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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
High atop the Murge Plateau in Puglia, Cantine Carpentiere is a small family-owned winery that produces two indigenous Puglian grape varieties: Nero di Troia and Bombino Nero. Made from 70-year-old Bombino Nero vines, this is the only rosato in Southern Italy that has DOCG status. At 450 meters above sea level, the vineyards are rich in limestone and surrounded by stone walls originally built to protect local flocks of sheep. Tannins from the maceration process make this a great food wine, but it retains its freshness and acidity from the 5-6% of white grapes that are naturally included in each cluster of Bombino Nero. Ripe watermelon and wild strawberries with hints of pepper, try pairing it with a salmon salad, orecchiette with broccoli rabe or even a juicy burger. Christine Manula
High atop the Murge Plateau, Cantine Carpentiere is a small family-owned winery that produces two indigenous Puglian grape varieties: Nero di Troia and Bombino Nero. Uva di Troia is an ancient grape apparently named after the Puglian town of Troia, which was founded after the siege of ancient Troy. Carpentiere’s Nero di Troia is on the lighter side of some of their neighbors, with raspberry, cranberry and a hint of spice and vanilla on the nose. It starts off quite floral and develops into a more rustic wine as it opens, with touches of cranberry, rose petals, spice and smoky cloves. I think this is a great summer red and perfect for barbecuing ribs, burgers or a hanger steak. Christine Manula
Dry Lambrusco rosato still seems to be a bit of a rarity, which is baffling when examples like Corte Paglieri’s rosato are available. A deep bronze-hued ruby, the aromas of the wine practically jump out of the glass showing rhubarb, tart cherries, citrus zest with a deep violet floral tone. The palate is crisp, almost searingly so with out food, with a very delicate bubble and very low tannin, and notes of peaches and juicy strawberries. While not suited to the richest foods, this would be a perfect match for soft cheese, bitter veggies like fiddle head ferns, fatty fish, roast chicken, or pork chops with rhubarb compote. Andy Paynter
Defino comes from organically farmed grapes (a friend who is one of Tuscany’s best winemakers consults on the winemaking), and it’s a really lovely fresh red, light and juicy but with plenty of intensity on the palate. This is on the short list for the ultimate pizza wine, but really we mean that in reference to: “it’s Tuesday night, and we want a glass of something delicious that doesn’t break the bank”. Actually Frappato is a terrific food wine — a red-wine-with-fish wine, and very versatile.
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
In my experience, the Sagrantino grape can produce some fairly stern, even forbidding, wines; the naturally very high tannins can seem unwieldy. That's not the case with Fongoli’s 2009 Sagrantino di Montefalco. As fourth generation winemakers working with Umbria’s fiercest red grape, they have made a wine more elegant than unwieldy. The wine is fermented in cement, raised in old 500L Slavonian oak barrels for three years, bottled unfined and unfiltered, and then rested for an additional three years. Rich on the nose with deep hedge fruits tinged by aromas of bay and cedar, floral notes of violets and rose, it also conveys a ferrous quality. The palate is full and structured but the tannins are ripe and round, mellowed by age and long passage in barrel. The berry aromas suggested on the nose follow through on the palate braced by earthy notes with a pleasant hint of anise on the finish. Drinking well now (Angelo advised it will be best with 3-4 hours open), this wine will certainly have a long life ahead of it. Serve with grilled steak, pork chops in wine sauce, rich game dishes, or charcuterie. Andy Paynter
Fongoli’s Montefalco Rosso is a great example of an Italian table wine in the best sense. Made mostly from Sangiovese, Sagrantino, and Montepulciano, vinified separately and raised for 18 months in 40 hectoliter Slavonian oak barrels. Fresh red cherry fruit comes through on the nose with pleasant notes of rosemary and thyme and a hint of moist earth. The palate is full and smooth with noticeable tannin and good acidity, though it is more overtly fruity showing both cherries and a touch of blue and black berries. The pairing choices are endless: try it with meaty pasta dishes, roast chicken, pork loin, mushroom and Parmesan risotto, and hard cheeses. A beautiful wine for any table! Andy Paynter
(PRE ARRIVAL 8/4/17) I Custodi 2014 Alnus Rosato is a fascinating wine from a relatively cool and challenging vintage. The cuvée is made from a selection of young-vines Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio on the north face of Mount Etna. Fairly deep ruby red in the glass, the nose is distinctly savory; it smells more overtly of sea spray, wet stones, and anise than it does of fruit. The palate is quite light with a definite saline character, bright acidity, tart cranberries and strawberries, with a very mineral finish. A touch austere on its own, this rosé is a great match for a wide range of foods: try it with Salad Niçoise, poached fish, speck, briny cheese, or Greek salad. 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
Drogone comes from a small parcel of vines planted in 1964. The wine is aged for two years in older, large tonneau of French oak, and then for years in bottle — the 2007 is the current release. A wine of great depth and considerable density, it shares the elegance and finesse of all Madonna delle Grazie wines. It's very cool to taste the highest quality Aglianico that has some age; we're happy that it's still available at such a fair price. John Rankin and Jamie Wolff
Of the many expressions of Aglianico produced by our friends at Madonna Delle Grazie, the Sagaris Rosato might be the most fun. The grapes are gently crushed and macerated briefly (usually about 8-10 hours) to avoid extracting too much color; fermentation occurs slowly in neutral vessels, and the wine is bottled after light filtration. Bright salmon pink in the glass, the wine shows ripe red cherries and strawberries on the nose, backed by minty herbal tones and a touch of moist earth. It is juicy and quite full bodied with fresh acidity and light but noticeable tannin. Try it with grilled lamb sirloin, roasted game bird, charcuterie, roasted mushrooms, or burgers. Andy Paynter
As with Amarone, Sforzato is very labor-intensive: the drying grapes must be carefully tended every day to prevent mold, and of course the drying process results in much less wine. The Valtellina’s cliff-like vineyards require so much work (an hour of labor in the relatively gentle hills of the Veneto is the equivalent of 6 hours in the Valtellina) that the wines are never inexpensive, but we love good Sforzato. For one thing the higher acidity of Nebbiolo gives the wine some lift and brightness that makes them a bit easier to drink. The trick is to get the complexity and concentration that comes with drying the grapes, but to avoid cooked and stewed flavors – not a simple accomplishment. Alberto Marsetti is a very small producer. He’s one of the few in the region to forgo small new oak for aging his wines, and the results are very fine and pure. Sforzato needs some time in bottle, and the 2006 is now beginning to show its stuff.
Masseria del Pino’s I Nove Fratelli is a great example of why people get so excited about the wines of Mount Etna. Produced from one hectare of organically farmed 120 year-old bush trained vines of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, the wine is elegant and frankly delicious. The nose shows a smoky character up front with layers of tart black cherries and black raspberries over crushed violets and dusty earth. The palate is structured but lifted by bright acidity with flavors of ripe cherry fruit, blood orange,and woody herbs; I’d like to avoid any kind of pandering cliché here, but the wine tastes like it was made on the side of a volcano – like sun-baked lava – which a lot more tasty than it might sound. The tannins are bold and ripe but fade harmoniously towards a grippy mineral finish. I would recommend decanting for a few hours to enjoy this wine at its very best. Try it with fennel stuffed pork loin, roast game bird, grilled sausages, cured cheese, or rich mushroom dishes. Andy Paynter He took the words out of my mouth! Tasting notes are subjective, but Andy and I seem to agree about this one pretty much down the line (although for fruit analogs I was more on blackberry and cranberry). Also, I think this (like many of the other best wines from Etna) is very versatile when it comes to food pairings; I don’t disagree with Andy’s suggestions (he’s a damn fine home cook, btw), but you shouldn’t feel limited by them. Last night we had grilled swordfish with a sauce of fresh tomato, capers, and herbs, and it was a great match – our guests, who are not wine people, seemed to love it. Jamie Wolff
One of our favorite Italian winemakers is actually American. Michael Schmelzer moved to Italy in 2003 with his family and purchased 10 hectares of organic vineyards in the "belly button of Chianti Classico" at Monte Bernardi. Since that time he has branched out and started making wines from Sicilian grapes as well. This spring he introduced his Tetra Pak Rosato which is made from 100% Nero d'Avola grapes. Don't let the vibrant pink carton fool you. It's more subtle on the inside - fresh and energetic with great acidity and a slight grip. Raspberry, strawberry, and fresh watermelon fruit make this the perfect beach or picnic wine. An added bonus is that Tetra Pak cartons use 54% less energy, create 80% less greenhouse gasses, and produce 60% less solid waste volume than a 750ml glass wine bottle. So you can celebrate summer and save the environment. Christine Manula
For some years now Monte dall’Ora has been our reference point for the Valpolicella: their complete line-up is a testament to the grace and elegance that can be achieved in region where the wines are so often dull (or at least not much to our taste). Even the Amarone – at 15.5 alcohol – has surprising fresh acidity to complement the dense structure and touch of sweetness, along with very positive earthy and spicy notes that many other Amarones lack. It’s hard to imagine a nicer companion to a rich stew – although aged cheese would be fine – but if dinner isn’t for ten years or so the wine will be up to the challenge.
Vinified and aged identically to “Neccio”; together the two wines present a clear case for Cesanese’s transparency in reflecting terroir. The Ca’Litro vineyard soils are made up of white sandstone, and this is the most structured and full-bodied of the Riccardi-Reale wines. Dark and tart brambly berries, quite floral, eucalyptus, bigger tannins. (My favorite!) Christine Manula
Saetti is wine that shows how deeply appealing natural wine can be when made with care; vinified completely without additives including SO2 it is not the least bit funky. It has a deep ruby color with a nose redolent of brambly red berries, dried violets, delicate hints of sweet spices, and a slight meaty tone. The wine is more frothy than it is fully sparkling, with a velvety texture cut by bright acidity with a slight tannic bite. On its own, it shows more overtly floral and quite juicy but, as a good Lambrusco should, it shines with food. Try it with charcuterie, pasta bolognese, pepperoni pizza, or as a match to any rich dish (burgers!). Andy Paynter
We’ve met Maria Teresa several times at Angiolino Maule’s fantastic natural wine fair, Villa Favorita. She’s the image of a charming southern Italian lady with a broad smile and an aura of generosity and hospitality. We finally made the decision to buy some of her wines, and we couldn’t be happier with how they’re showing. This is an Aglianico from vineyards close to the Roccamonfina nature reserve, among Starnalia’s almost 100 acres of organic grapes, olives and chestnuts. The 2010 has delicious flavors of dark plum and a deep, spicy mineral presence. The Aglianico’s formidable tannins and vibrant acidity have been tamed by extra age in the bottle — drink now with hearty, red sauces and other rustic Italian fare. John Rankin
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