottles annually.  The family also works with the University of Verona in studying the drying process of the grapes for making Amarone wines...

The cellars are fairly traditional.

We have their 2009 "Amarone Classico" in the shop presently.  It's about 30% each of Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella with the remaining 10% being comprised of Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara and Dindarella.  It's matured in Slavonian oak for about 30 months and the resulting wine is a fairly hearty, robust, old-fashioned Amarone.  There are notes of dark fruits, a hint of a resiny note, a touch of brown spice and a modest level of tannin.  

If you open a bottle at this stage, perhaps decanting it an hour or two before dinner would be ideal.  The wine seems to have the structure to warrant aging it for another 5 to 10 years, though.  Maybe longer.  

 
Currently in stock:  2009 TEDESCHI AMARONE della VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO Sale $54.99






CA' DEL BOSCO
Maurizio Zanella is the driving force of this producer in Lombardia.  Located within the region of the Franciacorta denominazione, the winery was founded in 1968.  Zanella is extremely proud of the wines and bubbly made here and prices the wines as though he was an American medical insurance economist.


I recall tasting his wines a couple of times and finding the wines to be of stellar quality.  


One occasion was at VinItaly (a huge wine fair in Verona) and Zanella spent a lot of time telling me exactly how good the wines were that I was tasting.  He invited me to join a group at VinItaly and we would board a helicopter and fly from Verona to Erbusco, home of the winery.  

I did not accept the invitation and recall dining with some old friends from Piemonte who told me I was crazy not to be wining and dining in a more fancy mode with Zanella and his ensemble that night.  I explained to my friends that it was uncomfortable to have to have someone tell me how good his wines were over a ten minute period, it would be even more difficult to have to listen to hours of the same. And no way to escape, short of hijacking the helicopter. 
If you make wine of such extraordinary quality, all you need to do is pour the wine in a glass and wait for people to heap praise on you!  You needn't break your arm patting yourself on the back.

A good pal went to work for Zanella some years ago and he extended an invitation to visit.  We did.  
However, Zanella would not permit our winemaking buddy to open any bottles of wine for us, since we had not been "approved" to visit.  I am certain we'd have been treated royally had we taken the time to "apply" for a Ca' del Bosco visitation "visa."  We had not, figuring our friend worked there, after all!  

"Luigi" (not his real name) quit his job there shortly after our visit.  He and the other cellar rats had to take barrel samples to the lab so we could, at the very least, taste some wines during our visit.  Luigi told us that Zanella does not permit enologists from other wineries onto the premises, in fear these friends of his staffers would "steal" the secrets of their winemaking success!  I guess it never dawned on Zanella these people might have a suggestion or two which would make his wines even more extraordinary.

It seems, despite all the accolades trumpeted by critics, that the winery was not a huge financial success and the Zanella family took on an investor in 1994.  

I am still able to objectively taste and evaluate the wines of this winery.  Most are extraordinary.  

We have their "Franciacorta" Brut sparkling wine, a bubbly which easily rivals the famous names of Champagne.  It is made in the same fashion as good, Non-Vintage Brut French Champagne, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay being the base.  I believe they also include some Pinot Bianco.  The wine is toasty, dry and creamy...very fine. 
  
Also exceptional is a Pinot Noir, dubbed "Pinero."  This is reminiscent of Russian River Valley Pinots from producers such as Dehlinger or Williams-Selyem.  Sweetly-oaked, Pinero has a toasty element and deep, cherryish fruit.  

As with other famous top wineries around the world (Gaja, Romanťe-Conti, Mondavi, to name a few), one pays a "tax" for the Ca' del Bosco name.  
Currently in stock:  Ca' del Bosco Brut  (List $38)  SALE $33.99
1998 Pinero $76.99
CA DEL BOSCO 2004 CUVEE ANNAMARIA Sale $89.99









BATTISTOTTI
The Battistotti family winery began back in the 1940s and today the place is in its third generation.  Three Battistotti brothers take care of the cellar and vineyards in the Trento sub-region of Vallagarina.

Amongst other wines, they make Marzemino, a wine made famous not in some rap singer's lyrics of today, but some fellow name Mozart.  His little piece called Don Giovanni...in the second act there's a reference to the "excellent Marzemino," so the wine has been known for at least a few hundred years.  If you know the wines of Teroldego and Lagrein, two other Trentino-Alto Adige reds, Marzemino is the "other" main red grape of the region.


Battistotti's is a medium-light bodied red.  It displays some bright, berryish notes on the nose and palate.  You can pair this nicely with chicken or a light pasta, pizza or grilled sausages.  We like it served at cool cellar temp.
 
Currently in stock:  BATTISTOTTI MARZEMINO  Currently sold out






"CINQUE TERRE"
The Liguria region along the Italian Riviera features some wonderful little villages.  The city of Genoa is crammed into a series of canyons and you wonder who designed such a mess.
Once south of Genoa, there are numerous autostrada exits leading to the little hamlets tucked into the hills.
Five villages account for the "Cinque Terre" designation on a wine bottle.  It is on some steep hills overlooking the Mediterranean that a number of winemakers cultivate some unusual grape varieties that make the wines of the region so curious.   The main grape is "Bosco," with contributions from Albarola and Vermentino.


These are the sorts of wines that taste especially good on their home turf.  It's not that the wines don't travel well...it's the experience of being so far away from the hustle and bustle of home and in some small restaurant with a great view, good food and a nice bottle of wine.  

Pesto, of course, is a mainstay of Ligurian 'cucina.'  Fresh seafood is also abundant.  And so is the Cinque Terre wine.


  
Currently in stock:   2011 Cinque Terre  $21.99

 

 

COLLE DEI BARDELLINI
One of of favorite little wines from Liguria is not the well-known "Cinque Terre," but it comes from farther north and west near San Remo.  

Near the town of Imperia you'll find the winery (and agriturismo) of Colle dei Bardellini, an estate founded in 1970.  The estate focuses on Vermentino and an even more particular grape called Pigato.  

It takes its name Pigato from the pighe or little spots that develop on the skin of the grapes as they ripen.  Some people claim the variety has its origins in Greece and we've seen some studies indicating Pigato and Vermentino are closely related.

The Riviera Ligure di Ponente is the home of Pigato, or at least it's where the variety seems to be the most interesting.  

Colle dei Bardellini is a small estate of four hectares of vines and they make just 50,000 bottles of wine annually.  Their "Riviera" bottling from 2005 is remarkably good.  It's the best I've tasted over the past decade, featuring nice fresh apple and pear notes with an underlying peppery quality.  Naturally, being so close to the sea, this is perfect with seafood, but it's also great with a salad featuring bitter greens, pears, walnuts, etc.

Currently in stock:  2010 COLLE DEI BARDELLINI Pigato "Riviera di Ponente"  $21.99





LE SALETTE

The "salette" is a little religious sanctuary built in the 1800s by grape growers who were relieved some sort of vineyard pest (not James Suckling...he came way later) was eradicated.  

The Scamperle family owns this little landmark above the Veronese town of Fumane.  And so, Le Salette is the name of their winery.

They have about 20 hectares of vineyards and they make a number of Valpolicella and Amarone wines, along with a Passito of Malvasia & Garganega.  

We have their 2006 Amarone Classico and this is a good introduction to "Amarone" wines.  Corvina and Corvinone account for approximately 70% of this wine.  The rest is Rondinella, Dindarella, Croatina and maybe even a drop of Sangiovese depending upon who's telling the story of this wine.  

It's a medium-full bodied Amarone and while they anoint it as "Classico," it really is a "classic" style of this wine.  It's not an internationally-styled bottling, all oaked up for the critics.  It's a clean and well-made version of this wine and one which pairs handsomely with stews or braised meats, rich meat-sauced pastas or a selection of killer cheeses.  It's mildly tannic and dry.

Currently in stock:  2006 LE SALETTE  AMARONE (list $60) SALE $44.99

 

MURI-GRIES
The history of this winery dates back to 1845 when some 'brothers' from the Swiss Muri monastery needed to high-tail it out of the country.  They fled from northern Switzerland and made their way to a location near Bolzano in the Sudtirol, which today is in Italy.  

The monks have long cultivated the Lagrein grape in this location and it's pretty much "the" red grape of Italy's Alto Adige.  I remember my first introduction to the "Abtei Muri" Lagrein:  a friend from the Sudtirol organized a dinner attended by a bunch of people who were on a wine and food tour of California a few years earlier.  Everyone was to bring a bottle of their favorite wine.  I recall the Abtei Muri Lagrein as being something truly special.

Today, in fact, many people view the Abtei Muri Lagrein as the benchmark for the Lagrein grape.  I had an opportunity to taste dozens of Lagrein wines from the Alto Adige and can tell you there are other good producers these days whose wines rival the Muri-Gries wine.  

Still, here's a grand bottle of Lagrein that's a classic.  The wine spends 20-something months in oak, sufficient time to add a bit of wood and round out the tannins.  Deep, dark berry fruit notes are typical and you'll find pleasantly cedary, woodsy tones as well.

 

 
 

Currently in stock:  2004 "ABTEI MURI" LAGREIN RISERVA  $44.99

 

 

 


The Mumelter family owns a little winery called Griesbauerhof...





GEORG MUMELTER

In this day when so many wines are hugely alcoholic, made from grapes picked well over a normal degree of ripeness, some people appreciate red wines from "a different era."

The tiny estate of the Mumelter family, comprises about 3 hectares of vineyards.  

They make a lovely, light, remarkably quaffable little red wine called "Santa Maddalena" (St. Magdalener in German), a wine that's predominantly the Schiava (Vernatsch in German) grape.  Schiava covers about 30% of the vineyard land in the Alto Adige, yet it's very rarely seen in our market.  When everybody is buying huge red wines that are pumped up with grape concentrate, hugely oaked and sometimes even a little bit sweet, the demand for light dry red wine is rather limited.  This wine is predominantly Schiava with a small percentage of Lagrein, though I think these can have a bit of Pinot Nero in them as well.

Happily we have some customers who appreciate "drinkability" in a wine.  This is the sort of easy little red which is delicious in warm weather, served lightly chilled.  It's not a big, oaky red.  It's not tannic and robust.  But it does taste good with ham, prosciutto, chicken and other light fare.  We even had it with a cream-sauced pasta...very nice!

Currently in stock:  2010 GRIESBAUERHOF ST. MAGDALENER $16.99


Georg Mumelter


Margareth Mumelter pours a glass of their Santa  Maddalena Classico



PROSECCO
This is a grape variety and a very popular wine in Italy's Veneto region.  The main towns where it is made are Conegliano and Valdobbiadene.  We currently have several Prosecco wines, each made in "sparkling" or "Spumante" versions.   

The grape itself makes a rather simple and ordinary white wine.  Made into fizzy wine, called frizzante, it becomes more majestic.  The "spumante" versions can be even more interesting. 
 

SORELLE BRONCA (list $19) SALE $15.99 is made by Ersiliana e Antonella Bronca in Colbertaldo dei Vidor near Valdobbiadene.  Yes, that's a mouth-full!  The Bronca sisters make a wonderfully aromatic bubbly which comes close to being dry, yet isn't sweet enough to taste sweet. It has become one of our most popular bubblies!

 

 

 







RUGGERI "Gold Label"  $8.99 (375ml)
RUGGERI "Gold Label" SALE $14.99 (750ml)
Not many half-bottles of Prosecco are available in our market, but the Ruggeri is nice when you want just a couple of glasses and a full bottle is too much.

This is a delightful little bubbly, capturing the acacia blossom and ripe apple fruit of the Prosecco grape.

DRUSIAN (List $16) SALE $13.99
Drusian is a Prosecco-meister.  His wine is rather dry, very nicely floral and fruity on the nose and palate.  It's a delight.  Not as dry as a Brut sparkler, but not as sweet as most "Extra Dry" wines.




CANEVEL Brut  PROSECCO $18.99
While many Italian wineries have 10 generations and centuries of history, Canevel does not.  What they lack in "romance", however, they make up for with the quality (good, actually) of their product.  

The company started in 1987 with a small office and warehouse space, essentially, which served as the production facility.  The name Canevel is not that of the owner's family, his grandmother or the vineyard.  Instead, it's a Venetian slang word which translates to something like "a small corner of the winery where the secrets are jealously guarded."

When you taste this bubbly, you'll notice there's not much of a secret here.  It's simply good Prosecco, nicely aromatic and blossomy on the nose and crisp on the finish.  Easy-drinkin' and affordable, too.  And this is a bit of a rarity as most of these wines are off-dry and in the "Extra Dry" category.  Canevel's is actually "Brut," so you'll find it somewhat drier than other Prosecco sparklers.
 

 

CENTRAL and SOUTHERN ITALIA


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