Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Simply Italian Highlights

The Simply Italian tour hit Chicago this past Monday and it was a huge success, combining four seminars with a walk-around tasting featuring more than 250 wines, representing regions from all over Italy including Piemonte, Friuli, Lombardia, Tuscany, Campania and Sicily.

Here are a few of the best wines from the Monday tasting (note: this tasting was also held in San Francisco on Wednesday and Las Vegas on Thursday).

There were some great wine zones represented at this event; arguably the finest group of wines were from Collio. The 2010 Zuani Collio Bianco "Vigne" is a sumptuous blend of four varieties - Sauvignon (Blanc), Friulano, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio - in equal amounts. This wine is aged solely in stainless steel and has lovely perfumes and balance (the winery also has an oak-aged wine with the same blend called "Zuani" - this is released later, so the current vintage on that wine is the 2009). Whichever wine you prefer, these blends from Collio display a beautiful sense of place as well as outstanding complexity. (The 2010 Zuani "Vigne" was awarded a Tre Bicchieri rating from Gambero Rosso for their 2012 guide, incidentally.)

Also impressive is the 2009 Gradisciutta "Bratinis", another Collio Bianco, this made from Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Ribolla Gialla. This is an appealing wine with wonderful balance, lively acidity and a rich, flavorful finish. It's been one of my favorite Collio blends (or blends from anywhere in Italy, for that matter), but at a suggested retail price of $22, it's an outstanding value! Robert Princic at 34 years of age is doing a wonderful job at this estate, literally a mile from Slovenia (as well as virtually next door to Zuani).

But the white wine of the tasting for me - and for almost everyone else I spoke with - was the 2008 Primosic "Klin", another Collio blend. This is a cuvée of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Friulano and Ribolla Gialla that was aged in barriques for eight months; the oak adds texture and flavor, but it meshes ideally with the fruit - this is a perfectly balanced wine.

The initial aromas of this wine lend a sense that you will be tasting an extraordinary wine, as there are notes of honey, dried apricot, spiced pear and beeswax that combine to create quite a sensory experience. Full-bodied with tremendous complexity and an extremely long finish, this is a sensational wine! Incidentally, this particular vintage, the 2008, is my favorite example of this wine. While the 2007 and the soon-to-be-released 2009 are actually richer on the palate - and this 2008 is very rich in its own right - the cool temperatures and long hangtime from that growing season meant that the aromatics for the 2008 Collio whites were more intense than usual; when you taste this wine (and do everything you can to find a bottle), you will see what I mean. For me, the Primosic Klin is one of the three or four best white wines in Italy- and that is saying something! A must-buy. (By the way, one of my long-time friends, Bob Rohden, who has been in the business for more than 30 years and who is an admitted Francophile (though he told me that Italy has greatly closed the gap recently), said that this is the "Montrachet of Italy." I'd agree!

Few wine lovers think about rosés in Italy, but if more were made like the Guado al Tasso "Scalabrone," that would change. Produced from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah grown at this excellent Bolgheri estate near the Tuscan coast, this is quite rich with a long, flavorful finish. This is a lovely wine in its own, but I've enjoyed it with prosciutto as well as pork and chicken. The 2010 is the current release and it's delicious!

Of course, there were many impressive reds - how could there not be at an Italian tasting? I'll mention only a few: the 2006 Piccini "Poggio Teo" Chianti Classico is a 100% Sangiovese with impressive depth of fruit, while the 2006 La Togata Brunello di Montalcino is a fine example from this excellent vintage. The 2007 Pio Cesare Barolo displays the lush, forward fruit, round tannins and precise acidity of the 2007 reds from the Langhe, while the 2006 Mastroberardino Taurasi "Radici" is another in a long line of beautifully structured reds from this great Campanian producer.

One other red worth noting - one that is hardly famous, but quite enjoyable. That is the 2008 Kovic Terrano from the Carso zone in southern Friuli. Terrano is an indigenous red variety of Carso and produced a medium-bodied wine with soft, round tannins and fresh red cherry fruit with a light herbal note. This is elegant, tasty and surprisingly ageworthy - expect this to drink well for 3-5 years. This is not a wine that you'll read much about in the famous wine publications, but it's a lovely food wine (isn't that what this is all about?); it would be ideal with everything from prosciutto to risotto or lighter poultry or game birds.

Giovanni Arcari (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Finally I want to give a shout out to several producers of Franciacorta, several of whom were presenting their wines for the first time in America. Franciacorta is the home of the finest sparkling wines in Italy; this district located south of Lake Iseo in the Lombardia region, has strict regulations on how these wines must be made. Produced in the classic method where the secondary fermentation is in the bottle (a la Champagne), the quality of these wines is very high and is improving every year.

Riccardo Ricci Curbastro poured several of his cuvées, of which my favorite was the 2006 Satén Brut, produced entirely from Chardonnay. Nicely balanced with vibrant acidity, this is a robust sparkling wine; I was also impressed with his flavorful non-vintage Rosé. Incidentally, he just received his first Tre Bicchieri for his 2007 Extra Brut. I've known Riccardo for several years, having visited his estate and also appearing on a seminar panel with him. He is a gentleman and so deserving of this wonderful honor!

I moderated a seminar on Franciacorta in the morning with six artisan producers, all starting the long journey of finding representation in America. After this seminar I can tell you that they are well on their way, at least if the audience reaction is any indication. We had a full-house for this seminar, as wine buyers, journalists and importers from Chicago and the Midwest were there to learn everything they could about these distinctive sparkling wines.

All of the wines were very well made with beautiful balance and notable richness, but the wines from three producers really stood out for me. They were San Cristoforo (San Crees-taw-for-o) with their non-vintage Brut, produced entirely from Chardonnay and Le Marchesine with their Extra Brut as well as their 2007 Rosé Brut (this wine was poured by Andrea Biatta of the winery at the walk-around tasting.) This latter wine displays tremendous aromatics of ripe red cherry, currant and carnations and has a tremendous richness and a very long finish. It is quite simply the finest Franciacorta Rosé I have ever tasted!

The third producer whose wine stood out is Andrea Arici with his 2008 Zerodossagio (the image of this bottle is at the top of this post). This is a special project that export manager Giovanni Arcari (pictured above) explained;  a wine that was made from old terraced vines that had been abandoned, but were refurbished and reworked by the contadini, the farmers of the countryside. A blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Nero, the wine was aged for eight months in large oak casks (botti) and then almost 3 years in bottle. The finished wine is gorgeous, with aged fruit aromas along with notes of toasted bread and almond; in fact it reminded me of a late-disgorged Bollinger. Full-bodied with outstanding persistence, this is a great rendering of Franciacorta!

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