If rocky cliffs, soaring heights, snow-capped mountains and gusts of wind don’t immediately come to mind when conjuring up images of Italian vineyards, think again.
Some of the country’s most exciting wines hail from these extreme conditions. And while brave winemakers have utilized high-altitude vineyards for centuries, climate change has generated welcome benefits in these mountainous growing zones.
After the wild success of the 2010 vintage in Barolo and Barbaresco, Bolgheri and Chianti Classico, all eyes are on Montalcino. Although the Brunello 2010s will officially debut at the annual press tastings in late February – along with the 2009 Riservas, I was fortunate to preview almost 200 of the new release in early January at the Brunello Consorzio’s headquarters in Montalcino.
While quality wine is the new normal across Sicily, the most exciting areas of the island right now are located in the east, namely Mount Etna, Vittoria, Noto, and Faro. Boasting ideal growing conditions where native grapes excel, these four growing zones produce some of the finest wines on the island, and the best are among the most compelling bottlings coming out of Italy.
Located in northwest Italy and bordering Switzerland and France, Piedmont is Italy’s second-largest region, and the most mountainous. The majestic, snow-capped Alps make a stunning backdrop to the rolling, vine-covered hills. And these aren’t just any vineyards.
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in June 2014, vineyards in the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato areas are amongst the most celebrated in Italy. They’re home to famed reds made from Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto, as well as Moscato d’Asti, a lightly frothy dessert wine. Piedmont, which means “foot of the mountain,” is also a culinary paradise, famed for its rare white truffles. Throw in outstanding lodgings, and you have a wine lover’s dream destination.
Delicious, affordable and ideal for the holidays, here’s your guide to Soave, one of Italy’s greatest whites.
Today, the region’s top producers have gone back to the old ways: they only use the two original grapes, and are focused on quality, not quantity—the same tenets that helped seduce drinkers some 40 years ago.
The best bottles hail from Soave Classico, the original hillside vinyards. Here, the volcanic soil, high altitude and old vines all conspire to create rich, deep wines with floral aromas, creamy white-fruit flavors and mineral notes.
The best part: These top-shelf wines are a downright steal, at least for now.
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.
Le Marche is a microcosm of everything tourists love about Italy—breathtaking landscapes, medieval architecture and terrific wine and food—minus the crowds.
Sandwiched between Emilia Romagna and a sliver of Tuscany to the north, and Abruzzo and Lazio to the south, Le Marche, (pronounced lay MAR-kay) shares the Apennines with Umbria on its west and stretches east to the Adriatic Sea.
Often translated as “the Marches,” this Central Italian region has it all. Pristine beaches and rugged shorelines hug the sapphire-blue Adriatic. Rolling hills lie covered with vines and olive groves. There are well-preserved medieval towns and cultural centers, wonderful cuisine and great wines.
What you won’t find are the throngs of tourists that descend regularly on Tuscany, situated on the opposite coast, although crowds do show up at the main beaches in peak season.
My tasting of the 2009 vintage revealed that it was another challenging year in Montalcino, and the main problem was the weather. Scorching summer temperatures and a lack of rain dominated crucial phases of the growing season. As a result, most wines are prematurely evolved, and while this makes the best wines enjoyable now, many ’09s deliver sensations of cooked fruit, evident alcohol, low acidity and fleeting tannins. Others have more acidity, but dried-up fruit and aggressive, astringent tannins. And there are many styles in between, ranging from soft and sexy to lean and mean. The one trait that distinguishes almost all the 2009s is a lack of ageworthy structure—unusual for wines that are famous for racy acidity and bracing tannins that need years to tame.
Antonio Mastroberardino, the visionary behind the successful wines from southern Italy’s Campania region, died on January 28 from natural causes. He was 86 years old.
For more than 130 years, the Mastroberardino family has made fine wines from native grapes grown in the celebrated Irpinia hills near Avellino, and for more than a century they were the only ray of light in a region once dominated by bulk-wine production. But after World War II, when the phylloxera pest ravaged vineyards and war laid waste to the countryside, Antonio Mastroberardino and his brothers took over the family winery with the hopes of reviving it.