The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Expert Picks: Tenuta dell’Ornellaia and Aldo Conterno

Two expert selections from Francesco Vigorito

Francesco 2014Today, I wanted to pick two wines I’ve drunk recently that I know you will love. They are terrific, and if you love Italian wines, you won’t want to miss them.

I can easily say that every time I taste a Le Volte, I always say “Now, that’s a great wine for the dollar!” That said, the 2013 is the best vintage I have yet tasted from Tenuta dell’Ornellaia’s entry-level wine. There is just something about the 2013 Tuscan wines in general that makes them stand out from the other vintages, and this Le Volte is a Super Tuscan to know and love. Next up is Poderi Aldo Conterno, the estate that bears the name of “he king of Barolo.” While Aldo Conterno’s wines are very well known, I’ve found they’re really exciting me these days. The estate’s 2011s are to die for and the best part is that they are so approachable and very delicious right now, especially the Colonnello.

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia 2013 Le Volte $29.99

Composed of 50% Merlot, 30% Sangiovese and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, with all varieties vinified separately, this 2013 Le Volte bottling is the best I’ve had from Tenuta dell’Ornellaia. Rich, aromatic, voluptuous and exquisitely finessed for a $30 bottle of wine, this Super Tuscan has got everything you want and need. With winemaker like Axel Heinz behind it, you know it’s going to be good.

Poderi Aldo Conterno 2011 Barolo Colonnello $149.99

I’ve never smelled aromatics in a recent vintage Barolo quite like those in this ’11 Barolo Colonello—they’re complex, enticing and extraordinary. The Colonnello vineyard is known for wines with lighter structure, bursting aromatics and approachable nature, and this Conterno is so beautiful that it’s hard to keep your hand off of it. I just drank one of these ’11 Barolo Colonnellos on Monday, so it’s still fresh in mind—all I want is to find another reason to drink one. The beguilingly rich aromatics alone are worth the entrance fee!

Expert Picks: Bruno Giacosa and Giuseppe Rinaldi

Two expert selections from Francesco Vigorito

Francesco 2014Bruno Giacosa and Giuseppe Rinaldi are two of the best Barolo producers known, and if there were a Mt. Rushmore of Barolisti, these guys’ heads would absolutely be on it! Both winemakers craft a very classic style of Barolo that embody the traditions and meanings of “Barolo” and “Nebbiolo.” I’ve chosen a pair of Barolos that share the commonality of being from riper years, making them approachable and medium-term wines, which is nice given the string of intensely structured vintages like 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010 that make you wait to enjoy them.

Bruno Giacosa 2003 Barolo Le Rocche Falletto 159.99

Currently drinking in all of its glory, the 2003 Le Rocche shouldn’t be missed if you need a beautifully drinking Barolo at a killer price. Everything is right where it needs to be in this wine: the aromatics leap from the glass and the structure has integrated, leaving firm yet ripe tannins on a lasting finish that lets you know you are drinking classic Barolo from one of the Piedmont greats!

Giuseppe Rinaldi 2007 Barolo Brunate Le Coste 159.99

After having enjoyed the 1994, 1996, 2000 and 2004 bottlings of this wine, Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste has easily become one of my favorites. Rinaldi’s wines have gathered a cult-like following, and these Barolos have proven to be very hard to get, especially back vintages—Rinaldi simply doesn’t make enough wine. 2007 was an anomaly in Barolo; the combination of ripe fruit, aromatics and fresh structure are rarely in this kind of equilibrium. 2007 one of my favorite vintages in Barolo, and it just doesn’t get any better than Giuseppe Rinaldi!

Expert Picks: Aldo Conterno and…Aldo Conterno!

Two expert selections from Michael Adler

Michael Adler 5.29.15Forget for just a moment that it feels like spring; picture snow-covered sidewalks and feel the frigid wind snapping at your cheeks, draw your scarf tighter around your neck to conserve every bit of warmth and heat. What you need in the dead of winter to brighten your spirits and thaw your soul is a bottle of rich, warming, tannic and powerful red wine. I can think of no better wine for frozen winter evenings than Barolo. The Nebbiolo grape offers wine-lovers the perfect winter red to warm you from the inside: dense, opulent, palate-coating wines with ample acid, muscle and alcohol. What more could we ask for on a freezing winter evening?

To celebrate the pure, hedonistic pleasure of sipping a great Barolo alongside a hearty, warming stew or pot roast, I picked a pair of knockout-gorgeous bottles from the iconic Aldo Conterno estate, its ripe, structured 2011 Barolo Bussia and its dark, brooding 2011 Barolo Colonnello.

Aldo Conterno 2011 Barolo Bussia $82.99

The estate’s classic bottling, the ’11 Barolo Bussia is a towering testament to the enduring greatness of the Aldo Conterno estate. Muscular, textured and gripping, this  Barolo Bussia thunders out of the glass with intense aromas of ripe red and black fruits, rose petals, underbrush and earth, with a hefty dose of that unmistakable Barolo terroir. On the finish, its chewy tannins give way to a refreshing, mouth-watering acidity that keeps this massive wine texturally balanced. Nebbiolo lovers who appreciate a modern, powerful and fruit-driven Barolo will want to revisit this Barolo Bussia again and again.

Aldo Conterno 2011 Barolo Colonnello $149.99

Ever since Aldo Conterno split from the illustrious Giacomo Conterno estate, the master Barolo producer has shows a penchant for doing things his own way. For instance, he followed the lead of Angelo Gaja and Valentino Migliorini of Rocche dei Manzoni and began bottling a superb lineup of single-vineyard expressions of Barolo, which have since become collector staples worldwide. Deriving from a warmer vintage, this ’11 Barolo Colonnello is somewhat more approachable than other vintages. It delivers a cornucopia of red and black fruits along with savory herbal and meaty notes and a polished core of minerality. While it shows well in its youth with some decanting, it will only get better over the next decade and will continue to drink well through 2025 and beyond.

Italian Red Wine Grapes: Nebbiolo to Primitivo

The fifth 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, and the fourth, Lagrein to Moscato Rosa, in case you missed them!

Nebbiolo, ready for its close up

Nebbiolo, ready for its close up

Nebbiolo (nehb-be-OH-loh)

Nebbiolo is Piemonte’s best-known grape and the basis for its best-known wine, Barolo. Indigenous to the hills surrounding Alba situated southeast of Turin, Nebbiolo’s name is a derivative of the Italian word for fog, nebbia, and whether that fog refers to the white tinge that covers the varietal’s black grapes as they ripen or the mist surrounding the Langhe hills in October or November when they’re harvested, no one is entirely sure. One thing is certain: not only is Nebbiolo a very old grape, but it is also one that has been recognized for centuries for its greatness. In the Middle Ages, to rip out a Nebbiolo vine was a crime punishable by lopping off a hand; repeat offenders were hung.

Called alternately Spanno, Chiavennasca, Picotener (as well as other names), Nebbiolo has the reputation of being an exceptionally finicky grape. It grows best in hilly lands with sandy marl, requires a very long summer to ripen, and tends to be exceptionally particular as to its terroir and its microclimate. Though Nebbiolo is cultivated in other areas of Italy, such as Lombardia and Valle d’Aosta, it does best close to home in Piemonte’s Langhe hills, and it’s best known for being the grape behind both Barolo and Barbaresco. Even more to the issue, Nebbiolo makes a wine that bears tremendously high tannins that requires a knowing winemaker’s vinification to coax the best from it. When one does, however, the wine drinker is rewarded with a supple wine that holds a bewitching nose of tar and roses; a complex palate of candied and tart cherries, prunes, and violets that’s complemented by a darker undertone of leather, earth and truffles; and a balanced structure that calls for lavish aging.

Hard-to-find Negrara, courtesy of Terroir Amarone

Hard-to-find Negrara, courtesy of Terroir Amarone

Negrara (neh-GRAH-rah)

Negrara is one of those 2,000+ grape varietals that are cultivated in Italy whose vinifications rarely get exported out of Italy. Grown in Trentino-Alto Adige and the Veneto, this dark grape often appears in Bardolino. On its own, Negrara makes a perfumed, dark red wine that is soft and round, yet characterized by light, appealing tannins.

Negroamaro (neh-grow-ah-MAH-roh)

Grown exclusively in Puglia, Negroamaro may be indigenous to the area–or it may have been imported by the Greeks. Often part of the DOC appellation Salice Salentino, the wine of this black grape is more increasingly being released as a mono-varietal. The name literally means “black and bitter,” but this thick-skinned, deeply colored grape makes a rustic, drinkable wine known for being a deep, dark ruby in color, pleasantly tannic, possessing of a fresh nose of apples and pears, and replete with a soft mouth-filling palate of fruit.

Ripening Nerello Mascalese, courtesy of Wine Virtuosity

Ripening Nerello Mascalese, courtesy of Wine Virtuosity

Nerello Mascalese (neh-REHL-lo mahs-kah-LEH-zeh)

Indigenous to Sicilia, oenologists believe Nerello Mascalese originated on the slopes of Mt. Etna. Second only to Nero d’Avola in Sicilian cultivation, Nerello Mascalese is a subset of a group of grapes called Mascalese (another of the subset is Nerello Cappuccio). Although Nerello Mascalese has most often been used as a blending grape with Nerello Mantellato and Nerello Cappuccio, the grape has recently come into its own in making a ruby-red wine with a nose of violets, a raspberry-and-leather palate, and a slight minerality due to its volcanic terroir.

Grappolo di Nero d'Avola

Grappolo di Nero d’Avola

Nero d’Avola (NEH-roh DAH-vah-lah)

Also known as Calabrese, this high-sugar, solidly acidic grape is Sicilia’s most cultivated varietal. Indigenous to Sicilia, Nero d’Avola rarely grows outside of the island, but there it is loved enough to be called the Prince, the King, and the Emperor of Sicilian wines. While Nero d’Avola has long been adding its trademark acidity to blends, it has in recent years increasingly been vinified on its own. The dark red wines of Nero d’Avola provide a heady whiff of blueberry, and on the palate they are often compared to Syrah because of its palate of wild plum, chocolate, spices and tar.

Petit Rouge (peh-TEE rhooj)

Exclusive to Italy’s tiny, Alpine Valle d’Aosta, this small red grape provides a flowery nose to four of the area’s DOC appellations. Petit Rouge, also known as “Oriou,” may be indigenous to the high-elevation Valle d’Aosta, or it might be a native to Burgundy. Vinified both in blends and on its own, the velvety-feeling Petit Rouge is characterized by a cherry to purple hue and an intense fruitiness balanced by pepperiness.

Picutener (pee-KOO-tehn-ay)

Picutener is the name by which Nebbiolo goes when grown in Italy’s smallest wine-growing region, Valle d’Aosta.

Piedirosso--look close for the little red feet

Piedirosso–look close for the little red feet

Piedirosso (pyeh-dee-ROHS-so)

Named for the color it turns when ripe in the fall, Piedirosso, or “red feet,” grows almost exclusively in Campania, especially on the foothills of Mt. Vesuvius. Primarily used in blends to make Lacryma Christi, Taurasi and Rosato, Piedirosso has historically been added to fellow indigenous grape Aglianico because where the latter is highly acidic, Piedirosso is soft and lighter-bodied. The refreshing Piedirosso has an herbaceous nose and notes and a ruby color.

Pignolo (pee-NYOH-loh)

This ancient grape dates back to fourteenth-century Friuli, but by the early 1980s, it had been reduced to just a handful of vines growing against the walls of the Abbey of Rosazzo. Rescued from the brink of extinction, Pignolo is now the basis for two DOC wines in Friuli’s Colli Orientale zone. The Pignolo grows in tight bunches that often hamper ripening and its difficulty in cultivation has inspired its name; Pignolo either gets its name from pigna, or pine cone, because of the shape of the grapes’ bunches, or from the Italian word for “meticulous,” from the viticultural care necessitated by its difficult shape. In either case, Pignolo is a spectacularly fussy grape that requires tremendous attention on the part of the winemaker to bring to fruition. When he or she succeeds, however, Pignolo makes a rich red wine tinged with cranberry with an explosive nose of fruit, earth and pepper and a spice-laden palate of dark fruits.

Pinot Nero (pee-noh NAIR-oh)

A clone of Burgundy’s famed Pinot Noir, Pinot Nero is Italy’s version. Grown predominately in Lombardia and to a lesser extent the Veneto, Pinot Nero produces red, rosé and sparkling wines, this last most particularly in the Oltrepò Pavese region of Lombardia. Not much of Italy’s Pinot Nero vinifications get exported out of the area, but reports suggest that as tricky as the grape is to cultivate, winemakers are showing a concerted effort in vinifying the grape to create ageable and important expressions.


A single bunch of Primitivo

A single bunch of Primitivo

Primitivo (preem-mih-TEE-voh)

Grown primarily in the hot, dry and windy climes of Puglia and Campania, Primitivo is a grape that has slowly been gaining a strong reputation. In recent wine news, much has been made about the connection between Primitivo and Zinfandel; current genetic testing has suggested that both the Italian Primitivo and the Californian Zinfandel are the same grape–in fact, they are the Croatian Crljenak Kaštelanski. It seems likely that Primitivo came across the Adriatic to Italy at some early point in the eighteenth century. Historically, winemakers have seen Primitivo’s use as just a component of blending wines; however, vintners are now taking more care in harvesting, processing and vinifying the grapes. The resulting wines are balanced, structured, and suitable for ageing. Characterized by a profound fruit palate underlain by spice and hay, Primitivo has a dark ruby color.

Expert Picks: Casa Vinicola Giacosa and Bruno Giacosa!

Two expert selections from Garrett Kowalsky

Garrett_8.6.14_72dpiToday we go back to basics. Indeed, we visit the producer who started my love affair with Italian wine—Bruno Giacosa. For more than three decades the world has marveled at the magical wines that this estate produces. Collectors are no doubt familiar with Giacosa’s “Red Label” Barolo and Barbaresco Riservas, and the vino being produced here is celestial from top to bottom. However, Giacosa’s beauty doesn’t begin and end with the expensive and incredible Red Label bottlings. There’s a lot more Giacosa to love. I’ve chosen two of my favorite bottles and while these wines bring a little less clout, they still bring a whole lot of awesome.

Casa Vinicola Bruno Giacosa 2014 Roero Arneis $29.99

When people think of Italian white wines, their minds often drift to Pinot Grigio, Trebbiano, Friulano and Vermentino. I am here to tell you there is another grape to consider, one we almost lost to extinction: Arneis. Piemonte’s Arneis and was almost completely wiped out before a small group of producers (Giacosa included) realized that it needed saving. This Arneis bottling from Giacosa is rich and straw colored, but it still provides a mouthwatering acidity that allows it to pair with almost anything you could imagine during an antipasti or fish course. Drink until 2019.

Bruno Giacosa 2012 Barbaresco Asili $149.99

Asili is one of Barbaresco’s most prestigious vineyards, and perhaps nobody does it justice like Giacosa. The soil, grape, vine, and terroir marry to give elegance and delicacy in Giacosa’s Barbaresco Asili. Giacosa has come to be known for crafting wines of ethereal elegance that seem to live forever. 2012 was a year that had its challenges, but the estate triumphed by making the hard decisions when it came to fruit selection. The result is another stunner that is sure to be enjoyed now and a generation from now. Drink 2017 to 2030.

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