More Northern Italian Wines
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- GIROLAMO DORIGO
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
Currently in stock: 2009 DORIGO Ribolla Gialla SALE
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
2001 I CLIVI "BRAZAN" Friulano $49.99
* Yes, that's a snarky comment.
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
We like it's freshness, dryness and crispness. The aromas are
bright, appley and the wine is "Granny Smith" tart on the
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
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
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
They asked me to sign their guest book...a nice honor!
of the top showmen in the wine business is the owner of the Movia winery,
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
The vineyards and winery are located in Slovenia and Italy's Friuli
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.
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
Currently in stock: 2008 MOVIA Sauvignon Blanc
- 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
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)
of the darlings of Italian wine aficionados is Peter Pliger and his
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
"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
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"
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
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,
Currently in stock: 2010 NARDELLO SOAVE CLASSICO
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
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
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.
- 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.
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
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
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: 2009 "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
- 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,
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
who know the wines of Italy's Alto Adige undoubtedly know the name of
winemaker Ignaz Niedrist in the little burg of
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.
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
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
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
2011 NIEDRIST SAUVIGNON BLANC $34.99
about 45 hectares of vineyards, the Allegrini family has been a major force
in the Veneto with Amarone and associated wines from the Valpolicella
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.
CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS OF
- 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
- 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
- This is a really old company and they've been located in the
Valpolicella-producing area since the 1600s. Well, 1630, to be
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
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
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
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
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
I recall tasting his wines a couple of times and finding the wines to be of
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
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
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
- Currently in stock: Ca' del Bosco Brut (List $38)
1998 Pinero $76.99
CA DEL BOSCO 2004 CUVEE ANNAMARIA Sale $89.99
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
- "CINQUE TERRE"
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
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
of of favorite little wines from Liguria is not the well-known "Cinque
Terre," but it comes from farther north and west near San
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
"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 &
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
- 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...
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
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
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.
Margareth Mumelter pours a glass of their
Santa Maddalena Classico
- 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)
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
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
CANEVEL Brut PROSECCO $18.99
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
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
CENTRAL and SOUTHERN ITALIA