Italy: Italian Style

Last year my course included 3 Italians. This year that number doubled. And lucky for me they are all wine lovers and in fact two of them even come from wine making families. So… conspiring together, the Italian faction decided to host an Italian wine tasting and seminar. Four different classmates were representing four different and distinct winemaking regions in Italy. Even more lucky me.

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The evening’s festivities began in the North, in Trentino-Alto Adige to be exact, with Cantina Endrizzi. Bordering on Austria and Switzerland, Trentino is a unique gateway perched on the shores of Lake Gardo. As much German in culture as Italian, this region is one of 5 autonomous regions in Italy that doesn’t pay taxes to Rome. Thus it’s unique lifestyle has a distinct effect on it’s unique wines.

Endrizzi-logoCantina Endrizzi is a family run affair founded in 1855, with a secondary property in Tuscany called Serpaia di Endrizzi.The Endrici (pronounced Endrizzi in the local dialect) family produces a wide range of red and white, dry and sparkling wines as well a grappa. Reflecting their largely German audience (70% of the wines are imported to Germany), the wines are not what I typically consider Italian in style. I was first exposed to the Endrizzi wines via their Trento DOC sparkling. Made using the traditional method, it was crisp and clean if a little lighter than I expected. But for the tasting we got to enjoy a little red wine:

  • Masetto Due 2012: A blend of 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 80% Teroldego, this is an unoaked wine. Made in a style similar to Amarone, dried grape skins are added to the fermentation tank to add a bit of structure and help develop the very full body. This wine had a very rich nose and delivered notes of warm earth and wet wood. The palate was extremely reminiscent of raisins and offered a lingering finish of licorice.
  • Gran Masetto 2010: Labeled a blend of 50% Teroldego and 50% Teroldego, this wine is also vinified in an Amarone style, with half the grapes being dried. Rich and smooth on the palate this wine did deliver some crisp tannins and a nice touch of acidity. A slight hint of oak on the nose, produced by a blend of French, American and Hungarian oak, was underlined by a rich earthy note. The palate was ripe with vanilla and sweet black fruit like plums.

Then we moved onto one of my favorite Italian wine regions, Piemonte, home of Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera d’Asti (they clearly like their B’s). Translated as “At the foot of the mountains,” Piemonte is perched at the foothills of the Italian Alps. The largest region in continental Italy, Piedmont is known for producing the wine of kings and the kings themselves. It was in this region that the idea of a unified Italy was born. But despite this auspicious start, this region is still dominated by small family producers.

damilanoDamilano was founded in 1890 in the small town of Langhe, in the heart of Nebbiolo grape production. Run today by the fourth generation of this same family, the estate was named on of Wine Spectators Top 100 in 2005. Producing traditional Barolo, the wines are aged for a minimum of three years, a minimum of 2 in oak.

  • Lecinquevigne 2010: A typical Barolo, this wine is a blend of 100% Nebbiolo from 5 different vineyards in the 5 key municipalities within the Barolo region. Aged for 2 years in 80% oak vats and 20% 2-year barrels. The wine was garnet with orange highlights – almost like it has been slightly oxidized. The nose delivered notes of truffles, vanilla and licorice but it was lighter in body than expected. Nevertheless it was a reasonable price for a very good entry level Barolo wine.
  • Moscato d’Asti: A surprise produced at the end of the evening, this 100% Moscato Bianco was a classic example of the style. A pale lemony, gold light fizz delivered a slightly sweet wine with notes of orange marmalade and apricot.

And then it was off to Tuscany and more specifically Chianti. Likely the most famous wine producing region in Italy, Tuscany is one of the most complex. The Chianti region alone has more than 10 sub appellations and over 3000 producers. Historically white grapes were blended with the Sangiovese to soften the tannins however this practice is no longer allowed. Represented by the symbol of the Black Rooster these wine hare some of the most sought after in the world.

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Fattoria Castel Ruggero, the family estate of celebrated consultant winemaker Nicolo D’Afflitto, was founded in 1929. With 25 hectares (about 61 acres) planted under vine, this small estate produced about 30 thousand bottles a year in an ancient prison facility. Again, lucky for me, this was not the first time I have had a chance to enjoy these fabulous wines but it was the first time I was able to compare a Chianti Classico and an IGT wine.

  • Chianti Classico 2011: Made from 100% Sangiovese this wine is aged for more than 30 months before being released to the public. Deep ruby garnet in color the warm nose was ripe with notes of cherry. It was however also slightly repressed. Beautiful, complex and persistent this is a wine to enjoy with food.
  • IGT Toscana 2010: A blend of 30% Cabernet Franc, 60% Merlot and 10% Syrah, this wine is aged for more than 3 years before being released. The nose was a bit hot but the wine itself was very smooth with hints of sharp tannins. Delivering notes of vanilla and cherry this is another great wine to enjoy with food.

And finally: Puglia, the ‘heel’ of Italy. One of the sunniest regions in the country (with over 300 sunny days per year) and with limited rainfall, strong sea-breezes help mitigate the heat. Known for producing olive oil and wheat it was not until about 40 years ago that this region began to produce quality bottled wines, having previously focused on bulk wines. Mainly made from the Primitivo grape, what fellow Californians will recognize as Zinfandel. Nonetheless this region accounts for 15% of Italy’s total wine production and a full 40% of the rose production. It is also home to the first official DOC for Rose wine.

5.-LogoDAlfo-1024x443In keeping with trends from the region D’Alfonso del Sardo dates to 1860 but began producing bottles wines in 2001. While the estate does export over 70% of their production, this was my first introduction, not only to the estate, but to the indigenous Italian varietal Nero di Troia.

  • Guado San Leo: A wine made purely from the Nero di Troia grape this wine was aged for 12 months in French oak before resting an additional 4 months in the bottle. Smelling of warm dusty earth the wine delivered intriguing notes of mineral, coffee, red fruit and surprisingly some soft florals.

While some of the wines were not too my particular taste, they nonetheless highlighted the diversity and the quality of Italian wine. So…I guess it’s time to break out the passport for a little summer wandering and a trip to Italy.

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