Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Favorite Italian Red Wines of the Year

Detail of the Sorano Vineyard of Ascheri in Serralunga d'Alba, source of one of the author's best bottlings of Barolo from this past year. (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

This year many of my top Italian reds centered on a common theme – they were from the glorious 2004 vintage. The Barolos from that year are stunning, the Amarones are polished and the bottlings of Taurasi are wonderfully concentrated with their typical charm. Throughout the country, 2004 was a remarkable success for Italian reds.

Here are my favorites (listed from north to south in Italy):

Rarely has there been a collection of Barolos with such deep fruit aromas, concentration of fruit and gorgeous acidity. There are so many great 2004 Barolos that I can’t list them all, but here are a few favorites: Fontanafredda “La Villa”, the least known, but most elegant of the three cru Barolos produced by this historic estate; Cascina Cucco “Vigna Cucco” and “Cerrati”, two beautifully supple bottlings from this small estate in Serralunga d’Alba; Ascheri “Sorano Coste e Bricco”, one of the most finesseful of all the 2004 Barolos and the Ettore Germano “Prapo”, a wine with vibrant spice backed by graceful tannins.

Also, the Elio Grasso “Vigna Chiniera”, a traditionally produced beauty from Monforte d’Alba; the powerful Aldo Conterno “Romirasco”, that displayed remarkable concentration and two beautifully structured offererings from Roberto Voerzio“Rocche dell’Annunziata Torriglione” and "Sarmassa". These wines are ultramodern in style as they are aged in barriques, yet the layers of fruit are the story and not the oak.

Finally, other top Barolos include Vietti “Rocche”; Rocche Costamagna “Bricco Francesco”, the finest bottling of this wine I’ve tasted to date; Luigi Baudana “Baudana”; Cogno “Ravera” from the commune of Novello and the Damilano “Liste” from the commune of Barolo.

Bruno Nada, winemaker at Fiorenzo Nada. He produced one of the author's top bottlings of Barbaresco from this past year. (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Though less powerful than the bottlings from 2004, the Barbarescos from 2005 are equally impressive, at least for the best producers. Three wines take the top spots on my list: Fontanabianca “Sori Burdin” with its distinctive aromas of rose petals, cumin, allspice and dried orange peel; Fiorenzo Nada “Rombone” with its excellent fruit persistence, nicely styled tannins and lively acidity and finally the elegantly styled Rizzi “Boito” that offers plush aromas of red cherry, strawberry and red spice along with big fruit persistence and lively acidity. This is one of the most underrated producers in Piemonte and all of Italy!

This is a gorgeous Amarone that takes you back to the days when local producers concentrated more on elegance than power. This offers beautifully perfumed aromas of violets, black raspberry, a hint of chocolate, molasses and rum, is balanced throughout and has lovely acidity and subtle oak. I wish more producers made their Amarone in this style!

Although this is a bit more modern in style than the Antolini, this is still a lovely Amarone with great finesse. Big aromas of red cherry, coriander and tobacco and a lengthy finish- this is beautifully made. I prefer this wine to the riper, more powerful “Campo dei Gigli” bottling from this producer.


You might expect these selections from Bolgheri to be no-brainers and to some extent they are, but these are more impressive to me than their respective 2004 bottlings, as they offer more lively acidity and backbone. Some will prefer the 2004s for their power, but the 2005s aren’t exactly lighweights and I admire the overall balance of these wines from start to finish. Look for these wines to be at their peak in 15-20 years.

Another Bolgheri red from a relatively new estate headed by Lodovico Antinori (formerly of Ornellaia) along with his brother Piero. This blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot has explosive aromas, excellent fruit persistence and lively acidity and should be at its best in 10-12 years.

I listed this producer’s Trebbiano d’Abruzzo as one of my favorite whites of the year and this glorious red made by the Gianni Masciarelli (Marina’s husband who recently passed away) is one of my top reds. This is a flavorful wine with notes of tobacco and myrtle with lively acidity and a long finish- it’s simply delicious!

Is there another producer of Taurasi that makes as flavorful – and at the same time – elegantly styled bottling than Mastroberardino? The winery’s approach with this 100% Aglianico really shines in a great vintage such as 2004. You get the textbook chocolate and cherry flavors, great fruit persistence and young, but balanced tannins. Look for this to be at its best in 15-20 years.

Here is another winery that I included in my list of best whites of the year for its 2007 Furore Bianco “Fiorduva”; this lesser known wine also makes the list for best reds. A blend of 50% Aglianico and 50% Piedirosso aged in barriques, this is quite stylish with flavors of black cherry, licorice and tobacco backed by tart acidity. It’s not a powerhouse – it will be at its best in 5-7 years - but it is quite impressive!

For some time now, this has been one of Sicily’s most complex and beautifully structured reds. Winemaker Carlo Casavecchia has produced one of his finest efforts to date with this gorgeous effort from 2004. 100% Nero d’Avola from vineyards near Gela in southeastern Sicily, this has inviting aromas of marascino cherry and fig backed by subtle oak, lively acidity and velvety tannins. This is an oustanding bottling of Duca Enrico; look for this to be at its peak in 12-15 years.

Please note that I did not list any bottlings of Brunello di Montalcino. This has nothing to do with the current situation in Montalcino, rather it has to do with the quality of the current releases from the 2003 vintage. Though there were some successes, overall the wines offer bitter tannins, robbing these wines of their usual elegance and finesse. Given that the 2004 bottlings of Brunello will be released in 2009, I expect several of these wines to be on my list of the Best Italian Reds next year.

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