For those new to wine, Italy is often reduced to one region; Tuscany. The region is of course home to two of the world’s most famous wine growing regions, Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino. It’s beautiful, picturesque and loaded with history. That last sentence though pretty much applies to anywhere in Italy. For wine collectors, regions like Piedmont’s Barbaresco and Barolo, and the Amarones from the Valpolicella region near Verona get top billing along with Tuscany. For everyday drinkers Italy is loaded with outstanding wines, some produced from indigenous varieties like Sangiovese and Nero d’Avola and some from more well known grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. From the regions of Veneto and Umbria we find Italy offers a range of regions and wines to please every palate.
Super Tuscan blend became wildly popular with the American wine press. Blends of Sangiovese with Cabernet and Merlot scored high points and high praise. This wine is the same blend but from the region of Umbria, south of Tuscany which offers equally beautiful hill towns and rolling countryside.
Aromas of dried fig and blackberry compote, and a very concentrated full bodied wine that remains very elegant. The palate is full but rather than robust it’s strikingly fine. Flavors of red and black berries mix with fine tannin and hints of earth.
This wine is a Veronese original. The Campofiorin, named for one of the original Masi vineyards is comprised of the same varieties that make up Amarone; Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. The Campofiorin is a combination of wine fermented in typical fashion and then fermented again with about 25% of the grapes that have been through the appassimento technique. The folks at Masi call it a “Super-Venetian,” I’ll call it a Baby-Amarone. In any case call it a beautiful wine that can age over a decade at what is a nearly unbelievable price.
The wine’s aromas hint at its ample time in oak- notes of cinnamon, clove and baking spices. The palate is fruit focused with dusty cherries and blackberry. The tannins are supple and the mouthfeel, finish and pedigree of this wine has it punching well over its weight class. This wine drinks as well if not better than many wines at two to three times its price-point.
The Ziggurat comes from maybe the coolest winery in the world, Il Carapace. A winery that is also a work of art in the hillsides of Umbria, the first sculpture that is lived in worked in, designed by Arnaldo Pomodoro. The wines are made by the Lunelli family who also make the Ferrari sparkling wines.
This Umbrian blend includes Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot, but the star is the local grape from Montefalco; the highly tannic Sagrantino. The blend creates a wine loaded with complexity, aromas are intense fruit blended with herbal notes. The palate hints at dried fig, prunes, and clove. The wine is structured and shows an ability to age for quite a few years, it will likely drink best in three to five years.
While this wine from Amarone producer Zenato uses some of those same regionally famous grapes as the Masi Campofiorin the production style varies greatly. Instead of applying the traditionally drying technique, it gives you a sense of the intensity of grapes like Coravina and Rondinella (along with some Sangiovese), even without the appassimento technique. The grapes are harvested with slightly higher sugar levels than typical, and the result is a rich, ripe wine with a full, velveteen mouthfeel.
Aromas of black fruits, as well as roast coffee and pepper and a round, robust palate; chock full of dark fruit. Flavors of lush blackberry, chocolate and cherry and a substantial bit of structure, with a lengthy finish make this wine, like many of the wines that Zenato produces, one that impresses at such a bargain price.
Urge to Splurge:
A couple wines that come in above our $20 price point are well worth exploring Italy a bit further.
From Sardinia, where grapes native to the island are often showcased comes a blend of more familiar Bordeaux based grapes, along with Syrah, and the star of the blend; Spanish Carignano. The hot climate of the island of Sardinia, with it’s cooler evenings create a sweet spot for Carignano, which typically thrives in the hot climates of Spain. This is a relatively new winery on an island with ancient wine traditions. The wine is rich and ripe, but very fresh. The aromas are concentrated around dark fruit, with hints of barrel spice, and mocha. The palate is fresh and fruit driven, framed by substantial tannin and structure with a mouth coating finish.
A flagship wine showing off how impressive, and age-worthy wines made from Montepulciano can be. The grape is not in fact, Sangiovese which is what goes into the wines made in Tuscany called Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Which is named for the Tuscan village of Montepulciano. These wines may be distant relatives of the Sangiovese grape, but the connection, if there is one to the village of Montepulciano doesn’t seem to bear fruit.
Montepulciano is the second most planted red grape in Italy, Sangiovese being the most popular. The wines are rich, and obviously if the current release is eight years old, you can appreciate that these are wines that need time to open up, but also improve over time. The Thalè is not made in every vintage, and is decided upon by the winemaking team when quality is at its highest. The wine is darker than its cousin Sangiovese but does show some of it’s red fruit characteristics in the aromatics. Along with notes of barrel spice and vanilla. The palate showcases the wine’s structure; with ample tannin and layers of black and red fruit flavors. There are hints of turned earth and a balanced acidity.