Showcasing a broad selection of new Italian wines
© 2004 By James J. Biancamano
Once again it was time for me to enter the world of Winebow and attend the Fall Vintner's Harvest tasting. While in the past I have always enjoyed the event, for the first time I was actually able to attend legally as official rep of WineLoversPage.com. This was the fifteenth year for the event, and while on the surface it appeared smaller than previously, I believe the Metropolitan Pavilion has given it a much nicer atmosphere than the old Puck building.
For those of you unfamiliar with Winebow, it is in my opinion one of America's best wine importers and distributors of fine wines. The firm was founded by Leonardo LoCascio in 1980 and has probably been as responsible for the rise of interest in Italian wines over the last 20 years as anyone. The producers he represents run the gamut from the prestigious and well known, down to the unknown with no track record.
While Italy now represents only a portion of the wines Winebow brings in, I mainly focused on that area. Here are some of the many highlights from the tasting:
Altesino is of course one of the better known producers of Brunello. Recently the winery was purchased by the Angelini family owners of Tenuta Carparzo. All of the wines here were pre-Angelini, so whether the will make any changes remains to be seen. 2002 Rosso di Montalcino and the 2001 Rosso Di Altesino were nice examples of Tuscan sangiovese. While they can be a bit overblown in some vintages, these wines were in no sense anything more than good Tuscan sangiovese (for the most part). The 2000 Alte d'Altesi for my palate showed less style and more concentration than I like, yet I think it can integrate and smooth out over time, Then of course we have the 1999 Brunello di Montalcino, it is clearly better than the awkward 1997 and has a great life ahead. A bit woody on the first pass, but full of potential nonetheless.
Here is a Rufina estate that does not get the attention its Classico brethren receive. The winery is owned by Francesco Antinori; Franco Bernabei consults. The 2000 Fornace is a marvelous wine, rich and balanced but with nothing that would make you think "Italy." On the other hand you have the 2001 Chianti Rufina that is sweet and subtle with surprising depth of flavour.
What's not to like about the wines that were introduced by the late Cosimo Taurino? Price and style are maintained by his wife and daughters, and these wines celebrate Cosimo and Apulia! The 1999 Notarpanaro and 1997 Patriglione are the best examples of these wines since 1990. The Notarparanro has gotten richer and the Patriglione is becoming less like an Amarone wannabe and more of an example of the great wines that Apulia has to offer.
Here's everyone's favorite whipping boy for Veneto. Who knows why, maybe because they are jealous that the 2000 La Grola is one of the best examples of under-$20 wines in the market today. Following that the 1999 La Poja and 1999 Amarone Classico Superiore show why Allegrini is one of the top wineries in the region. They are rich wines that are deep in flavor with universal appeal, yet maintain their Italian identity.
Here is another Antinori project. The wines are very nice and I think would be very appealing in their price range. The 2002 Rosso di Montepulciano reminds me a bit of a southern influenced wine. The Prugnolo grape is very apparent in the nose and palate (cassis). The 1999 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is not for traditionalists, that's for sure. Yet it is appealing in its own way.
Uh oh, another Antinori wine, but thankfully so. These wines are tremendous and still are among the top wines made in Piemonte today. The 1998 Barbaresco is a classic wine that exhibits the richness of past vintages. The 1998 Barbaresco "Bric Turot" has the best nose of the lot. Anyone who smells this wine would immediately recognize it as a Barbaresco, and its follow through on the palate is exquisite. 1997 Barbaresco "Bric Turot," is a bit forward, but of course next to the '96 they all are. The 1999 Barolo disappoints, but the 1996 Barolo "Cannubi" makes up for it. My oh my, I may live to see this wine mature; and then of course is their signature, 1998 Barolo "Bussia" and the 1999 Bussia are among the better examples of newer Barolos. They are richer than the Cannubi, but not as deep.
Of course a highlight of any Winebow tasting is finding a winery you are less familiar with. The Aminea wines, especially the 2001 Aglianico Monsignore and the 2000 Taurasi, represent a traditional approach to wine making in the region. A bit light for me, but worth the effort if you find them.
I Giusti e Zanza
I have been a fan of this winery since their first releases. Followed them from the very start! The 2001 Belcore and the 2000 Dulcamara show the only thing that's changed at the winery is the price. I don't think these wines are worth the asking price these days. Come back when they are back to 1998 levels
Valentina Argiolas can serve swap water and I wouldn't care. So imagine how great it is to see here again and taste these wines! The 1999 Turriga has come a long way since what was a disappointing 1997, in my opinion. It's a far more complex wine, but still needs a bit of age to come together. The 2002 Korem is on the one hand a delicious wine, on the other hand pales in comparison to its lesser brethren, the 2002 Perdera and the 2002 Costera. Is there a better pair of $10 wines in the world today? Nope.
Another Apulian winery, but from tasting their wine I wonder if it's Apulian via the way of Australia! The 1999 Pier delle Vigne is as rich a wine as you will find anywhere in Italy. Their 2001 Primitivo Zinfandel is extremely well priced and again has that new world richness that will make a favourite of people who don't normally drink Apulian wines. (Does that make sense?)
For those with unlimited means and a desire to taste Veneto wines, here for you approval is Maculan. The 2000 Fratta would make any lover of garagiste wines happy. The 2002 Brentino we are led to believe is "quintessentially Italian." Yes, next to the Fratta it is! Next to the Selvapiana 2001 Chianti Rufina, that's another story.
A wonderful story this winery is ... it's run by the grandsons of the founder, Piero Coppo. While it is being led into the modern age by Paolo Coppo, it is producing rare wines that seem to scream Piemonte but also are a bit modern. For example the 2002 Barbera "L'Avvocata" is as decadent a Barbera as you will find uner $15. Then there is the 2000 Alterego which has a subtle truffle and fennel nuance that you just know is Piemonte, but the wine is 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2000 "Pomorosso." 100 percent Barbera, is incredible, but oh so pricey. I loved these wines!
Di Majo Norante
I don't want to say too much about these wines. The reason being that they speak for themselves. I urge you to taste the 2001 Ramitello and the 2001 Contado. Alessio di Majo proudly poured these wines and the look on my face said it all. If these wines were produced anywhere else in Italy, they'd go for three times the price. The 2001 Don Luigi Montepulciano might be a bit overblown, yet I just can't find it in me to fault it. Sure, Cotarella consults, but that's no reason to hate them.
A Cotarella winery, along with the Gialetti family. These wines are signature Cotarella wines, ripe and rich with a less indigenous identity than I like. The 2003 Sangiovese might be a good bargain, but the 2001 Fobiano, while big, doesn't impress me.
Cotarella again, and if I had to guess the 2001 Le Poggere blind, I would have said "Montevetrano." It is in my opinion the same wine, but for one-half the price.
Castello di Bossi
If you were looking for a wine that would make you think of rolling Tuscan hills and rural scenes of open air "ristaurante" then you wouldn't think of this winery. But if you approached it with an open mind, you'd find that the 2001 Chianti Classico is a wine that would give any decent California wine a run for its money. I couldn't understand why this wine was a Chianti Classico DOCG and not an IGT. It looks, smells and tastes and is priced like a Super Tuscan. Their other wines, 2000 Berardo Chianti Classico, 2000 Merlot and the 2000 Corbaia are painstakingly rich and well done. I just wish the Chianti Classico was less so. Alberto Antonini makes quite a statement, but that statement says "barrique." Talented, but he needs to pull it back a bit.
Now this, this is a great wine. The 2002 Rosso di Montepulciano is a bit pricey, but its pure and gives you a minerally rich and complex wine. I cannot understand why so many Montalcino wineries cannot make Rosso like this.
Galli & Broccatelli
Cotarella does Sagrantino, but trust me, he does it right. Wow. The 2000 Sagrantino di Montefalco spent a long amount of time in barrique (36 months) but you would never know it. I love Sagrantino and was afraid of what I might find. I am happy to report this winery is on the verge of greatness. Both the 2000 Rosso di Torgiano and the 2002 Rosso di Montefalco are great examples of what can be made in the region. While they can pull a bit of wood back, I find that they all were excellent wines.
This winery is making great Taurasi. The 1997 Taurasi I tasted was eerily reminiscent of the Feudi San Gregorio Taurasi from the same year. It is deep and rich with a core of red fruits and almonds. I came back for more and was never disappointed. It became more profound with each pass.
Certainly a rising star thanks to the expertise exhibited by Francesco Avallone. Its flagship, the 2000 Vigna Camarato, has reached new heights. It's even better than the '97 and '98 versions. The 2002 Falerni del Massico had a pine understructure that I found intriguing. It reminded me of a dry cola.
This wine, the 2002 Pignotto Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, could be one of the best of the type I have had recently. It was certainly one of the most concentrated wines from that region, and you had no hint of the barrique treatment. The 2003 normale was slightly underwhelming. I need to revisit these wines in the future.
Wouldn't you know it, another Cotarella wine! Yet it's hard not to like the 2002 Nero d'Avola, which is a nice interpretation of the grape. You would be much harder pressed to enjoy the 2001 Don Antonio, it's simply a big wine with an in-your-face assault on the palate. I think the Don Antonio would do well to sit in the cellar for a good five years.
Cantina Di Venosa
If I could recommend a winery to introduce people to Aglianico, this would be it. The winery is a co-op in Basilicata which makes a number of great Aglianicos under the hand of Oronzo Alò. The wines are simply delicious and varied. The Vignali sees no wood. The Terre di Orazio sees barrique, and the Carato is riper and sees more wood and aging. I think they all are good renditions of Aglianico. I see the purest wine and expression in the 2002 Aglianico del Vulture "Vignali," but the 2001 Aglianico del Vulture "Terre di Orazioi" is a great wine as well. Probably worthy of Taurasi status. The 1999 Aglianico del Vulture "Carato Venusio" is a strange duck, definitely a new-wave Aglianico, but interesting nonetheless.
Of course the Lamborghini portfolio is under the guise of Cotarella as well.The deep color of these wines and the almost hard-as-nails core of the 2001 Campoleone shows he does at least demarcate from winery to winery. It's not the fruit-forward wine you expect from him, but a wine built for shock value. I liked the 2001 Trescone as it was on the surface the more indigenous Italian wine.
Of course it's a Cotarella wine, but I found the 2000 Rubino a bit softer than previous vintages. I like this wine in some years ('98) and less in others ('96). Yet its still of good quality, and ages well. The 2000 satisfies, but doesn't excite.
This is the red that Cotarella loves the most, and of course you can see why. The 2002 Montevetrano falls bit short of past efforts, but still has a core of richness that makes it the envy of many winemakers trying to emulate the Bordeaux style. Sweet and rich with that quintessential Montevetrano nose of graphite and tobacco.
A new name for me, and intriguing. I feel its wines define the rustic virtues I found missing in many other regions and a great harbinger of the quality to be found in Marche wines. Their 2003 Rosso Piceno Lyricus was very good, and for the price it would be hard to beat (under $9). It was probably the best bargain wine of the day, and I wouldn't bet against it going 5-7 years in the cellar. 1998 Tornamagno Rosso was equally a stunning wine, yet approachable. Its rich deep flavours kept coming with each sip. This was not a spitter.
One of the "organic" wines of Italy. The organic movement is catching steam and I believe that wineries like this are welcomed by traditionalists. Its wines might not appeal to many, but they are pure representations of their region. The 2001 Pregio del Conte, a blend of Aglianico and Montepulciano, is excellent. It has nothing but rich fruit flavors and spicy overtones. The 2001 Rosso Piceno Superiore is bigger but more modern, it doesn't have its woodiness under control at this point. I'd imagine that will change over time.
I have grown to love the Lagrein from this winery. The only red they repped that day (I think they make others) was the 2003 Lagrein Alto Adige. Its was a beautiful expression of the grape, which can sometimes be presented in an overripe fashion.
If I recall correctly, the 2003 Lagrein was far and away the oakiest wine I had encountered in a long time. Too young, too oaky, just too odd.
Bevve Caviola and Franca Spinola produce these great wines from Maremma. Bevve is a craftsmen in every sense of the word and I would have to say the 2000 Radaia should be the envy of every Super Tuscan producer. While it is 100 percent Merlot, it separates itself from the pack in that the wine remains pure and rich and is one of the better expressions of Merlot outside of St. Emilion. The 2002 Parrina Rosso does to Sangiovese what the Radaia does for Merlot, takes it to another level while staying true to the region. Highly recommended.
Is there any reason Giacosa wines need to be showcased? No. And I am not going to complain either!
The 2003 Dolcetto d'Alba is so sweetly fragrant you want to wear it. The 2002 Barbera d'Alba disappoints since it is way lighter than an Barbera I have had in years. The 2001 Nebbiolo d'Alba on the other hand is exquisite. I bet there are dozens of wineries that would be proud to call it a Barbaresco. Then there is the 1998 Barbaresco normale which in the glass resembles a rosé but on the palate shows that Bruno is on his game in 1998. The 1998 Barbaresco Gallina makes me dance with my hand in my pants and happy I have some in my cellar. The 1999 Barolo is the lightest Barolo I have seen in the glass in a long time, but we know colour means nothing in Piemonte! It is a bit soft but hardly disappoints. The 1999 Barolo Falletto is everything you'd expect, Big, rich, and oh, so tannic. What can I say? Greatness is as greatness does.
Of course this is a well-known winery from Calabria. It might be the only known wine from Calabria for that matter. 2001 Magno Megonio is 100 percent Magliocco. Supposedly Magliocco is indigenous to Calabria and was once the most widespread red grape in the region. Like many, and sadly still so, it fell victim to other more popular, and non-indigenous varities of grapes.
Thankfully it did not become extinct, and perhaps a movement back to indigenous wines will pick up steam. On the downside, the wine seems to be a bit over-oaked, yes, even for me. That being said, the wine stands up quite well in that you can pick out profound flavours of spicy black fruits, very much along the lines of many well made Lagrein wines. Its a tad abrupt in that the wood is a bit obtrusive, but maybe integration and some cellaring will refine it. I believe the grape has some good potential, even in an international market as we have today. It certainly has depth and body, it just needs to clarify what's behind it. I don't know whether I will be inclined to add any bottles to my cellar, but I would like a chance to retaste this wine with some years on it, or aged a bit less in barrique.
The 2002 Ciro Rosso Classico, 100 percent Gaglioppo, was more my style. A softer wine with simple purity.
This wine is actually a project of the Zenato family. Its 2000 Merlot is made from 25-year-old vines, and it sees the same wood treatment many other Italian Merlots see: Too much. It wants to be a Redigaffi, and succeeds in that it's only one-fifth the price of that wine. I am not convinced, but then again I don't have to be.
Here is evidence as to why the Zenatos need to stick to Amarone and Valpolicella. They are my favourite Veneto producer. The 2000 Amarone is gorgeous. I could make love to this wine, and I have. Its deep core of fruit and spice mingled with an ethereal nose makes me wonder why I don't spend my kids' entire college savings on this wine. Both the 2002 Valpolicella Ripassa and the 2001 Valpolicella Classico elevate this winery to one of the top wineries in Winebow's portfolio in my opinion.
Podere Poggio Scalette
The world is awash in Super Tuscans, but does that stop people from making more and more? No. The 2000 Il Carbonaione fits the mold of every other: It's delicious, yes; it's refined, yes; it's pricey, yes. So what does it do to separate itself from the pack? Not much. Pretty label, though.
Before anyone goes writing off Carmigano as a California wannabe, along comes Pratesi. As for their 2001 Carmignano, there is no reason I should love this wine. It has all the wrong grapes, the vines are too young, it's aged in barrique and does everything wrong, yet it is great. Startling wine.
Stefano Chioccioli is a star, and these wines tell us why. The 2002 Perlato del Bosco is the best 100 percent Sangiovese IGT for my money. The 2002 Giusto di Notri shows that 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001 were not aberrations. The wines are stunning. Gotta love 'em.
Leonardo Pizzolo has struck gold in the middle of Abruzzo. I was very happy that I decided to taste these wines. The 2003 Montepulciano Vigne Nuove is explosive. The purity of the fruit, rich, deep black and blue fruits, made me ask for another glass. For $12 or so, its hard to find anything quite so delicious yet different. The 2001 Montepuciano d'Abruzzo was actually a bit lighter but had a better more perfumey nose than the Vigne Nuove. Then there is the 2001 Montepuciano d'Abruzzo "San Calisto." It appears on the ssurface to be another new world wannabe, but its richness also conveys a spicy and minerally complexity that will come out in 5-7 years. I think they may be onto something.
The highlight of my day was the chance to taste the Cortese vertical. Where as the 1996 Barbaresco "Rabaja" Reserve was a great wine, even at this point it pales in comparison to the 1999 normale. I first tried the 1998 Barbaresco "Rabaja," and needless to say, it is impressive. The vintage's hard edges were showing but the core of roses and leather were easily recognizable. Then there was the 1999 Barbaresco "Rabaja." Oh my, Oh my. If Heaven serves one wine, please God let it be this one. Not far off, yet not as rich, was the 2000 Barbaresco "Rabaja." Clearly Cortese has done Rabaja proud.
Yes, last but not least another Cotarella wine. This winery is looking to recreate Feudi's Serpico, and in a way it has succeeded. The 2002 Terra di Lavoro is a blend of Piedrirosso and Aglianico. It's a good wine, it's a big wine, and I am sure it will please many people - especially wine critics who like this kind of stuff. For the price, though, there are way too many better wines.