Italian Wines from Top to Toe & A to Z

Who knew Italy boasted such a diversity of grape varieties, terroir, and styles?

The Istituto Grandi Marchi is a consortium of seventeen of Italy’s whose family owned domains span hundreds of years and a vast array and scope of that country’s wines.

Earlier this week BCLDB product consultants and wine journalists were invited to a sampling of the group’s eclectic range from Italy’s top to toe (including Sicily).

Some of the producers may sound familiar (Antinori, Masi, Pio Cesare, Lungarotti, Folonari, to name five of the seventeen Grand Marchi Brands).  Chances are the grape varieties that go into bottles do not. Do Aglianico, Corvina, Glera, Nero de Troia, Ribolla Gialla and Zibibbo strike a resonant chord?

I didn’t think so.

Try tripping “Carpene Malvolte, Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G.” off the tongue. Made from the Giera (Prosecco) grape, this smart/casual fermented in stainless steel tanks (the charmat method) wine suits any occasion with pretty apple and peach notes, lively bubbles and modest price.

Franciacorta sparkling wine, Lombardy’s answer to French Champagne, is made in the Champagne method from Chardonnay, added to which is a generous dollop of Pinot Bianco  and Pinot Noir. Ca’ Del Bosco Cuvee Annamaria Clementi DOCG 2003 combines butter, apple and melon flavours with pin-prick bubbles and persistent finish. Tough to toss after one (ok, maybe two) sips, but with thirteen wines to go…

Alois Lageder farms sustainably and biodynamically in the Alto Adige. Clean and lovely Lageder Pinot Bianco Doc 2009 brightens the palate with lots of fresh peach and apple backed by zippy acidity.

Silvio Jermann’s Tunina Venezia Giuia from Friuli IGP 2008, a field blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc Ribolla Gialla and Malvasia and Picolit is pure velvet showing honey and fig notes, and worth every one of its Parker 92 points.

After bidding ciao to northern whites we head straight down the boot to the stone.

Regaleali Tasca d’Almerita introduces a near equal amount of Cabernet Sauvignon to local Nero d’Avola in Cygnus 2007. The result is a rich complex wine that hints at mint, black olives and ripe fruit. An intriguing and delicious wine from Sicily.

Thirty percent Montepulciano (not to be confused with Tuscany’s Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ) is blended with seventy percent Nero di Troia in Rivera Il Falcone  2005 from the region of Apulia. Cherry, plum, dark raisins and figs parade across the palate—so rich, yet very approachable.

Montepulciano performs solo in elegant Umani Ronchi Cumaro Conero Riserva DOCG 2007 from the southern Marches. The wine is focused with cherry, oak and vanilla flavours and just a hint of fennel.

Campania’s Aglianico grape is increasingly garnering notice. Few are more pleasurable than Mastroberardino Radici Taurasi  DOCG. The 2006 interwines plums, walnuts and exotic spices that linger on the palate and in the glass.

Tuscany’s Bolgheri region shakes it up by producing classic French Bordeaux varieties, (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.) Folonari Baia Al Vento Bolgheri Superiore DOC 2008 is a powerful weave of ripe cherry and Mediterranean spice (think oregano and marjoram) buoyed by racy acidity.

Umbria struts its stuff with Lungarotti Rubesco Vigna Monticchio Riserva DOCG 2005. The Sangiovese-based wine blended with thirty percent Canaiolo shows plenty of spice. Firm red fruits underpin savoury capsicum, cinnamon and dried cocoa in this grippy wine.

The large firm of Villa Antinori 1385 has never sacrificed quality for quantity. Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2005 is no exception. Balancing refined tannins, cherry fruit, mineral notes and acidity, it’s a Tuscan jewel, despite the production of more than 12,000 cases.

The same can be said of the quality/quantity ratio of  Agricola Masi and their wide range array of Veneto wines. The Riserva Costasera Amarone Classico 2006 (70% Corvina, 15% Rondinella, 5% Molinara and the introduction of 10% Oseleta) has recaptured old style Amarone—intensely rich and bone dry with that wonderful dried raisin and herbal notes and a biscuit character I associate with Dow Port.

Before we plunge again to Sicily for a “sticky” we arrive in Northern Itlay’s Piedmont region. Michele Chiarlo La court Nizza Barbera D’Asti Superiore DOC 2007 treats the palate to plum, bitter chocolate and wild cherry, framed by oak and the racy acidity that typifies Barbera.

Meanwhile Pio Cesare Barolo DOCG 2007 echoes the elegant simplicity of its name. Fashioned from 100% specific vineyard Nebbiolo, the wine harmonizes gentle cherry and blackberry fruit with hints of café au lait and supple tannins.

Donnfuggata Ben Rye is the perfect finale. Fresh and dried Zibibbo grapes (better known as Muscat of Alexandria) come together in an intensely apricot flavoured elixir intermingled with honey and just a hint of wild herbs. Though sweet, it is not in the least cloying.

The gracious members of the Istituto Grandi Marchi had outdone themselves in this A to Z (Aglianco to Zibibbo) showcase of their finer wines. They poured further portfolio offerings at the afternoon trade tasting. More accessible and with a lower ticket price, they nevertheless possessed the same integrity as the top-drawer offerings. Look for their brands at the BCLDB (particularly Signature stores) and at better independent wine shops.

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