The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Go-To-Wine Tuesday: Le Mortelle 2012 Botrosecco Maremma Toscana

Rich, full and smooth $27 Super Tuscan from Antinori

RD8979-2What good is a nice bottle of wine without company to share it with? Visiting family this weekend, I was looking to impress with an Italian classic. After attending IWM’s North vs. South tasting last Saturday at IWM NYC, I was still in the mood for some northern hospitality, so I went with the sleek, spicy, and superb Le Mortelle 2012 Botrosecco Maremma Toscana. Being primarily from Ireland, my family typically doesn’t abide by the Mediterranean diet, but I figured a good wine could spark their interest in the region.

Hailing from the Maremma coastline near Grosseto, Le Mortelle, owned by the famed Antinori family, was once part of the larger La Badiola estate, and it gets its name from mortella, which is a type of wild myrrh that covers much of coastal Tuscany. Its characteristic fragrance and connection to old-world Italy made the shrub the perfect mascot for a traditional producer making aromatic wines. Antinori saw potential in the area and dedicated the estate to international grape varieties like Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc, while maintaining eco-friendly methods of production through organically growing its grapes. Keeping to Antinori’s diverse vision of this estate, Le Mortelle’s Botrosecco Maremma Toscana is a smooth blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Cabernet Franc aged for a year in oak barrels before release.

It is almost an understatement to say that my family and I were impressed by the 2012 Le Mortelle. It’s strikingly aromatic, rich, full, and smooth, and all seated around our dinner table exclaimed over this Antinori bottle. My family began the evening thinking that “Super Tuscan” was the title of the next Avengers film, but after trying the Le Mortelle, they were completely sold. Juicy, herby, dry, and above all spicy, this $27 go-to wine does what wine does best–it brings people together.

Inside Umbria, Toscana’s Overlooked Neighbor

There’s more to Umbria than Orvieto–so, so much more

Sagrantino grapes ripening at Paolo Bea

Sagrantino grapes ripening at Paolo Bea

Although Umbria and Toscana abut, Umbria is very much its own region—one that has been coming into its own and attracting the notice of both critic and consumer. Umbria has traditionally privileged products other than wine. Its terroir, however, has always served it well: the collaboration between sea and mountain breezes offer great ripening, while the volcanic soils put the vines under “motivational” stress. These conditions have been behind some of the zone’s most successful wines.

In a general sense, Umbria’s most prolific DOC—Orvieto— captures in microcosm the zone’s efforts to establish a distinct identity. While many examples of this wine tend to be fairly light and acidic, it’s actually open to a diverse stylistic range. Thus, some producers blend with a view to achieving a considerable degree of concentration, limiting the contribution of the neutral Trebbiano Toscana, maximizing the presence of aromatic Grechetto, and sometimes using Chardonnay. Some work with proportions can take these wines outside the DOC, providing a rather striking testimony to what Umbria’s grapes can do—particularly through monovarietal Grechettos, often in production in the Colli Martani and Colli del Trasimeno zones.

The issue of what constitutes the “Umbrian style” is even more complicated when we consider the spectrum of reds, as three main categories comprise Umbria’s red portfolio. For quite some time, however, Lungarotti constituted the sole reference point for red; indeed, it was founder Giorgio Lungarotti who gave Umbria a market presence in traditional style wines. There are several producers, however, who champion of the international style. Occupying the middle ground is the Montefalco DOC, the home of Umbria’s most famous and distinctive red, Sagrantino. Not only is this grape exclusive to the region of Umbria, but also it limits its presence there to a mere 400 acres. A rich and demonstrative wine of ancient origin, Sagrantino was accorded its own DOCG designation in 1992, and has achieved notable acclaim through the work of producers such as Paolo Bea and Arnaldo Caprai. Sagrantino also plays a minor role (minimum of 10%) in wines of the Montefalco DOC (led by Sangiovese at 60%).

Despite Orvieto’s struggles to define itself in the white still genre, it has always distinguished itself in the sweet wine category.  In fact, Orvieto’s sweet side has very little to do with its dry sensibility. Derived primarily from grapes that have realized a considerable degree of concentration and been affected by noble rot, the sweet wines of Orvieto are intense and decadent. Antinori’s Muffato della Sala is regarded as the most accomplished in its class. The reds, however, provide some pretty intense competition, as Montefalco’s sweet wines are vinified from dried grapes (via the appassimento process), rendering them considerably dense and voluptuous.

Umbria has considerable interest in the gourmet market, especially in its black and white truffles and its extra-virgin olive oils. Outside this realm, the region is a prolific producer of legumes and grains. Farro, which has been grown in Umbria since the time of the Etruscans is prominent, as it produces a darker, tastier flour than the more common white version used elsewhere. The celebrated farro di Monteleone di Spoleto, grown in the heart of the central Apennine mountains, appears both as a grain accompanying hearty dishes accompanied by legumes—such as lenticchie di Norcia (lentils)—and as flour for the production of dried and/or egg pasta and breads such as lumachelle—baked bread rolls enriched with pieces of cheese and cured meat. Umbria also excels in meat, offering its own regional prosciutto di Norcia and succulent porchetta(pork roast), much like that produced by the neighboring Lazio. Mazzafegati(piquant liver sausages with orange rinds, pine nuts, and raisins) is one of the region’s most unique and prized dishes.

From the wild, natural wines of Paolo Bea to Antinori’s world-class Umbrian white wines made at Castello della Sala to Sassicaia spin-off Tenuta di Solideo, owned by Marchesa Nerina Corsini Incisa della Rocchetta’s and managed by her sons Giovanni and Piero, to the great Sagrantino wines of Arnaldo Caprai,Umbria has much to offer. It’s one region with no need to hide in the shadows anymore.

Inside IWM, February 29 to March 3, 2016: You Gotta Have Heart

A look back at the week that was

Il Palazzone's olive trees in bloom

Il Palazzone’s olive trees in bloom

We kicked off the week with a look at the other great product from Italy–olive oil. Remembering her time in Italy, Janice Cable talked about why olive oil is good for your heart, both  literally and metaphorically. Sean Collins enjoyed an under $30 Aldo Conterno wine, and you bet your corkscrew it was delicious. And John Camacho Vidal went to Umbria, where he toured the iconic Paolo Bea estate–and got to meet Paolo himself!

Crystal Edgar looked forward to spring with two white Burgundies from Michel Niellon; these Chassagne-Montrachet bottlings will make you feel like flowers in bloom! Garrett Kowalsky also selected white wines to hurry spring’s arrival, but he chose bottles from Antinori’s San Giovanni della Sala and Burgundy’s Bachey-Legros. And Camacho Vidal dove into Chianti Classico, explaining the region’s DOCG laws and picking two favorites, La Maialina and Castello dei Rampolla.

Here’s to faith in warm weather and enjoying the wine you love, no matter the season!


Expert Picks: San Giovanni della Sala and Bachey-Legros

Two expert selections from Garrett Kowalsky

Garrett_8.6.14_72dpiSpring is near! Yes, the calendar just flipped to March, but despite the chilly temperatures we’re really not far from warmer temperatures and the vitality that spring brings. At least, that’s how I keep myself going every time I get blasted in the face by wind. With that in mind, I wanted to suggest two vivacious bottles that are sure to liven the spirit and quench your thirst for the months ahead.

San Giovanni della Sala 2014 Orvieto Classico Superiore $24.99

Chances are you’ve never had a blend quite like this below. This spry bottle is composed of 50% Grechetto, 25% Procanico, 25% Pinot Blanc and Viognier. This ’14 Orvieto is another offering from Antinori’s impressive portfolio, and I have clients who seek me out for this wine every single year—even priced at $25 people still clamor for it! Brilliant in color and chock full of citrus fruit that drenches the palate, this is a winner to have on hand at all times. Drink until 2018.

Bachey-Legros 2013 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeot $59.99

Chistiane Bachey has guided this estate that her great-grandparents founded since 1993, but her two sons Lenaic and Samuel recently have assumed control. Bachey-Legros might be the best Chassagne estate you’ve never heard of, and this bottling in particular is a star here at IWM and for five years running. In addition to the love and care lavished on the vines, what makes the difference is their age of at least 50 years old. This is a wine of concentration, complexity and purity. Drink 2017 to 2024.

Inside IWM, February 22-26, 2016: Whaddaya Know?

A look back at the week that was

IMG_1647What do you know? Or, more accurately, what do you think you know? This week the blog challenged expectations. First, IWM’s writer tells about landing in Italy only to find that what she’d expected was even, somehow, better. Janice Cable on visiting Italy and drinking Italian wines with their makers. It’s no surprise to our blog’s readers that Stephane Menard is a wiz in the kitchen–his recipes are legend–but Stephane was pleasantly surprised by a delicious $23 Vermentino, which he paired with a simple Turbot recipe. You can read a wine’s label, but do you understand it? John Camacho Vidal shows you how to get the most from what’s on your bottle. And what do you really know about wines from the Veneto? From Amarone to Prosecco, we offer a quick tour.

Our experts relied on what they know to choose wines they’re sure you’ll love. Garrett Kowalsky spotlighted a delicious Super-Tuscan pair from an under-the-radar Antinori estate, Le Mortelle. Looking forward to the exceptional 2014 Burgundies, Crystal Edgar reflected on two wines she’s loved this year, both from Arnoux-Lachaux. And Michael Adler knows that everyone doesn’t have the patience to let their 2010 Brunellos age, so he picked two Sangiovese Grosso bottles you can enjoy right now.

Here’s to what you know, what you don’t, and enjoying delicious wine with people.

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