The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Go-To-Wine Tuesday: Il Conventino 2014 Rosato

A delicious organic under $20 rosé made from Sangiovese!

ROS26-2Spring is finally kicking in, so it’s time to get ready for some serious aperitivi! Italian rosé can have the reputation of being too rich and heavy, but not all of them are. I recently enjoyed Il Conventio 2014 Rosato, a fantastic under $20 rose that is fresh, aromatic and much lighter that you would think. It’s exactly the bright, succulent rosato you’re looking for for your long summer nights.

Il Conventino winery was acquired in 2003 by the Brini brothers, who started their career as attorneys but eventually realized their dream to operate a winery right in their native Tuscan region of Montepulciano. Under the guidance of a great oenologist, Il Conventio now produce high quality organic wines they ship in more than 20 different countries; these wines include Montepulciano, Bianco, Vin Santo, Grappa, and, of course, today’s Rosato!

This beautiful Rosato is made with 100% Sangiovese, which might surprise some of you because this grape is more famous for the Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and Super-Tuscan blends, but when you vinify Sangiovese with brief skin contact it actually makes an outstanding Rosé. Clean, fresh aromas and flavors of strawberry and flowers abound, and this wine is both crisp and juicy in the middle palate. Although not very complex, this rosato has quite a persistent finish and offers an incredible value at $19.99. I recommend you served it chilled in an ice bucket–it will be your best companion for the summer!

Expert Picks: Castello dei Rampolla and Fontodi

Two expert selections from John Camacho Vidal

CamachoEarly on in my wine career I learned that Super-Tuscan wines are made in Toscana with non-indigenous grapes like Merlot and Cabernet. Because there is some truth to this, I had a common misconception that a Super Tuscan is always a Bordeaux-style blend. However, that is not always the case. Some Super Tuscans are made from 100% indigenous grapes such as Sangiovese, and others are Bordeaux blends, while still others blend international grapes and Sangiovese.

Super Tuscan winemakers are rebels who began breaking the DOC and DOCG rules in the 1960s. While DOC regulations help maintain the quality of Italian wine, there were winemakers that did not want to follow the rules and kept making wine in their own ways. But breaking the DOC rules meant that the wines had to be labeled simply Vino da Tavola, a low rating.  Fast-forward to the late 70’s, when American wine journalists decided to taste these controversial, supposedly awful wines. What they found were wines that were full-bodied and more intense, aged in French barrique instead of the traditional Slavonia barrel; they immediately fell in love. The journalists were so impressed with the wines that they could not call them simply “Vino da Tavola,” so they created a term they heard being used by the local rebel wine makers. Super-Tuscan wines were born.

In honor of the Tuscan rebels I would like to recommend two Super-Tuscan wines. One made of 100% Sangiovese, while the other has international grapes. Both offer astonishing Tuscan terroir and quality.

Castello dei Rampolla 2006 Sammarco $74.99

Near the town of Panzano in heart of Tuscany, Castello dei Rampolla has been making wine as far back as the thirteenth century. Sammarco is the original biodynamic Super Tuscan, and the estate pioneered the Tuscan blend by producing world-class wines. The 2006 Sammarco is a beautiful deep ruby color with a nose full of ripe red cherries followed by earth, spice and slight notes of balsamic and smoke. The palate is full, rich and opulent, showing minerals and grippy tannins that dance together, and it ends in a smooth elegant finish. Drink now to 2024.

Fontodi 2012 Flaccianello $119.00

Located in Chianti Classico, Tenuta Fontodi can track its origins back to the sixteenth century, and its Flaccianello is one of the first mono-varietal Super Tuscans made using the indigenous Sangiovese grape. First produced in 1981, Flaccianello quickly gained super status. The 2012 is deep and dark in appearance full with aromas of plum and licorice; with a bit of air, it gives way to notes of cedar and spice, followed by slight herbal and olive tones. The palate is silky and sexy, exuding elegance with a balanced mouth feel and tannins that seem to linger forever. Drink 2018 to 2030.


Expert Picks: La Maialina and Castello dei Rampolla

Two expert selections from John Camacho Vidal

CamachoChianti Classico may feel synonymous with Italy, but it has changed a lot over the years. Once associated with the straw-covered bottle (a fiasco), Chianti was ubiquitous at every pizza restaurant. However, Chianti Classico has been evolving for over 700 years and its DOC and DOCG criteria are still changing today. Produced in central Italy’s Tuscany, the Chianti region extends between Florence and Siena with the Chianti Classico region covering around 100 square miles. For Chianti to be Chianti, it must come from the Chianti region and be made from at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. Chianti Classico can be earthy and rustic with great acidity, which allows it to pair well with an array of foods. The characteristic aromas include strawberries, violets, cherries and its high acidity on the palate.

In addition to a DOCG for Chianti, there are three DOCGs for Chianti Classico: Chianti Classico, wherein grapes are from the Chianti Classico zone and the wine must age a minimum of 12 months; Chianti Classico Riserva, where the wine ages a minimum of 24 months; and Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, wherein grapes must be estate grown and wine aged a minimum of 30 months. It’s important to note that Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva wines both have the Gallo Nero seal (black rooster) on the neck of the bottle, each with different colored borders, red for the Chianto Classico and gold for the Riserva.

Today, I’ve chosen two Chianti Classico that provide great expressions of the Classico region, one from La Maialina and one from Castello dei Rampolla. Both of these wines are delicious, and each offers insight into its individual estate and maker.

La Maialina 2010 Chianti Classico $18.99

La Maialina makes its Chianti Classico to express the essence of the territory, and this wine is a deep ruby color; the nose is full of juicy red fruit followed by aromas of violet and rose petal that slowly open up to some earth notes. The palate is silky with tamed tannins that linger nicely with black and red fruit on the finish. This wine’s quality-to-price ratio is unmatched, and it drinks like a higher priced Chianti Classico. The estate’s name refers to a breed of pig (Cinta Senese) that originated in the Siena area during the 1300’s and is the only Tuscan native pig to survive extinction. This is a gem of a wine that will not burn a hole in your pocket; I suggest you buy it by the case.

Castello dei Rampolla 2012 Chianti Classico $37.99

Castello dei Rampolla uses biodynamic practices, which I love. Mostly known for its Super-Tuscan Sammarco and Vigna d’Alceo, Castello dei Rampolla started out making Chianti, and in my opinion its one of the best Chianti Classicos from the zone. This Chianti has a little smokiness on the nose, which gives way to aromas of cherry, red currant followed by some hints of balsamic, rosemary and slight herbal notes. The palate is full and a bit savory with notes of leather and hints of oak. The finish is loaded with spicy, raspy tannins that cling nicely. Drink now and for the next few years.

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.

Go-To-Wine Tuesday: La Maialina 2010 Chianti Classico

A delicious, traditional Sangiovese Chianti Classico that’s just $19!

RD8749-2After spending Valentine’s Day with my girlfriend, we decided to sit down with her friends and enjoy some wine to close out the evening. I wanted to impress her friends, so I decided to bring a bottle of La Maialina 2010 Chianti Classico. The $19 Tuscan bottle became an instant hit. We were delighted by the wine’s complexity, its dark cherry nose, and its hints of smoke and spices.

La Maialina is a relatively new producer in Tuscany; however, this estate intends on maintaining the tradition of Tuscan winemaking. The name “La Maialina,” which means “little pig,” refers to the last indigenous pigs of Tuscany, and it acts as a reminder that this estate works to celebrate the region’s success. La Maialina keeps to its roots and creates a classic wine that builds on the Chianti’s 800 years of history. Utilizing some excellent local Tuscan grapes and time-tested Tuscan winemaking methods, La Maialina creates an elegant and complex wine with an almost ludicrously low price tag.

By the end of the night my fellow wine drinkers were convinced I had splurged on a bottle of wine for the occasion, and each of us fell in love with wine’s the delicate balance and the lingering sensation of sharp, acerbic fruit. This wine turned into a drinkable conversation piece and it served as the perfect icebreaker for the evening. The La Maialina Chianti Classico 2010 made me the hero of the night—not bad for a wine that costs less than $20.

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