Category Archives: Italy

Cascina Castlet, Barbera d’Asti DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Vespa” 2019

($35, Artisan Selections by Romano Brands):  Barbera is a terrific wine for a meal because the grape has inherently high acidity, which makes it lively and perfect for food.  Its problem is image.  When consumers see many on retailers’ shelves selling for less than $10 a bottle, the question is, why spend more?  Well, let me tell you.  With Barbera, you get what you pay for.  Ten bucks gets you thin acidic swill.  Paying a bit more does wonders.  Take the Barberas from Cascina Caslet, a top producer.  This one, with a Vespa on the label, is juicy with ripe black fruitiness and fabulous balancing acidity that keeps it in balance.  Mild tannins lend structure without being aggressive.  Indeed, you could chill the wine for thirty minutes in the frig when it’s hot outside.  Try it with a hearty pasta dish.  You’ll fall in love with Barbera.
90 Michael Apstein Sep 8, 2020

Cascina Castlet, Barbera d’Asti DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Litina” 2016

($40, Artisan Selections by Romano Brands):  The label sports CCC in bold letters on the bottle, the abbreviation of the winery, Cascina Caslet, plus the village, Costigliole, where it’s located. The important information can be found on the neck label. Similar to their Vespa bottling, the Litinia, named after a family member, is a robust wine that delivers black fruitiness buttressed by zippy acidity.  In addition, there’s an intriguing savory component and a delightful hint of bitterness in the finish.  The biggest difference, however, is textural. It’s suave and displays an unusual sophistication for a Barbera.  This is serious wine that shows the potential of Barbera in the right hands.  It would be a great choice to accompany a grilled steak.
93 Michael Apstein Sep 8, 2020

Gianni Gagliardo, Barolo DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) Castelletto 2013

($100, Enotec Imports / Blair Taylor Selection Denver):  The village of Monforte d’Alba, where the Castelletto vineyard is located, is a Barolo zone that typically produces weighty and muscular wines, similar to those from Serralunga d’Alba.  So, I was surprised by lovely fragrance and elegance that emanated from Gagliardo’s bottling.  Make no mistake, there was plenty of power.  The sublime fruitiness and a patina of oak made the tannins fade into the background.  This Barolo, at seven years of age, a joy to drink now, but those who prefer more savory nuances in their wines need to give it more time to develop.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 18, 2020

Palladino, Barolo DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) S. Bernardo Riserva 2013

($88, Enotec Imports / Blair Taylor Selection Denver):  Though the 2016 vintage in Barolo has been receiving great critical acclaim — rightfully so — other vintages from that DOCG are not far behind.  Case in point, this 2013 from Palladino, based in Serralunga d’Alba, a Barolo zone known for tannic and tough wines.  This one is terrific, muscular, but not tough at all.  In fact, it’s surprisingly glossy, especially for a wine from Serralunga.  A traditionally framed Barolo, it exudes a wonderful mixture of savory notes (especially, meaty ones) and dark fruit flavors.  It’s chewy but tender.  Engaging now, this wine is for the cellar to allow more development.  Palladino has less than two acres in the small San Bernardo vineyard, so production is limited.  It is worth the search.
95 Michael Apstein Aug 18, 2020

Barone Sergio, Eloro DOC (Sicily, Italy) Nero d’Avola “Sergio” 2018

($21, Artisanal Cellars):  “Eloro is a grand cru for Nero d’Avola,” according to Ian d’Agata, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Italian wines.  Barone Sergio has 75 acres of vineyards, two-thirds of which are devoted to that grape, one of Sicily’s most important varieties.  Sergio, a robust wine, delivers bright plummy fruit-like flavors accompanied by mild tannins.  The focus is on its fruitiness, while bright acidity keeps it fresh.  It would be a good choice for grilled foods this summer.
89 Michael Apstein Aug 4, 2020

Tenuta Carretta, Roero DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Bric Paradiso” Riserva 2015

($55, Blicker Pierce Wagner Wine Merchants):  Roero, located on the left bank of the Tanaro River, across from the Langhe, produces lighter Nebbiolo-based wines compared to those from across the river due to a generally lighter soil.  This, a fragrant beauty, has the Burgundian sensibility I call, “flavor without weight.”  It’s like a baby Barolo with hints of tar, floral character and firm, yet not astringent or annoying, tannins.  In short, a delight!
92 Michael Apstein Aug 4, 2020

Tenuta Carretta, Barbaresco DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Garassino” 2016

($50, Consortium Wine & Spirits Imports):  Tenuta Carretta is the sole owner of 11.5-acre Garassino vineyard, a recognized MGA (Menzione Geografica Aggiuntiva) or “cru” in the Treiso part of the Barbaresco zone.  It’s what the French would call a monopole.  Their well-price 2016 is elegant and understated.  Like many great wines, its grandeur sneaks up on you.  Only after it has been on the palate awhile do you really sit up and take notice.  Its floral notes and hint of tarriness are reinforced by a long, fine and explosive finish.  Not a powerhouse, this is a very pretty wine with fine tannins that, unsurprisingly, needs several years to open up.  I’d find room in the cellar.
94 Michael Apstein Aug 4, 2020

Boscarelli, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) Il Nocio 2016

($159, Empson USA): The 2016 Il Nocio is an extraordinary wine. Boscarelli is one of the top producers — some would say THE top producer — of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.  Il Nocio, from the vineyard of the same name, is their top wine.  The 2016 is exceptional, but I repeat myself. Crystalline and pure, it delivers hints of cherries and plenty of minerality.  Though not a fruity wine, it is plush, but not soft. Indeed, there’s a beauty in its austerity.  Then, all of a sudden, it’s no longer austere, but mouth-filling.  A long and elegant wine, the 2016 Il Nocio reveals more with each sip after time in the glass.  Its super suave texture is deceptive because it’s lovely to drink now, but the 2016 Il Nocio is a wine to age. Their website notes, “The aging potential of our Nocio is measured in decades. . .”   From my experience, the 2004 Il Nocio was just starting to show maturity in 2013, at a decade of age, and the 1996 was magnificent at 17 years of age at that same 2013 tasting.  So, I’d put the 2016 in a deep corner of your cellar.

96 Michael Apstein Jul 28, 2020

Colle Santa Mustiola di Fabio Cenni, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) Sangiovese Poggio ai Chiari 2011

($80, Selezioni Varietali):  This is my first encounter with this producer, but it certainly will not be my last given the quality of this wine.  Their importer tells me Cenni’s focus is Sangiovese, with their 12 acres planted entirely with 28 clones of that variety.  Poggio ai Chiari, their flagship wine, is impressive from the first fragrant whiff.  Stylish and refined, it transmits a lovely austerity without being hard. Paradoxically, it is both delicate and powerful, but not heavy.  Hints of cherries come through and mingle with mineral-like flavors.  Uplifting acidity keeps it fresh and lively and balances its chiseled profile.  An engaging hint of bitterness in the finish increases its appeal.  Cenni clearly knows something about Sangiovese.
94 Michael Apstein Jul 28, 2020

Bocale di Valentini, Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG (Umbria, Italy) “Bocale” 2015

($47, Tradizione Imports):  The Sagrantino grape does not make wimpy wines.  So, there’s no surprise that this one is big and bold, weighing in at 15.5 percent stated-alcohol.  And, as expected from wines from this DOCG, its tannic youthfulness is in evidence.  The surprise, however, is the balance. Despite its size, it’s not heavy. It carries the alcohol, the tannins, and the flavor beautifully.  Great acidity keeps it fresh.  A hint of bitterness in the finish shows it’s not made from over-ripe grapes.  Its profile demands hefty meat, such as grilled lamb studded with garlic, or wild game.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2020

Boscarelli, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) Il Nocio 2016

  ($159, Empson USA): The 2016 Il Nocio is an extraordinary wine. Boscarelli is one of the top producers — some would say THE top producer — of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.  Il Nocio, from the vineyard of the same name, is their top wine.  The 2016 is exceptional, but I repeat myself. Crystalline and pure, it delivers hints of cherries and plenty of minerality.  Though not a fruity wine, it is plush, but not soft. Indeed, there’s a beauty in its austerity.  Then, all of a sudden, it’s no longer austere, but mouth-filling.  A long and elegant wine, the 2016 Il Nocio reveals more with each sip after time in the glass.  Its super suave texture is deceptive because it’s lovely to drink now, but the 2016 Il Nocio is a wine to age. Their website notes, “The aging potential of our Nocio is measured in decades. . .”   From my experience, the 2004 Il Nocio was just starting to show maturity in 2013, at a decade of age, and the 1996 was magnificent at 17 years of age at that same 2013 tasting.  So, I’d put the 2016 in a deep corner of your cellar.

96 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2020

Pietro Beconcini, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Reciso” 2015

($35, Beivuma Wines):  Beconcini, located in San Miniato, a small town halfway between Pisa and Florence, makes range of wines from a Chianti to this one, his top of the line.  Made entirely from organically-grown Sangiovese, it’s a beauty, probably, in part at least, because of the age of the vines.  According to their website, about one-third of the vines for this wine are 45 years old while the rest are 25 years of age.  A ying and yang of savory and cherry-like flavors dance on the palate.  Though it has good density and ripeness — the 2015 vintage speaking — it’s not heavy.  Classic Tuscan acidity keeps it lively and fresh.  A charming rusticity and a hint of bitterness in the finish speaks to its authenticity.  It would be an ideal choice tonight for grilled steak.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2020

Colle Santa Mustiola di Fabio Cenni, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) Sangiovese Poggio ai Chiari 2011

($80, Selezioni Varietali):  This is my first encounter with this producer, but it certainly will not be my last given the quality of this wine.  Their importer tells me Cenni’s focus is Sangiovese, with their 12 acres planted entirely with 28 clones of that variety.  Poggio ai Chiari, their flagship wine, is impressive from the first fragrant whiff.  Stylish and refined, it transmits a lovely austerity without being hard. Paradoxically, it is both delicate and powerful, but not heavy.  Hints of cherries come through and mingle with mineral-like flavors.  Uplifting acidity keeps it fresh and lively and balances its chiseled profile.  An engaging hint of bitterness in the finish increases its appeal.  Cenni clearly knows something about Sangiovese.
94 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2020

Usiglian del Vescovo, Terre di Pisa DOC (Tuscany, Italy) “Il Barbiglione” 2015

($32, Wine Worldwide Inc): The Terre di Pisa DOC is not even a decade old, having been founded only in 2011.  It’s a tiny area (less than 150 acres) with only a handful of producers, surrounding the Tuscan town of Pisa on Italy’s west coast, north of Bolgheri.  Unsurprisingly given its locale, the red grapes allowed include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese and Syrah.  Judging from this wine, consumers can expect to hear more about the region.  The 2015 Il Barbiglione displays good weight and power without being overdone.  Sufficient structure that avoids astringency balances the dark cherry-like flavors.  A delightful hint of bitterness in the finish makes it ideal for grilled meat this summer.
91 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2020

Castello La Leccia, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (Tuscany, Italy) “Bruciagna” 2015

($40, Ideal Wine):  Gran Selezione, a category introduced a decade ago, sits at the pinnacle of the Chianti Classico quality pyramid, above Riserva.  To qualify for this distinction, the wine must come from the producer’s estate — no purchased grapes allowed — be aged for a minimum of 30 months, and receive approval from a tasting panel.  It’s meant to be a producer’s flagship Chianti Classico.  Castello La Leccia, a consistent producer, makes a wonderful array of Chianti Classico wines.  Their 2015 Bruciagna, reflecting the ripeness of the vintage, is powerful, youthful and, importantly, balanced. In short, nothing is out of place.  Savory and fruity elements act as a foil for one another.  Good acidity keeps it bright, no small feat in 2015.  I would give it a few years in the cellar while you drink La Leccia’s regular Chianti Classico.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 21, 2020

Tua Rita, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Rosso dei Notri” 2019

($22, Winebow):  One of the things I admire about producers, such as Tua Rita, who can make a high-end wine (in Tua Rita’s case, their Redigaffi a $300+ per bottle Merlot) is that they can also produce a perfectly delightful $25 wine, such as this Rosso dei Notri.  I was enthusiastic about the 2017 recently, giving it 91 points, and am pleased to see their consistency with this 2019.  Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah fill out the Sangiovese and provide added richness, compared to, for example, a Morellino di Scansano.  A welcome touch of bitterness in the finish balances and enhances the wine’s fleshy character.  They’ve achieved excellent weight without heaviness or astringency.  This slightly more than mid-weight wine is a great value for current consumption.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 14, 2020

Poggioargentiera, Morellino di Scansano DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) “Bellamarsilia” 2019

($16):  Morellino di Scansano is yet another Tuscan wine region that uses primarily Sangiovese for its red wines.  Located in the Maremma part of Tuscany on the region’s southeast coast, it received DOCG designation (Italy’s highest official wine classification) in 2006.  By Italian standards, Poggioargentiera is relatively new to the area, having been founded in 1997.  Nonetheless, their 2019 could be a poster child for the region.  This is a cheery mid-weight red brimming with bright cherry-like fruitiness.  A touch of herbal bitterness and mild tannins provide welcome balance.  With no rough edges, it easy to enjoy now with pizza or simple pasta dishes.  Its bargain price makes it especially attractive for drinking this summer.
90 Michael Apstein Jul 14, 2020

Capezzana, Carmignano DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) “Villa di Capezzana” 2010

($56, Dalla Terra Winery Direct):  Carmignano, lying just northwest of Florence and Tuscany’s smallest DOCG, is really the original Super Tuscan.  Regulations there mandated the marriage of Cabernet, either Sauvignon or Franc, with Sangiovese long before that blend became popular elsewhere in Tuscany.  Capezzana, a top, if not THE top producer in the DOCG has always been an innovator as well.  Since 2006, they have introduced the practice of holding back a portion of their Villa di Capezzana Carmignano for release a decade later so that consumers can appreciate how beautifully this wine develops.  It’s a real treat to taste and yes, drink, a mature Tuscan wine without the expense and effort of cellaring it.  This 2010, a mid-weight wine, is warming and suave, yet still bright and lively.  With smoky and herbal nuances, it has plenty of that ethereal “not just fruit” character of mature wine, which adds another level of intrigue.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 14, 2020

Rocca delle Macìe, Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) Pian della Casina “Sergioveto” 2016

($53, Palm Bay International):  Rocca delle Macìe changed the blend, vineyard site, and appellation for this wine starting with the 2015 vintage.  The wine was originally created in 1985 as a Super Tuscan by Italo Zingarelli, the company’s founder, and named for his son, Sergio, the current head of the company.  With the 2015 vintage, they eliminated the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and now use only Sangiovese from a single site, their Pian della Casina vineyard.  It’s now a Chianti Classico Riserva, not a “Super Tuscan,” but it is definitely still super.  The 2016 version is sensational.  Gently explosive, is combines both savory and dark cherry-like flavors into a seamless package.  It has wonderful density without being heavy.  Lovely discreet bitterness in the exceptionally long and uplifting finish adds appeal.  The bright Tuscan acidity amplifies its charms. Remarkably enjoyable now, its impeccable balance suggests you will be rewarded with cellaring the stellar wine.
95 Michael Apstein Jun 30, 2020

Terre del Palio, Rosso di Montalcino DOC (Tuscany, Italy) 2017

($32, Seaview Imports):  Rosso di Montalcino is a great introduction to Brunello di Montalcino, one of Italy’s greatest wines.  Similar to Brunello, Rosso must be made entirely from Sangiovese — no blending with Cabernet, Merlot, or anything allowed.  This mid-weight wine delivers sour cherry-like fruitiness — the Sangiovese speaking — and a hint of tarry minerality, which is emblematic of the area.  Good length, a welcome whiff of bitterness in the finish, and classic uplifting Tuscan acidity makes it a joy to drink now.
92 Michael Apstein Jun 16, 2020

I Magredi, Friuli Grave DOC (Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy) Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

($17, Seaview Imports):  Most people don’t think of northeastern Italy for Cabernet Sauvignon.  Indeed, Friuli Venezia Giulia is home to some of Italy’s best white wines.  But, some Cabernet — both Sauvignon and Franc — are grown on the well-drained gravelly soil, which gives its name to the DOC (Friuli Grave).  With a combination of delicate red fruit-like flavors and lovely earthy notes, this mid-weight wine is decidedly enjoyable now.  Mild tannins allow it to take a chill without unmasking astringency.  Bright acidity and herbal nuances add to its appeal.   Those looking for the power and oomph of California Cabernet will not embrace this restrained style of wine.
88 Michael Apstein Jun 16, 2020

Rocca delle Macìe, Toscana IGP (Tuscany, Italy) Cabernet Sauvignon “Roccato” 2016

($58, Palm Bay International):  Rocca delle Macìe created Roccato, their Super Tuscan 50/50 Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend, in 1988.  Starting with the 2015 vintage, it is now entirely Cabernet Sauvignon, which is grown on their Poggio alle Pecchie vineyard on the Le Macìe estate located in Castellina in Chianti.  Its lovely green olive-like nuances act as a perfect foil for its dark fruitiness. Finely textured, it has good weight.  Classic Tuscan acidity enlivens it and amplifies its charms.  This excellent wine shows that distinctive Tuscan Cabernet Sauvignon is not limited to Bolgheri.
93 Michael Apstein Jun 9, 2020

Rocca delle Macìe, Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) “Famiglia Zingarelli” 2017

($27, Palm Bay International):  This is great success for the difficult and hot 2017 vintage in Chianti Classico.  One producer was so despondent he actually told me that you could forget about the vintage entirely.  This wine clearly shows that assessment to be inaccurate.  The grapes from Rocca delle Macìe’s “Famiglia Zingarelli” Chianti Classico Riserva come from their four estates and is a blend of Sangiovese (90%) with equal proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Riper and less energetic than their 2016s, it reflects the warmth of the vintage. Still, it has remarkable acidity for the vintage, which gives it life, and good weight without being overdone.  I suggest drinking it with hearty pasta while you keep their 2016s in the cellar.
89 Michael Apstein Jun 9, 2020

Rocca delle Macìe, Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione (Tuscany, Italy) “Sergio Zingarelli” 2016

($100, Palm Bay International):  As with their superb Chianti Classico Riserva, “Sergioveto,” Rocca delle Macìe has tweaked the style of their Chianti Classico Gran Selezione “Sergio Zingarelli.”  They reduced the oak aging and eliminated the Colorino, so the 2016 is made entirely from Sangiovese.  As much as I liked their Sergioveto, their Gran Selezione “Sergio Zingarelli” sings even more.  Overall, the major difference is in its texture.  The Gran Selezione is glossier, more polished and more refined than their superb Sergioveto.  Cashmere versus lambswool.  The Gran Selezione comes across as slightly riper and lusher as well, but retains the same alluring hint of bitterness in the finish.  There’s plenty of structure, but without a trace of astringency.
96 Michael Apstein Jun 9, 2020

Rocca delle Macìe, Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) Pian della Casina “Sergioveto” 2016

($53, Palm Bay International):  Rocca delle Macìe changed the blend, vineyard site, and appellation for this wine starting with the 2015 vintage.  The wine was originally created in 1985 as a Super Tuscan by Italo Zingarelli, the company’s founder, and named for his son, Sergio, the current head of the company.  With the 2015 vintage, they eliminated the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and now use only Sangiovese from a single site, their Pian della Casina vineyard.  It’s now a Chianti Classico Riserva, not a “Super Tuscan,” but it is definitely still super.  The 2016 version is sensational.  Gently explosive, is combines both savory and dark cherry-like flavors into a seamless package.  It has wonderful density without being heavy.  Lovely discreet bitterness in the exceptionally long and uplifting finish adds appeal.  The bright Tuscan acidity amplifies its charms. Remarkably enjoyable now, its impeccable balance suggests you will be rewarded with cellaring the stellar wine.
95 Michael Apstein May 19, 2020

Peter Zemmer, Alto Adige DOC (Italy) Chardonnay 2019

($17, HB Wine Merchants):  With rare exception, consumers don’t usually think of Italy for distinctive Chardonnay.  More wines like this one could change that perception.  Racy and refined, it’s paradoxically mouth-filling yet not heavy. It’s cutting and spicy profile is refreshing.  Undoubtedly, the decision to ferment and age the wine entirely in stainless steel allows its citrus-tinged fruitiness to shine.  It’s a steal, so buy it by the case for this summer’s drinking.
92 Michael Apstein May 19, 2020

Inama, Soave Classico DOC (Veneto, Italy) Vigneto du Lot 2017

($27, Dalla Terra Winery Direct):  Inama, one of Soave’s top producers, make a great Soave from a blend of vineyards in that appellation.  He also makes two stunning single-vineyard ones — this one, and one from Vigneto di Carbonare.  Inama’s Vigneto du Lot has power and finesse balanced by piercing acidity.  For all its power, there’s not a trace of heaviness.  A lovely lava-like sensation comes through.  This redefines Soave.
93 Michael Apstein May 12, 2020

Peter Zemmer, Alto Adige (Italy) Pinot Grigio 2019

($17, HB Wine Merchants):  There’s Pinot Grigio, and then there’s Pinot Grigio.  One taste of Peter Zemmer’s explains why the category is so popular.  Delicate hints of white flowers greet you when you pull the cork.  A refined and restrained fruitiness follows.  It startles you with its elegance, not its power.  Bracing acidity in the finish amplifies its charms.  Fine as a stand-alone aperitif, it would do well with delicate seafood, such as sautéed sea bass.
92 Michael Apstein May 12, 2020

Peter Zemmer, Alto Adige (Italy) Pinot Grigio Giatl Riserva 2017

($38, HB Wine Merchants):  Peter Zemmer’s single-vineyard Giatl is a very different style of Pinot Grigio from his regular (I hate that word to describe that wine, which is anything but regular) bottling.  The Giatl has power and a Burgundian-like weight and to it.  A hint of lanolin-like texture makes it all the more appealing.  This is weighty serious stuff.  Those looking for a glass of “Pinot Grigio” should look elsewhere.  Those who want to see what the grape can achieve should pull the cork.
94 Michael Apstein May 12, 2020

Talenti, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) 2015

($50):  Talenti must have harvested the Sangiovese at precisely the right time in 2015, judging from the balance in this wine.  The 2015 growing season in Montalcino was, similar to the remainder of Tuscany, hot and produced rich, ripe wines, sometimes even over-ripe and jam-y ones.  Talenti’s 2015 is ripe, but not overdone, with suave tannins.   Despite its power, it’s a graceful and refined wine that finishes with a delightful touch of bitterness.   Its plush texture provides immediate pleasure, but its balance suggests wonderful evolution with a decade of bottle age.
95 Michael Apstein May 5, 2020

Mionetto, Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG (Veneto, Italy) Dry NV

($35, Mionetto USA):  Cartizze is the top category of Prosecco, and the only “Cru” entitled to its own appellation.  It sits atop the Prosecco quality pyramid because it is the best place within the Valdobbiadene zone to grow the Glera grape, the one used for Prosecco.  With most Prosecco costing less than 50 percent less than Cartizze, it can be difficult for consumers to step up to this category.  I suggest you do, start with Mionetto’s.  It conveys a lively and delicate peachy character that floats across the palate.  Light, airy and refined, it is remarkably flavor filled with refreshing, but not aggressive, acidity.  Sip a glass while sautéing fish fillets and then drink it with dinner.
93 Michael Apstein Apr 28, 2020

Abrigo Giovanni, Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba Superiore DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Garabei” 2017

($17, Elevation Wine):  There’s Dolcetto and then there’s Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba, one of the few Dolcetto areas to be awarded DOCG status, Italy’s highest category of wine.  Dolcetto from around Alba, especially Diano d’Alba, typically have more elegance than run-of-the-mill Dolcetto.  Abrigo Giovanni’s is an excellent example of that elegance.  It has a bit of everything and not too much of anything.  Both mineral-y and marked by a black cherry-like fruitiness, this mid-weight wine has a lovely texture that makes it a delight to drink now.  An alluring hint of bitter cherry in the finish makes it a better choice for a hearty pasta dish than as a before dinner drink.  The price means you should buy it by the case!
93 Michael Apstein Apr 28, 2020

Cantina Fratelli Pardi, Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG (Umbria, Italy) “Sacrantino” 2014

($35, Provicenter USA):  The Sagrantino grape has abundant fierce tannins, which explains the character of the wines from Montefalco Sagrantino (formerly called Sagrantino di Montefalco).  Wines from this DOCG require exclusive use of that grape and benefit from years, even decades, of bottle age to soften them.  The Pardi family has been growing grapes in the region since the early 20th century, but their modern history dates to 2003 with a new winery.  True to form, their Sacrantino has power and youthful exuberance with plenty of tannins, but remarkable freshness and life.  Yes, it would benefit from further aging, but I could envision drinking it on a winter’s night with a hearty stew.
90 Michael Apstein Apr 21, 2020

Viticoltore Vini Franchetti, Etna Rosso DOC (Sicily, Italy) “Passorosso” 2017

($39):  Andrea Franchetti is either brilliant or crazy.  He built a wine estate, Tinoro, from scratch in Tuscany’s Val d’Orcia and makes wine there, not from Sangiovese, but from solely Bordeaux varieties.  He has another estate in Tuscany, Sancaba, dedicated to plant, of all things, Pinot Noir.  The third estate, Passopisciaro, is on Mount Etna where he makes this fabulous wine from Sicily’s native Nerello Mascalese grape.  Since the 2013 vintage, the label no longer carries the Passopisciaro estate name — just the name of the wine, Passorosso, like a rock star with only one name.  Though he started the Etna project about 20 years ago, the vines for this wine are 70 to 100 years old, according to their website, which helps explain the wine’s enormous finesse and complexity.  It is fresh and lively, despite the heat of the 2017 growing season, with lava-influenced nuances intertwined with cherry-like fruitiness.  Tannins are firm, but fine and not hard or intrusive.  It is a captivating wine that delivers more with each sip.  Lovely to drink now, I predict it will evolve beautifully with cellaring because of its balance.  I guess you could call it a rock star.
95 Michael Apstein Apr 21, 2020

Inama, Soave Classico DOC (Veneto, Italy) Vigneti di Foscarino Vecchie Vigne 2017

($23, Dalla Terra Winery Direct):  One of the reasons I love Soave is that — when made by top producers such as Inama — the wines over-deliver.  The region is still trying to recover from its reputation of dilute innocuous wines.  As a result, the prices remain depressed despite the leap in quality.  Take this one for example.  Inama is a consistently great producer.   Foscarino vineyard is one of Soave’s top sites, and it comes from old vines.  No wonder the wine is stunning.   And for $23, even more stunning.   It has good weight with a lava-like minerality and refreshing acidity.  It’s a perfect choice for grilled swordfish.
93 Michael Apstein Apr 14, 2020

Mionetto, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG (Veneto, Italy) Extra Dry NV

($19, Mionetto USA):  There’s Prosecco, and then there’s Valdobbiadene Prosecco.  The difference is location, location, location: where the grapes grow.  Tasting the wonderful range of Mionetto’s Prosecco is extremely instructive.  Their DOC Prosecco Treviso, reviewed here previously, is very good and very well-priced.  It’s easy to recommend and I have.  But one taste of their Valdobbiadene Prosecco transports you to a different level.  Same wine-making team, same basic method of production.  The only difference is the source of the grapes.  The hilly Valdobbiadene area has long been known as a superior source of grapes for Prosecco, which is why wines from that area receive DOCG designation, Italy’s highest ranking, as opposed to DOC like the rest of Prosecco.  This Prosecco delivers similarly floral, almost peach-like nuances, but is just more elegant and graceful than Mionetto’s DOC Prosecco.  It is worth the premium?  That’s for you and your banker to decide, but I think so.
92 Michael Apstein Apr 14, 2020

Tua Rita, Toscana Rosso IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Rosso dei Notri” 2017

($22, Winebow):  Tua Rita, best known for their show-stopping monovarietal Merlot called Redigaffi that routinely sells at release for $300+, makes two other wines consumers should embrace. This one, a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, should be in everyone’s cellar.  It won’t stay there long because it’s delicious to drink now.  It delivers a beautiful balance of fruity and savory flavors.  Suave and fresh, it finishes with a lovely hint of bitterness, which makes it a perfect choice for a rich tomato-based sauce for pasta.  It’s a great bargain.  Stock up for your next two weeks of quarantine.
91 Michael Apstein Apr 7, 2020

Tua Rita, Toscana Rosso IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Perlato del Bosco” 2016

($30, Winebow):  Perlato del Bosco shows the broad talents at Tue Rita.  They make the Redigaffi Super Tuscan (and Super Priced) Merlot as well as the bargain-priced and delicious Rossi dei Notri.  Here’s Perlato del Bosco, a marvelous wine made entirely from Sangiovese and displaying a completely different profile.  It is a cut above their excellent Rossi dei Notri, but a similar bargain for what it delivers.  It has the lovely firmness and black cherry-like nuances characteristic of Sangiovese, yet paradoxically, it is suave.  Elegant, fresh and long, it has a subtle alluring bitterness in the finish.  It’s a glorious current choice for grilled steak or lamb chops.
93 Michael Apstein Apr 7, 2020

Principe Corsini, Chianti Classico DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) “Le Corti” 2015

($24):  The more I taste Chianti Classico wines from the 2015 vintage, the more I like them.  Take this one, for example, from Principe Corsini, whose consistency makes them an easy choice.  It’s fresh and lively with zippy Tuscan acidity that balances the cherry-like fruit characteristic of Sangiovese.  What adds to the pleasure is the dose of savory nuances and spice. Fine tannins add support without intruding on current drinkability.
92 Michael Apstein Apr 7, 2020

Bibi Graetz, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Bollamatta” Rosé NV

($26, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  This label of this rosé lacks identity, so I relied on Bibi Graetz’s website, which explained that it’s a Tuscan wine made entirely from 50 to 80-year-old Sangiovese vines.  The grape variety and the age of the vines helps explain why this bubbly delivers such pleasure.  Savory notes and wild strawberry-like fruitiness make a lovely combination.   Freshness and uplifting energy allow you enjoy it before and throughout a meal.   It would be a good choice for take-out sushi or Chinese food while you’re practicing social distancing.
90 Michael Apstein Mar 31, 2020

Grattamacco, Bolgheri Superiore DOC (Tuscany, Italy) “L’Alberello” 2015

($80, Winebow):  The Bertarelli family, who owns Colle Massari, a leading estate in Montecucco, also owns Grattamacco in Bolgheri.  They founded Grattamacco in 1977, shortly after Sassicaia was established nearby.  Grattamacco’s flagship wine, also named Grattamacco and priced at $135+ a bottle, is an unusual blend for Bolgheri because it includes a little Sangiovese, a grape not widely planted in that part of Tuscany.  This one, L’Alberello, with its blend of Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet France and Petit Verdot) is more in keeping with what Bolgheri is best known for.  The three grapes are harvested together and co-fermented, a traditional field blend) and aged in small French oak barrels (barriques).  Generous and rich, it is beautifully balanced with enlivening Tuscan acidity that keeps it fresh.  Savory notes counterbalance its dark fruitiness and suave tannins provide support.  It’s a wonderfully youthful and firm wine that will benefit from years of aging, similar to the great wines of Bordeaux.  If you’re tempted to drink it now, open it a few hours before dinner, decant it, and serve it with a hearty meat dish, such as braised lamb shanks.
94 Michael Apstein Mar 31, 2020

Villa Sandi, Prosecco Treviso DOC (Veneto, Italy) “Il Fresco” NV

($16, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  Prosecco Treviso is a cut above wines labeled simply Prosecco, according to Stefano Gava, Villa Sandi’s chief winemaker, because the grapes come from a more limited area.  This wine reflects that.  Fresh and light, it’s a very friendly bubbly, with a subtle creaminess and less aggressive fizziness.  Well-priced, it’s an ideal wine for those of you who are laying in supplies for a quarantine.
88 Michael Apstein Mar 24, 2020

Brunello 2015: Less is More

The 2015 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino is being heralded as a 5-star vintage (the top rating) by the notoriously easy-grading Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, the trade group that represents producers in Montalcino.  Retailers around the country have jumped onto the bandwagon with enthusiastic praise for the 2015 vintage.  And though the wines are pricey—after all, Brunello is one of Italy’s grandest wines—they are not subject to the 25 percent tariff that has made many French wines even more expensive.  I tasted many great wines when the Consorzio showed the 2015 vintage in New York City last month, and again this month in Montalcino.  Nevertheless, and while I don’t want to rain on the parade, I would urge caution in selecting these wines.  Unlike the spectacular and consistent 2010 vintage, which also received 5 stars from the Consorzio, 2015 is not a point and shoot vintage.  The hot and dry growing season presented challenges.

First, a little background about Brunello di Montalcino.  The wine comes exclusively from Sangiovese grown in the hilly area around Montalcino, a tiny mountaintop Tuscan village about two hours by car south of Florence.  Regulations require a minimum of two years of barrel aging, followed by bottle aging to soften what can be aggressive tannins of Sangiovese grown in this area.  The wine cannot be released for sale until January 1 of the fifth year following the harvest.  Hence, the 2015 is the current vintage.

As grand wine areas go, Brunello is a “Johnny-come-lately,” being practically unknown even within Italy until the 1960s when there were only six families producing Brunello, according to Tom Maresca, a world authority on Italian wines.  (To be fair, Biondi-Santi, considered the pioneer of Brunello and still the region’s top producer, at least judging from the prices of their wines, released their first wine in the late 19th century.)  The uniqueness and quality of the wines became apparent quickly and the area received DOC recognition in 1968 and was among the first to receive DOCG recognition, Italy’s highest ranking, in 1980.  Even until the mid-1990s Brunello was a challenge to sell in the U.S., and was familiar to only a small percentage of connoisseurs, according to Lars Leicht, a veteran Brunello expert.  Leicht believes that the stellar 1990 vintage along with marketing efforts by large producers, such as Banfi, brought it into the mainstream.  Now the Consorzio lists 208 wineries that bottle Brunello.

In this small area of about 5,000 acres (one-tenth the size of Napa Valley) most producers are small, bottling fewer than 4,000 12-bottle cases of Brunello annually.  Indeed, I counted only 10 producers who made more than 12,000 cases in 2015 (e-mail me for a list).  For comparison, the first growth Bordeaux chateau bottle about 20,000 cases annually, on average.  As a result, many Brunello producers fail to have national distribution in the U.S., and consumers could have difficulty finding their wines.  Nonetheless, the best of the 2015 Brunello are worth the needed search.

The character of the 2015 Brunello can be explained by the weather during the growing season.  It was a hot and dry year.  As a result, the wines are ripe, powerful and in many cases, approachable now because of their plushness.  Although conventional wisdom would predict 2015 would produce flabby wines because of corresponding low acidity in very ripe grapes (as all fruit ripens, acidity falls), many of the 2015 Brunello are surprisingly fresh.  That’s because many producers could not perform the usual malolactic fermentation since there was so little malic acid in the grapes.  (In normal years, malolactic fermentation converts harsher malic acid to creamier lactic acid and softens the acidity.)  What little malic acid was left in the grapes at harvest remained in the wine, imparting a tang to them.  Though too much malic acid makes a wine undrinkable, the small amounts found in many of the 2015 Brunello actually helped impart liveliness to many wines.

Producers told me that the potential danger in 2015 was over-ripeness of the grapes resulting in high alcohol wines.  Though most of the 2015 Brunello weighed in with a 14 or 14.5 percent stated alcohol, which is about average for Brunello these days, more than a few tipped the scales at 15 percent and above.  Producers also cautioned that extraction during fermentation needed to be performed gently to prevent over the top wines.  Not all adhered to that advice.

Much like other great wine growing areas, Brunello di Montalcino is not homogeneous, but has geologic and climatic variation, which means a potential for wonderful diversity among the wines.  Gabriele Gorelli, a Master of Wine candidate from Montalcino and a spokesperson for the Consorzio, explains that the Montalcino DOCG is roughly a pyramid, with the village itself at its pinnacle of 1850 feet (564 meters) above sea level.  There are dramatic variations in climate, soil and exposure among these four major subzones.  And even within an individual slope, substantial differences in terroir exist.  The vineyards of two excellent producers, Col d’Orcia and Castello Banfi, are near each other in the same zone, but their wines differ dramatically—Col d’Orcia’s being lighter and more elegant while Banfi’s are riper and more robust—reflecting either producer style, terroir differences within a zone, or a little bit of both.

In a hot dry year like 2015, sites in the northern (cooler) segment of the DOCG and at higher elevations had a distinct advantage.  Sadly, it can be difficult to tell from the label the precise location of the vines.  Many producers have plots in different areas but opt to make one wine by blending grapes from different sites.  Even if consumers knew the location of the winery, there’s no assurance that all the grapes came from the same locale.

Many producers do produce site-specific bottlings.  Monty Waldin, another world expert on Italian wines, estimated in 2015 that about 15 percent of Brunello were labeled with specific sites.  Col d’Orcia’s spectacular Poggio al Vento (always one of my favorite wines, year in and year out) comes from a high-elevation single 17-acre vineyard.  Mastrojanni’s Vigna Loreta is also consistently a winner, as is Caparzo’s Vigna La Casa, located in the cooler northern Montosoli area.  And the practice is spreading.  Donatello Cinelli Colombini, who already produces top-notch Brunello, is adding a single vineyard Brunello, Adita, to their portfolio.

What’s really exciting to me is the practice by some producers to make single vineyard bottlings from the different sectors of the DOCG.  That way, consumers can see and taste the diversity of the site because the producers’ style and philosophy remain constant.  In contrast, if you taste the Brunello from Baricci, all of whose vines are located in Montosoli, side by side with, for example, the Brunello from Talenti, whose vineyards are located in the south, maybe you’re tasting the difference between the two zones but just as easily you could be tasting the difference between producers’ styles.  There’s no way to know.  That’s why I find the single vineyard bottlings from producers like Nardi and Val di Suga so enticing and appealing—the producer’s hand is constant and you are tasting the difference among the areas.

Andrea Lonardi, the director of Val di Suga, explains that even a cursory look at the landscape gives an insight into the differences in terroir.  In the north with its more continental climate, cypress trees reign, whereas in the southwest, olive trees and herbs like rosemary and thyme predominate in the more Mediterranean-like climate.  It should come as no surprise given these vast differences in vegetation that Val di Suga’s three single vineyard Brunellos, which lie in different parts of the DOCG, are different and distinctive.  Though all three show an elegance and persistence without being massive, reflecting the Val di Suga’s style, the wines are markedly different.  The difference between Nardi’s broad-shouldered Manichiara, from a vineyard in the northeastern sector, and their finely chiseled Poggio Doria bottling, coming from a vineyard in the southwestern part of the DOCG is similarly staggering.

Many produces bottle a selezione, or selection, not from a single vineyard, but rather from what they consider their best batches.  Donatello Cinelli Colombini has one called Prime Donne, which is selected by a group of experienced female tasters.  I Cipressi calls theirs Zebra.  Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish a selezione from a single vineyard bottling.  For example, Fanti and Banfi, have what sounds like vineyard names on the label, Valocchio, or Poggio alle Mure, respectively, but in fact, represent a selection of wines from various vineyards.  In reality, for the average consumer it probably makes less difference since the most important piece on the label is the name of the producer.

Still, I—for one—would like to see more specific bottles reflecting the locale of the vineyards, such as is the practice in Barolo or Burgundy.  One of the reasons acclaimed wine areas, like those two, are truly great is because of the uniqueness of the wines that comes from areas that revere site specificity.  Brunello would benefit from more focus on place and show consumers that Brunello di Montalcino is no different from Barolo or Burgundy in that regard.

Back to the specifics of the 2015s Brunello.  There’s a lot to like with this vintage, but consumers need to be selective because not all producers dealt equally well with the difficult conditions the climate produced.  Some handled the ripeness beautifully, but others did not, falling into the trap of too much extraction and too much oak aging especially for their selezione or even their single vineyard bottling.  For example, Talenti’s regular 2015 Brunello bottling was spectacular, one of my favorites.  In contrast, I found their Piero bottling to be overly extracted and out of balance with oaky flavors dominating.  To be fair, another critic (with whom I rarely agree) awarded Talenti’s 2015 Piero 100 points, showing there is variability among critics and well as among wines.  Similarly, I found the regular 2015 Brunello from I Cipressi to be better balanced than their 2015 Zebra.  Though there were exceptions, as you’ll see below, time and time again, producers’ special bottlings seemed out of balance at this stage and over the top with too much alcohol, ripeness and oak influences.  I believe that in 2015, less is more in Brunello.

My favorites are listed below.  Within each grouping, wines are listed alphabetically.  (All prices are taken from wine-searcher.com.  NYA = price not yet available):

Gianni Brunelli 96 ($61)
Mastrojanni “Vigna Loreto” 96 points (NYA)
Silvio Nardi “Vigneto Poggio Doria” 96 ($110)

Barbi “Vigna del Fiore” 95 ($70)
Le Macioche 95 ($99)
Silvio Nardi “Vigneto Manachiara” 95 ($110)
Val di Suga “Vigna Spuntali” 95 (NYA)
Talenti 95 ($46)

Donatella Cinelli Colombini “Prime Donne” 94 (NYA)
Fulgini 94 ($99)
Val di Suga, “Poggio al Granchio” 94 ($74)

Castello Romitorio “Filo di Seta” 93    ($108)
Le Ragnaie, “Casanovina Montosoli” 93 (NYA)
San Polo “Podernovi” 93 (NYA)
Val di Suga, “Vigna del Lago” 93 (NYA)

Castelgiocando 92 ($68)
Col d’Orcia: 92 ($52)
Donatella Cinelli Colombini 92 (NYA)
Mastrojanni 92 ($52)
Silvio Nardi 92 ($55)
Sesta di Sopra 92 ($76)
Val di Suga 92 (NYA)

Barbi 91 ($50)
Carpineto 91 (NYA)
Casisano 91 (NYA)
Castello Romitorio 91 ($60)
I Cipressi 91 (NYA)
Il Poggione 91 ($84)
Le Potazzine 91 (NYA)

*         *         *


E-mail me your thoughts about Brunello at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein and on Instagram.

March 4, 2020

Castiglion del Bosco, Rosso di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) “Gauggiole” 2016

($37, Maisons Marques & Domaines):  Castiglion del Bosco, a top producer in Montalcino, consistently produces excellent Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso di Montalcino.  They have recently added this specially selected Rosso, labeled Gauggiole after the area in which the vineyards are planted.  They select what they consider the best grapes from various parcels in this area, and, in distinction to their Brunello, use no wood barrels for fermentation and aging.  The result is spectacular.  The savory mineral-y notes balance the dark cherry-like fruit ones.  It’s bright and fresh with attractive subtle bitter nuances in the finish.  Tannins are refined, which means you can enjoy it now, though its balance suggests it will develop more complexity with time, so there’s no rush.
95 Michael Apstein Feb 25, 2020

Tenute Silvio Nardi, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2015

($54, Kobrand Wine & Spirits):  Silvio Nardi is one of my favorite Brunello producers, in part because they are consistent and in part because they make single vineyard bottlings from different sections of Montalcino that highlight the exciting diversity of that appellation.  Most importantly, though, their single vineyard bottlings do not detract from this one, their “regular” (though there is nothing regular about it) Brunello, which comes from grapes grown in a variety of vineyards.  I tasted Nardi’s 2015 Brunelli twice in the last couple of months, once in New York and once in Montalcino and came away with similar impressions both times.  It’s packed, but not overdone, with appropriately firm, yet not hard, tannins that support the dark fruitiness and earthiness.  The finish is remarkably juicy and fresh.  A youthful wine, it needs a few years to settle down.
92 Michael Apstein Feb 25, 2020

Tenute Silvio Nardi, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) Vigneto Manachiara 2015

($110, Kobrand Wine & Spirits):  Silvio Nardi refers to the wine from their Manachiara vineyard as a wine of the East, because the vineyard is located in the eastern part of Montalcino and the vines face southeast. The 2015 shows the ripeness of the vintage without being over the top. It’s a broad-shouldered expression of Brunello with firm tannins and bright acidity.  It’s a 2015 that will develop beautifully over the next decade.
95 Michael Apstein Feb 25, 2020

Talenti, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2015

($46):  The warm and dry 2015 growing season in Brunello was the opposite of the cool and rainy weather of 2014.  That weather explains the potential pitfalls for the wines — ripe and alcoholic with low acidity.  Talenti avoided those problems with their 2015 Brunello.  Ripe, yet not overdone, it conveys a near magical combination of dark minerals and black cherry-like fruitiness.  Graceful and powerful, it finishes fresh and lively with an attractive hint of bitterness.  Its succulence allows current enjoyment, but a few years in the cellar will likely reveal additional complexity.
95 Michael Apstein Feb 25, 2020

Tenute Silvio Nardi, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) Poggio Doria 2015

($110, Kobrand Wine & Spirits):  Nardi’s Poggio Doria vineyard lies in the cooler northwest sector of Montalcino and consistently produces elegant, tightly wound wines.  More closed and less powerful than the Manachiara, the Poggio Doria reflects its cooler environment.  Volcanic soil here amplifies the wine’s dark mineral component.  The wine displays a lovely, and unusual for the vintage, austerity and a subtle and captivating bitterness in the finish.  Finely chiseled, this is one of the stars of the vintage and, like their Manachiara, needs additionally cellaring.  The Poggio Doria is a wonderful contrast to the Manachiara and shows the dramatic difference among the sub-zones of Montalcino.  If your budget allows, buy some of each, taste — and drink — them side-by-side to marvel at the diversity of this DOCG.
96 Michael Apstein Feb 25, 2020

Villa Bucci, Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva DOCG (Marche, Italy) 2014

($40):  In 2010, Italian wine regulators created a new DOCG by adding a Riserva designation to the Verdicchio dei Castelli Jesi DOC for wines that have been aged slightly longer and have been made from riper grapes.  To emphasize the importance of place instead of the grape, the official name became Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva DOCG.  Though I doubt normal consumers will notice the placement of the grape name in the legal denomination, they should take notice of the Riserva designation because wines carrying that moniker are a cut above those labeled Verdicchio dei Castelli Jesi.  The Verdicchio grape, which means the “little green one,” is part of the Trebbiano family, is identical genetically to Trebbiano di Soave, and is considered to be one of Italy’s great white wine grapes, according to Ian D’Agata, a world’s expert on Italian wine.  Villa Bucci, a top producer in the region, transformed the grape into a superb, exciting mid-weight wine that combines a delicate fruitiness and a haunting minerality.  This is a sophisticated wine that will enhance the meal the next time you’re grilling fish.
95 Michael Apstein Feb 25, 2020