The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Go-To Wine Tuesday: Mille Una 2013 Majara Primitivo

A delicious under $22 Puglian red that yearns for winter fare

RD9049-2We IWM writers spend a lot of time talking about Italy’s iconic grapes and winemaking regions such as Sangiovese in Toscana and Nebbiolo in Piemonte, but we also love the myriad grape varieties that are indigenous to other regions of Italy. In Puglia, the “heel” of the Italian “boot,” the dark, intense Primitivo is the most important red grape, and it’s capable of producing some truly stunning wines. A close relative of Zinfandel, Primitivo yields dense, inky wines with tremendous primary fruit and a spicy, brambly, jovial character. Primitivo can often be a simple wine for simple meals; however, in the right hands, this humble grape can produce wines of exceptional quality that have the power and stuffing to age for a very long time (see: Antonio Ferrari).

While most Primitivo falls into the everyday-drinking category, a handful of producers put outstanding wines on the market at very reasonable prices. In making its under $22 Majara Primitivo, Mille Una uses fruit from 40-year-old vines to craft a dense, rich and incredibly delicious Primitivo that spends three months in barrique (to enhance its spicy and chocolaty notes) and nine months in stainless steel (to preserve freshness, acidity and varietal character) before being bottled. Full-bodied and fruit-driven yet not overbearing or sweet, the 2013 Majara Primitivo coats the palate in velvety tannins and offers exceptional depth and complexity for its price point.

Not surprisingly, a wine like this is perfect foil for hearty fall and winter fare—soups, braises, stews, roasts and the like. On Sunday night, I served the Mille Una 2013 Majara Primitivo with a pot roast that I braised for four hours in red wine with potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips and onions from the farmer’s market, and the pairing was fantastic. There’s something about the marriage of velvety tannins with tender braised meat that always brings me to my knees. Of course, the wine was gone far too soon, but at $21.99 this wine lets you bring home more than one bottle without putting a strain on your budget. Open a bottle (or two!) the next time you cook up a steaming pot of warming wintry deliciousness!

Expert Picks: Josko Gravner and…Josko Gravner!

Two expert selections from Crystal Edgar

Crystal 2014Today, I recommend reaching for something a bit more adventurous, austere and beguiling, two bottles from Friuli’s Josko Gravner. These special “orange” wines offer remarkable weight with a punch of tannin, tricking your palate to believe that it might be a red wine. Personally, I find these wines utterly fascinating both alone and with food!

While rosé wines are made with red wine grapes whose skins are removed early in the process, oranges are made in the opposite style. They come from white wine grapes that are left to macerate with their skins on, instead of separating the pressed juices from the skins to preserve clarity and avoid tannins. The result is a pour with a unique amber hue, tannins that grip your mouth, and flavors and aromas that range from red tea, musk and mushrooms to cantaloupe and ginger.

Orange wines have been made in the republic of Georgia for thousands of years, but more recently Italy and Slovenia have resurrected the traditions. Gravner is considered the leading pioneer in the skin-contact wine movement; he spearheaded this unique style of winemaking, and his wines are often considered the standard bearers for other wines in the category. Today I am highlighting two different versions of his Ribolla Gialla, both “amber” wines, as Josko likes to call them. Drink these with cheese, pasta, seafood or steak, these special bottles are chameleons when it comes to the realm of food pairings.

If you’re trying orange wine for the first time, I recommend to serve these wines at red wine temperatures, and don’t be shy to decant so that they open up and reveal their full personalities.

Gravner 2006 Ribolla Gialla Anfora $94.99

Exquisitely balanced, the ’06 Ribolla is a gorgeous, textured wine. This saffron-hued wine has an unctuous mouth-feel that’s filled with velvety tannins, a deceptively chewy body, and Gravner’s trademark psychedelic palate. Ripe apricots, honeycomb, red tea, wildflowers and spices are all found here.

Gravner 1998 Ribolla Riserva 1.5L $339.00

I had the great pleasure of tasting this special wine with Josko Gravner earlier this year. The 1998 Ribolla was only made in magnum format, using wooden vats rather than Anfora. This wine offers more “umami” character with incredible elegance as the wine has had time to soften and evolve. This large bottle is a rare treat!

Go-To-Wine Tuesday: Villa Sant’Anna 2012 Rosso di Montepulicano

A soft, round, and delicious $20 Rosso di Montepulciano

DA0617I love Sangiovese. One of my favorite things about Sangiovese is how the wine changes depending on where the grapes are grown. There are so many different styles and expressions of the grape across Tuscany’s many regions, each offering its own unique qualities and characteristics. The wine I’m featuring today, Villa Sant’Anna 2012 Rosso di Montepulicano, comes from a picturesque hilltop town in Tuscany called Montepulciano, a site that’s famous for its castle and its history, but most importantly for its wines.

Not to be confused with the grape named Montepulciano, which is native to Italy’s Abruzzo region, the township of Montepulciano sits in southern Tuscany near Siena, and it’s the home of some killer Sangiovese-based wines, most notably the world-renowned DOC of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Similar to the way that Montalcino producers craft a Rosso di Montalcino as a companion to their Brunello, so too do the estates in Montepulciano make their second wine, Rosso di Montepulciano, to drink while they wait for their Vino Nobile, also a Sangiovese wine, to mature.

While Vino Nobile is an austere, tannic and very structured wine that’s crafted with aging in mind, its companion wine, Rosso di Montepulciano, is quite the opposite. Soft, juicy and above all approachable, Rosso di Montepulciano is incredibly easy to enjoy with just about any meal. It’s a perfect “Tuesday night wine” for when you want to enjoy a delicious bottle without having to open anything special, and the Villa Sant’Anna bottling I recently enjoyed clocks in at just under $20.

Villa Sant’Anna ‘12 Rosso is predominantly Sangiovese (locally called Prugnolo Gentile), with some Canaiolo blended in as per the DOCG’s requirements. Aromatic and pretty on the nose, this Rosso is soft and genial, as well as round and generous on the palate. It offers a lot of silky tannins, a hint of warm spice and a long, juicy finish. Bright, warming and dangerously easy to drink, this wine has a way of disappearing from your glass much faster than you may have intended; one bottle of this Rosso is never enough!

Go-To-Wine Tuesday: Valle dell’Acate Il Frappato Vittoria 2014

A delicious, juicy, mineral-laden Frappato

RD8758-2One wine that I’ve always enjoyed is the Valle dell’Acate Il Frappato Vittoria. I had a bottle of the 2014 that I had not tasted yet, so I thought I would open it. I love Frappato, an indigenous Sicilian grape. It has nice, delicate floral and cherry notes, and while it’s light enough to enjoy in warm weather, its supple tannins make it hold up when there is a slight chill in the air, and it pairs well with an array of foods.

Founded at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Valle dell’Acate has a long history; today it’s considered one of the top estates in Sicily. What makes this estate’s Frappato so unique is the soil composition of its vineyard. It’s located approximately 360 feet above sea level south of the winery and near the coast. The soil in this area is called “Milaro” by the locals, and it sports calcareous sandstone and layers of clay, which allow the vines to produce high quality grapes and gives the wine a distinct profile. Made with 100% Frappato, this wine ferments for 15 days in stainless steel tank with indigenous yeasts, and then ages six months (also in steel tank) with an additional three months in bottle before release.

A beautiful, bright red color in the glass, this wine’s nose is full of violet, sour cherry, spice, licorice, mineral and crushed red berries. With some twirling of the glass, I could smell the sandstone and clay soils that lie beneath the vineyard. On the palate, it is silky with noticeable red fruit and delicate herbal notes; the acidity is fresh and juicy. The tannins kick in mid point to mingle and balance with the fruit, and it finishes with spice, and tangy, savory black cherry. This Valle dell’Acate is a joyful easy wine to drink that has depth and layers and the price point, under $22, makes it easy to keep a case for when you are in the mood.

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