2009 Brunello di Montalcino: Enjoy Soon

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.

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Antonio Mastroberardino, Father for Campania Wine, Dies

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.

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Tuscan Getaway Guide

Featuring rolling hills blanketed with vineyards and medieval hill towns topped with castles, Tuscany looks as if it’s been lifted straight out of a Renaissance painting. Add to its natural beauty delicious food, fantastic wines and a new wave of luxury hotels, and you have yourself your next must-book vacation. The best time to visit is during Fall season, when crowds have dispersed and the local wineries—many among the most lauded in Italy—are harvesting their grapes. Here’s where to sip, sup and stay—and smell the sweet scent of fermenting juice—while on your Tuscan getaway.

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Visiting Piedmont on a Budget

The stars of Italy’s Piedmont region are Barolo, Barbaresco and white truffles, but it’s possible to get an authentic taste of the region without taking out a second mortgage.

Castello di Barolo
© Paolo Tenti | Castello di Barolo

Every year, more tourists flock to Italy’s northwest in search of the latest Barolos and Barbarescos—two of the country’s most famous and expensive wines—and to enjoy the area’s upscale dining, especially in the fall when rare white truffles make an appearance.

Alba and the nearby Langhe hills are the undisputed epicenter of Piedmont’s fine wine and dining scene, boasting 12 Michelin-starred restaurants within a 10-mile radius. 

And judging by the boom of recently opened luxury hotels, spas and golf resorts, the Langhe certainly seems to cater to an upscale clientele. 

Fortunately, there’s another side to these hallowed hills. For visitors who don’t want to break the bank, the region also offers simple country hotels in the vineyards and informal restaurants that specialize in local cuisine. 

Best of all for wine lovers, Piedmont’s famed Barolo and Barbaresco producers also make delicious, affordable wines that can be served with a variety of dishes and offer sheer drinkability—Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto. 

These wines are growing in popularity, and with an increasing number of labels imported to the U.S., they offer a little taste of Piedmont here at home. 

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Addio Franco Biondi Santi

The Italian wine world lost an icon when Brunello legend Franco Biondi Santi, dubbed “The Gentleman of Brunello,” died over the weekend. He was 91 years old.

© Paolo Tenti | Franco Biondi Santi

Franco—whose grandfather, Ferruccio Biondi Santi, invented Brunello in the late 1800s—learned the winemaking craft from his father, Tancredi, one of Italy’s most celebrated enologists. When Franco inherited the family’s Greppo estate in 1970, he remained true to his father’s traditions while also improving quality, starting with a lengthy collaboration with the University of Florence that allowed him to isolate the best Sangiovese clones on the estate.

Franco was an avid defender of traditional Brunello, and refused to rely on any winemaking techniques that could potentially change the quintessential characteristics of his wines.

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Tenuta San Guido

Sassicaia is the Italian wine world’s rock star, and not just because of the unusual rocky soils where the wine’s grapes are cultivated. A rebel when it was first released in 1971, Sassicaia – like the defiant rock musicians of the same period – shook up the status quo and spawned generations of imitators.

© Paolo Tenti | L-R: Cabernet Sauvignon grapes growing at Tenuta San Guido; a barrel of Sassicaia; Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta

It can also claim the title of Original Super Tuscan as it was the first of Tuscany’s renegade wines to break with the antiquated rules that governed Italian winemaking in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Although no longer a revolutionary, Sassicaia is one of Italy’s most iconic and seductive wines.

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Check out my reviews of Tenuta San Guido wines