2012 Brunello: a return to finesse and age-worthy structure

If you love wines with elegance, fragrance and longevity, then you’ll love the just-released 2012 Brunellos. And even though I’m one of the biggest critics of the Consorzio’s Brunello vintage classifications (I find most vintages have been overrated), when it comes to 2012’s five-star rating, I completely I agree.

Defying the intense heat of the growing season, many 2012s have the vibrancy usually found in cooler vintages. They boast juicy red berry fruit, noble tannins and impeccable balance that will allow them to age well for years. Out of the 140 Brunello 2012s I tasted so far, I rated 88 wines 90 points or more, with 20 of these getting 94 points or higher. I was pleasantly surprised to see a return to finesse, enticing aromas and generally lower alcohol levels when compared to other recent releases.

The 2012s even have more consistent quality across the denomination than the highly acclaimed 2010s. The latter were a mixed bag divided between majestic wines boasting structure and finesse, and subpar wines marred by low acidity, cooked fruit and alcohol of 15% abv or more.

Quality is more uniform in 2012, but in terms of weather, 2012 was an undeniably difficult year. Unstable conditions included a cold, wet winter and an extremely hot, dry summer marked by late rains. But the extended heat wave was gentler on the grapes than the turbulent temperature changes of other past vintages.

Read more here: 2012 Brunello: a return to finesse and age-worthy structure

Here you find the full reviews: 2012 Brunello di Montalcino reviews by Kerin O’Keefe

Sicily: wine-lover’s paradise

Sunny Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, sits just off the tip of the boot-shaped peninsula of Italy. Dotted with ancient Greek temples and Norman cathedrals built by former invaders, the island has a rich history and multifaceted cultural legacy.

Ruins and columns of antique Greek theater in Taormina and Mount Etna in the background. Sicily ; Shutterstock ID 519852616

It also boasts miles of pristine beaches, breathtaking scenery and the highest active volcano in Europe, Mount Etna.

On top of those wonders, Sicily makes fantastic wines from native and international grapes. It produces everything from full-bodied reds to vibrant, mineral-driven whites. Pair them with the fantastic local cuisine, and you understand why this is a wine-lover’s paradise.

Read the article: Sicily: wine-lover’s paradise

The Terroir-Driven Food of Italy

Terroir isn’t just about wine. Chefs in Italy are looking local for their ingredients, from Caffè Cibrèo in Florence to Osteria Disguido in Piedmont.

Fabio Picchi in front of his Caffè Cibrèo in Florence
Fabio Picchi in front of his Caffè Cibrèo in Florence

“Terroir-driven wine” has become synonymous with a high-quality product loaded with the personality of the place (or soil) in which it’s made/grown. But in Italy, terroir is also a key concept behind much of the country’s best cuisine.

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, winemakers focused efforts on new techniques and cellar technology to improve their wines. Since then, producers have turned their focus to the vineyards. How and where grapes are grown are now seen as the most important factors in quality winemaking.

The same emphasis on terroir can be said for today’s best Italian cuisine. It starts with select ingredients from distinct areas of the country.

Read the article: The Terroir-Driven Dishes of Italy

The Beauty of Barbaresco

One of Italy’s greatest wines is finally getting the attention it deserves. We take you through the vintages, the communes and the bottles you need to buy.

© Paolo Tenti | The town of Barbaresco

Made with 100% native grape Nebbiolo, you’ve probably heard that Barbaresco is one of Italy’s greatest wines. Yet for many years, it’s also been Italy’s most famous unknown red: even though fine wine lovers had heard of it, until recently, many passed it up for Barolo, its larger, more renowned neighbor (also made entirely with Nebbiolo). But thanks to a new generation of winemakers embracing more natural farming methods that have led to even higher quality, and the denomination’s unique micro-climate that encourages freshness and balance even in the hottest vintages, wine lovers are discovering that Barbaresco is a world-class wine in its own right. And the recent, widespread fascination with Nebbiolo and Piedmont has further helped shine a light on the denomination.

Read the article: The Beauty of Barbaresco

Producers Strike Down Piemonte Nebbiolo DOC

After a meeting between producers and their consortia of the Piedmont region that lasted for more than four hours yesterday (September 12), a vote came out against creating a new wine, Piemonte Nebbiolo DOC.

As previously reported in a column on August 5, the proposal—put forward by the Consorzio Barbera d’Asti e Vini del Monferrato—would have encouraged producers in growing zones throughout the region to invest heavily in Nebbiolo.

Read the article: Producers Strike Down Piemonte Nebbiolo DOC

The Rise of Pinot Bianco in Northern Italy

If there’s one wine I’d love to see on more wine lists in the U.S., it’s Pinot Bianco from Alto Adige and select parts of Friuli. There are some gorgeous Pinot Biancos from these areas. If you haven’t tried any, then you’re missing out on some fantastic wines.

Made with the Pinot Blanc grape (also known as Weissburgunder in German), Pinot Biancos from northeast Italy are extremely elegant and offer a tantalizing combination of creamy and crisp, dry and mineral-driven.

Read the article: The Rise of Pinot Bianco in Northern Italy

Grillo: Try This Cool White Wine From Sicily

Nearly forgotten, a white grape of Sicily [re]captures the imagination.

Looking for a cool new white? Meet Grillo (pronounced GREE-lo). Hailing from Sicily, Grillo produces crisp and savory wines—some structured enough to offer moderate aging potential. Lighter styles have citrus blossom and peach nuances, while more aromatic versions deliver passion fruit, grapefruit and herbal sensations reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc. Lees contact and barrel aging create more complex, mineral-driven wines loaded with apple and citrus flavors. Vineyards closest to the sea produce wines with pronounced saline notes.

Read the article: Grillo: Try This Cool White Wine From Sicily

Why You Should Be Worried About Piemonte Nebbiolo

If you love Barolo, Barbaresco and other wines made with Nebbiolo, brace yourself for the worst proposal I’ve heard in years, and one that could impact the reputation of some of the most esteemed wines in Italy.

When I was in Alba and Barbaresco a couple of weeks ago, producers told me that their consorzio had just alerted them to a newly proposed wine: Piemonte Nebbiolo DOC, Denominazione di Origine Controllata. The proposal, which insiders say originated with the Consorzio Barbera d’Asti e Vini del Monferrato, has producers in Barolo and Barbaresco on edge, and with good reason.

Piemonte Nebbiolo, which would be made with Nebbiolo grown throughout the region, would be a big step back for Italian wines. It would go against the push to create subzones in the most esteemed denominations by officially delimiting vineyard areas.

Read the article: Why You Should Be Worried About Piemonte Nebbiolo

Italy’s Amphora Wines: Back to the Future

Searching for the best way to make pure, terroir-driven wines, a few brave producers in Italy have traded in their temperature-controlled stainless steel fermenting tanks and wooden vats for clay amphorae. For thousands of years, terracotta containers – called by various names in Italian including anfore, orci and giare – were the only option available to early winemakers when they transformed grape juice into wine. Originating in the Caucasus in Georgia – the area credited as the birthplace of wine some 6,000 years ago – these large ceramic jars are still used in the region today.

© Paolo Tenti | Gravner cellar

Due to politics (it was part of the Soviet Union until 1991) and years of civil unrest, Georgia’s amphora wines remained virtually unknown to the rest of the world until the turn of the new century, when Italian winemaker Josko Gravner visited the area and brought some of clay vessels, known as qvevri back to Italy.

© Paolo Tenti | Mateja and Josko Gravner

Today a small but growing number of producers from Italy and around the world have adopted amphorae of varying sizes and origins. For most converts, amphorae are the natural progression of a holistic approach to winemaking that includes eschewing harsh chemicals in the vineyards and a non-interventionist approach in the cellars. Winemakers who have switched to amphorae say the vessels allow them to produce the purest expression of their grapes and vineyard areas.

From beguiling honeyed whites to earthy reds boasting radiant fruit purity, you’ll never forget a wine vinified in amphorae.

Read the article: Italy’s Amphora Wines: Back to the Future

Italy’s Great Pinot Grigios

Follow this guide to find versatile, delicious Pinot Grigios worth savoring.

Wine snobs may look down upon Pinot Grigio, but I’m proud to say that I like it—as long as it’s the good stuff. There are extremely good, even excellent Pinot Grigios out there, although finding them can be a challenge.

First launched in the U.S. during the late 1970s, Pinot Grigio rose to become one of the most imported wines from Italy by the mid-1990s. These savory, refreshing offerings were polar opposites to the oaked-up, buttery and often palate-fatiguing Chardonnays that dominated the American market.

Read the article: Italy’s Great Pinot Grigios

Check out my Pinot Grigio reviews

Wine and Wellness in Tuscany

When I first started covering Italian wine in the early 2000s, there wasn’t a whole lot of comfort—never mind luxury—in wine country. Digs were usually two- or three-star hotels in remote, quiet towns miles away from the vineyards, or a few rustic farm B&Bs in the country.

Castello di Velona

Fast-forward 15 years, and traveling around Italy’s wine denominations has become part of the famed Dolce Vita lifestyle (that quintessential Italian love of the good life), with sumptuous hotels near or in the vineyards that offer great food, memorable wines and world-class amenities.

Read the article: Wine and Wellness in Tuscany

Barolo 2012: Balanced, Approachable and Enjoyable

Having recently returned from Barolo where I blind-tasted over 300 of the just released 2012s, it’s time to weigh in on the vintage, which will be hitting the US market over the next few months. Even though 2012 isn’t a great vintage, a number of producers produced very good, balanced Barolos. Most don’t have age-worthy structures, offering instead early appeal, but the best will offer fine drinking over the next decade or longer.

Castello di Barolo
© Paolo Tenti | Castello di Barolo

Due to the erratic growing season, the 2012 Barolos don’t have the full-bodied structures of recent vintages. However, generally speaking they do boast succulent fruit, refined tannins, fresh acidity and balance. They also demonstrate a welcome return to more restrained alcohol levels: 14 and 14.5% compared to the hefty 15% avb commonly found on 2011 Barolo labels (and to a lesser extent the 2009s). While they are already accessible, top 2012 Barolos should age well to the ten-year mark or a little longer.

Read the article: Barolo 2012 Balanced, Approachable and Enjoyable

Check out my 2012 Barolo reviews

Verduno: The village all Barolo fans should be checking out

If you’re into Italian wine, chances are you’ve already discovered Barolo, Italy’s most celebrated red wine along with its neighbor Barbaresco and its Tuscan rival, Brunello.

But there’s one little-known Barolo village that all lovers of Italian wine should keep an eye out for: Verduno.

Fabio Alessandria

Made entirely with native grape Nebbiolo, Barolo can be made in eleven separate villages. The wine’s namesake township of Barolo, as well as Castiglione Falletto and Serralunga are entirely located in the denomination’s boundaries, while Monforte d’Alba and La Morra both have substantial vineyard holdings in the growing area. The villages of Novello, Verduno, Grinzane Cavour, Roddi, Diano d’Aba and Cherasco have varying amounts of acreage in the growing zone, but of these six minor villages, Verduno is the rising star.

Read the article: Verduno: The village all Barolo fans should be checking out

Collio: King of the Hill for Italian Whites

Looking for some of the best whites in Italy? Look no further than Collio. Located in Italy’s northeastern Friuli Venezia Giulia region where Collio hugs the border with Slovenia, the small, hilly area is a fusion of Italian, Slovenian and Austrian cultures.

Collio is like no other place in Italy, and neither are its full-bodied varietal whites, made with international and native grapes.

Read the article: Collio: King of the Hill for Italian Whites

Check out my Collio reviews

Why You Should be Drinking Timorasso

Piedmont’s full-bodied white has come into its own.
© Paolo Tenti | Walter Massa in his vineyards

One of the many reasons I love specializing in Italian wine is that I never get bored. With more native grapes used to make wine than any other country in the world, and long traditions of growing only select varieties in certain areas, the combination of unique grapes and specific growing conditions often leads to fascinating wines that can’t be recreated anywhere else in Italy or the rest of the world.

Timorasso, one the most exciting wines coming out of Italy right now, is exactly that combination of native variety and specific growing area.

Read the article: Why You Should be Drinking Timorasso

Make it a Double in Montalcino: 2011 Brunello and 2010 Riserva

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage facing the just-released 2011 Brunello vintage – awarded four out five stars by the Consorzio – is that it comes on the heels of the widely acclaimed 2010. And while the 2011s won’t be remembered as an historic vintage, overall they have an immediate, juicy allure that exceeded my expectations from what was a difficult, at times torrid vintage. The best also show some staying power, and more than a few showed unexpected complexity.

The best 2010 Riservas are displaying impeccable balance, restraint and complexity. And while many have cellaring potential, they are still more immediate than Riservas from cooler vintages. The good news is this also means you also won’t have to wait decades before you can enjoy them, as is the case with quintessential Riservas. I also gave a rare 100 points to Biondi Santi’s drop-dead gorgeous Riserva, which shows real aging potential to boot.

Read the article: 2011 Brunello and 2010 Riserva

Check out my 2011 Brunello reviews

Check out my 2010 Brunello reviews

Italian Legend Giacomo Tachis Dies

The wine world is mourning the loss of Giacomo Tachis, one of Italy’s most celebrated enologists, who passed away on Saturday, February 6, at the age of 82.

Born in Piedmont, Tachis—a graduate of Alba’s Enological School—is most associated with Tuscany and Sardinia. Thanks to his pioneering vision, Tachis is the man behind some of the country’s most lauded wines, including Tignanello, Turriga and Solaia. He also had a crucial role in perfecting Sassicaia.

The brainchild of Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, Mario brought in Tachis (who was working for his nephew, Piero Antinori) as a consultant to gradually increase production while keeping quality high, and to ensure that the wine would stand up to being exported globally. Thanks to Tachis’s collaboration, the 1968 Sassicaia debuted in 1971 and is credited as the original Super Tuscan.

Read the article: Italian Legend Giacomo Tachis Dies

Discover Italy’s Old Vine Wines

You’ve no doubt seen the term “old vines” on many wine labels (think Old Vine Zinfandel) but in Italy, the term takes on a whole meaning.

Readers often ask me: what’s your favorite wine? That’s a tough question, because I love so many, from full-bodied Barolos to the elegant, almost ethereal reds from Mt. Etna, from mineral-driven Soaves to complex, savory Verdicchios. But one thing many of my top picks have in common is vine age, with wines made from old vines leading the way.

Read the article: Discover Italy’s Old Vine Wines

My favorite wines of 2015

Italian wines have never been more exciting. Here are some of the best that I tried over the last 12 months.
One of the best aspects of my job is the number of fantastic, diverse wines that I get to try every year, and 2015 was no exception. Boasting more native grapes than any other country in the world as well as international varieties, grown in both lauded and emerging wine growing areas, Italian wines have never been more exciting. Here are some of the best that I tried over the last 12 months.

Read the article: My favorite wines of 2015

Italy’s Most Collectible Wines

Thanks to a string of outstanding vintages over the last two decades, Italy’s most celebrated wine regions are on a roll.

Even though years like 1964, 1971 and 1978 are legendary in Piedmont, and 1955, 1970 and 1975 evoke similar feelings in Tuscany, stellar vintages used to be few and far between. But toward the late 1990s, things began to change. Better vineyard management — better clones, lower yields and gentler/fewer chemical treatments — coupled with drier, warmer growing seasons throughout the peninsula have regularly produced wines that can age gracefully for decades.

Producers point out that until the mid-1990s, they used to have two, occasionally three, outstanding vintages every decade. The other years were mediocre, if not downright dismal. Now, it’s the opposite. Each of the last few decades have boasted seven or eight very good to outstanding vintages.

Here’s a summary of Italy’s most collectible wines, and some of the greatest vintages of the past two decades.

Read the article: Italy’s Most Collectible Wines

11 Reasons You Should Be Drinking Prosecco

Of course, you really only need one: It’s terrific.

Some say no other beverage defines the Italian philosophy of la dolce vita, or the good life, quite like Prosecco.

It’s long been the aperitivo of choice for Italians up and down the peninsula, and it’s now the most sold sparkler in the U.S.—and for good reason: It’s refreshing, flavorful, light-bodied, (usually) dry, and features a wallet-friendly price tag.

But that’s not all. Here are 11 other power points you need to know about this iconic bubbly.

Read the article: 11 Reasons You Should Be Drinking Prosecco

Check out my Prosecco reviews

Walter Massa Timorasso 1990–2012: The most famous unknown wine

© Paolo Tenti | L-R Pigi, Kerin O’Keefe and Walter Massa

Kerin O’Keefe explores the recovery and rise of Timorasso, the indigenous varietal that has achieved eminence in obscurity thanks to the creative determination and passion of one man.

John Lennon once described his wife Yoko Ono as “the world’s most
famous unknown artist: Everybody knows her name, but nobody knows what she does.” The same description can easily be applied to Timorasso, one of the most exciting wines coming out of Italy: Everyone in the wine world has heard of it, but no one knows much about it, apart from the fact that it’s a singular white and comes from Piedmont.

Read the article: The most famous unknown wine

The Superiority of Prosecco Superiore

Discover Conegliano Valdobbiadene, home to Prosecco’s most celebrated vineyards.

I’m not a big fan of slogans, but after a recent trip to Conegliano Veneto, home to Prosecco Superiore, I have to admit that the consorzio’s motto describing their growing zone as the place “where Prosecco is superior,” nails it.

Prosecco, the affable sparkler that has taken the world by storm, comes in two family groups: Prosecco DOC—from nine provinces spanning the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions—and Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG, which can only be made in the Treviso province of Veneto on the hills between the towns of the same names. There’s also a more obscure branch of the Superiore DOCG family, Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG, produced near the town of Asolo. But the most celebrated Proseccos come from the hillside vineyards of Conegliano Valdobbiadene, the historical production area for Prosecco.

Read the article: The Superiority of Prosecco Superiore

Check out my Prosecco reviews

Tasting the native wines of Sardinia

The idyllic island is not just a vacation destination: Consider it your new go-to region for compelling Italian wines.

Mario Pala and Kerin O’Keefe with ungrafted alberello Bovale vines in the background

Situated off the west coast of Italy, postcard-perfect Sardinia, the second-largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily, is celebrated for its clear turquoise waters, white-sand beaches and wild coastline. But it’s also a paradise for wine lovers.

The island is home to a variety of native grapes, like the island’s signature white—the rich yet refreshing Vermentino—and the lighter-bodied Nuragus. Fans of red wines can turn to selections made from Monica, Carignano and Sardinia’s flagship red, Cannonau, which range from savory and light-bodied to complex and structured. Although not household names, the best bottlings from Sardinia (Sardegna in Italian) are among the most fascinating wines coming out of Italy.

Read the article: Tasting the native wines of Sardinia

Italy’s Seaside Paradise, Cinque Terre

Perched high above the sea, the Cinque Terre National Park, Unesco World Heritage Site, is a Mediterranean jewel.

Located north of Tuscany and south of Genoa on the rugged Ligurian coast known as the Italian Riviera, the five fishing villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare offer a relaxed alternative to the more cosmopolitan French Riviera.

With steep, terraced slopes overlooking pebble beaches and the sea, the Cinque Terre is a paradise for hikers, sun worshipers and those looking for miles of unspoiled natural beauty. After a day’s touring—on foot, as the villages largely don’t allow cars—visitors are rewarded with the region’s fresh seafood and cool, crisp white wine.

Read the article: Italy’s Seaside Paradise, Cinque Terre

Drink or Hold: When is the Right Time to Pop the Cork?

When should you drink those fine Italian reds sitting in your cellar?

​So you just invested in a bottle of 2010 Barolo, one of the greatest vintages in the last decade for one the world’s most celebrated—and age worthy— reds.

Now what? Do you take it home and pop it open that same night, or do you carefully lay it down in your cellar (or Eurocave, as the case may be) and wait….years? But how long? And why is this aging fine wine business so complicated anyway?

Read the article: Drink or Hold: When is the Right Time to Pop the Cork?

Chianti Classico Gran Selezione: Quality Quells Critics

Chianti’s newest category lives up to the hype.

In February 2014, the Chianti Classico Consorzio officially debuted the newest category of Chianti Classico, Gran Selezione—touted as the crowning glory in the denomination’s revamped quality pyramid. The launch came amid a mixture of fanfare, doubts and sharp criticism from journalists, buyers and even local producers.

Read the article: Chianti Classico Gran Selezione: Quality Quells Critics

check out my Chianti Classico reviews

The Great Debate: To Decant or Not?

Forget about arguments for or against trendy topics like Natural Wines and the existence of terroir, because nothing causes more debate among lovers of fine wine than decanting. And most people have a love-hate relationship with those transparent glass containers.

© Paolo Tenti | Franco Biondi Santi

When it comes to decanting great Italian wines, I happily adhere to the ancient adage, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, which generally means forgoing the decanter. Case in point: on my recent rip to Piedmont to taste the latest vintages of Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero at the annual press tastings, followed by visits to producers who opened up numerous vintages – including a 1971 Barolo Monfalletto at Cordero Montezemolo and a 1978 Barolo Bussia at Giacomo Fenocchio – most winemakers shied away from decanting. Instead, they opened the bottles at the beginning of the visit to let the wines breathe before pouring. Local restaurants rarely recommended decanting either, not even for a 1997 Gigi Rosso Barolo Arione, which the beverage director opened as soon as we ordered and left it to breathe for an hour while sipped on a young white with our starters. All of the wines showed beautifully.

Read the article: The Great Debate: To Decant or Not?