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For us Barolo geeks, it’s interesting to note that Castellero is geographically related to the much more famous Cannubi vineyard which is just west of Castellero, across a little stream and its valley. Cannubi is on two sides of a ridge, with the best parts facing west and a bit north; all of Castellero faces west. The hill of Castellero is deceptive – until you start walking up, you don’t realize that it’s really very steep. The soils are white limestone, dusty when dry and glue-like when wet, but actually well drained and perfectly composed for growing Nebbiolo. Brezza makes Castellero, but Barale is the benchmark, and Castellero is their most important vineyard; it’s great that they are now farming organically, and the vineyard is more beautiful than ever. I wouldn’t have the nerve to suggest that Castellero has ever produced wines as profound as the best Cannubi, but the Barale’s are certainly making higher quality wine than a number of the owners of Cannubi. The Barale’s are steadfast traditional winemakers, using very long fermentations and aging in used, giant wood barrels. Their wines are not flashy, but are refined and elegant, and they age forever. Like all proper Barolo, the Castellero is a tannic and high-acid wine, and no one in Piedmont (or anywhere else in Italy) would dream of drinking it without food. You will, we hope, at least have some cheese on hand, but the wine wants to be consumed at table with something equally special.
One of the standouts of the fabulous Brovia 2013s is the Barolo; that is, the Barolo Classico; the ‘straight’ Barolo; the Barolo Normale (a term that producers don’t care for). In the classic manner, Brovia’s Barolo is a blend of 5 sites, each of which brings its character and thus complexity to what is a particularly good bottle of wine. The development of single-vineyard bottlings in Piedmont has been hugely important for our appreciation and understanding of the individual vineyards, but we sometimes miss out because we are distracted by their prestige, while there are blended wines that are every bit as good – and in the case of this wine – better than most other producers top wines. This one is very fine, with great lift, lovely subtle fruit, and ripe tannins. It’s medium to full-bodied and showing quite rich; like the other 2013s it’s a wine for the cellar. Jamie Wolff
Paiagallo 2014 shows a lot of complexity for such a young wine - at first very savory and ripe, then lovely bright cherry fruit on the palate and finish.This is clearly a wine for the cellar, as behind (or perhaps under?) the beautiful clarity of fruit is that brooding core of material that will take years to fully express itself. Quite a majestic wine, and a triumph for the vintage. Jamie Wolff
A consistently excellent wine — we've been lucky to get to taste this several times in the last few years. It needs a lot of time to breathe, and then it provides a classic example of fully mature Nebbiolo. Jamie Wolff
Enrico VI is Cordero's name for a small parcel of old vines in Villero. It's a grand wine, worthy of its royal name.
Allowing for the fact that wine is a very subjective experience, I like to think that I call it as I see it. So I believe I’d know if it was a disaster, but otherwise I’m irrational and unreliable on the subject of G. Rinaldi. When I’m there, I wander around in a kind of stupor of infatuation with the wines. My penetrating notes (for 2013 Tre Tine, for example) say things like “super-great” [full stop]. I suppose if I have to have a wine crush, it might as well be on one of the best wineries in the world. Jamie WolffPS: Please don’t shoot the messenger. We don’t make the prices (neither, so far as I can tell, do the Rinaldis, because the wines leave the cellar at very reasonable prices). We’re well into the world of luxury goods here, and all I can do is sigh and make puppy dog eyes at the bottles while they’re in the shop. I do think it’s an objective fact that these are great wines and even if it’s a gratuitous comparison, they are the superior of many far more expensive wines.
Brachetto has always been a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. The wine is usually made in the same style of Moscato d’Asti -- the fermentation is stopped when alcohol is still quite low and some of the CO2 is captured to create a slightly sparkling, sweet wine. Farmed strictly organically, the fermentation is arrested with filtration rather than large doses of sulfur (as is common for sweet Brachetto) to limit overall additions to the wine. The wine has opulent strawberry fruit and red flowers on the nose with a lively sparkle and creamy texture braced by bright acid and plenty of sweetness; it is a truly carefree wine that is a joy to drink. Try it this spring as a natural pairing for rhubarb pie, with strawberry shortcake, as a sweet pairing for prosciutto and melon, or as a dessert in and of itself. Andy Paynter
A very fine and very complete wine. Balanced, savory, with super-elegant tannins, this needs some real time in the cellar. Jamie Wolff
Sandri has decided to call this wine "Monforte", rather than by the sub-zone of Perno. But nothing else has changed, and he made great wine in 2012 - rich and ripe but energetic and lifted, with very fine tannins, and with no signs of heat. Jamie Wolff
Last May we tried a ton of Dolcetto in the company of two distinguished tasters who kept saying they didn’t like Dolcetto, which tends to put a damper on the experience. Sandri’s, however, made them sit up and take notice, so I give them credit for staying alert and flexible enough to change their minds. It’s bracingly juicy with wild brambly fruit that’s balanced with savoury herbs and chalky stone. Medium-bodied, very lively and lifted, it’s long and complete. I happen to like Dolcetto, but if they were all half as good as this one I might say I love it. Jamie Wolff
Cantine Barbera, located in Menfi on Sicily’s southwestern coast, is producing wonderful wines from the indigenous varieties of the area like this savory rosato made from Nero d’Avola. The grapes are harvested before the sun rises to protect the acidity from the Sicilian heat, quickly destemmed, and softly pressed without skin contact. Fermentation is triggered with a pied-de-cuve and is conducted in steel where the wine further rests for three months with weekly lees stirring. To me it speaks as a classic Italian rosato: not overtly fruity, rather it is savory and herbal with a quiet backing of fruit. Briney notes come out on the nose with sage, mint and wild herbs over tart strawberry fruit and orange zest. The palate is fairly full with plenty of acidity and slight tannins with flavors of citrus pith, and strawberry fruit. This is a wine well suited to food pairing. I drank it alongside a pizza topped with olives, anchovies, wilted radicchio, and mozzarella but it would be great with charcuterie, olives, briney cheese, greek food, seared tuna, or lemon chicken. Andy Paynter
From very old vines (replanted in 2015), this is very much in the same mold as the Chianti – and was vinified identically – but is considerably deeper and rounder without any additional wood, alcohol, or extract – just a direct expression of the old vines. I think this is remarkable – it strikes a fascinating balance between palate-enveloping darker fruit and finesse. Really a super wine. Jamie Wolff
The Fiasco from Monte Bernardi is a more playful cuvee, but the wine inside the bottle is no less serious for the packaging. Produced from certified organic Sangiovese farmed at high altitude, fermented with native yeast, and aged for a year in tank it is meant to be fresh and easy going. Red cherries and raspberries overlay fresh mint and sage on the nose with a slight tone of red roses. The palate is light and juicy with only a bit of tannin and a slightly bitter finish. All in all this is a classic Italian table wine, able to match with whatever happens to be for dinner though certainly perfect for your next pizza night. Andy Paynter
When Michael purchased the Monte Bernardi Estate in 2003 he was committed to making traditional Chianti without the use of "Bordeaux" varieties even though estate was already planted with French grapes that found their way into so many of Tuscany’s wines. He was already in the process of replanting the vineyards used to produce Retromarcia, so rather than uproot more vines, he diverted all of the French grapes into his own Bordeaux blend: Tzingana. Composed of 45% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, and 15% Petit Verdot, all co-fermented for 3 weeks and raised in barrique and tonneaux for 2 years, the wine is certainly more dense and smooth than any of his Chiantis. Rich blackberries and cassis are lifted by the smell of black tea and bay spice. Soft texture and smooth ripe tannins are supported by nice acidity, and there is a discernible minerality on the finish. Andy Paynter
Retromarcia means “to back up” or “to reverse” and is Michael Schmelzer’s reference to an old approach to Chianti that is hard to find today, focused on allowing the character of Sangiovese to show above everything else. The wine is made from 100% Sangiovese composed of young vines planted on a mix of galestro and sandstone soils. The grapes are fermented with native yeast on the skins for 2 weeks in stainless steel and then raised in a mixture of old barrels and unlined concrete tanks for 18 months before being bottled unfiltered. This wine to me is always quite pretty and the 2015 vintage is no exception. Pale ruby in the glass, it smells of bright red cherry fruit, violets, and woody herbs with slightly darker earthy tone underneath. On the palate, it is light and quite refreshing with great acidity and lots of sour cherry fruit backed by delicate tannins. As a classic Chianti should be the acidity is mouthwatering, warming up the palate for a range of food; try it with everything from classic red sauce pastas, sauteed greens, and saltier cheeses all the way to richer food like roasted lamb or game birds. Andy Paynter
The wines of Azienda Agricola Adalia are endlessly enjoyable, none more so than their very traditional Valpolicella. The wine is produced from a blend of Corvina and Corvina Grossa with small percentages of Rondinella and Molinara trained in pergola and farmed biodynamically. The grapes are destemmed and fermented with native yeast in 40 hectoliter oak vats on the skins for one week. Malolactic occurs naturally in stainless steel where the wine is rested for a few months before bottling. The nose shows tart red fruit and a bit of orange zest over herbal notes of sage, mint, and a whiff of pungent spices. The wine is light on the palate with bright acidity and restrained tannins offering a slightly bitter, mineral finish. Adalia’s Valpolicella is a perfect match for a herbed stuffing, roast turkey with gravy, green bean casserole, or for game meats prepared simply. Andy Paynter
Bussoletti’s Ciliegiolo di Narni “0535” is a fresh, easygoing red wine from central Umbria and shows exactly why I have fallen in love with the grape. Produced from a four hectare plot of younger vines planted facing north to encourage elegance over ripeness, the wine is fermented with ambient yeast in steel tank and bottled after resting for six months. The nose is rich with fresh red cherries and rose floral notes with delicate tones of black pepper. Juicy on the palate with restrained acidity and very little tannin, it shows more strawberry and raspberry fruit. This is a wine that can lift through richer foods: try it as a foil to creamy or cheesy pasta dishes, as a pairing for charcuterie, or enjoy it on its own. The lion on the label is a reference to C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia which were inspired by images of the medieval castle in Narni (also pictured). Andy Paynter
The Greeks started producing wine in Cirò about 3,000 years ago and used to offer it to winners of the ancient Olympics. The Calabretta family has been growing grapes in this part of Calabria for four generations, but in 2008 Cataldo and his sisters Maria and Michela decided to start their own estate and refurbish the family cellar. Cirò Rosso Classico is made from 100% Gaglioppo, which is the main grape variety of the production zone of Cirò DOC. Their vineyards are situated on rolling hills of limestone and clay about 50 meters above sea level. The harvest takes place at the end of September. There are 14 days of skin maceration, fermentation takes place using wild yeasts, the wine then matures for 10 months in glazed concrete tanks and seven months in the bottle. The Rosso is very earthy and gamey with lots of black plums and cherries. After about three hours, it really opened up with hints of mushroom and violets. Definitely pair it with strong flavors like Chicken Marsala, Braised Beef Ragu with Garlic Polenta, or Porcini Mushroom Risotto. Christine Manula
Cannonau is surrounded by controversy about whether or not it is Grenache of Spanish origin or a Sardinian descendant of Grenache, i.e. a local grape (which is characteristically covered in much detail in Ian D’Agata’s The Native Grapes of Italy). Without wading into this frankly fascinating ampelographic morass, I can say that the Cardedu 2013 Cannonau is one the very best that I have tasted. The wine is produced from 15 year old vines planted in soils of sandy loam with decomposed pink granite. It is vinified in steel with native yeasts, and then rested in a mixture of old botti and cement before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. The nose is earthy with brambly berry fruit, rosemary, tobacco, and pressed violets. It is fairly rich on the palate with a soft texture, fine tannins, and lifting acidity showing more red fruit than the nose along with dried citrus peel, and dusty earth. I think it is a perfect match for roast pork or herbed lamb shoulder but would pair wonderfully with hard cheese like Pecorino Sardo, cured olives, fennel and citrus salad, or eggplant dishes. Andy Paynter
The wines of Sardinia sometimes seem a world apart from the rest of Italy, showcasing a unique stable of indigenous grapes not found on the mainland. One of the most interesting is Monica, a grape that shows much more freshness and lift than most Cannanou or Bovale, while still maintaining real intensity of flavor. Cardedu has produced a lovely Monica from dry-farmed vineyards, tended without herbicides or pesticides, and fermented with native yeasts, in stainless steel. The nose is intense with notes of rhubarb, strawberry, mint, wild sage, spice tones of black pepper, and a whiff of sea air. The palate is light (surprisingly so for its 13.5% abv) with fresh acidity and very little tannin, showing juicy red fruit and the same intense whirl of herbs and spices with a salty finish. "Praja" means “the beach” in the Sardinian dialect and it would be perfect for a beach side cookout. Try it slightly chilled this summer with grilled fish, or better yet fish tacos, lamb burgers, sausages, briney foods like olives or feta, or with salads inflected with green herbs. Andy Paynter
Vermentino is one of the only varieties that is widely planted on both Sardinia and the mainland of Italy, though Sardinian examples tend to be more intense and full-bodied. The Vermentino from Cardedu is produced from dry-farmed vineyards, tended without herbicides or pesticides, and fermented with native yeasts, with a few hours of skin contact in steel tanks. It is an intense white wine showing tones of wild mint and rosemary on the nose over orange rind, ripe yellow peaches, and hot sea air. The palate is quite full and dry, with mouthwatering acidity, juicy stone fruit, and a salty finish. This is a Vermentino well suited to fatty fish like sardines, cured cheese, spinach pie, gyro pitas with tzatziki, or herbed chicken. Andy Paynter
Torre Nova is 100% Negroamaro from 30-60 year old vines grown on clay and rocky pebbles. The 2015 is quite light and a bit higher in acid than the last vintage, but it’s really pretty on the palate. Think tart cherries and red plums, it’s very herbaceous with a hint of nuts and pepper on the finish. Try pairing this with roast pigeon, a simply prepared fish or even beef tartare. Christine Manula
Named after Natalino’s wife Anne, this Negroamaro is from 30-60 year old vines grown on clay and chalk. At harvest, Natalino destems and presses the grapes 2 -3 times, puts it in cement tanks for five days of skin contact, racks the wine and then leaves it in cement from September to March. Before bottling, he puts the wine in stainless steel for a few weeks to refine and then adds a very low dose of sulfur at bottling. The result is a medium bodied wine with good tannins that tastes of dark cherries and cocoa, with a hint of nuts and pepper. Try pairing it with a traditional Pugliese dish like pasta with chickpeas and anchovies, slow cooked lamb with potatoes, or just throw a tuna steak on the grill. Christine Manula
“Nataly” is named after Natalino himself. The wine is fermented and aged in concrete tanks and underground concrete vats, with a very low dose of sulfur at bottling. It’s bit fuller in body than the Negroamaro with meatier tannins, juicy dark plums, violets, anise and a hint of pepper on the finish. Try pairing Primitivo with Spaghetti Puttanesca, Seafood Jambalaya, Short Ribs or hard cheeses like Edam or Smoked Gouda. Christine Manula
Pitch-perfect weeknight Nero d’Avola: light on its feet, with a vibrant acidity and ripe berry and juicy plum fruits. The bright, playful palate is balanced by just the right hint of dried herbs and spices to underscore any red sauce, pie or pasta. The Rossojbleo is dry farmed from about ten hectares of head-trained bush vines without the use of any chemicals or machines. Gulfi’s commitment to a manual harvest, along with organic practices in the vineyard and vinification using native yeasts, makes for a seriously satisfying young wine. And while this definitely holds up on day two, it’s pretty hard to resist finishing the bottle! Andy Paynter
Il Fortunato aced it with their Rosato Spumante; another lively sparkler produced from organic vineyards with only a minimal addition of sulfur. The nose is playful with a mix of bright berry fruits and fresh red cherries cut by tart apple skins. On the palate, a delicate mousse lifts the wine showing some weight, great acidity, and just touch of sugar. Absolutely lovely! Pair with charcuterie, simple pasta, or simply drink on its own. Andy Paynter
Cesanese is perhaps the most “important” indigenous red grape of Lazio, capable of making fresh red wines with intense perfume and delicate structure. The reds from La Visciola are all varietal Cesanese from different plots showing distinct features of this underappreciated grape. The Ju Quarto is sourced from a 60-year-old vineyard planted over a decomposed volcanic sand, rich in iron and showing a red hue. The wine is vinified on native yeast in lined-cement, and rested in large barrels for around a year. It is a more delicate expression of the grape with beautiful cherry fruit and red floral tones on the nose. The palate is light, almost airy, with bright acidity and very little tannin. Subtle rather than effusive it shows cherries, bay, and mint with a long elegant finish. I would pair it with less assertive food to better enjoy the delicacy of the wine; think leaner charcuterie, pasta, simply prepared fish, poached chicken, or with caprese salad. Andy Paynter
Cesanese is perhaps the most “important” indigenous red grape of Lazio, capable of making fresh red wines with intense perfume and delicate structure. The reds from La Visciola are all varietal Cesanese from different plots showing distinct features of this underappreciated grape. The Mozzatta is the most assertive cuvee from the estate, made from 60-year-old vines planted on a “grey, clay soil,” that is a clay with some degree of incorporated limestone. Like the other reds it is vinified on native yeast in lined-cement (though with the addition of 20% whole cluster rather than being entirely destemmed) and then rested in large barrels for around a year. The result is a much more assertive style of Cesanese with more earthy flavors. The nose is brooding, showing pine needle and forest floor over ripe red fruit and black pepper spice. The body is quite full with grippy tannins and plenty of acidity thought it shows deeper flavors rather than extra weight on the palate. The finish is dry and quite mineral. Try it with grilled sausage, chops, rich vegetable dishes, carbonara or other full flavored pastas. Andy Paynter
Cesanese is perhaps the most “important” indigenous red grape of Lazio, capable of making fresh red wines with intense perfume and delicate structure. The reds from La Visciola are all varietal Cesanese from different plots showing distinct features of this underappreciated grape. Sourced from the same vineyard as the Passerina wines the estate produces, the 2015 Vicinale is the most approachable Cesanese from La Visciola. The nose carries hallmark flavors of tart and brambly red fruit with herbal tones of bay spice and pepper plant. The palate is quite light with whispery tannins, and tart, fresh acidity carrying plenty of red raspberry and cherry fruit with a slight menthol tone leading into a dry finish. As with all Cesanese wines I can't imagine enjoying this without food: give it a shot with margarita pizza, red sauce pastas, charcuterie, semi-firm cheese, or of course with pasta carbonara for a truly classic pairing. Andy Paynter
Cesanese is perhaps the most “important” indigenous red grape of Lazio, capable of making fresh red wines with intense perfume and delicate structure. The reds from La Visciola are all varietal Cesanese from different plots showing distinct features of this underappreciated grape. The Vignale plot was planted in the 1960s on a soil of mixed sand and clay. It is vinified with native yeast in lined-cement, and rested in large barrels for around a year. The Vignale shows a more definitely spicy nose with black pepper, allspice, and fruit tones of cherry and orange zest with dried bay leaves. The palate has a fairly rich texture with fine-grained tannin and restrained acidity, showing poise but with a bit more heft than the Ju Quarto. The Vignale will pair easily and widely; try it with everything from pizza and simple veggie dishes to carbonara, pork chops, or roasted mushrooms. Andy Paynter
Lagrein is a grape that shares many similarities with Syrah: deep berry fruit, a savory smoky character, and distinct herbal tones. In the hands of Martin Gojer it yields a full-bodied wine that nonetheless captures a sense of alpine freshness. The wine is fermented with 70% whole clusters for four weeks with a submerged cap for the first two. It is then raised in old, small barrels for two years and bottled without fining or filtration. The wine shows savory aromas of ripe blackberry, turned earth, leather, tobacco, and black pepper. The palate is full and quite smooth, with grippy tannins, focused acidity, and more flavors of forest floor and rich black fruit. It is well suited to rich foods; try it with game meat or lamb, smoked sausage, cured cheese, hearty vegetable dishes, or with stew. Andy Paynter
Of all the wines made by Martin Gojer at Pranzegg, the Schiava is to me the most interesting. Schiava wines are often pleasant thirst-quenchers of little substance but Martin saw greater potential in his vines. Sourced from 50 year-old vines trained in pergola and farmed biodynamically, this is a more profound expression of the grape. The wine is fermented with 30% stem inclusion and macerates for 6 weeks in large conical vats followed by elevage in old oak and cement tank for 10 months. Tart cherries and raspberries leap out on the nose over aromas of lavender, black pepper, and slight hint of leather. The palate is medium bodied, with great acidity, delicate tannins and a lifted mineral finish. Martin described it as a “really charming full bodied wine that is on the other hand drinkable,” and I couldn't agree more. Try it with duck or wild boar, charcuterie, hard cheese, mushroom dishes, or rich pasta. Andy Paynter
This is a very pretty and pure expression of Etna; bright, aromatic with cherry, earth and lava, herbs and flowers. An elegant Nerello, and at a great price for quality. The volcanic minerality and complexity is there, but with grace and delicacy in the mid-palate.
Romeo del Castello Vigorosa is a stunning rosato from Sicily produced by Rossana Romeo and her daughter Chiara Vigo. It is made from a selection of the estates oldest vines (some over 100 years old) that are harvested earlier than for the Vigo rosso for acidity. Vinified slowly with native yeast, the wine has a ruby red hue with flavors of cherry fruit, wildflowers, sagebrush, mint, and rich tones of ripe citrus. Fairly full bodied with bright acidity and soft tannins the wine has a toothsome texture with an elegant and very mineral finish. Try it with seared tuna, spinach pie, grilled sausage, or with any dish involving fennel and oranges.
Tasting Vinica’s Tintilia makes me wonder how this grape ever fell out of favor in Molise in the first place. It seems particularly well adapted to the high altitude vineyards of the region, showing a balance between ripe fruit and fresh acidity. The grapes are crushed at low pressure and allowed to ferment naturally in open top vessels before being held in steel tanks for two years. There is no temperature control at any point, which allows malolactic fermentation to occur naturally over time. The wine has a pleasant herbal tone of green pepper that peaks out on the nose over tart berry fruit, red roses, and moist earth. The palate is quite fresh and marked by bright acidity and soft tannins with a pleasant, earthy finish. This may not be a wine to cellar for ten years but it is a wine that casually conveys a sense of joy and is a carefree food pairing choice. Give it a try with rich pasta dishes, roast pork, stuffed mushrooms or open it at your next summer barbeque. Andy Paynter