Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Italian Wines - Traditional, Natural and Delicious!

Elisabetta Foradori (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

The Italians use the word anima to describe a wine that has soul, a wine with not only excellent varietal purity and balance, but one that reflects its local terroir, one that has a sense of place. These are wines that are honest, like the farmers that tend the vineyards and the enologists that craft these wines in their cellars.

Today I was able to taste wines from several Italian producers who make their wines this way; the occasion was a tasting of bottlings from the Louis Dressner portfolio. While I also sampled a few French wines at this event (including an outstanding 2002 Cuvée Prestige from Franck Pascal), my emphasis was on the splendid group of Italian wines at this tasting.

I started right at the top with the wines from Elisabetta Foradori from Trentino. I had tasted her wines many times before, but this was the first time I had the opportunity to meet her. What a treat to taste these wines while listening to her thoughts on the various bottlings. She poured a 2009 release of a white called Myrto, produced from the Manzoni variety, a cross between Riesling Renano and Pinot Bianco. This is a beautiful dry white with petrol and pear aromas with lovely texture and excellent complexity.

She also showed four reds, all made from Teroldego, the variety she is best known for. I loved the 2009 "Scarzon" bottling, with its deep color, heavenly perfumes of black raspberry, anise and violets and outstanding persistence. This is great evidence of the biodynamic farming she undertakes at her estate; she told me that this practice allows her to "go back to the fertility of the soil." All of her red wines display wonderful varietal purity and finesse, two qualities I have been finding in the very best wines made biodynamically.

Sonia Torretta, Cascina degli Ulivi (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Two of the most pleasant surprises at this tasting were red wines from Cascina degli Ulivi, a small estate in the Alessandria province that is well known for their Gavi. The first red was a charming red called "Semplicimente", a blend of 70% Barbera and 30% Dolcetto. This has the wonderful black raspberry and cranberry fruit of Dolcetto along with the zippy, tangy acidity of Barbera; aged solely in steel tanks, this is a fun wine meant for consumption with pizza and salumi over the next 12 months. I mentioned to Sonia Torretta from the estate that it was neat to try an old-fashioned Piemontese red; she smiled and replied that many people in her town had told her that this wine "was just like my uncle used to make." Given all the powerful wines that emerge from Piemonte, how nice to find an approachable wine such as this (especially at around $18 retail).

Torretta also poured her 2006 "Nibio" a wine made entirely from a local strain of Dolcetto. This particular clone (the wine is a Monferrato Dolcetto) has small berries, so there is a touch more tannin than the usual Dolcetto d'Alba, given the skin to juice ratio. This is a delicious wine and one that will be at is best in about five years - at $24-27 dollars, this is a fine value, especially as it challenges other Italian reds in regards of quality and complexity at that price.

Alessandra Venturini, Monte dall'Orca (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I wasn't familiar with the wines of Monte dall'Orca from Valpolicella, but can highly recommend them, especially the 2007 Ripasso "Sausto" and the 2006 Amarone. Both wines are remarkably elegant without the big raisiny flavors one normally encounters in wines of these type. The wines are aged in grandi botti, so the wood influence is minimal. To me this allowed the varietal flavors of the Corvina and Rondinella grapes to emerge, along with subtle spice. This Amarone is one of the best I've tasted over the past few years.

Arianna Occhipinti (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Finally, two producers making wines at different ends of the spectrum. Sasha Radikon was present pouring his father's gorgeous "orange" wines; among them were the 2005 Ribolla Gialla, the Jakot (Tokaj spelled backwards) froma the same vintage and the "Oslavje" (also from 2005). This last white, a blend of Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon and Chardonnay has excellent persistence and texture with outstanding complexity. A first rate wine as was the Ribolla Gialla, which displayed remarkable freshness for a five year old white wine. Radikon gives these white wines three and a half months of skin contact and them ages them for three and a half years in grandi botti of 30 hl. This is an amazing way to make white wines - one that surely is razor's edge - but is works grandly!

Finally I was able to sample the new wines from my brand new friend Arianna Occhippinti. I had known about her wines for some time now, as several friends recommended them to me (Arianna is the niece of Giusto Occhipinti, one of the proprietors of COS winery in Vittoria, one of Italy's most remowned producers). I finally met Arianna on March 12 at an event in Sicily, where I tasted her estate wines (I especially loved her 2006 "Siccogno" Nero d'Avola). I then flew back to Chicago on the 15th on the same flight as Arianna- she was actually seated one row directly in front of me - talk about a small world! (Incidentally, both of us, having flown Alitalia in the past, had the foresight to order a vegetarian meal  - they couldn't screw that up!). So today, the 23rd, marked the third time in twelve days I've spent time with her after never meeting her in the past. She is certainly worth spending time with, I can admit, not only for her wines, but also for her charming personality.

I tasted three wines from her new project she has undertaken with a few friends. The wines are under the Tami label and the three wines, a Grillo and two reds, Frappato and Nero d'Avola, are medium-bodied and offer good freshness, varietal character and are quite elegant and approachable now. These are fine food wines and very reasonably priced - they should be in the $16-$18 retail range, though I'm guessing much of the wine will wind up as glass pours - a wonderful idea for any restaurant wine buyers reading this post.

In case you couldn't tell, I had fun at this tasting. To me, that's always in the back of my mind at wine events. No matter how expensive or famous the wine, I'll only rate it highly if I enjoy it. Today, I enjoyed a beautiful range of wines - life's good!

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