Someone recently commented that Italy had roughly 511 different grape varieties. Another said 1200. The point is—there are many. The most challenging aspect I have discovered during my travels to wine country is finding the really “good” examples, sifting through the lists of possible wines and wineries to find those that have something interesting, unique and memorable to offer. That is not as easy as one would think. Last trip, for instance, after two weeks, up and down Italy, we found none fitting the bill. Still, one has to keep trying, right? Here are four which recently came on to our radar screen and are really worth checking out, keeping in mind, each is totally out of most people’s comfort zone.
2014 Castelluccio Sangiovese di Romagna “Le More”–Here is Sangiovese with a twist. This one is grown in the Modigliano hills, which until the 1930’s was referred to as “ancient Tuscany”, as it was still considered part of Tuscany. The soils have a layer of marl-limestone with elevations between 750 to 1500 feet. Not only is this quite a unique & special site, BUT also consider this project is overseen by legendary, superstar winemaker Vittorio Fiore.
Lambrusco, Ariola “Marcello Gran Cru”–At VINO, we have a real hankering for a glass of well chilled, wonderfully refreshing, uplifting Italian Lambrusco & are therefore always looking. Here is one of the most acclaimed of the Lambrusco category. Produced from 100% Lambrusco Maestri, this is a vividly fresh, fizzy, completely refreshing wine ideal served well chilled & with a selection of salumi & cheeses. “Marcello impresses with its aromatic richness and for its softness. A Lambrusco that contains a rare amount of technique, passion and nature, thanks to its immediate pleasantness of the flavor. The cellar Ariola, founded in 1956, stands on the hills between Felino and Langhirano, in the heart of the Food Valley and Doc Colli di Parma”. Undoubtedly a benchmark to measure others by in the future.
2014 Livon Pignolo “Eldoro”— I became intrigued with the Pignolo grape variety back in the early to mid 1990’s, because of one bottling–that from then named producer Zamó & Palazzolo, from the Colli Orientale subzone of Friuli, Italy. Those early renditions, had a very dark pigmentation, very strikingly blue/purple hued, (rather than black) showed that this grape variety had a strong core, ample tannins & firm structure. I then was further intrigued with the Pignolo from Walter Filiputti & vintages in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, when we were opening VINO over on Maui. Filiputti also worked with vines near & around the Abbey at Rosazzo, just as Zamó had. This certainly seemed to be a sweet spot for growing this rather challenging grape variety. I didn’t know what to expect from this Livon rendition, as it was a gift. It’s core, mojo & presence was a shadow of what I had had before. I wouldn’t say I was wow-ed by any means, but it was interesting nonetheless.
2010 La Viarte Schiopettino del Prepotto–100% Schiopettino. La Viarte’s estate vineyards are located in the Colli Orientale region of Friuli. Insiders say this red grape variety grew in popularity because it was much easier to grow & with more consistent yields than indigenous Friulian vines such as Pignolo. Still, we continually look for more & more red wines like this which offer real savoriness from beginning to end in the wine without any sense of heaviness & richness. We believe wines like this can offer a completely different dimension to food & wine pairings.
2011 Petro Nera Sforzato di Valtellina–a completely different and unforgettable take on what Nebbiolo can be. Valtellina is one of the northernmost grape growing areas of Italy. The entire DOCG is but 282 hectares in size, the best sites—high in elevation, dizzyingly steep and therefore terraced This the home to Nebbiolo, locally known as Chiavennasco. “Sforzato di Valtellina takes a slightly different approach, using the passito method–the grapes are harvested late when the bunches are partly raisined. And then they undergo further drying in aerated crates. It is quite unusual to do so with Nebbiolo,” says Stefano, “But it really enhances the wine in color, aroma and flavour.”