Italian wine reviews (tasted through April 2018)

Check out my latest reviews: (127 wines): Etna, Sicilia and more

blind tasting Kerin O'Keefe

Top 10 of the Month

 

 

The Volcanic Wines of Italy

What sets apart some of the most exhilarating Italian wines today? New benchmarks for complexity and longevity have one thing in common: volcanic soils.
© Paolo Tenti | working Ciro Biondi’s vineyard on Mt. Etna

Some of the most exciting and intriguing wines coming out of Italy have one thing in common: the volcanic origins of their soils. While the wines of Mount Etna immediately pop to mind, a surprising number of great wines, from the Veneto down to Sicily, hail from volcanic terroirs.

And while minerality is one of the most debated subjects in the wine world, Italy’s volcanic soils impart undeniable mineral sensations that include flint, crushed rock and saline, lending depth and complexity to the resulting wines.

Additionally, many of these grape-growing areas have extremely old vines, some more than 100 years old in parts of Campania and Sicily. And nearly all of the “volcanic” denominations rely on native varietals that have had centuries to adapt to their growing conditions.

The vineyard altitude, grape varieties and cellar practices all play crucial roles in the final product, but volcanic soils lend structure, longevity and an extra layer of dimension to the final wines. Here’s where to find these complex beauties.

The full article will be published in the February 2018 issue, but it is already available online: The Volcanic Wines of Italy

Campania

From left to right: Feudi di San Gregorio 2016 Fiano di Avellino; Cantine di Marzo 2015 Franciscus (Greco di Tufo); Contrade di Taurasi–­Cantine Lonardo 2011 Vigne d’Alto (Taurasi); La Sibilla 2015 Falanghina (Campi Flegrei); Mastroberardino 2009 Naturalis Historia (Tau­rasi) / Photo by Con Poulos

Veneto

From left to right: Palazzone 2015 Campo del Guardiano (Orvieto Classico Superiore); Sergio Mottura 2016 Tragugnano (Orvieto); Marchesi Antinori 2016 Castello della Sala San Giovanni della Sala (Orvieto Classico) / Photo by Con Poulos

Etna

I Vini vulcanici d’Italia

Alcuni dei vini Italiani più interessanti e intriganti hanno una cosa in comune: le origini vulcaniche dei loro terreni. Mentre i vini dell’Etna vengono subito in mente, un numero sorprendente di grandi vini, dal Veneto alla Sicilia, provengono da terroir vulcanici.

© Paolo Tenti | working Ciro Biondi’s vineyard on Mt. Etna

E mentre la mineralità è uno dei soggetti più dibattuti nel mondo del vino, i terreni vulcanici d’Italia conferiscono innegabili sensazioni minerali che includono pietra focaia, grafite, ardesia e sentori salmastri, conferendo profondità e complessità ai vini che ne derivano.

Inoltre, molte di queste aree viticole hanno viti estremamente vecchie, alcune più di 100 anni in parti della Campania e della Sicilia, in molti casi a “piede franco”, in quanto i terreni vulcanici rendono le viti meno suscettibili agli attacchi delle fillossera. E quasi tutte le denominazioni “vulcaniche” si basano su varietà autoctone che hanno avuto secoli per adattarsi alle loro condizioni di crescita.

L’altitudine del vigneto, la tipologia dei vitigni e le pratiche di cantina giocano tutti un ruolo cruciale nel prodotto finale, ma i terreni vulcanici conferiscono struttura, longevità e un ulteriore livello di qualità ai vini. Ecco una selezione di alcuni di questi vini complessi e affascinanti.

L’articolo completo in inglese sarà pubblicato sul numero di Febbraio 2018, ma è già disponibile online qui: The Volcanic Wines of Italy

Campania

From left to right: Feudi di San Gregorio 2016 Fiano di Avellino; Cantine di Marzo 2015 Franciscus (Greco di Tufo); Contrade di Taurasi–­Cantine Lonardo 2011 Vigne d’Alto (Taurasi); La Sibilla 2015 Falanghina (Campi Flegrei); Mastroberardino 2009 Naturalis Historia (Tau­rasi) / Photo by Con Poulos

Veneto

From left to right: Palazzone 2015 Campo del Guardiano (Orvieto Classico Superiore); Sergio Mottura 2016 Tragugnano (Orvieto); Marchesi Antinori 2016 Castello della Sala San Giovanni della Sala (Orvieto Classico) / Photo by Con Poulos

Etna

Southern Italy’s New Wave Whites

Italy is a land of contradictions, and as Italians love to declare, this is part of the country’s fascino, or charm. The country’s new breed of white wines is a perfect example.

At first glance, you’d expect whites from the country’s deep south, known for its Mediterranean climate and constant sunshine, to be powerfully structured, with superripe fruit, high alcohol levels and low acidity. While this used to be true of many bottlings, today the whites from select denominations in Campania and Sicily boast the complexity and minerality often associated with cool climates.

How? Winemakers now focus on indigenous grapes, which have adapted to the region’s climate over hundreds or thousands of years. “Rather than make wines geared for international palates that taste like they could be made anywhere, we want to make wines that express Campania’s native grapes and our unique terroir by identifying the best vineyard sites, harvesting at the right moment and using less invasive cellar techniques,” says Antonio Capaldo, president of leading Campania firm Feudi di San Gregorio. Here’s a breakdown of Italy’s southern whites that should be on your table this summer.

Read the article: Southern Italy’s New Wave Whites

Sicily. A continent of wine

Once infamous for making industrial quantities of concentrated musts and uninspiring sweet wines, Sicily is fast shaking off its bulk-wine and sticky Marsala image. Kerin O’Keefe identifies the island’s best growing areas and the dynamic estates that are transforming its reputation.

Photography by Paolo Tenti

Thanks to almost ideal growing conditions and a patrimony of unique native grapes, Sicily’s once stagnant wine scene is undergoing a much deserved quality renaissance. Now a wellspring of experimentation and investment, the largest island in the Mediterranean is quickly becoming Italy’s most exciting wine-producing region, as winemakers discover the island’s ancient grapes and classic growing areas.

Though the recent past was devoted to industrial-quantity winemaking, the future is focused on top-quality wines of relatively good value that are both modern and indisputably Sicilian. Sprinkled with ancient Greek temples and Norman cathedrals built by former invaders, Sicily has long been a land of contradictions, and this is especially evident in its flourishing wine sector, where new boutique wineries can be found alongside sprawling cooperatives the size of oil refineries. Even though Sicily is no longer merely a vast reservoir of grapes and concentrated must, the island’s determined drive toward quality is hindered by its steadfast image as a bulk-wine producer.

Its lingering reputation is not groundless: Sicily remains one of Italy’s most prolific wine-producing regions, with as much land under vine as all of Australia and more than double that of Piedmont or Tuscany. Surprisingly, only 17 percent of Sicily’s massive output is bottled on the island, and only 3 percent of this is under Italy’s Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) appellation system. The island remains a leading producer of strong grape must (vino da taglio), which is covertly used by many northern producers to give their more delicate wines an injection of southern muscle, while the brunt of the harvest, of dubious quality, is still sold in bulk or distilled. But side by side with these dismal remnants of mass production, dynamic winemakers have carefully revived ancient grapes and are now making some of Italy’s most innovative wines.

Read the article: Sicily. A continent of wine