As the weather warms up, I am starting to move out of reds and move into interesting and thought-provoking whites. Some of my favorite Italian whites come from Movia, which actually straddles the border of Friuli and Slovenia, and these two wines help to illustrate why I enjoy them so much.
Movia Veliko Bianco 2007 $39.60
Now with seven years of age on it, this Ribolla, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, and Pinot Grigio blend is firing on all cylinders. Explosive and rich aromatics give way to a full-bodied, lush, dense palate with tropical and citrus fruit flavors. A clean and mineral finish puts everything in perspective.
Movia Lunar Chardonnay 2008 $42.50
This is a surprising wine, so stay with me. At first sight, you might want to dump this one down the drain, but the first sip will make you want to bring it to bed with you. This is unfined and unfiltered, skin-macerated Chardonnay that has a very cloudy and ominous look about it. But don’t judge the book by its cover; this wine’s flavors are bright and expressive, and the palate is smooth and elegant, showcasing a side of Chardonnay that I have never seen before. If you’re looking for something out of the box, look no further than this biodynamically produced wine.
The popularity of Sicilian wines has been on the rise in recent years and Azienda COS is one of the benchmark estates that is leading this movement, consistently producing quality wines. Before this relatively recent surge in quality wine production, Sicily was known for producing wines en masse, due in part, to regions like Marsala that pumped out its fortified wines for world consumption. Today, Sicily is producing the best wines they’ve ever offered to Italy and to the world. Sicilian producers are proud of their indigenous varietals–many faced extinction not too long ago–and estates like COS are doing their parts to present these wines to the international market. This effort keeps these unique varietals from being lost to the world and presents diversity to wine consumers who are all too familiar with mainstream varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay.
The wine being featured today is the COS 2012 Frappato. If you enjoy California Pinot Noir or you’re looking for a deliciously juicy and fruit-driven red wine this is the way to go. Made from 100% Frappato, one of the indigenous varietals found in their Cerasuolo di Vittoria bottling (along with Nero d’Avola), this is a medium-bodied wine possessing a gorgeous dark ruby hue. The nose is reminiscent of cherries, raspberries, and floral components with the berry flavors following through on the palate. The tannins are fine and elegant, making this a perfectly approachable springtime red, especially priced at under $30.
COS is acronym representing the winemakers’ last names–Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti, Cirino Strano; this trio became the youngest winemakers in Italy back in 1980. The house makes a variety of different bottlings–their flagship wine is the Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG–using the principles of biodynamic viticulture to craft wines that truly represent place and terroir. The estate even begun utilizing an ancient Greek method of fermenting in clay amphora resulting in the creation of their Pithos bottling. It’s worthkeeping an eye on COS in specific and Sicilian wines in general as we roll out the new vintages from the region. These are value conscious, high quality bottlings that are perfect complements to summertime drinking.
1996 is arguably one of the top five vintages for Barolo; however, it was very overlooked at the time because of the insane structure and austerity present in the wines. This restrained vintage was preceded the rich and opulent 1997s, which got all the attention of the latter part of the ‘90s. Almost twenty years later, the wins have come into their own, and I want to suggest a pair of 1996s that Barolo lovers should secure for their cellars.
Here we have Sandrone’s flagship single-vineyard Barolo, which is stunning on many levels. Although Sandrone extracts more fruit from his Barolo than most, he does not sacrifice detail and harmony. The 1996 is a phenomenal amalgam of structure and fruit and this wine will go on drinking for another 5-10 years.
Bartolo Mascarello Barolo 1996 $349.00
B. Mascarello is one of the original Barolo greats and he is showing his stuff off in a vintage that perfectly characterizes what he brings to the table. Earth, flowers, spice, tobacco and sweet cherry fruit are all bound together by incredible structure and freshness. Crafted from four different vineyard sites, this traditional cuvee represents Barolo in its fullest expression and at its finest qualities.
Summer is coming fast, and there are few red wines we love quite as much for warm-weather drinking as those from the windswept island of Sicilia. This week and last, IWM began debuting a series of wines from our favorite Sicilian producers: COS, Graci, Palari, and more. Sicilia probably has its biggest recognition for its dessert wine category, most notably Marsala. Recently, however, Sicilia has shown itself to be a star in small-production wines of every category. And, frankly, we love these wines for summertime.
In the twentieth century, Sicilia was bound by its cooperatives. While there are many excellent cooperatives, the ones that defined Sicilia privileged quantity over quality. In recent decades, however, the region began to foster small, independent producers, people who were drawn by the island’s natural rugged beauty and rich multicultural background (comprised of Arabian, Norman, and Aragonese influences). The investments generated by the tourism industry inspired the regional pride of wine growers and encouraged independent wine production.
Sicilia’s private labels have given rise to its current fashionable status–well, the labels combined with Siclia’s natural gifts. While the hottest and driest of Italy’s regions, Sicilia’s Mediterranean climate is tempered by the presence of the Apennine Mountains. Its unique climate, in fact, enables it to deliver remarkable consistency across vintages, particularly because it’s dry in spring, one of the contributing factors to vintage variance.
Catarratto, a grape exclusive to Sicilia dominates the region’s whites. A prime constituent in Marsala, when cultivated as opposed to being merely “grown,” it can deliver a rather full-bodied wine accented by spice. It mainly features in blends produced under the Alcamo DOC, which accords the indigenous Inzolia and Grecanico greater presence. While the aromatic and fruity Inzolia and Grecanico, a variety high in acidity, do appear as solo varietals, many producers feel that their individual attributes show best in a blend. Chardonnay, Sicilia’s reigning international celebrity, delivers its voluptuous character in grandiose style in Sicilia’s intense heat. Most bottlings are unabashed New World depictions, offering the concentration that is principally associated with the productions of California and Australia.
The indigenous Nero d’Avola grape leads in the reds category. Like the white Cataratto, it is essentially an exclusive to Sicilia. Although Nerello Mascalese and Frappato have grown in popularity, the seemingly charmed Nero d’Avola has acquired an international following. All of these grapes appear both in monovarietal and blended bottlings, sometimes with Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah. (This international crew grows well in Sicilia.) Probably most famously, Nero d’Avola pairs up with fellow indigenous varietal Frappato to create the potent red Cerasuolo di Vittoria, the region’s only DOCG.
Sicilia may not be only known for its Marsala, but it certainly hasn’t left the wine behind. Marsala has enjoyed a comeback among connoisseurs, who particularly enjoy those classed as Vergine/Solera—the longest aged of the Marsalas—with their complex flavors earning them positioning among the finest fortified wines in Europe. While these are always dry, DOC regulations permit sweet styles as well as various aging parameters. Moscato di Pantelleria, one of Italy’s most seductive sweet wines, comes from the island of Pantelleria and derives from the Moscato grape, which is known as Zibibbo in Sicilia.
Given the extensive nature of the co-op scene until the 1980s, Sicilia’s fine wine was defined almost solely by two estates Corvo-Duca di Salaparuta and Conte Tasca d’Almerita (Regaleali). They did especially well by Nero d’Avola, and their signature bottlings are now classics. Many producers, such as Spadafora, value its collaboration with the international family, setting it up with several partners in their portfolios (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah). Sicilia’s most lauded wine, however, is a single-varietal expression of an international white varietal—the heady, decadent, and otherworldly Planeta Chardonnay. The late, great Marco De Bartoli’s artisanal renderings of Marsala are without equal, particularly his Vecchio Samperi bottling. His Moscato di Pantelleria, Bukkuram, is also revered.
Sicilia has a long history of making wine—historical records indicate Sicilian wine dating back to the twelfth century, BCE. However, this history has been torn, tangled and rent asunder by conquering, phylloxera, and financial woe. These days, Sicilia is on the rise, in no small part because of small, often family-owned-and-operated estates, who understand the value of this volcanic soil land and its unique microclimates. Estates like COS, a trio of friends who craft traditional blends of indigenous grapes; Palari, who worked to reimagine the ancient wine Faro, one of Italy’s smallest but most important DOC regions; and Montecarrubo, the child of master winemaker Peter Vinding-Diers, have done much to make Sicilian wine great again.
A land this storied, this unusual and this perfect for winemaking could hardly be kept down for long. Still, it’s high time to celebrate Sicilia and all that this island offers.
One of my favorite buys in wine are the entry-level wines of iconic producers and off-vintages of those iconic producers. I remember back when I first started at IWM, we carried Domenico Clerico’s 2002 Barolo, a wine that many wrinkled their noses at, but it was, in fact, one of the best values we had at the time; it was, the terrible vintage aside, still an incredible bottle of wine. Today I chose two wines that are also incredible. The first is an Aldo Conterno Langhe Rosso, which you expect to be great but you won’t expect it to cost so little. The second is a Brunello you’d not think to buy because it’s ‘02, but I promise you will rethink everything you thought you knew about that vintage when you taste this Cupano! Enjoy.
Piemonte – Freisa, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon
A strange blend for the likes of Aldo, but it’s nothing short of delicious. 2009 was a generous and plump vintage, which gives the wine its juicy quality with rich berries notes. Freisa is an ancient and obscure varietal that has always been used as a blending grape, but enologists say that this little esoteric grape is the parent grape to the great Nebbiolo, and as such it can be a powerhouse on its own. With the smooth and calming Merlot and Cab Sauv additions, this Langhe Rosso (which has replaced the estate’s famed Quartetto) is an incredible bottle of everyday red from Aldo’s cellar that you definitely need to drink.
Toscana – Sangiovese Grosso
Yes, you read correctly, this is a 2002, the same vintage when many Italian winemakers fell into a depression because their vineyards were ruined by rain, hail and cold weather. In every storm is a little rainbow, and alongside some of the greats, Cupano prevailed against all odds. In my many offers of Cupano, I’ve written about the vineyard and I always, always highlight that the estate has great drainage. What does that mean? It means that in what is considered the worst vintage in 50 years you can get delicious wine because the water goes straight through the soil, rather than sitting and pooling and wreaking havoc with the vines and the grapes. The meticulous care of the owners helps, but nature makes it that simple. Enjoying this great bottle from an “off” vintage is an enlightening experience that everyone should have.
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