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.
This week is Passover, US Tax Day, and Easter, so there are many reasons to drink wine. We began the week with a tour through Barbaresco, Piemonte’s famous wine that isn’t Barolo, explaining what it is and why it belongs in your cellar. We finished the week with Camacho Vidal’s picks for his Easter table, and it’s an impressive line-up of wines. In between, David Bertot enjoyed an artisanal under $25 Nebbiolo Rosso from the Donnas collective in Valle d’Aosta, and Alex Passarello enjoyed Valdicava 2011 Rosso di Montalcino, which isn’t really that hard to do.
Our experts chose an eclectic array of wines, from Burgundies to Champagne to ancient Sicilian blends. David Gwo gave an epistemological context to his pick of two exceptional Burgundies from Domaine Gallois and Francois Gaunoux. Garrett Kowalsky gave a historical background to his picks of two wines from Palari, a great Sicilian producer working with indigenous grapes. And Robin Kelley O’Connor just wants us to celebrate spring in sparkling style; he selected an Italian bubbly from Fantinel and a really nice Champagne from Andre Clouet.
Wishing you and yours a joyous weekend, however it is you spend it!
This week has been in the IWM showroom, and I only just remembered that I invited family over for Easter dinner and have not begun to plan yet. Not to panic: I walked to the shelves and made my wine choices, letting the wine dictate the menu.
I’m keeping it simple and traditional. I have a recipe for garlic and herbs roasted leg of lamb that I’ve wanted to try, so when I saw the Mastroberardino Taurasi Radici Riserva 2006 on the shelf, I immediately thought this dish and that wine would go well together. Then I saw the Donnas Vallee d’Aosta Rosso 2009, so I have a back-up wine; I know both this and the Matroberardino are delicious and each will do well with the lamb.
Next, the Paolo Bea Montefalco Riserva Pipparello 2006 caught my eye. I figure I can serve this wine with cheeses and other appetizers as well as anything the family will bring over. The nice bright fruit and earthiness along with its soft tannins makes the wine very versatile. For the white, I grabbed the COS Rami 2011—it’s unusual, food-flexible and very tasty. And you can’t have a dinner without starting with some bubbles, so ill be pouring the Fantinel Prosecco Brut Extra Dry NV as well as the Raventos i Blanc Conca del Riu Anoia Brut Rose de Nit 2011. If all goes according to plan my dinner on Easter will be something like this.
Fantinel Prosecco Brut Extra Dry NV
Raventos i Blanc Conca del Riu Anoia Brut Rose de Nit 2011
Paolo Bea Montefalco Riserva Pipparello 2006
Roasted baby potatoes and mixed baby peppers
Mixed roasted vegetables with shaved parmesan
COS Rami 2011
Asparagus wrapped in pancetta
Cod and herb empanadas
Cod au gratin with onions and potatoes
Mastroberardino Taurasi Radici Riserva 2006
Donnas Vallee d’Aosta Rosso 2009
Garlic and herbs roasted leg of lamb
Cheese and fresh fruit blintzes
I hope you have a wonderful weekend, no matter the holiday you celebrate—or if all you celebrate is spring!
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