The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Expert Picks: Collemattoni and Canaliccio di Sopra

Two expert selections from Michael Adler

Michael Adler 5.29.15The past year has been a whirlwind of phenomenal 2010 Brunello di Montalcino, but we Brunello lovers clamor for wines that we can enjoy while our 2010s mature in the cellar. IWM has what you need: wines to drink in the near to mid-term that will keep you from opening your ’10 Brunellos too early. I’d like to direct your attention towards a pair of outstanding wines that are in stock now and ready to drink, the 2013 Collemattoni Rosso di Montalcino and the 2011 Brunello di Montalcino from Canalicchio di Sopra. These terrific wines embody the very best of what Montalcino has to offer, while requiring none of the patience demanded by the long-aging 2010s. These wines will reward savvy palates early and often; I recommend mixing up a case before they both fly out of our cellar!

Collemattoni 2013 Rosso di Montalcino $24.99

This ‘13 Rosso offers beguiling aromas of ripe red fruits, potpourri, black pepper and brambly undertones, all held together by fine, silky tannins. Medium-bodied on the palate, it is perfect complement for your winter pasta Bolognese, risotto or grilled meats. Located on a hill in the southern zone of Montalcino, the Collemattoni estate is run by Marcello Bucci, whose family has cultivating the land in Montalcino since the late 1700s. Protocol in the vineyards remains quite traditional, though the Bucci family has opted to employ some more modern technology in their vinification such as temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks for fermentation.

Canalicchio di Sopra 2011 Brunello di Montalcino $89.00

A couple weeks ago we had the pleasure of tasting this outstanding 2011 Brunello with its maker, and the entire IWM sales team was very impressed. After the amazing 2010 vintage, we didn’t know what to expect from the 2011s. This phenomenal 2011 Brunello from Canalicchio di Sopra put our concerns to rest immediately. From our first whiff, we knew this ’11 Canalicchio Brunello is clearly a world-class wine that deserves every bit as much attention as its predecessor. Gorgeous and expressive right out of the gate, this ’11 Brunello explodes with concentrated aromas of red and black fruits, dried herbs, and flowers, and it coats the palate with rich, sappy extract as it builds to a lingering finish that’s balanced by mouth-watering acidity. It’s an impressive effort that will thrill Brunello-lovers while we wait for our 2010s to come around. Don’t miss out here!


Italian Red Wine Grapes: Refosco to Uva Rara

The sixth post in our series looking at the grapes that comprise Italy’s best loved red wines!

Last summer, we took a look at Italian white grape varietals (here’s the last installment of the white grape series with links to each part), so it feels right to take a wander through red grapes this winter. This winter, we’re detailing the red wine grapes of Italy. From the well-known to the obscure, this alphabetical list offers insight into the grapes that make your favorite Italian red wines. Here is the first installment, Abbuoto to Brachetto, the second, Cabernet Franc to Croatina, the third, Dolcetto to Grignolino, the fourth, Lagrein to Moscato Rosa, and the fifth, Nebbiolo to Primitivo, in case you missed them!

A bunch of pretty Refosco (these in Slavonia)

A bunch of pretty Refosco (these in Slavonia)

Refosco (reh-FOHS-koh)

The ancient Refosco may be indigenous to Friuli or it may be descended from a Slovenian grape. In either case, it has been cultivated in Italy long enough to have appeared in the writings of Pliny the Elder and to have spawned several clones and at least one major newer varietal, Marzemino. Its full name is Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, or “Refosco with the red stem,” and in addition to its shortened name, it also goes by Terrano in the Veneto and Caniga in Emilia-Romagna (Refosco is also cultivated in Sardegna and Puglia). Highly acidic, though relatively low in tannin, this varietal takes its sweet time ripening; however, it is fortuitously impervious to rot. Wines made from Refosco are a rich garnet in color and possess both a nose and a palate of dark fruits, which is underlain by nuts and herbs.

Rondinella (ron-dee-NEHL-lah)

Like a horribly shy pre-teen, Rondinella never makes an appearance on its own. Grown in the Veneto as a blending grape, this hardy, high-yielding varietal is a fragrant, sweet grape that when vinified makes a wine low in acid and sugar. Rondinella is often blended to make the Veneto’s Valpolicella and Bardolino (the primary grape for both wines is the Corvina), and when dried on straw mats, its Amarone.


Densely growing Sagrantino

Densely growing Sagrantino

Sagrantino (sah-grahn-TEE-noh)

Umbria’s Sagrantino has the distinction of being the world’s most tannic grape. Most likely brought to Umbria during the twelfth century, Sagrantino was until fairly recently solely vinified Sagrantino in the passito method to make a desert wine. In the past few decades, however, winemakers have realized that they can also use the grape to make a superlatively balanced, ruby-colored, long-aging wine, Sagrantino di Montefalco, which became a DOCG wine in 1992. Sagrantino’s intense tannins are balanced with a full-bodied, silky mouth and a bouquet of blackberries, tar and earth.

Sangiovese before sorting

Sangiovese before sorting

Sangiovese (san-joe-VAE-sae)

Sangiovese is Italy’s most cultivated grape, and it’s best known for Chianti Classico, as well as mono-varietal Super Tuscans like Montevertine Le Pergole Torte and Fontodi Flaccianello. Like a spy, this grape goes by many names: Montalcino, Brunello or Sangiovese Grosso, Montepulciano, Prugnolo Gentile, Chianti Classico, Sangioveto, Scansano, and Morelliono, to name a few. Due to its many clones, Sangiovese is a phenomenally amenable grape, and it grows everywhere in Italy but Sicilia, though its finest expression is in Toscana. Sangiovese requires a very long season to ripen with warm, sunny days that extend into mid-to-late October, so hills with southern exposure do it well; it also prefers soil with generous limestone.

The name Sangiovese has traditionally been interpreted as “blood of Jove” (sangue de Giove), but this appears to be untrue, and other interpretations have been raised. Similarly, while people have long considered the varietal to be indigenous to Italy, recent ampelographers have suggested that it is itself a clone of an older Tuscan grape Ciliegiolo and a little-known southern Italian grape called Calabrese Montenuovo that probably came from Campania. Whatever it’s called and whatever its origins, Sangiovese is the basis for many stellar wines from Brunello di Montalcino to many of the so-called Super Tuscans. Ruby red in color, Sangiovese makes vibrant, often powerful wines that can have notes of ranging from ripe cherries and figs, to earth and truffles, to vanilla and cinnamon.

Growing Sangiovese Grosso vines

Growing Sangiovese Grosso vines

Sangiovese Grosso (san-joe-VAE-sae GROH-soh)

In the mid-1800’s, Clemente Santi realized that one strain of grape growing on his estate seemed to withstand both rot and phylloxera. He focused his attention on the grape he called Brunello, or the “little brown one”; it would later become known as clone BBS11 or Sangiovese Grosso. His son, Feruccio Biondi-Santi, was the first person to bottle and release a single-varietal wine fermented from this grape. It was called Brunello, and a handful of bottles remain from his 1881 inaugural bottling. When compared to its parent vine, Sangiovese Grosso has thicker skins, lower yields, and smaller berries, and because of these characteristics makes a darker, more ageable wine. Grown only in the hills surrounding Montalcino in Toscana, Sangiovese Grosso is also the grape featured in the earlier drinking Rosso di Montalcino.


Do not image search "Schiava" without "grape" at a work comuter

Do not image search “Schiava” without “grape” at a work comuter

Schiava (skee-AH-vah, SKYAH-vah)

Also called Trollinger, Schiava is one varietal that illustrates how little regard grapes have for national borders. Although the grape is cultivated in Trentino and in one province of the Veneto, Schiava is grown primarily in Trentino-Alto Adige, where it is part of eight DOC(G) appellations. Schiava also grows in neighboring Germany, where it’s known as Vernatsch. Given the cultural permeability of this region, names for this grape, and indeed its wines, appear on labels in either Italian or German, and often both. There are several clones of Schiava, the most notable being Schiava Grosso, which is easier to grow but less delicious, and Schiava Grigio, which is finickier but tastier. Both varietals make wines that are deceptively light. Though this varietal’s wine are light ruby in color, fresh on the nose with a bouquet of strawberry, they also are surprisingly round and contain a savory, bacony quality reminiscent of the wines made from the most-grown grape in the region, Lagrein.

Schioppettino (skyawp-peht-TEE-noh) phylloxera

Although this Friuli indigenous varietal nearly died out in the outbreak in the nineteenth century, Schioppettino is staging a comeback. Also known as Ribolla Nera, Schioppettino’s name translates to “crackling” or “little shot,” and it comes from antiquated appellations that were effervescent. Dating from the thirteenth century, this varietal has been cultivated primarily in the Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC zone, and it gained DOC status in 1992 in four dry red wines. Often prohibitively tannic, Schioppettino can produce an intense ruby hued, full-bodied wine that has a complex bouquet of roses and a palate of wild blackberries laced with pepper.

Tazzelenghe (tah-tseh-LEHN-geh)

This varietal gets its name from its trademark high acidity and marked tannins. Translated, Tazzelenghe means “tongue shredder,” and while this grape produces wines that in their infancy show formidable tannins, these wines also age quite well. Indigenous to Friuli, Tazzelenghe has most often been vinified as a blending grape with other varietals, usually Barbera, Merlot and Cabernet. However, in recent years, winemakers have been experimenting with this grape to make a single-variety wine. Full-bodied, suitable for long aging, and possessing bouncy acidic and sturdy tannins, wine from Tazzelenghe shows a combination of wild berries and bitter cherries on the palate.

Teroldego's breathtaking scenery, image from the New York Times

Teroldego’s breathtaking scenery, image from the New York Times

Teroldego (the-ROHL-deh-go)

Teroldego gets its name either from the German for “gold of the Tirol,” the eighteenth-century German-Austrian nickname for wines from Trentino-Alto Adige, or from its traditional cultivation method of being hung on “tirelle,” or wire harnesses. This black grape is grown almost exclusively in the Rotaliano plain in Trentino-Alto Adige, though in recent years Toscana has evinced a good showing of Teroldego. With sprightly acidity and relatively low tannins, wines made from Teroldego have a palate heavy in black fruits. In good production years, these wines have exceptional ageability.

Uva di Troia (OO-vah dee TROH-yah)

In addition to Primitivo and Negroamaro, Uva di Troia completes the triumvirate that comprises Puglia’s three main reds. There are two main clones of Uva di Troia grown in Puglia; the more interesting is called Carnosina and possesses small grapes that grow in small bunches. Though currently little-known, the deeply colored and profoundly aromatic Uva di Troia has the potential for wider renown, and Puglian winemakers have been experimenting with vinification techniques to coax out this grape’s potential for a full-bodied, violet and licorice laden wine.

A vineyard filled with Uva Rara

A vineyard filled with Uva Rara

Uva Rara (OO-vah RAH-rah)

Cultivated almost exclusively in the Oltrepò Pavese region of Lombardia in northern Italy, Uva Rara is a synonym for the Bonarda Novarese. Used only as a blending grape, this varietal adds softness and aromatics to wines made from Spanna, the area’s name for Nebbiolo. Neither Uva Rara nor its synonym Bonarda Novarese should be confused with Croatina, which is also called Bonarda, and which is also cultivated in Lombardia.

Expert Picks: Collemattoni and La Torre

Two expert selections from Garrett Kowalsky

Garrett_8.6.14_72dpiChristmas is right around the corner and the past few weeks we have seen an unprecedented number of gift orders from our clients. From value plays to exquisite selections, thousands of bottles are en route to homes and cellars around the country. This many gifts means there are many styles, but none were requested as much as the two gems of Montalcino, the iconic Brunello and the “baby brother” Rosso. Here are a couple of my favorites that are still available for you and your loved ones.

Collemattoni 2013 Rosso di Montalcino $24.99

Collemattoni is guided by the Bucci family, whose history in Montalcino dates back to 1798 as a farming family. The crops have changed since then, but these days Bucci controls some 17 acres of Sangiovese planted in Montalcino. This family makes some of the greatest values in the entire region, and despite their outstanding wines, they always managed to fly under the radar. Bright, vibrant and with a racy backbone that makes the mouth water, this “baby Brunello” is a must have. Drink now until 2020.

La Torre 2009 Brunello di Montalcino $59.99

The La Torre property came to be in 1976 just five miles south of the village of Montalcino. At 1500 feet above sea level, the vineyards are quite high and because of this altitude, the estate produces wines of exceptional elegance and balance. This Brunello is one of the more “rustic” selections, and I think everything about this screams “Italy!” Drink now to 2024.

Expert Picks: Talenti and Valdicava

Two expert selections from John Camacho Vidal

CamachoWith the holiday season upon us, it’s time to start thinking of wines to pour at dinners and parties. I love Sangiovese Grosso; it’s one of my favorite indigenous Italian. In the right hands this wonderful grape makes spectacular wines, specifically Brunello di Montacino and Rosso di Montalcino.

The DOCG for Brunello di Montaccino require that the wine age for a minimum of 3 ½ years in oak of any type or size. Traditionally Brunello aged in large Slovenian oak, not small French oak barriques (a barrique holds 225 liters or 300 bottles and it’s the most common used barrel in winemaking). Traditionalists use large Slovenian oak casks because they believe Sangiovese Grosso doesn’t need all the characteristics that the smaller barrique imparts. Others argue that barrique aging can be beneficial, balancing out what the grape is lacking naturally. Although Brunello can be age in either large or small casks, the typical aromatics of the region stay the same: sour cherry, herbs, aged balsamic, and earth; with some age, the wine also shows fig, sweet tobacco, espresso, and leather. I’ve chosen two of my recent favorite Sangiovese Grosso bottlings for you today.

Valdicava 2012 Rosso di Montalcino $44.99

Unlike Brunello, sibling wine Rosso di Montacino only requires to spend six months aging in oak and one year total aging before release. However, the Valdicava estate makes what can only be a baby Brunello because the wine ages for12 to 15 months in cask before bottling. This 2012 is dense and extracted with a very pretty nose that’s full of plum, red and blue fruits, spice, cigar and hints of leather. The palate is warm in inviting with tannins that slowly latch on, allowing for a nice lingering finish. Drink now and for the next couple of years.

Talenti 2008 Brunello di Montalcino $59.99

This estate was started in the 1980s by Pierluigi Talenti; now led by his grandson Ricardo Talenti, what Talenti so particular is that the estate crafts traditional Brunello that still allows for earlier approachability. Talenti’s Brunello offer intensity and freshness combined with a nice mineral backbone and well-balanced tannins. This 2008 is full of blackberry, cherry, plum, chocolate and a bit of spicy tobacco on the nose. The palate is fresh with silky tannins and an ethereal finish. Drink now to 2022.


How to Do Thanksgiving in Italy

A remembrance of festa del tacchino past

386845_10150404091932746_1447547647_nRiding shotgun in an old truck with Marco Sassetti, general manager of the Il Palazzone estate on one late November afternoon, I was privy to a conversation between him and an old friend.

Dove vai?” his friend asked, shouting across the narrow dirt road. Where are you going?

Festa del tacchino!” Marco responded with a chuckle, and even I with my limited English had to laugh. What else would an Italian call Thanksgiving but the “Turkey feast”?

It’s tough to be an ex-pat on national holidays. In late November 2011, I was in Montalcino, in Tuscany, where I lived for two months stretching from just before Halloween to early December. I had been staying at this ramshackle seventeenth-century villa rented by Lauren Cicione, an Italian-American who’d rented it and then unexpectedly found herself working in Piedmont, and I got to experience the glory of the tiny town of Montalcino as late fall crept towards winter. I watched the leaves on the trees and on the vines turn gold and fall off; I felt the air turn crisp and then cold.

308276_10150404094157746_1607559015_nNational holidays elicit nostalgia. The fourth Thursday in November creeps up on the calendar, and just about every American will find his or her tongue twitching for cranberries. There are no cranberries in Italy. Cranberries are a purely American thing. Turkeys originated in North America, but while they are flightless birds, they have managed to make the leap to Europe. Still, they are strange to Italians. Italians are not big on turkey, and, really, it’s difficult to make an argument about why they should be. Turkey, removed from the warm fuzzy feelings and the accouterments has little to recommend it. Thanksgiving celebrates the mythic roots of America, after all. How could it be anything but foreign to Italy?

The year I was in Italy, Thanksgiving came and went—it was just another work day for Italians, after all, but on the following Saturday, Lauren pulled together a Thanksgiving feast for about three ex-pat Americans and a sprawling company of twenty or so Europeans, most Italians. The table groaned under a huge toddler-sized turkey, sides both traditional (stuffing, green beans, carrots, mashed potatoes, gravy) and not (pasta, risotto, sautéed wild mushrooms, polenta). There was copious wine, mostly Brunello, as you’d expect, and the Italians drank freely—I think “tacchino” is an acquired taste. There were pies too; they looked and tasted a bit like they’d passed through a long game of recipe telephone on the way to their creation. I was thankful for it all.

As this Thanksgiving approaches, I find myself thinking of that festa di tacchino, the ragtag bunch of people gathered at a villa perched on the side of hill trying to recreate a meal that was alien to most of them. We spoke no fewer than five languages at that table, but it didn’t really matter. The company was gracious, the food was abundant, the wine was excellent, and we were united in gratitude.

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